Much was made of their retro roots when they charged onto the scene but, as they enter their college years, The Strypesare better built than most to tackle the modern music industry. They tell us why they couldn't care less if people get it for free.
Three quarters of The Strypes are in the midst of a scuffle. As yours truly enters a room in the Dublin offices of Universal Music, there’s singer Ross Farrelly, bassist Peter O’Hanlon and drummer Evan Walsh scrapping on a couch. If Julien Temple’s March documentary on the teenagers, Best Thing Since Cavan, suggested there was tension in the camp as their first full album of self-generated material came together squabble by squabble, things are getting physical five months later. Accompanied by uproar of the right kind. The lads spot me, all smiling, and straighten themselves up from the playful melee as they are gently scolded by PR. Sure, they might be embarrassed if they’d been caught by another journalist, they shrug, but they go back a ways with Hot Press. I suspect they couldn’t particularly care who wandered into the room – they’ve always appeared to possess the kind of assuredness in themselves that most teens would die for.
The scene before guitarist Josh McClorey (about to turn an ancient 20) enters the room with a warm greeting runs like a light-hearted play on what Temple was keen to capture. A bit of bickering, a few words from “their people” that is greeted with a shrug.
“Before we started recording there were a few rough patches where we didn’t really know what we wanted and were unsure,” says no- nonsense four-stringer O’Hanlon. “There were label people poking their heads in, being a bit annoying. That always happens anyway. When you’re sat at home, being stagnant and just thinking about everything, you get really annoyed with everyone. But when you get back working, get back together, you think, ‘right, we’ll get through it anyway and come out with a result.’ It really worked well, once we were in the studio together, it came together brilliantly.”
When I sat down with the band in Eddie Rocket’s in late 2012, they discussed the painstaking process of choosing the right label before settling on Mercury. Eager to develop their songwriting skills, it had been put to them that they could just get songwriters to pen material for them instead. That didn’t go down well. Has grappling with the industry already taken a lot out of them?
“Nah it’s fine,” sighs McClorey. “Initially when you go in, and you get involved with labels and management and stuff, it’s a different world. It’s very cynical. It’s very much about the product, which is fair enough, because it’s their job to promote a product, sell as many records as possible. But at the end of the day, everything was a two- way conversation with the label. Initially, they obviously wanted people to come in and write with us and we just said no, we didn’t want to do it! They said grand.”
Evan Walsh: “From the point of view of someone who’s been signed up... You need to have quite a strong sense of identity going into it. You can’t be figuring yourself out in the middle of all that. Because that endangers you. Across the board, the industry is guilty of the whole music-by numbers thing, so it’s very easy to be shoehorned into compromising positions.”
“You just have to stick to your guns,” emphasises O’Hanlon. “Be convinced that you’re right even when you’re completely wrong and be really pig headed. That’s what we’re good at: we’re hot headed, red-blooded Irish lads.”
“Don’t follow leaders” always sounded like a contradiction in terms by its very nature, but good ol’ Bob’s aphoristic line from ‘65’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ had the feel of something you should likely live by.
It’s a sentiment that’s ricocheted around rock music for generations since, and it’s clearly ringing loudly in The Strypes’ ears. Kicking in the early doors at the start of this decade with prodigious sets of their adored rhythm and blues, it wasn’t long before the four were racking up celebrity fans, and public endorsements from rock royalty.
It made for an easy ‘passing of the torch’ narrative, casting them as adolescent keepers of the rock ‘n’ roll flame and hanging features around a series of legendary names.
With two years of worldly experience under their belts since their debut Snapshot, exposure to an expanding set of sounds and an admission on their parts that their passions are evolving at a rapid rate, they’re stepping out of the long shadows and becoming their own men. Anyway, those encounters with their heroes are a lot less portentous than you’d think. Usually they’re just shooting the breeze and playing ping pong. Alex Turner is apparently very good. However, if you could sum up the few words of imparted wisdom when they toured with Arctic Monkeys, for example, you come back to Dylan. Oh, and don’t be a dope when it comes to money.
“Don’t get carried away with it,” says Josh. “They had Bill Ryder Jones [formerly of] The Coral with them playing guitar and I had a good chat with him one night about stuff. He’d had the same thing – he was with The Coral when he was our age, got signed when he was 16, and he was saying the really obvious things like don’t spend all your money on guitars. Now, he said this like a week after I bought some ridiculously expensive guitar! He was like, ‘I don’t have anything man, I just have loads of guitars!’ But he’ll be alright.”
In fairness, when you’re playing the big gigs The Strypes are becoming accustomed to, you want a six-string that looks the part.
Especially when you’re opening the bill at Slane in front of tens of thousands. “Grand, like,” smiles the ever- understated Ross Farrelly.
“The best part of that was seeing our friends and family in the crowd going ‘it’s the lads at Slane!’,” says Pete. “I was more excited for them being excited than for me being excited.”
Something of a mystical summit for an Irish artist, they were glad to spend time with fellow Emerald Islanders Ash and Hozier – both “super nice” if you hadn’t guessed. Speaking of which, with Foo Fighters headlining, did they get to test out Dave Grohl’s Nicest Guy In Rock reputation?
“He’s the soundest man in rock,” O’Hanlon says by way of Cavanified confirmation.
“We met him during Hozier’s set,” explains Walsh. “He was wandering around backstage, just as it started to teem rain. We bumped into him outside, and it
was very much like being in a video of Dave Grohl being interviewed. He completely conformed to any expectations. Lovely man, ultra American, ultra nice.”
This happened shortly before Dave took a tumble, broke his leg, and subsequently designed a Game Of Thrones- inspired, guitar-based seat so he could continue touring.
“There was some quote where he said he was ‘high as fuck’ when he made it!” laughs O’Hanlon. “Fair play to him for keeping going. Some lads would take that as an excuse...” His gaze turns to his singer. “This lad here would take a break because of a sore throat!”
We know Farrelly generally likes to maintain a dignified silence when he’s not singing, but is he going to take that?
“No, I did a gig when I couldn’t even sing so fuck you!”
Josh recalls: “We played a lad’s 21st in a marquee in Monaghan, and this lad couldn’t sing and he got sick everywhere. I had to sing the rest of the set, and it was hilarious. It was good though... Some people actually said it was actually class!”
“Well...” says O’Hanlon. “We got paid anyway!”
A pragmatic statement, but they’re biggest kicks come from the electric performances when audience and act are in total harmony.
“There have been some amazing gigs already on the last couple of tours we’ve done,” says Walsh. “We did a gig in France, a festival gig which ended up being one of the best ever. Sheerly based on atmosphere. Nobody knew any of the songs but it was a huge crowd of people that just danced and moshed from the word go to the very end.”
The band note how seamlessly the newies have slipped in alongside the Snapshot numbers but to these ears, the sounds they’ve been soaking up have moved them on several decades. The blues takes a backseat (though there’s a taste or two for the Bayou lovers) as the boys fall for indie rock from this century. McClorey, the chief songwriter has talked about the respect he has for Arctic Monkeys and Miles Kane, and if the lyrics are more straightforwardly girl-obsessed (fair enough for some late teens) than Last Shadow Puppets’ rich imagery, Little Victories shares AM’s hip-hop obsession on the less blistering numbers.
“It’s really influenced the new album,” nods McClorey.
“I just really like the rhythms in hip-hop, I love how the flow sits over the beat. Not essentially the lyrics, which come from a totally different world than we exist in. I wrote a lot of songs over drum loops. I used that Fruity Loops program on the computer and was then writing over drum loops. It all started from funk, really. The most interesting thing about the record for me was having all these songs with these drum loops and then bringing them to the guys. It was really interesting to see those songs go from one completely different place to becoming rock tunes.
“There’s more grooves. But then again, yeah, there’s just more dynamics on this one. There’s a couple of really fast and heavy tunes and then it pulls back and there’s a lot more grooves. I think that’s probably because our playings gotten a lot better.”
Where they wanted Snapshot, as the title suggests, to bottle their live energy, Little Victories found them engaging more fully with the studio.
“We did it with Charlie Russell and Bradley Spence over in London,” says Pete. “They really pushed us: ‘try using this weird shaker we found down the back of the couch and see what that sounds like!’ They were very into using the studio as a studio; more so than just a live room.”
Were they keen to wriggle free of people’s preconceived notions of them – young heads doing old tunes?
“Whatever happens with the press and how it’s labelled is out of our control,” says Josh. “The last year and a half we’ve learned to not care any more. People who actually listen to the tunes will see it for what it is and don’t pigeon hole it at all. So it’s just bad journalism.”
It smacks of needless suspicion to think that a group of kids from the middle of Ireland getting excited about Dr. Feelgood records would be a cunningly-conceived gimmick. In an age when the internet allows you near- instant access to music from across the spectrum and ages, it’s understandable that the youth will delve back with abandon. The old boundaries are gone. And if The Strypes haven’t found any new frontiers yet, they’re gobbling up as much as they can and assimilating it. You really couldn’t say where they’ll be a few records down the line.
“It’s something that we’ve previously been condemned for by more cynical members of the press,” says Evan. “The boundlessness of music now is that you can go from any era. You could listen to Scott Joplin or listen to pop music. Any music from any era at all can affect you equally.”
Josh: “We’re at that age too where we would be in college, so when you go to college, everything is changing and you’re into a new band every month. A new genre.”
The flipside of that freedom is that it’s hit the artists pockets. How do they feel about the Spotifys and Apple Musics of this world?
“That’s the way it’s gone, so fuck it,” says McClorey matter-of-factly. “And to be honest, 10 years ago we were all using Limewire! We were all illegally downloading albums all the time. I did it. So everyone will illegally download your record anyway. If they want to buy a record, they’ll buy a record, if they don’t want to buy a record, they’ll find a way of getting it for free. Spotify and Apple just make that a legal way to have your music now. But who cares? Unless you’re struggling and you really need loads of money to live... But then you should do that from touring. It’s making bands be good live, and that’s great, because there was a time when bands were shit live. You have to put on a good live show, because that’s where all the money is now.
“If you were to go on a binge and check out Miles Kane, that might lead you to a Jake Bugg video and that might lead you to our video. And you might never have heard of us before. So that whole thing is brilliant. Spotify is brilliant for getting you noticed and people getting into the band. That’s more important to me than selling a record because we’re never going to see any money from it anyway.”
“You make money from touring,” says O’Hanlon.
“If the album was free, I wouldn’t care.” Where touring was once promotion for the
album, the reverse is now true.
“That’s back to what albums were originally. An album was basically a flyer for a gig. It’s come back to its primeval form. I don’t know if it's a good or bad thing, it just is a thing. Shut up giving out about it, and deal with it.”
Still, a number one album would be nice. They were pipped at home by Arctic Monkeys last time around. Have they forgiven them yet?
“Ah we’ll get them again!”
The thought of bringing the music directly to the people excites them. Even if life on the road is less glamorous than the layperson thinks.
O’Hanlon: “We’re not glamour-pusses anyway so it suits us down to the ground!”
And what of band relations? It can’t always be easy living in each other’s pockets.
“It’s good because it’s at a stage where you don’t even question the friendship,” says McClorey.
It’s a cliché because it’s true: a band is almost intimate as a marriage.
“Oh yeah!” they cackle. “The sex is brilliant! And then after four or five years there’s no more!”
Little Victories is out now on Universal
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