From Bristol to the World: British Rock Band The Struts Ton Eveything from Writing in Lockdown and Covering the Spice Girls
Photography by Tom Oxley
Styling by Emily-Rose Yiaxis
Leonie Cooper speaks to Luke Spiller, the flamboyant front man of The Struts, a glam band of British guitar heroes who’ve taken the shiniest bits of Slade, Queen and T. Rex to dig into the stack-booted sound of the 70s.
In his wide-brimmed black hat, dark shades and flowing shirt, Luke Spiller looks every inch the rock star even over a grainy Zoom. The band’s third album, Strange Days features guest appearances from Robbie Williams, Albert Hammond Jr, Tom Morello and Def Leppard. It’s their wildest work yet but is it really all endless Jack Daniels, hanging out at the Rainbow with Lemmy’s ghost and riding Harleys onto stage? Well, yes. It pretty much is.
I heard you were currently living in LA, but the lovely beamed conservatory I can see on screen doesn’t look much like California.
This is actually my parents’ house in Devon, but soon I’m going to be taking up residence in Kensington which should be lovely. I’ll be five minutes away from Garden Lodge where Freddie Mercury used to live. Towards the end of last year, I was very moved to pick up my roots and lay them down in LA. So, I moved, and the band quickly followed. And then? Armageddon began! It was a very bizarre time to move. I’ve still got my motorbike there and a place there. When you’re a musician, you never really leave anywhere. Home is where I charge my phone.
Do you hang out with other Brits when you’re in the States, or have the Americans taken you under their wing?
The Americans have really taken me in. In fact, the reason I managed to move to LA was I spent Thanksgiving with Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters and one of his friends had somewhere where I could move all my stuff.
What’s Thanksgiving at Taylor Hawkins’ place like?
It was a beautiful, beautiful evening. It was his mother and father-in-law and a few close friends. I definitely had a lot of tequila made by his father-in-law. I thought I could drink, but this man is quite the legend when it comes to making a good tequila soda.
Are you still playing lawn bowls in Beverly Hills?
Oh yeah. I was hanging out with my best friend John in Ipswich and we were sat on a bench smoking a joint, watching these old boys play. We went over and started chatting and had a quick little lesson. I was hooked. Upon arriving in LA a few years back, I got my membership to Holmby Bowls Club in Beverly Hills. I’m the youngest, by about 20 odd years, but I’ve converted them all into Struts fans. I’ve given them all CDs and I’ve had some very good reviews from them.
Are you a regular at the weed dispensaries of LA?
Coming from a country where it’s still deemed illegal, I now get my weed delivered to me on my fucking doorstep. Truth be told, I used to smoke a fucking ton but now I use it far more as a way to focus and really get into the song and my ideas. I like to remain in control. Sativa is the strain that I enjoy the most. Definitely a great tool to help me look at an idea from a
Are you an edibles man as well?
Oh my god, I have had a lot of edibles in my life and I would recommend to anyone reading this 1. Be patient. 2. Do not over fucking do it. Everyone’s done it, you take it and nothing’s fucking happening and then bang, you’re riding a fucking lightning storm. I did the same thing on acid. The first time I did it, I was like, “nothing’s happening,” and then as I took the other tab, I started coming up on the first.
How did Albert from The Strokes end up on the new album?
He opened for us a few years ago. I have to admit; he’s such a lovely, charming bloke that I did have quite the man crush and we stayed in contact. Upon recording “Another Hit of Showmanship,” I was really interested to hear what he would do with it. The first thing that I heard was just amazing. It’s just dripping with his sound and personality, through those six strings.
The album was recorded during the lockdown. How did that work when it came to featured guests?
Every single feature apart from Robbie was done remotely. We had to be extremely sensitive to protecting his family. I was like “Robbie, I’m gonna send you a microphone and a 100 foot long microphone cable in the mail and you have your maid take the cable from your front door to the bottom of your drive and we’ll record your vocal on a laptop in a car.” He was up for it but what ended up happening was he very graciously agreed to have two microphones set up, about six feet apart from each other on his front porch in Beverly Hills. When you listen to the very beginning of “Strange Days”, you can hear birdsong and that’s actually from Robbie’s garden.
How did Robbie Williams end up getting involved?
Literally the two weeks I was prepping for the record, I get this message from Robbie on Instagram. He just said, “hey, can I call you?” We ended up Facetiming for about two hours and talked about everything.
Including UFOs? I know he’s a fan of UFOs…
We both are. We talked about UFOs and we both spoke about things that we have both experienced. In terms of our physical realm, I think the smartest thing is to admit that you don’t know anything and we both connected on that.
“When the time is right the universe will give me the right words”
Tom Morello is also on the album — he’s known for his outspoken political stances. Do you ever consider bringing politics into your music, or would you rather steer clear?
It’s not a fact of staying clear of it. I wouldn’t consider myself someone who is so informed compared to the likes of someone like Tom Morello, who has really had that as his foundation in everything that he does. I would love to get more into politics, but with everything that I do, I’ve really got to fucking mean it. And I definitely have opinions and I have a strong moral compass. When the time is right, I think the universe will give me the right words to say about the right thing and hopefully done in the right way.
The sound of The Struts is very unlike anything else around right now — what was your gateway to glam classic rock?
Me and my friends at Bristol Cathedral School — an all-boys
school — were the freaks. We were the outcasts. But we found a world in which we could soar within and claim as our own. The gateway was opened by Justin Hawkins of The Darkness — before that it was the new metal thing and my brother was into Death Row Records. Then I heard “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” and my mum said, “this is Queen.” I immediately went into this musical rabbit hole. From Queen, I found Zeppelin. From Zeppelin I found The Beatles and The Stones and since then it’s just been never-ending.
During the lockdown, you covered “Stop” by The Spice Girls. How did that come about?
When I was a young whippersnapper, I wanted to be a ballerina and “Stop” was on an album that the family had and I loved the Motown feel of it. I really wanted to go to dance school but that meant I would’ve been away from my parents and my dad felt strongly that he didn’t want someone else bringing up his son. But I continued with that passion and ended up studying dance in college for two years and have a degree in contemporary dance.
Apart from getting Strange Days out into the world, what’s next?
I am writing a musical; script, words, music, lyrics, everything. I haven’t really spoken to anyone about it, but I can tell you that it’s set in the 1800s and is going to have like a little bit of a
steampunk-y vibe. It involves magic, male prostitution, talking cats and flying Rolls-Royces. I’m also putting on my first art exhibition this year (fingers crossed) at Art Basel in Miami. It’s oil paint on top of electric guitars. Gibson are gonna give me the pick of anything I want and I’m going to draw these patterns on them that I’ve been doing since I was a little kid.