“Streaming services are great places to see what exactly is working within your music and how people embrace it.”
Ah, great expectations. Sometimes, the push to deliver on a grand scale can overwhelm a young band that’s simply trying to get a foothold in the music world while remaining true to its own goals. Down in the trenches, it can become hard to remain focused on delivering the music you believe in without being pulled in different directions once the big machine gets involved in the business at hand.
Case in point: the garage/glam/punk UK foursome known as The Struts, who burst onto the scene in 2015 with their raucous Have You Heard EP, highlighted by the telltale harmonic smirk of Could Have Been Me and the greasy riffage and boastful swagger of Put Your Money on Me. The Struts immediately caught the collective discerning ear of none other than The Rolling Stones, who had the band open for them in front of 80,000 rabid fans in Paris — no pressure there! — and then Mötley Crüe enlisted the boys to open their final four shows ever (at least until the next reunion tour comes a-knocking, that is).
Such large-scale accolades could serve to swell just about anyone’s head and steer a band off-course and into flash over substance, but Struts frontman/lead vocalist Luke Spiller tries to take it all in stride. “I guess it’s lovely to think that people are looking to us for some sort of ‘rock redemption,’ but the truth is, the only thing I know what to do is to do what I love,” Spiller admitted to Digital Trends. “I’m still just a 16-year-old dancing in front of the mirror to Queen.” (Huzzah: Freddie Mercury lives!)
The Struts then enlisted some A-list producers, engineers, and mixing specialists such as Gregg Alexander (New Radicals, Santana), Marti Frederiksen (Aerosmith, Mick Jagger), and Chris Lord-Alge (Muse, Rise Against), to build on the sonic template set with Have You Heard for one of 2016’s best full-length gems — the oh-so-apropos Everybody Wants, available in various formats via FreeSolo/Interscope. Everybody Wants builds on the Heard EP’s initial promise, thanks to the seductive sneer factor of Dirty Sexy Money, the fist-pumping turnaround of The Ol’ Switcheroo, and the punks-meet-The-Godfather sing-with-us-now vibe of She Makes Me Feel Like.
Spiller got on the line with Digital Trends in between a few live gigs and recording sessions to discuss how to maintain production consistency (or not), embracing streaming while still loving physical formats, and why airplay is still important for new bands.
Digital Trends: Was there a band manifesto of sorts to make sure that both the energy and sound-quality levels remained consistent from track to track on Everybody Wants, an album that was helmed by more than a few different producers?
Luke Spiller: We didn’t set out for the album to be made like this, actually. And I don’t think it’s the most consistent-sounding album, to be honest — but that’s fine with me. My voice is really the key in tying most of the songs together.
The truth is, the album was never finished, so we kept on working and recording in different places all around the world — hence why it ended up having so many different producers on it.
“My voice is really the key in tying most of our songs together.”
What sonic elements helped make this album have such an ongoing impact in 2016? Did you look to any of your influences for inspiration in terms of the production?
Sonically, we wanted to sound fresh and well produced. In terms of our influences, a lot of those bands recorded way back, and technology has come on quite a bit since then. As for the sound we wanted to get, we didn’t know exactly what we wanted going into it, so I guess it was very instinctive.
One of the locales you recorded in was a modified church in London. Is there a particular ordained studio “magic” that happened there?
Well, I like big spaces, and yes, the church is a great studio. Writing in the studio or finishing songs in the studio are always great things. That’s the real magic.
The Struts have some pretty big numbers on Spotify. What’s your philosophy as an artist when it comes to streaming?
Embrace it or die. Be creative with it. Appreciate the old ways as well, and don’t be threatened by it. Streaming services are great places to see what exactly is working within your music and how people embrace it — which is also something to keep in mind while writing.
That’s a good point. Your friends The Rolling Stones just released a great new blues album, Blue & Lonesome. Have you had a chance to hear it yet?
I love the album. Mick [Jagger] sounds fantastic on it!
How was it opening for The Stones in Paris in front of 80,000 people? Did you get a chance to talk with Mick at all while you were there?
The show was amazing, and yeah, I got to speak to Mick Jagger for a while. (pauses) That was interesting.
OK, I’ll leave it at that. Are you a fan of vinyl at all?
I love having something physical in my hands. When I was growing up, I loved reading through the lyrics on my albums. That’s something I insisted on having with my own releases.
“What’s ahead for us in 2017? New album and world domination.”
I’m really glad you insist on that. Do you think the album format is still a valid one for musicians to have the freedom to make full artistic statements?
It’s not valid anymore, but who cares? I love to listen to an album. I’m not too fussy — as long as it’s loud!
What’s one album you bought growing up that still has impact on you today?
Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall (1979) is still one of my favorite albums.
Nice. I think Off the Wall still holds up, maybe even more than Thriller does — maybe. I see that Put Your Money on Me is nominated for Coolest Song in the World 2016 on The Underground Garage channel on SiriusXM. Have you ever interacted with Garage guru Little Steven Van Zandt at all?
(laughs) I did not know about that, so thanks for telling me! No, I don’t think I’ve met him. But I apologize to Steven if I have, and don’t remember!
Do you feel getting airplay is important to new and upcoming bands these days? Is it different now than it was during the pre-internet era?
It’s extremely important, and it will always be. The only difference is the internet has brought a lot of annoying aspects, and the impact it’s had on the sales of music. But you can’t stop. You gotta get on, and keep on doing it.
I really dig the cover of Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz that you guys did for the Edge of Seventeen soundtrack. What do you think makes up a great cover song?
Well, first, thank you. Personally, I think it’s an OK version. (laughs) I like covers that have their own spin on the song — hence, why I think our version is OK. But, hmm, I really don’t like doing covers.
In one sentence, tell me what the crystal ball holds for The Struts in 2017.
New album and world domination.
I like that attitude! Finally, what would you like the legacy of The Struts to be? What else do you think the future holds for you?
Well, who knows, really? I know it sounds silly of me, but I’m a big believer in taking one day at a time, and really concentrating on the immediate future. I guess I just want to keep doing what I’m doing — and become better at it every day. (pauses) I hope that’s a good enough answer. (chuckles)