By Jay Tilles
The Struts are a throwback to classic English rock with infectious melodies and sing-along choruses. One look at singer Luke Spiller will instantly conjure up memories of Queen’s Freddie Mercury. Spiller has even enlisted Mercury’s former stylist to aid in his look. But their sound is not derivative. Rather, The Struts have cherry-picked elements from the greats and synthesized them into a “happy fun” sound all their own.
And just like the bands they up listening to, the foursome from Derby, England are road dogs, having tirelessly toured since their formation in 2010. But their most recent success has been found not by driving an old van around Europe; actually, they’re logging most of their miles here in the U.S., much to the credit of their U.S. record label, Interscope Records.
Songs that charted in the UK in early 2014 are now finally being exposed to a receptive audience on this side of the pond. One such track is “Could Have Been Me,” which the band penned for their debut EP in 2013. The raucous tune has landed at alternative and rock radio across the country, rocketing the song into to Billboard’s Alt Rock chart top 5 songs.
Related: The Struts Join The KROQ Playlist
Radio.com caught up with Spiller to see how he was processing their newly found stateside success.
Is it crazy that just now thousands of people are hearing “Could Have Been Me” for the first time?
Yeah, I’ve always said to the group, we’re a different band; we’re a standout kind of group, and I’ve always believed that our road to the idea of success will be the same way. It’s always been like that. We’ve never had a typical past, and nothing’s been necessarily easy. It’s kinda just the way it is.
So the fact that “Could Have Been Me” was recorded four years ago and is now being listened to by thousands of people is just pure Struts fashion, so it doesn’t surprise me. To be honest, if it carries on going this way, we’ll get our first number one when I die at like 29 years old or something.
Do you think you’ll ever get tired of playing the song, the way Radiohead won’t play “Creep” anymore?
I don’t know, man. If people wanna hear it, then we’ll always wanna play it. I think it’s our responsibility to fulfill what the fans want, and if it’s making us some cash and paying the bills, then of course, we’re always gonna be obliged to play it. At the end of the day if our career does span like over 20 years, then even more reason to play it, definitely. So no, it never gets tired.
What does the song mean to you?
I think what it really kind of represents, to me anyway, is it’s basically coming at a crossroads in our career where we have to kind of really decide to fly or fight, so to speak, and we chose to carry on fighting to do what we wanted to do. So it’s more about those lines.
It seems like you’ve got a lot of good things happening now, one of which was your video shot on the Thames River, which looked like one hell of a party.
It definitely was as fun as it looks on screen. I was introduced to the director, Jonas Akerlund, through email, kind of running through some ideas. He was talking about a famous documentary in which the Sex Pistols went off on a barge boat up the Thames. He wanted to, not recreate it, but we wanted to have something in that kind of spirit.
It was quite ironic, because the Sex Pistols, they were banned from playing anywhere in the UK, and that was kind of like their legal loophole, so to speak. They were doing it as kind of a “f— you.” And in terms of the UK, we’ve had so much support to our live shows, and our attendances were really great, but we still weren’t being played by radio; none of the press kind of gave a f—. So we carried on that sense of it in our own little weird way. And the video I believe got over 1 million views in just over two weeks. So that’s a definite, definite “fuck you” to people who just couldn’t be bothered to play it.
Have you gotten into a situation where you thought you were gonna lose the fight with this band?
Yeah, yeah, there’s been a few times, but you just kind of carry on going with it. It’s like the day that I was told about the news we would be supporting the Rolling Stones, we were upstairs at the top of the pub that we meant to be playing in, an absolute f—–g s—hole of a place. And we just weren’t happy. Like the people around us were just—everyone was kind of out of ideas.
But it’s weird. You kind of find yourself in these situations, but I look back now, and it’s like, God, what keeps you going? And to be honest, it’s always just a good show. I guess if you were to give up then, you wouldn’t be here now. Even now I don’t really see myself doing absolutely anything else. It’s kind of my brain now is wired in a certain way. But yeah, we definitely had our doubts at the time.
How does that feel? The four of you, you’re in a pub, and you realize, people now care, and throw up the middle finger to all the people that didn’t in the beginning.
Yeah, yeah, you’ve got that, but at the end of the day, I’m not satisfied. I’m nowhere near satisfied. It’s great that we’ve gotten this far but we’re still going around in s—-y little vans and going around doing shows and whatnot. So there’s a long way to go. The only thing that’s keeping us going is we know it’s getting better, and the only way to go is really up, and it’s really exciting. So I’m not satisfied. I wouldn’t be satisfied until we’re the biggest f—–g band in the world.
You called your first album “a collection of songs for the disenchanted.” How would you describe this EP?
Well, you know, the EP is kind of the best songs of the album from a commercial perspective, not on a real personal one, but what everyone kind of decided what we should say, and not. about the album which is to come. And I think it gives a good flavor of what people should expect.
So what should people expect from this next album?
Well, the first album is actually gonna be the first album again, just revamped, you see. Yeah, a lot of people are getting it all mixed up, so we’re trying to iron it all out. So basically, you heard it here first. What happened is, initially the first album was quite rushed, and we ran out of budget to finish it, and we all kind of scrambled to put it together. When we had this kind of fresh, amazing new start in the states, things picking up here, it seemed natural to just take everything off and do our debut album justice and remaster it and remix it, go back to the studio, put some new songs on, just give it the best possible chance, and the chance that it actually really deserved. Because it wasn’t pushed out properly last time and it kind of just seeped through the ceiling, and this time we wanted to shoot people in the fucking face with it. So it’s gonna be great. So yeah, sorry to disappoint you, there’s gonna be no second album.
It definitely felt like this album had a soft launch, and it deserves its day in the sun.
Yeah, I mean you call it a soft launch; I call it just no f—–g launch. So it’s gonna be great; we’re gonna see it really be given the chance that it deserves.
What’s the story behind the performance in someone’s house where you performed Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”
Yeah, yeah, there was a competition winner, actually, and we had to come down and play an acoustic set. I’d love to say there was some amazing, drug-fueled story behind that performance, but no, it just was quite simply a competition winner. We had to go quite far, but the fans mean a lot to us, so—yeah, we drove for two hours to get there.
Standout frontmen don’t come along too often and it seems like you’ve got your fans magnetized. Are you aware of that when you’re out on stage?
Well, I’ve been doing it so long now. It’s been 10 years since I’ve joined various different bands, and I’ve always been the frontman of whatever group I’ve been in. I guess it’s like to me it’s just what I kind of do, and in some ways I’m still like a boring 15-year-old teenager jumping onstage or looking in his mirror pretending to be Bon Scott or Freddy Mercury or Michael Jackson. Yeah, it’s funny. It comes from stuff you’re just emulating, and it’s funny sometimes how life finds a way of suddenly putting the rope on you, so to speak.
Do you enjoy the comparisons to Queen and the Stones?
Yeah, I appreciate them a hell of a lot, you know, it’s a huge compliment. If I was doing what I was doing and was being compared to the likes of Miley Cyrus or Harry Styles, then I’d be a bit miffed and probably very confused. And obviously, I’m sure the nation would be confused. But that kind of comparison, it’s evident that we’re doing what we set out to do. And it’s all done on purpose; none of it’s done by accident. If people say there’s similarities, it’s totally deliberate; you know what I mean?
Your music has some pop qualities like catchy sing-along choruses. Do you have any respect for any of the pop acts that are out working today?
Yeah, we’re all in the same game, aren’t we? I guess the real question is, the majority of people aren’t really writing their own stuff, but as people, obviously, I respect anyone. I’m not an a–hole. If I don’t really know anything about someone, I’m not going to completely prejudge them. Ed Sheeran, for example, I could meet him and think he was the best person on planet earth, but what I think about his music is something slightly different. It’s like people’s art and people’s personalities are two different things.
So yeah, I’d respect anyone. It’s hard work; it’s not an easy game for anyone. Whether you’re a rock act or a pop act, it’s all fairly similar, the traveling, staying away from home and what you love and stuff like that. So it’s never easy for anyone.
Having toured all over the world, why do you think there are so many great rock bands coming out of the UK and so few out of the US, other than, say, the Foo Fighters? Is that apparent to you?
I don’t know, mate. If you know any good rock ’n’ roll bands coming out of the UK, then let me know.
Yeah, they’re all right. I don’t really like the music, to be honest. I wouldn’t call it rock ’n’ roll; it’s more like the White Stripes with a distortion pedal on your bass guitar, really. You know what I mean. I’ve got classic tastes. Do they sound classic, no, you know what I mean?
You were in the studio in July recording songs. Were you re-recording songs from the first album or new material?
It’s actually a mix of both. Like I said, we’re doing a lot of remastering and stuff. So a lot of it is kind of re-going over and thinking, “Is this the best we can do? Is this mix the best one?” And we’ve also got a hell of a lot of new ideas as well. So the majority is actually a lot of new material, some I can’t wait for everybody to hear.
Is that tough? Because you’re relaunching that first album, and now you’ve got all these new songs.
Yeah, honestly, the revamping of this new album is an absolute bitch. It was done four years ago. To return back into that head space again is quite difficult, and that collection of songs represents a time that we were at mentally and lyrically, and bands change a lot in four years. So I guess the real challenge has been playing stuff that sounds coherent with the songs from the first album, you know what I mean? Because naturally, subconsciously you know what you’ve done, so you know which way to go forward. But we’re having to have someone pull the reigns in on us and kind of keep us on our feet a bit and just kind of get the job done.
But I can’t wait to really—not in a bad way, but I really can’t wait just to put this one to bed so we can be like, “Right, where are we going with this next one,” and have that project be given our 100 percent of our attention.
You attended the premiere of “Straight Outa Compton.” What did you think?
I thought that was f—–g brilliant.
I love all sorts of music, and I’ve always been aware of N.W.A. and Ice Cube especially and obviously Dr. Dre as well, not only as a producer, but someone who has found so much talent for so long. So I knew fairly well the story, but I didn’t have any idea about the real details. That’s why it’s a great film. If you don’t know anything about it, it’s a great education.
And second of all, it’s just a f—–g great movie. As a musical film goes it’s definitely probably one of the best ones I’ve seen. I’ve seen a lot of them, because these are kind of what I enjoy to watch. Like the Jimi Hendrix one with Andre 3000, that was f—–g crap, and it has so much hype around it, and I was so disappointed with it. And then this one, not really the kind of music that a rock band would be expected to listen to, we were all absolutely blown away by it. So it’s one of my favorite films of the year, by far.