“We’ll be fine handling fame. We’re already massive rock stars in our heads. Only our circumstances will change and we can afford to go out more often.” Luke Spiller
Finally! After too many years of waiting, a rock & roll band have arrived with the flamboyance, the style and, yes, the strut to match their unstoppable tunes. When was the last time a band wanted to be this glamorous, and insistent that only the stadiums will do for their music? In Luke Spiller The Struts are blessed with a frontman who, to quote his own neat summary: “I was born to do this. And I’ll die doing it.” Not for Luke the prissy “If anyone else likes it, it’s a bonus” talk of a generation of cautious bands who have second-guessed rock & roll into the margins.
“Too many bands are afraid,” reasons Luke. “They’re looking over their shoulder, too concerned with thinking ‘Can I get away with this?’ and caught up with what’s currently cool. You need a good level of songwriting, of course, but you need a level of performance and style too. You need flamboyance.”
Of course, such fighting words would be nothing without the swaggering songs to back them up. Luckily for us all, The Struts are kindly giving us I Just Know - a stomper of a track - sounding like a revitalised Axl Rose penning a new Brown Sugar. “It’s our most insistently addictive and repetitive song,” explains Luke. “If you like that, you’ll love our other songs.”
They include Put Your Money On Me, the underdog anthem Noel Gallagher is now far too rich to get away with and She Makes Me Feel Like, an absurd and absurdly catchy boogie that realises the secret to pop is knowing when a well-timed “Woah woah woah” is the perfect lyric.
“I’ve always known what I wanted,” says Luke. “Rock & roll with a contemporary twist, pushing it forwards again at last. From day one, that’s come naturally to this band. The world is ready for us, because it’s been 12 years since The Libertines, who were the last band to do something truly new. I don’t think bands are bothered about chart success right now. It doesn’t sound like they truly want it, anyway. But at least there’s starting to be a fightback – The Strypes and Temples have a great look too.”
If Luke sounds evangelical about music, it’s partly because of his background. He’s the son of born-again Christians and went to church in Bristol every Sunday until he was 16. “When I could stop going, it gave me an extra day to myself,” he explains. And, lo, that day was filled with rock. He guzzled up the greats, from Led Zeppelin to Queen via Leonard Cohen and AC/DC, and hasn’t stopped inhaling since.
“Because my parents didn’t have any music to offer me, it felt like I was the only person who’d ever listened to this stuff,” he states. “The last thing you should do is regurgitate what you’ve been brought up on. You want to get into what feels like it’s cutting-edge.”
Luke may have been starved of rock, but discovered a love of performing when, aged seven, he acted a lead roll in a school play – “Something clicked, and I knew it was my calling to perform.”
But, just when Luke’s first band were getting somewhere, “university got in the way”. He worked as a cleaner at the time, “mopping up piss and shit every day”, and was debating how much to dilute his dream when a friend recommended guitarist Adam Slack. He may have been three years younger and living in Derby, but Luke uprooted himself on the spot. The pair spent a year writing songs before feeling they were ready, recruiting bassist Jed Elliott and drummer Gethin Davies via mutual friends. “We’re perfectly balanced,” grins Luke. “Some are more sensitive, or socially outgoing or more organised than others. Everyone has found their own place. That was the hard part, staying good with each other.”
The other missing part was finding the right producers, who also came from opposite ends of the spectrum – new Bournemouth production team Red Triangle, and unlikely pop svengali Ray Hedges, veteran of No 1 productions for Take That, B*Witched and Gareth Gates. “It was ages since Ray had been in with a band,” Luke explains. “So he was really excited, going ‘This is so refreshing’. We were both out of our comfort zone.” It was Ray’s idea to utilise the synth used by The Sweet on ‘70s classics like Fox On The Run, adding a timeless feel to the likes of It Could Have Been Me.
Soon, songs like Kiss This were added, written after Luke’s then-girlfriend cheated on him with his then-best mate. “I wrote it three weeks later,” says Luke, now 24. “I know they’ve both heard it. I don’t know what they think, but I’m getting them back – and that song will be around forever. “I find it easy to write songs that connect with people, by making them personal. That’s one of the reasons rock & roll has been fizzling out, that lack of connection with everyone. I’ve known what it’s like to seethe with frustration and put your dreams to one side, to think ‘I’m on my own and there’s bills coming in.’ But you can’t let your dreams die.”
Dreaming big is writ large in The Struts’ name. Having toyed with alternatives including Dynamo Hum and Baby Strange, The Struts was suggested by their manager “after seeing me strut about in rehearsals”. It was perfect and, as Luke notes, “I can’t believe no-one else has thought of it before.”
Showing the moves, Luke has led The Struts through many gigs that have already had critics racking up the superlatives. “I come off stage unable to remember what’s happened,” he ponders. “It’s so natural, I go into autopilot. Some character within me takes over and I’m looking in from the outside. It really is like an out of body experience. I don’t know where it comes from, I just draw it from the ether and it flows through me.
“I’ve worn some pretty ridiculous things on stage before, but my look gets more defined each day. I can’t get away from the days when art, style and music were being pushed to their limits: Queen’s early moody, gothy look, or Keith Richards during Exile On Main Street. He just looked so cool.”
Luke is so convinced of his destiny that even his parents now accept he’s doing the right thing. “Dad is a gospel singer, so I connect with him on a musical level – and mum is quite stylish,” Luke enthuses. “And before they became born-again, it turns out they used to like rock & roll too.” They were convinced Luke’s fame was written in the stars anyway. When Luke was five, he had a reading done at his local church which his mother presented to him at the start of this year.
“It was two paragraphs, which said that I’d be a leader with a voice heard by hundreds of thousands of people,” he boggles. “They thought that meant I’d be a preacher, maybe a journalist. But it seems a lot clearer now…”