The Struts’ Luke Spiller on ‘Off the Wall’ and side hustles
Vocalist gives wide-ranging interview before Canalside concert
It was Adriana Lima’s last Victoria’s Secret Fashion show and Luke Spiller still managed to make himself, arguably, the most interesting person on stage.
Spiller, vocalist for British rock revivalists The Struts, was wrapping up a frolicsome performance of “Body Talks” when Lima essentially duetted with him at the end of the catwalk. He completely checked out.
“My mind was blank and I literally forgot what I was singing,” Spiller said.
That’s not normally the case, though. The Struts put on commanding performances across the world, with Spiller’s stage antics and energy guiding the band through nonstop sets. The group’s vintage rock feel is something the genre is missing quite a bit in 2019, yet it comes from a man who grew up immersed in hip-hop and who considers Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall” his first record of choice. The Struts have gone on to score top-charting records in the U.K., a notable collaboration with Kesha and performances across the pond and beyond.
We caught up with Spiller just before The Struts take on Canalside Thursday for the venue’s summer concert series.
Our discussion, lightly edited for length and style, follows below.
The Spectrum: Something I found interesting about how you discovered your love for performing was your connection with Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall.” Why this record in particular?
Luke Spiller: It’s just f-----g incredible, isn’t it? Even now, it just sonically sounds so superior to so many things out there at the moment. And top to bottom, really, it’s just flawless. Just the grooves, man. I wanted to be a dancer at that time in my life and I would literally scuff up the carpet, putting that album on. Just bouncing in my room, just constantly. I would’ve been about nine years old, absolutely giving it everything.
S: Was there anything else that spoke to you around that time?
LS: It was around that time when I was cast in a musical, which kind of changed everything. I was cast as a pharaoh in a school production. I had to sing and I didn’t really consider myself a singer yet. I did a performance and it took the house down. I remember it was a real eureka moment. This woman ran up to me and I’ll never forget it. She shook me by the shoulders and was like, ‘A star is born!’ And she was right. That evening on, something in my soul was lit. I contracted the bug.
S: When did rock come to you?
LS: A little bit later on in life. I was sort of 14. The musical landscape then was quite different. I owned “Hybrid Theory" and I had an older brother who enjoyed a lot of hip-hop. So I had “The Marshall Mathers LP,” I had Dre’s “2001,” Wu Tang Clan’s “36 Chambers…” When a band called The Darkness broke out in the U.K., that opened another door for me. I was like, ‘This is unique and speaks to me on a different level.’ And from that, I was hooked sonically to everything that the band showcased to me.
I was then suddenly thrown into the arms of Queen, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Electric Light Orchestra. But it wasn’t just rock. Just like any teenager, I was like a f-----g sponge. I would obsess over lots of different types of music. … The only thing that really tied it all together was a real lack of contemporary stuff.
S: You mentioned in the past fans tell you about when they “first saw you” and I know you love repeat tour stoppers. Did you ever think you’d be in a band that people see multiple times and what does that say about the show you’re putting on?
LS: Yes. I expected it and I worked for that. It reinstates my belief that putting so much effort and thought into a performance, does pay dividends. And there’s a reason why people keep coming back and that’s because I give it abso-f----g-lutely everything. I think that it comes across and people enjoy that.
S: And there’s some shows that fans can’t always attend, like the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. As a band that keeps stuff always captivating, how did you balance sharing a stage with supermodels?
LS: That was definitely a challenge. In fact, I remember right at the end of “Body Talks” when Adriana Lima was walking toward me. My mind was blank and I literally forgot what I was singing. … It was kind of nerve wracking because it’s so different. Going down a f----g catwalk, you’ve got models on either side of you, and I’m pretty f-----g animated, you know. So I’m there with my arms flinging about and I’m thinking, ‘F-----g hell, Luke, calm the hell down. If you throw your arm out you’ll end up punching one of these girls in the side and they fall off stage.’ That ain’t going to be a good f-----g look. I had to be very conscious of my space around me.
S: Paying homage to music greats is what The Struts do best. Where’d the “Dancing In The Street” cover stem from?
LS: We were approached by Dodge. And they asked us if we’d be interested in tackling a recorded version of the Van Halen one. I didn’t really like that version and I think it kind of sucks. We were like, ‘We’re going to do it but I’m going to approach the vocal differently. I want to give it more soul like the original.’ And we tackled it slightly different and injected the bass groove, which is kind of similar to our song “Dirty Sexy Money.” We tried to put a little bit of a different, unique spin on it. We handed it in and we didn’t really hear anything. Sometimes things don’t come about. Eight weeks went by and all of a sudden, we got this email that was like, ‘Dodge loved it and they would like to use it in a campaign.’And we were like, ‘Oh, f--k, alright.’
S: Something I love is the “custom painted guitar enquiries” in your Instagram bio. How did this come to life?
LS: I used to just draw this pattern when I was in school. And funny enough, I found out that my mom used to do the same thing. She sent me a picture of this drawing she did of a T-Rex at 13 and it’s very similar.
We were doing a meet and greet ananat radio station. There was this guitar on the side and they wanted us to sign it. And I was super bored so I got a pen and started drawing this pattern on it. And the radio guy was like ‘Oh, that’s really cool.’ So I got an acoustic guitar that I played live and I just decided to paint it. Everyone started asking me, ‘Can you do mine?’ I think I got a bit of a side hustle going on. And then I decided I’d get a feel for what people were [thinking]. At the end of the tour, I sold the guitar. I just put it up on Ebay to see what would happen. It went for something like $6,500. So now I just do it and have a massive list and it’s something that I’m going to do once we get off the phone, jump on another guitar and start painting.
S: I know I have to wrap up here, so I do want to ask you, your show at Canalside is coming up very soon. Are you going for the wings or no?
LS: Well I’m vegan. I don’t do wings. The other guys do. But I do like spicy food. So I’m looking for some Buffalo sauce, you know.
Brenton J. Blanchet is the editor-in-chief and can be reached at Brenton.Blanchet@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @BrentonBlanchet.