The Struts' second album didn't come easily, as frontman Luke Spiller recounts over the phone (on a rare breather before the record comes out). Writing and recording took place in snatched bursts between touring commitments, over years of nomadic living – largely in the USA but also in Europe, Japan and the UK. Accordingly, his stories are interspersed with lines like “labour of love” or “and then me and Adam jumped on a plane…”
"Every single one of these songs was an absolute mission," he says, affirmatively. And yet Young & Dangerous, he tells us, was still "a joy to make in terms of being creative." Musically and lyrically, it sees them building on the more-ish foundations of Everybody Wants with bigger ideas and ambitions across the board.
So, how did it all come together? And what can you expect when it comes out this week? Spiller explains...
"Body Talks came about fairly late in the recording process, and we were just really experimenting and trying to go a little bit against the grain of what we’d done. I think by that point we’d recorded things that I myself felt satisfied with, so this song was like a flip of the coin really.
"It is very different. It’s very produced and whatnot, but it was quite clear once it had marinated and we’d lived with it for a week that this could be pretty special. So we ended up tweaking and tweaking and voila! It was done. Like a lot of these songs, there was so much tweaking involved, it was insane. I don’t think we’ve ever worked this hard on a collection of songs, ever. So we’re very proud of them."
Primadonna Like Me
"Me and Adam were working with our producers in Jersey, off the south coast of England. We just got to the point where we all looked at each other and said ‘fuck what everyone’s saying, let’s just have some fun, let off some steam and let it show off through the music.’
"So we had this riff that Adam was playing that really reminded me of Elton John's Yellow Brick Road era. So we had this amazing backing track, and we sort of knew what it was going to be, but this chorus was just insane. We were banging our heads against a brick wall for two days with the loop of the chorus going over and over and over. The working title was ‘I’m The King Of Rock, I’m The King Of Rock And Roll’ – something like that – and we all agreed we couldn’t have that, obviously. We were looking for a great word, and ‘primadonna’ suddenly just came out, and that was it. And everything else came fairly quickly after that.
I’m really proud of it, I think it has everything that we’re about. There was a lot of homages on the first record, especially with some of our earlier tracks. But these ones were a lot more instinctive. We know what we like, we know what works, we know where to push the boundaries, and I think Primadonna is one of those songs that’s super Struts, but it’s got the Stones in it, it’s got early American 90s rock in it, it’s got Britpop, it’s got 70s Elton John elements... Supergrass. It’s this melting pot of loads of different things."
In Love With The Camera
"The first incarnation of this song was basically a joke. I think it would’ve been round about the time we’d finished Primadonna Like Me, and we had about two days left in Jersey before we had to fly out and do some shows in the States.
"We had this title and the actual song itself: the melodies, the chords and a huge amount of the production was done in about eight hours. Two weeks later we heard the first version – which would literally be the first of about 16 – and we were like ‘wow this is cool’, and then it sort of laid low for about four of five months while we were finishing and basically trying to beat it, and to create something which could be a little more single-y…
"We were recording in America. I was actually on holiday at the time in Topanga just outside LA, and we were having a two-week break and I was with my girlfriend, and the producer we were working with said ‘hey, we’ve got an idea, would you be up for coming down and seeing it?’ and I’m like ‘for fuckssake!’
"Meanwhile, everyone else had buggered off back to England and was spending the whole time in the pub 24/7, and I found myself in the studio on my holiday, but it was worth it. So this concept of being in love with the camera sprung out of nowhere, and as soon as I sang it in I was like, ‘ooh, OK, this feels super unique, it feels very special, it’s fucking risky as hell.’ Because it's super pop, there’s no doubt about it.
"Then Interscope heard it and they went absolutely fucking nuts, and we were like ‘oh my god, the joke that went too far!’"
"This one lyrically is very much about honing in on the Struts, having this gang mentality. For the record, we don’t really have a lot of negative things said about us, which kinda surprises me! But it’s natural for anyone to scroll through a bunch of comments and out of like 100 there’s one person saying ‘you’re shit!’ or ‘go hang yourself!’ or whatever.
"But hey look, at the end of the day if you can’t handle it don’t get an Instagram account and have thousands and thousands of followers. So lyrically it’s kind of a kick out back at the world, and musically I think it’s super cool. I can’t put my finger on it, it’s almost the Beastie Boys meets Mott The Hoople meets a little bit of T.Rex in a weird way… I can’t describe it."
Who Am I
"Me and Adam flew into Jersey. We had super bad jet lag, and I was falling asleep in the studio constantly, and then I’d wake up and Adam would be there playing the same riff on his guitar. And I woke up and we had a drum beat and we wanted to create something which was, daresay, a little bit… disco?! But cool disco, y’know? Rod Stewart disco.
"And then Nigel was on the bass and Adam was playing the guitar and I had a mic and just started scatting, and this ‘WHO!’ started happening straight away. The verse came super quickly, and as soon as the words ‘who am I’ came out it kinda started to write itself; we wanted to have something which was a little bit risky.
"Lyrically, it’s kind of me playing up to all the sort of ignorant people that I’ve met throughout the world, especially in rundown seaside towns in the UK that I’ve grown up in, and being who I am – being given all sorts of names and constantly expected to be some sort of drug addict or homosexual or both, not like there’s anything wrong with that – but this is kind of like me playing up to that, and that’s kind of my personality. If someone says ‘ooh you’re like a girl’, I’ll turn up in stilettos next time I see them and piss them off, because it obviously makes them feel uncomfortable.
"But it’s very tongue in cheek, at the same time. It’s kind of like Rocky Horror meets Rod Stewart. There’s a Stones thing going on, there’s a guitar part that’s super Franz Ferdinand – I don’t know how that happened – but the cool thing is we didn’t go out seeking all this stuff. I love it, I think it’s a really big highlight on the album, just another string to our bow."
"I think that one definitely is gonna be a dark horse. I’ve always seen the Struts as this world of escapism, and we definitely are still that, but this one felt very serious, and it took me a while to really trust in the song.
"I thought I was a good writer, but once you start getting out of your comfort zone it becomes a whole different beast – and People is that. The arrangement is super-great. I remember the strings being added – real strings – and as soon as they got added it turned into A The Day In The Life. It was very Oasis. We just loved it.
"The chorus had to be re-recorded a bunch of times because it wasn’t kicking enough – it was on the floor tom, and we just said ‘fuck it, just play it on the crash’ and as soon as we started doing that and added additional guitars it became a proper Struts chorus, and the verse is kind of like a Lorde verse. It has these cool synths and funny little melodies going on. It turned out to be really unique."
"This was one that we did with Butch Walker on production. It was really cool, and he’s super hands-on rock’n’roll, and his recording process is very different from what we’d experienced, it was literally ‘hey what have you got?’ ‘this is what I’ve got’, ‘BANG let’s do it’. And Fire was an idea that I’d had the night before and brought into the studio, sang the melody to the verse… And everyone was like ‘yeah right, brilliant, let’s do it.’
"I’m a big Jim Steinman fan, and I wanted to create that with it and add something a bit different before the second chorus, and by having this silly dual-guitar solo and theatrical ending.
"The album title came out of that. I was writing lyrics and I wrote ‘Young and Dangerous’ and thought ‘ooh this is pretty cool’, and it kind of came out of that song. So that was very painless actually! Very painless and very fulfilling, because it was so painless."
"Sometimes it’s cruel to find out that some ideas – as cool as they are – are literally just plucked out of thin air. And this one is no exception. We were literally writing in an AirBnB, and we’d done about three or four demos up to that point, just getting the engine flowing, and just seeing ‘what can we do’ quite early on in the process.
"I literally went to the toilet, and was having a number two, and all of a sudden I started singing the chorus in its entirety, including the lyrics. And I was like ‘oh ok…’
"So it was a bit longer than I expected, going to the toilet. I was working out in my head how it would go, and I wrote it down on my phone. And the guys were still playing with the idea we had previously, and it was one of those cool moments where I ran in and said ‘everyone shut up, stop what you’re doing, listen to this’ because I knew it was better than anything we’d done up to that point during that week. And I sang it, played it on the piano.
"I didn’t even go through the chords – I literally sat down and played it coz I knew what the chords were gonna be in my head, and then just after the first chorus everyone was like ‘wow ok yeah, this is really cool’.
"It's a very heartfelt song and we wanted it to be super-relatable, so we were firing all these ideas out, all these things that get said when you’re basically not over someone and you’ve met someone.
"So we wanted it to have a very country mentality, so it was super descriptive, super relatable, but with this massive chorus. By the time we took it to the studio there wasn’t really a lot else to be done, I’d worked out the whole arrangement, we’d worked everything out in terms of instrumentation. So it’s a really cool song, the band really love it, it’s one of few songs that we all sat down as a foursome and were like ‘ok let’s do something’."
"This type of songwriting is the only thing that keeps me going. Sometimes when it gets all too serious, when you’ve got people breathing down your neck, whispering the words ‘Radio! Radio!’ it can really drag you on.
"I’ve been working on a rock musical, which is still ongoing. I just found it incredibly refreshing and youthful, especially as a writer, that I can approach something and really tell a story.
"I had the idea from watching a documentary about Tatler magazine. So I watched that and thought ‘wow this is amazing,’ literally sat at a piano after that and had the bare bones of the melody."
"I’m super proud of it, and I’m happy that people are enjoying it, because honestly, when people first heard it, some people in the suits didn’t know what the fuck was going on; and they started panicking and got weirded out. But basically I can tell you now: if anyone likes that song, that there’s a whole musical in the works which is just like that, but for two hours! It’s gonna blow everyone’s minds."
I Do It So Well
"Me and Adam were at the end of line, emotionally, mentally, physically...this was done very late in the process. I think it was the last track to come to ‘the board’, as it were.
"The producer was goofing around, we were all super high in this tiny little writing room, and I was laid down on this leather sofa and I said ‘just gimme the mic, listen to this’ and I just started joking around, and it was basically a little freestyle for about three lines, and I started scatting the next bit.
"It’s just a joke, but everyone turns around and says ‘oh this is actually really cool’, and me and Adam were like ‘what?! Fuck off!’
"When it came to the very last bit I said ‘we need something Mick Jagger would say’, and the last bit played and I just jumped up on the mic saying ‘I do it so well!’, that whole thing, and that’s basically how that happened. It kind of reminded me ‘I’m sexy and I know it’.
"It kicks ass. I know that chorus is big, it’s strong, and I know it’s musically very refreshing compared to some of the stuff on the album."
Freak Like You
"I think this is a super cool track. For me it’s got musical theatre in it. Its very big, very character-driven, massive chorus, there’s a fucking saxophone in it – it’s the weirdest saxophone solo I’ve ever heard in my entire life.
"When I heard it back I said ‘we need a sax solo right there’, I was expecting something a little bit typical, I was hearing something 80s, like Spandau Ballet… and then it came back and we’ve got this guy but he’s playing this weird jazz solo and I’m like ‘what the fuck is going on?!’
"But I loved it, I don’t know anything else that sounds like this; I was like ‘is it synth? Is it rock?’ I couldn’t get my head around it, but it’s one of those things that at first I found to be quite negative but then I couldn’t get out of my head, and I ended up loving it.
"The lyrics are super cool. I wrote most of the lyrics for the verse on the way to the studio, driving through LA, and I was basically looking at people and trying to come up with some sort of narrative or story within one line; and for the first one, ‘Bobby builds a spaceship in his backyard’, we were driving and we went past this scrapyard, and this homeless bloke had a trolley but he’d welded all these pieces from the scrapyard onto it, and made it look like a giant fucking aeroplane.
"I just thought ‘ok cool it looks like a spaceship’ and I started to write it down and work out the groove. And by the time we got to the studio i was like ‘ok, I’ve got an idea….’ and it just happened really nicely, really quickly, it was just on fire. I was going for a cigarette and I’d come up with another verse by itself. It was on a little bit of a roll at that moment."
"This one was a bit of a labour of love. It was basically throwing caution to the wind and saying ‘fuck it, fuck everyone else, we’re gonna deliver a song which is amazing, sounds huge, and it’s just gonna show what we can do basically.’
"But we made it work, we got there in the end, and the latest mix we’ve heard has brought a whole different depth of life to it. It’s kind of like a Queen arrangement, but I think it’s got something unique to it – it’s very Struts, very heavy as well – we’re talking about losing someone to death – and at first lots of people were saying ‘oooh you’re the Struts, all you can talk about is sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, we’d rather you talk about an STI than somebody dying’, y’know what I mean?
"So Fire's part one of the story, and Ashes is part two. Fire begins when they’re young and dangerous and it’s a whirlwind romance of two young guys, two young people, guys, girls, whatever, running wild and being in love. And Ashes is this cruel song where they lose that person.
"Part one they’re in love, part two they die - epic!"