The summit of Sunset Boulevard in LA sits the storied Rainbow Bar & Grill – the spiritual throne of rock’n’roll that for nearly half a century has offered drink, food and safe haven to rock’n’roll’s holiest of the holy, including Led Zeppelin, John Lennon, Keith Moon and Elvis Presley. And yet, even for the noisy denizens of the smokey outdoor patio – for whom Dave Grohl sightings are ordinary – the appearance of four chicly attired twenty-somethings inspires a wave of giddy smiles and conspiratorial whispers. The Struts have arrived.
Fresh-faced and boisterous, you’d hardly know that in the past 18 hours the lads had flown from their native UK to LA – their recently adopted home – and dashed straight to some post-Grammy Awards parties in the Hollywood hills, eventually closing this very bar on just a few hours’ kip. Consequently, the Rainbow’s patio offers a fitting place to recharge over some hair-of-the-dog and sumptuous platters of bar food.
Not since The Darkness have a mainstream rock band, so unapologetically committed to the decadent bombast of 70s hard rock, enjoyed such a meteoric ascent as The Struts. Derby-born guitarist Adam Slack, his long blond locks tumbling from beneath a feathered Akubra cap, recalls the group’s origins: “We formed around a shared love of bands like Oasis, Slade and Queen. We wanted to bring back fun rock’n’roll music with big choruses. Basically we wanted to be the biggest band in the world, because there hasn’t been a band like that that’s been on top of the charts for a while – it’s all pop music.”
Casually dropping phrases like “biggest band in the world” smacks of vapid, Gallagheresque contrivance, and so we press – is he serious, or is this just barroom puffery? With a level matter-of-factness, Slack insists: “I don’t see why you’d want to be in a band unless you were trying to be the biggest band in the world. I mean it.”
Frontman and co-founder Luke Spiller bears a striking resemblance to Freddie Mercury, from his spiky brown hair framing his angular features and prominent front teeth, to his skintight trousers and loose-fitting kurta. Watching Spiller enter the Rainbow, it’s as if the Queen frontman has just stepped out of the cover of Queen II. Engaging, quick to chuckle and refreshingly unguarded, Spiller exudes the rarified air of rock royalty, balanced by a sense of cosmic spirituality.
“If the stars align and all our hard work pays off and this becomes a success, the challenge will be staying up there,” he says. “I think we’re very lucky that we have a great work ethic, and we’re never really looking at other people and saying: ‘Oh, what are they doing?’ We’d rather set a trend than follow it.”
In 2014, the buzz surrounding their riotous live show earned The Struts an invitation to open for the Rolling Stones at the Stade de France in front of 70,000 wild-eyed, roaring Stones fans. Bassist Jed Elliott, tall, moppy-haired and easy-going, recalls receiving news of that support spot during an emotional low point for the band, gathered in a decrepit dressing room before a gig in Scunthorpe – “The only town name in England that’s got ‘c-u-n-t’ in the name, and that had summed up the mood of the band [until] that moment.”
The Struts relocated to the States in 2015. On a cross-country headlining tour, they consistently sold out 800 to 1,000-seat venues as their single Could Have Been Me – a hip-swivelling, arms-around-your-mates, arena-rock anthem – rocketed up the charts. They ended 2015 supporting Mötley Crüe on the headliners’ final shows in Los Angeles, and their latest YouTube video has notched up millions of views. Make no mistake, The Struts are not poised to be the next big thing – they already are.
The band’s rapid-fire successes have come during a time when music industry observers reflexively dismiss glam as a desperately unfashionable vestige of an era long past. Whether The Struts are simply the exception or whether they will catapult hard rock back up the charts remains to be seen. Last year’s deal with new label Interscope allowed the band to re-release 2014’s_ Everybody Wants_ album with fresh tracks and, critically, with the contributions of Elliott and drummer Gethin Davies, neither of whom appeared on the original album. Released this March, the updated version delivers exhilarating payoffs at every turn, fusing the spiritualized, shout-out choruses of U2 with the crunchy, pop-driven hooks of Oasis.
“We wanted to pay homage to a lot of our influences, [bands] like the Rolling Stones, Queen and nineties groups like Supergrass,” Spiller explains. “We wanted to have musicality. We wanted to get away from basic chord structures. We wanted kids to look through the tablature and be like: ‘What the hell’s going on here?’ But we wanted to do it in a subtle, clever way, with a positive and joyous energy to it.”
This summer brings a run of European festivals and headlining shows in the UK, but for now, the balmy winter and laid-back buzz of LA suits them. “You hear all about the bands that have played here and the musicians who’ve come to the Rainbow, and you want to come here and feel the vibe,” says Davies – as easy to chat with as your favourite barman. “I think we fit in well here.”
Their head-spinning ascent might feel more than a bit surreal, but it hasn’t distracted The Struts from their mission. “We’ve been here in this pool of electricity that’s been charging and charging and we’re ready to explode now,” says Spiller. “Every song we write we want to compete with the Top 10 on the popular radio. We’d love to bring guitar music back up there with Taylor Swift and people like Ed Sheeran. That would be our idea of success.”
As if on cue, Could Have Been Me comes on the radio, prompting toasts and broad smiles among the lads, and howls of giddy approval throughout the bar. All hail the new kings.