The Struts: “We formed in f*cking Derby and suddenly got picked up in the U.S. – when does that ever happen?”

Want real rock’n’roll? Here come The Struts, led by suave musical superhero Luke Spiller. Having relocated from Derby to LA, they’ve made America – and their heroes – fall in love with their very English flamboyance. Now they’re coming home to take the Apex Stage at Download. Hopefully it goes better than last time…

The Struts: “We formed in f*cking Derby and suddenly got picked up in the U.S. – when does that ever happen?”
Steve Beebee
Whitney Otte, Nell Nabarro

“Mate, that track is totally me. It’s all completely real. There isn’t even an ounce of made-up fantasy stuff in there…”

Luke Spiller is talking about Too Good At Raising Hell, the opening song from The Struts’ recent fourth and arguably best album, Pretty Vicious. Among the lyrics are such lines as, ‘All my demons are cocaine-fuelled electric cool,’ with Luke singing about, ‘Staying at the party when everyone’s left,’ and, ‘Sex so good, make the neighbours smoke a cigarette.’

“It’s literally written about my experience of coming to LA and discovering all the various glories and pleasures that come with it,” he says. “I remember coming in one night at 3am and just strumming away on my guitar. I started singing the words, ‘Too good at raising hell,’ and it kinda came from there…”

Remember rock stars? Luke certainly does. He probably gets a reminder every time he looks in the mirror, which if we looked like him we’d probably be doing more of, too.

In a little over 10 years, the British rockers have swapped Derby for Los Angeles and traded empty pubs for sharing stages with everyone from Foo Fighters to Mötley Crüe, and on the day we speak to Luke they’ve just finished a trek with Queens Of The Stone Age. As well as four great albums, there have been enormo-tours, sold-out headliners in the very same UK cities that once shunned them, and several eyebrow-raising collaborations with the likes of Kesha and Robbie Williams. Luke was even asked by the Foos to perform with Queen at The Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert in 2022 at Wembley.

Despite all that, The Struts have retained a very specific sense of home, what a U.S. audience might enjoy as their ‘quirky’ Englishness. Luke calls you ‘mate’, sings in a pointedly English accent, and in the song Rockstar, even enunciates ‘arse’ correctly.

“Look at the bands our country has produced: The Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin…” he offers. “That attitude has also pressed me forward. I always make it a point to remain true to myself, in both how I speak and how I sing. And it’s great, ’cause the Americans love it!”

As for moving to LA and enjoying what most of us would regard as a near mythical rock lifestyle, Luke is refreshingly unrepentant about it all.

“I got sucked into it pretty quickly,” he admits. “The weather is so consistently lovely and there’s something amazing happening every single night. It’s very hard to say no to a lot of things. There was about half a year in which I did succumb to the party scene. That said, I drew a lot of great experiences from it and wrote some great lyrics which ended up on the record. I embraced it, and now I feel like I have a nice balance.”

As glitzy and Jack Daniel’s-soaked as it all sounds, dismissing The Struts as a modern-day iteration of glam metal’s sordid past would be a grave error. The quartet – completed by guitarist Adam Slack, bassist Jed Elliott and drummer Gethin Davies – have always had a joyful grasp of glittery old school rock, but they’ve reframed those conventions in new, youthful colours. Their music constantly switches lanes; it’s pure raunch and then outright pop and three minutes later it’s glossily structured showpiece ballads. It’s the variety, the not knowing, that makes them so endearing.

That’s been the case since their 2014 debut Everybody Wants, which just seemed to get better the longer it went on, and it’s still the case today with Pretty Vicious. Songs like Bad Decisions and Hands On Me are no less instant than their more upbeat counterparts, but they feed from wholly different sources.

“Both represent real aspects of my life,” Luke reckons. “Bad Decisions was written about a very specific moment in time, and Hands On Me was inspired by a big heartbreak that I went through, but the major difference with this album is that I’ve really exposed myself a lot more in terms of the lyrics, and more so as a human being. I’ve poured it all out there. Thankfully some great songs have come from it, but listening to Bad Decisions gets me every time… it takes me right back and feels horrible, but the fact that it affects me so much means it must be a good song.

“Even my downfalls as a person have resulted in some glory at the end, because they’ve been translated into songs. You learn from these things.”

Luke imagines a conversation with his 21-year-old self, and how he might tell that young man to be more resolute in sticking to his vision, and never compromising.

“But then again, look at us,” he counters. “We’re an English band that formed in fucking Derby and suddenly got picked up in the U.S. – when does that ever happen?”

For all their Stateside success, there have always been elements in The Struts’ music that are as peculiarly British as tea drinking, fish and chips, and Carry On films. Luke’s originally from Bristol and moved to Derby after meeting a like-minded soul in Adam. Growing up, he loved the cinematic sounds of Queen and Led Zeppelin, British bands that appeared to have no limit to their musical vision. Hitting his teens, his peers fell for the likes of blink-182 as American pop-punk got its claws into the music scene. It wasn’t his bag.

“It was The Darkness that changed everything for me,” he asserts. “I love them so much. All their big songs are from a world they created. Permission To Land has got to be one of the most solid debuts ever. When I was at school everyone was into pop-punk, which I didn’t really understand. I was sat there quite bored and then – bang – The Darkness arrived. I read every last thing Kerrang! published about them. They’d be in there talking about AC/DC and that’s actually how I discovered AC/DC!

“I think the teenage version of me would be quite proud of what I’ve become. Back then, just to have the possibility of a career in music and to be a frontman in a band – that would’ve been enough.”

While the four members of The Struts clearly shared a vision from the outset, they hardly progressed at all in their adopted home city. The band made the now well-documented – but in retrospect, quite extraordinary – decision to relocate to California at the end of 2014. It wasn’t easy. Adam had just bought a house with his girlfriend and then reluctantly had to tell her he was leaving.

“We were four kids trying to get out of Derby. Back in those days we played one show in Leicester to a man and a dog. Literally – there was one guy there and he’d brought a fucking dog. We were so amused by it that we called ourselves The Sprouts and swapped instruments for a laugh!”

Going to America was like starting afresh, and it’s fair to say things soon picked up. Breakout song Could Have Been Me, a yearning, blatantly stardom-seeking anthem, became a U.S. radio hit. America got a taste for this quintessentially English-sounding band, with Luke rolling his ‘r’s like a young Freddie Mercury and proudly prancing for cameras in glitter and feathers.

They also put in the work, dedicated road-burning graft, month after month. The Struts would appear on any radio station that would have them – and loads did. Gigs with huge bands followed. It seemed like everyone was in, Dave Grohl’s perma-grin becoming wider still as he described them as the best band to have ever opened for the Foos.

A decade later, The Struts inhabit the world they dreamed of in their Derby days, but Luke reckons they’re still the same guys.

“We still love each other dearly, and for that I think we’re very lucky,” he smiles. “We’ve never really fallen out. We still hang out together too, have nights out – we’re not one of those bands that only get together before a tour. I’m proud of what we’ve done, and grateful.”

Being asked to sing Queen classic We Will Rock You at Wembley’s Taylor Hawkins tribute concert on September 3, 2022, was bittersweet. Luke falters slightly in talking about the late Foo Fighters drummer. He confesses that he’s lucky enough to have never had a close friend die before, and that Taylor was not just a mate but a mentor.

“He did a lot for us,” he nods. “It’s hard to talk about because it’s so sad. The Wembley show was beautiful, and it was great to be able to honour my friend like that.”

A few months prior to Taylor’s sudden death in March 2022, Luke had been rehearsing a set of Queen covers with the drummer at the Hawkins household. They’d planned to do a short tour together.

“Then I heard the tragic news. It was shocking, so tough to process. I realised I’d never be able to hang out at his house, jam with him and chat about music, do gigs with him… it was all so weird. So, the chance to at least honour him at Wembley was a dream come true.”

Foos guitarist Pat Smear called Luke and said he’d heard about the duo’s Queen project, and asked how he’d feel about playing with the real thing. He shakes his head at the memory: “I’m like, ‘I’m down for this! I’ll do whatever!’ The whole show was about nine hours, so I had a long time to get nervous. I’m sitting in my dressing room seeing all these amazing people, from Kesha to Josh Homme, and I’m thinking, ‘What the fuck am I doing here?’ Then, it was one of the greatest moments of my life when Brian May asked me to walk to the stage with them. The whole thing was just so surreal.”

With the QOTSA tour done, The Struts will spend the next few months on a headline run in America. Luke knocks any suggestion of impropriety on the head – he might party at home on occasion, but on tour he doesn’t drink, exercises and does everything possible to protect his health and voice. So far it’s worked like a dream.

He’s also been chipping away at a solo project. Currently in the mixing stage, he describes it as “orchestral with strings, and with loads of songs about love, sex and heartbreak”. In the more immediate future there’s the small matter of The Struts’ Download appearance, another challenge that this most vivacious of
bands will hungrily rise to.

“We certainly aren’t quitters,” Luke laughs. “The song I Won’t Run is about not quitting, and it rings true even now. It’s like a sister to Could Have Been Me. It’s getting tough to choose a setlist, but I honestly feel the set we have now is our strongest ever.

“As for Download, that’s gonna be great. We used to be able to hear Download from Adam’s house in Shardlow, and we’d tell ourselves that one day we’d play it. Anyway, one time we played in the big tent and I had a cup of piss thrown right in my face.”

Luke flashes his toothy grin.

“I’ve been officially christened, mate!”

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