THE STRUTS IN LOS ANGELES, FEBRUARY 2016. PHOTOS: MARKUS ZIEGLER. STYLING: DANI + EMMA. GROOMING: NICOLA HAMILTON AT DLMLA USING KOH GEN DO AND ORIBE HAIR CARE. MAKEUP: LAURA CARTIER. SPECIAL THANKS: THE LINE HOTEL.
“There’s a lot of stuff going around. I’m a bit nervous,” The Struts’ frontman Luke Spiller admits the day before a sold-out show in New York. “This is going to be the longest set [we’ve played]. I’ve done it in practice, but when it comes with adrenaline and performance, your two- or three-hour stamina can be cut to one-and-a-half, depending on how much effort you put in—and I put in a lot.”
Known for his personal aesthetic (mostly women’s clothing; plenty of makeup) and equally as energetic performances, Spiller, with bandmates Adam Slack, Jed Elliott, and Gethin Davies, produces some of the truest glam-rock known to the 21st century. The four-piece, hailing from Bristol, England, first released their debut LP Everybody Wants in 2014 via Virgin EMI, but shortly thereafter it was placed on lockdown everywhere outside of the U.K., leaving worldwide fans with two EPs instead: Kiss This (Virgin) and later, Have You Heard (Interscope Records). Having gone through four labels since the band’s formation in 2012, today The Struts are finally re-releasing a remastered and extended version of Everybody Wants via Interscope.
Though the journey has been long and the struggle real, The Struts have also experienced unforgettable highs—some that many bands, of any level, could never even imagine. In 2014, the four-piece opened for The Rolling Stones in Paris, with an audience of more than 80,000 people. In December 2015, they opened for Mötley Crüe’s final four farewell shows in Las Vegas. As headliners, they’ve sold-out iconic American venues, such as L.A.’s The Troubadour and New York’s Irving Plaza. Now, they are preparing to play more than 40 shows around the world within the next five months.
Earlier this week, when walking into Interscope’s office, we hear a piano’s distant melody and soon find Spiller sitting at its keys. Wearing flared blue jeans, a vintage button-up shirt, iridescent boots, and plenty of jewelry, he sits down and we speak about everything from touring to how going to church as a child influences his performance.
EMILY MCDERMOTT: So you’re in New York for 10 days before officially heading out on tour. Do you enjoy touring in general?
LUKE SPILLER: It comes with the job. I love performing, I love the shows, but unfortunately you can’t have good without evil, you can’t have light without darkness. On tour, you’ve got the show, which is the best aspect, and the flip side, which is the lack of sleep and the schedule. I’m a firm believer that a band only gets as big as they want to, and that reflects their work ethic. For instance, we’re doing radio promo every day because everything’s about relationships and you’ve got to play the game. I want to appear loyal and please certain people so they might keep the record on for a bit longer—that helps us, it helps them, it helps everything we work for.
MCDERMOTT: Obviously there isn’t much downtime, so what do you do to help yourself relax?
SPILLER: If we’re on a bus, you can keep going and going and going because you can get off the stage, get into your bunk, and sleep till midday. Or, if you’ve got a radio performance at 9:00 or 10:00, you put some dry shampoo in and hit the hay again straight [afterward]. You’ve got your bed following you around and that makes a huge difference.
If I’m in a hotel, then I take lots of baths. I love listening to U.K. radio. The great thing about the internet is that with my phone I can sit in the bath and listen to a documentary about 1950s musicals. I used to like drinking and doing lots of drugs to wind down, but it doesn’t really work anymore. Not with the schedule.
MCDERMOTT: So you have five additional songs on the album for this rerelease and U.S. debut. What was that process like, deciding what to add?
SPILLER: It was difficult because we’d written the best part of what would’ve been a really good second album. I’m always difficult—I’m not precious about ideas, but I get precious about the way I think things should be done and strategy. There’s one song, “Young Stars,” in particular, where I was like, “This would be great for the second album, it would be a great opener,” but everyone was like, “No, put all your eggs in one basket,” because you only get one shot at your first album—unless you’re The Struts. [laughs]
Getting back in the headspace of your debut, that was weird. It was out for a year, and some of the songs we’ve been playing for over three years. We’ve had this crazy second chance to come back and rearrange everything, be more confident and have a more defined message of what we are and what we’re about.
MCDERMOTT: What would you say that more defined message is?
SPILLER: It’s always been about fun, but there’s this feeling that it really is us against the world, and we also [did] things that we wouldn’t have done the first time around. A song called “The Old Switcheroo,” which is very glam, I don’t think we would’ve done the first time. The people we were surrounded by would’ve gone, “[groans], is it too much?” But now we’ve got the confidence to be like, “Fuck it, it sounds great, it’s a cool song.” People call it glam, and this is about as glam as it gets.
MCDERMOTT: Can you pinpoint a few experiences helped you gain this newfound confidence?
SPILLER: As a writer, I’ve grown quite a lot. I’ve been writing extensively for the past two years because we went through a funny period. When the first album came out, things weren’t looking great. We had an awful lot of down time and I was a little bit depressed where we were in Darby. I was far from home and family, and all I had really was my keyboard, coffee, and cats. I got into a habit of doing a song for two or three days. I made the most out of that downtime and I’ve taken that experience I feel it now; I feel a lot more confident as a writer.
In terms of gaining more confidence as a group, we’re tighter than ever because since the release [in] the U.K., France gave us great radio play so we were touring around there, and we [opened for] The Rolling Stones, and that opened a lot of doors. Then coming to America—fucking hell, the last six months, that’s been crazy. Things that seemed quite far away, almost unachievable, have suddenly become reachable. It gives you the confidence to push yourself and carry on doing what you’re doing. The States have helped massively in that. Radio has embraced us. We’ve done live television. We’ve done sold out performances across the country.
MCDERMOTT: With such a rapid ascent, what are some of the struggles you’ve faced?
SPILLER: Oh god… When me and Adam first decided to put this band together, we had a record deal and two members before Jed and Geth. As soon as we put pen to paper, this label looked at me, and everything that was great about me was suddenly going to hinder our career, our chance of gaining radio play, and all this shit. They were telling me to wear fuckin’ trainers. They wanted me to wear skinny jeans, Reeboks, and a white t-shirt onstage. They made me cut all my hair—that’s why my hair is black; they made me cut it and dye it black. Then they cornered us and said, “These two current members you have, it’s not working. If you don’t kick them out, we’re not going to help you.” So we ended up having to tell the boys [that they were out] and then the [ex-]drummer suddenly started fucking my girlfriend behind my back. We had to quickly find two new blokes—that led to Jed and Geth—so we had all these fucking strangers in our house, trying to get in our band. It was the last thing I fucking wanted to do, and time wasn’t on our side.
Then, after all of that, the record label we were on had the plug pulled out of it, so none of it even mattered. We then got inherited by a major label though some persistent managerial skills. We had this album, but the label didn’t give a fuck about us; we were just inherited. So there was no album launch. They just put it through, like a letterbox. That was it.
MCDERMOTT: During all of that what kept you from giving up? I imagine it would’ve been so hard to stay motivated.
SPILLER: We were blindly confident and ambitious, me especially. I always thought, “At some point, someone’s going to walk in the door, they’re going to see me, see this band, and pick it up.” Nothing was happening in the U.K., but the thing that kept us going was OUI FM [in Paris] started playing “Could’ve Been Me,” it got B-listed, and so we then travel to France and play in front of 900 people, sold out, every other night. As frustrating as it was, it was like, “That’s fucking living proof that if you give this band radio play, it connects. All we need is to get through that door. Whose dick have I got to suck to make that happen?” And we made it happen: We fired our management; we left our label, took our album with us; landed on our feet; and got great [new] management. Two weeks later, we signed with Interscope Records and our song goes to Number 5 on the Alt-charts in the U.S. The Struts won.
MCDERMOTT: After a long battle.
SPILLER: But it was worth fighting. I think everything happens for a reason. If any of us, me especially, had the success we’re starting to gain now three years ago, it would’ve gone straight to my head. I wouldn’t have appreciated it… We were all very naughty then—four lads living in a house, the amount of narcotics taken in that house was insane, and I don’t think that was out of boredom. That’s just where I was at the time in my head. So I’m really glad it’s happening now. I can appreciate it.
MCDERMOTT: So I read that you started making your own clothes when you were a teenager and it was your mom that first suggested you reach out to [designer] Zandra Rhodes, who made the clothing for your first tour. But I also know your dad was a pastor and you were raised in a Christian household. Were they supportive of your creative endeavors?
SPILLER: Always. I actually just got a phone call from my mum and she’s surprised me—they’re in New York! They never go to New York. But they’ve always been really supportive. I used to make all my own outfits and my mum bought me a sewing machine. I used to take jumpers and cut the front panel out and make the sleeves into Merlin wizard sleeves. So I’d have the front panel open, go bare chested, and I’d buy trousers and line [them with] leopard fabric.
MCDERMOTT: And you’d wear it to school?
SPILLER: I would wear it everywhere apart from school. I went to an all boys, posh school, you see, so I had to wear a suit and tie. I wore these outfits to parties, gigs… My dad connects with me more on a music level because he’s a gospel singer/songwriter, and he’s been really supportive since day one. Obviously if I was to cuss and be malicious, lyrically—if I were to spit out something Eminem would say—he’d probably take me to one side and ask me if that was the right thing to do. But at the end of the day, I truly believe in sending out great stories with narrative or an overall positive message.
MCDERMOTT: Was religion a big part of your life growing up?
SPILLER: Yeah, it was. I have my own beliefs [now], but I was raised that way. I had to go to church every Sunday until I was 16. I think what I learned from going to church is real sincerity while performing. Watching my dad perform, it’s not an act. There’s no self-indulgence; it’s him reaching out to a higher power and helping people in a room do the same thing. That level of passion I still carry now. I mean everything I say and every move I make, just as I experienced growing up.
MCDERMOTT: There’s a quote you said, which is that “this is an album for the disenchanted,” and listeners “are taken on a journey.” What do you think that journey is?
SPILLER: When I was 14, there was a huge rap movement coming over from the U.S.—everyone was into Wu Tang and Eminem. Eminem made every white middle class kid be able to rap, so there was this huge culture movement in the U.K. that affected rock as well, like Korn and Limp Bizket. There was this big divide socially and I wasn’t part of either of them. I appreciated both sides of music, and I still do, but that was when I discovered The Darkness, and from that, Queen, The Who, [Led] Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones. All of a sudden I found where I belonged, I knew that was exactly where I fitted, and I went on this journey; I made it my mission to know everything I could about that period in time.
I want this album to do the same thing. I know there are millions of young people who are very bored with the status quo and I’d like this album to be a real alternative. I know alternative is a loose term these days, but this is actually, really alternative. It’s stands alone. When someone listens to it, I like to think they’re going through the same journey that I went through when I was younger—being inspired, getting a bigger perspective on music and what you can achieve.