Inside BottleRock: The Struts embrace their English glamour

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The Struts, BottleRock

The Struts. Photos: Jon Ching

English rock quartet The Struts acknowledge that the glam superstar musicians of the past are major influences on their own sound, look and on-stage presence. But to theatrically inclined frontman Luke Spiller and co., there is a major difference between the glam-rock of Europe and the United Kingdom, and that of America.

“I think Americans see glam rock different to what we see glam rock as. British glam is what we are inspired by,” The Struts’ drummer Gethin Davies said in a quiet corner at BottleRock Napa Valley the day after his band performed, last week.

The Struts have embraced the glam rock art form perhaps more openly than any other band. Taking cues from The Darkness, but also Freddie Mercury and other acts from the ‘70s and ‘80s, the band has not shied away from the comparisons.

“We have stage outfits, and we have various theatrics. It’s definitely glamorous,” Spiller said. “Compared to a lot of our contemporaries around us, I think we’re probably the best dressed group of 2016. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

“American glam, like Geth’s saying, is like the Sunset Strip kind-of-thing, and the big hair. That’s not what I call glam, that’s more like tacky; like Twisted Sister. Not knocking them, but I think British glam has got more sophistication to it, and mystery, and magic.”

The Struts are an unlikely success story in 2016. Formed in 2010, the original lineup consisted of Spiller, current guitarist Adam Slack and two other friends.

Two years later, their record label at the time forced the band to drop the other players. That’s when Davies and bassist Jed Elliott joined. Spiller said the label had no faith in his band and even resorted trying to get The Struts to sound more like Bastille and dress sportier. Spiller was asked to cut his hair. Even after he and Slack followed through, the band was dropped anyway. The band was passed to another label, which also gave no love to the band. It released their debut album in 2014, but with no fanfare.

Most bands would give up at that point and start over. But the Struts persevered. And finally, they had their first taste of success in France, where a radio station stuck “Could’ve Been Me” in its regular rotation. In that country, their audiences began to grow. They fired their label and management. In 2015, they signed with Interscope Records, and the song was soon No. 5 on the Billboard Alt-Rock chart. Their first American EP followed the same year, and the band re-released its debut album, with several bonus tracks, in March 2016.

The band temporarily relocated to Los Angeles in 2015 and have returned to England only once since. Living out of suitcases in various hotels, The Struts have a firm goal to win over American audiences, and not only the major markets like L.A., San Francisco and New York.

Prior to the move, only Spiller had spent significant time in the country before. It was Elliot’s first visit ever and Slack’s second.

“I think we’re all getting used to it now,” Spiller said. “I was just thinking this morning, we’re going back to the U.K. tomorrow for the first time since November. I think we’ve all got used to this American way of living, and looking at things. Everything’s so big, and it really puts in perspective how small the U.K. is. It’s quite weird. I’ve forgotten what English television’s like, and what English food tastes like.”

The Struts have a busy summer schedule, including other major festivals like Lollapalooza, Shaky Knees and Hangout. During that time, showgoers will discover the band is more than just a one-trick pony. In other words, they’ve got more than glam rock up their sleeves. The band incorporates anthemic pop and even some prog into their sound. Several Everybody Wants tracks have radio hit potential, including “Roll Up,” Kiss This” and “Dirty Sexy Money.”

The key influences to the band’s sound these days include The Rolling Stones, Queen, Supergrass and Oasis, Elliot and Spiller agreed, though Elliot’s inclusion of Thin Lizzy and The Kinks on the list was debated. The Struts had the opportunity to open for their heroes The Stones in Paris in 2014, as well as for Mötley Crüe during that group’s final four farewell shows in Las Vegas.

“We’d had the (Rolling Stones’) approval, which was huge for us, and it was one of the greatest gigs we played,” Elliot said. “Nikki Sixx said that he wanted to pass the torch on to a younger band that he really believed in, as they did with other great bands like Guns N’ Roses back in the day.”

The Struts’ look has and will continue to be a key part of their identity, Spiller said. But that doesn’t mean it will remain stationary. The band doesn’t stay up late at night planning the next day’s outfits, but fashion and makeup are important. And as for the comparisons to their predecessors’ performance styles, the band takes those as compliments, and Spiller is honored to be named in the same sentence as Freddie Mercury or even Mick Jagger,

“As time goes by, this band becomes more established, and our fan base grows even more, I hope that I’m viewed slightly more as myself; let’s say in four or five years’ time,” Spiller said. “Even when Aerosmith first came on the scene, Steven Tyler was pigeonholed as a Mick Jagger wannabe. I feel we’re going through a similar kind of thing. But I have no problem with it. I don’t care.”

Follow Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter and RomiTheWriter.Tumblr.com.

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