The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame features some of the biggest names in the history of the musical genre. Artists like the Rolling Stones, Queen, Elton John and David Bowie all trace their origins to Great Britain.
Current-day rockers The Struts carry influence from each of those artists while creating their own unique brand of rock. Their popularity has been built and has exploded as a result not only of exceedingly strong songwriting and infectious guitar hooks but from nearly a decade of nonstop live performances. Good old-fashioned work is paying off.
The Struts live shows are a testament to the era of glam rock. Sing-along anthems spill out for nearly two hours. Lead singer Luke Spiller has onstage charisma that rivals any musical performer of any era. In spite of all the success, the quartet maintains self-deprecating humor about themselves best exemplified in their hit song “Primadonna Like Me.” The tune begins with the tongue-in-cheek line, “Don’t you know who I think I am?”
It’s that sense of perspective that made it typical Struts when they started their interview not talking about their band, but rather by talking about the loss of Queen Elizabeth II, who had died earlier that very day.
Many Americans have trouble grasping the importance of Britain’s Royal Family. Spiller did his best to explain the impact of her death. “It’s very strange. Obviously given her age, etc. it is expected. It is sad to say the least.” In a reverential hushed tone, Spiller continued, pointing out that for the vast majority of citizens of the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II is the only monarch they’ve ever known. “I think looking into her life story, especially how it has all been televised…it’s been for such a long time, in actual reality and of course in dramatizations, we have watched in the last five or six years.” The normally engaging lead singer had a faraway look in his eye as the hours-old news fully sunk in. “She led an incredible life and it is hard not to sympathize with her and I think the country is going to miss her. It is really the end of an era.”
Bass player Jed Elliott summed it up more succinctly. “We just miss our dear Liz. We want her back. I’ve not stopped crying today.”
It was no small irony that The Struts were mourning the loss of their Queen immediately after Spiller had performed with the legendary band Queen during a celebration of life for recently deceased Hall of Fame band Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins. Just a few short years ago The Struts toured with the Foo Fighters and the members of both bands had become tight. After Hawkins unexpected death, rock royalty planned a blowout extravaganza to honor him. Sir Paul McCartney performed. So did AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson. Surviving Foo Fighter Dave Grohl reached out to Luke Spiller and asked if he would sing with the surviving members of Queen.
Spiller reflected on getting the call informing him of the shocking loss of his friend. “I remember I had just sat down to watch a movie and I had literally just hit play. I had a lady friend over and I got a call from Adam just out of the blue and I thought ‘okay, that’s a bit strange’ so I picked up and then he told me immediately and the first thing I said was “Shut Up” then I just hung up. I didn’t say goodbye or anything. Then I looked everything up online. It was weird. I’ve never experienced actual shock like that.”
Spiller continued, “Very quickly after, the gal I was with said come on, let’s get out and go for a walk for a bit. I remember feeling so shook up and like, weak. It was really bizarre. I was just talking with him like two or three weeks before and I’ve never had anyone that is kind of close to me that has passed away. It was a really horrible experience and I remember waking up the next day and it still didn’t feel real.” The rocker paused a moment and collected himself, then continued, “I didn’t really address it properly until I flew back to England and I was with my family and then it all kind of sunk in but yeah, playing with Queen, etc. and doing the whole show was um, a real bittersweet experience. There were definitely times where I felt a bit strange having such a good time but even Dave (Grohl) kind of pulled me to one side and said this was never going to be a funeral, it was always going to be a celebration. And it was.”
The conversation shifted from personal adversity to a more universal one, COVID. Like every other working stiff in the world, COVID forced The Struts to stop work. No longer could they continue their energetic shows to packed halls. The band that seemed to know no life other than that of perpetually touring musicians was forced onto sabbatical.
Jed Elliott shared details of the odd forced timeout. “For us we’ve been on tour solidly for like a decade before the pandemic. At first we were, like everyone else, okay, just another couple of weeks, but of course that wasn’t quite the case.”
Elliott continued, “To be honest there were a lot of positives that came out of it. It has made who we are as a band now and as a unit so much stronger because in that time it was the first time we sat still for a decade. We were able to kind of identify what was important to us and what our band meant to us when we finally got it back and began touring again.”
The Struts made one attempt to get back on tour before COVID-19 had fully settled and after a couple of band members tested positive, they ended up cutting that series of shows short. In 2022 however, they hit the road with renewed vigor, playing to huge crowds in the UK and then booking a mini-tour of sorts in the United States. Two things were familiar. Big crowds and the explosive, infectious energy of the band.
Elliott said the band has recognized the renewed energy. “In that sense, when we did begin touring again we were all enjoying touring and writing new music and being in a band and connecting with new fans more than we ever did before.”
Some would say The Struts never stopped connecting with their fans, even when a worldwide pandemic prevented any live performances. Drummer Gethin Davies shared details of what The Struts called Sunday Services during the early days of COVID. “The idea was to give something back. Everyone was in the same boat and we needed to keep people engaged and make people happy.” The four members of the band were all in four separate locations, but played acoustic songs together via high-speed internet, releasing a little bit each Sunday. “I didn’t realize at the time… doing it was fun… but since coming back and being around the fans, everyone has mentioned it. ‘Sunday Service really helped us through COVID.’ The impact it had was really cool. It was important and also to keep us doing something with the band.”
Guitarist Adam Slack pointed out they also wrote and recorded their third studio album during the pandemic “We didn’t intend to write an album, we were just going to write a couple of songs. We set up like it was a live recording, so it was in a small studio. We were writing songs, and then we were playing them and we’d say “oh that’s pretty good” and we’d put that one down.” Slack says the material just kept coming, “Not a lot of thought went into it until we thought oh, gosh, we have 10 songs. Luke did the vocals and we really liked the vibe of it. We didn’t want to overproduce it. We left it as is. It was cool. It was fun. We had John Levine, the Producer, playing on it, so it was like we were a five-piece instead of four. I think it’s cool.”
The pandemic has subsided and the band has newfound energy about it, so what is next? Spiller sounds genuinely excited at the immediate future, “Collectively the time off we had was sort of time to sit and reflect on what we want to do next. We are very lucky that we are one of the very few bands that have come out really on top, after taking so much time out. We signed with an amazing new label, Big Machine. We’ve just put out a new single which is getting an amazing response all over the United States.” Amazing response indeed. The band with 300 million U.S. artist streams seems to have hit gold again with ‘Fallin’ with Me’ an upbeat tune inspired by nights out on LA’s famed Sunset Strip.
The Struts established a huge following by creating their signature sound but Spiller makes it clear that they all understand there is an opportunity to grow their brand and their following. “It is a new beginning. We’ve sort of had the chance to rethink, recalibrate and approach this new era with a slight rebrand if you will. Shake things up and look forward to the future.”
When can fans expect a new album? Jed says it is a work in progress, but the band’s pursuit of excellence takes time. “We are working very hard on new stuff. Timeline-wise, hang tight. It shouldn’t be too long but your guess is as good as ours. We’ve got to get it right, and like we said, we went back during the pandemic and reflected and we want to be sure what we put out is really authentically us and is really right. Sometimes that takes a little time.”
• Tim Constantine is a columnist with The Washington Times.
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