The Struts' love of Queen goes deep. You can hear it in the epic glam-like grandeur of the songs, and it’s beamed front and center by vocalist Luke Spiller’s uncanny resemblance to Queen’s late and legendary frontperson Freddie Mercury. The cherry on top is the Brian May-influenced fretwork of Strut’s guitarist Adam Slack.
Yet, despite the reverential tribute to a beloved band, the Struts are not a pack of clone-worthy renegades from the Queen musical We Will Rock You. A mere tribute act probably wouldn’t be asked to open arena shows for Guns N’ Roses, the Who, Foo Fighters, and the Rolling Stones, and fan interest is wildly impressive. The Struts have logged millions of YouTube views, with their latest single for “One Night Only”—a full album is expected this year—charting upwards of 300,000 views. While the band itself may not be above accentuating certain musical similarities to Queen, the full package includes a ton of energy, great songwriting, and, at least in Slack’s case, a desire to pay homage to a hero, while simultaneously striving to develop a personal style.
We’ve only heard the premiere single “One Night Only,” but can you reveal what gear you used for the new-album sessions?
I bought [Pearl Jam guitarist] Mike McCready’s Gibson Les Paul earlier this year from Chicago Music Exchange, and it’s the best f**king guitar I’ve ever played in my life. It never goes out of tune, it sounds amazing, and it really sustains. I used it for everything I played on “One Night Only,” but for the rest of the album, I used loads of things. I have some models from this Japanese company called KZ1 that make guitars inspired by Brian May’s Red Special. I used one of them on a few songs on the album. It’s really cool, and you can get some really bizarre sounds out of it, because of all the switches and pickups. It also has a great nasal-like tone for solos. It’s a little tougher to remember the amps, because we wrote and recorded about 40 songs over eight months in different studios in the U.S. and the U.K. I’m certain there were some Vox, Marshall, Friedman, and 3 Monkeys amps in the mix. My favorite pedals were a SoloDallas Schaffer Replica and a J. Rockett Audio Designs Archer overdrive, and I use DR Strings, gauged .010-.053.
For live performances, I’ve been using a Divided By 13 BTR 23 and a Friedman Small Box running simultaneously—one a bit clean, and the other a little overdriven. I’m getting a Vox AC30 for the road, as well. For guitars, I may take the McCready, or my ’68 Les Paul Junior—which has been my dream guitar since I was a kid.
Wait. What? Did you say that the band actually recorded 40 songs for this album?
Well, the second album is a big thing, isn’t it? It makes or breaks your career, really, and we just want to make sure we get it right. It’s all about searching for the right songs. We currently have 11 songs we’re all really proud of, and we’re still trying for one or two “big single” productions. Sometimes, I don’t think we’ll stop writing until right before the record has to come out. In the interim, it was nice to release “One Night Only,” because it had been a while since we had released something out for the fans.
What players most influenced your style?
My two idols are Keith Richards and Brian May— completely different players. I love the swagger and rhythm of Keith Richards’ playing. You know who it is when you hear it, and his parts give so much sex appeal to the songs. Brian May is an absolute genius. His guitar is like an orchestra. Queen was huge for me. I think that, individually and collectively, they’re one of the most talented bands ever.
On “One Night Only,” you did a nice solo that was obviously inspired by Brian May.
Yeah. “One Night Only” has probably the most Brian May-style playing I’ve ever done. There’s one bit in particular that’s a little like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but the rest of it is just me messing around. I try to do my thing, but if something sounds good—even if you could say it has harmonies that sound too “Brian”—I just let it sound good. I try not to think about it too much. But I always try to avoid being just a copycat.
Do you tend to work out your solos to the song, or do you sit in the studio and improvise until you get something you like?
It’s kind of both, really. I like noodling—unless the band gets pissed off, because it has been an hour, and I’m still coming up with something. Sometimes, it will just be an accident. I’ll play around and go, “Oh, that’s a nice bit,” and then try to work something around it. There are also times when I’ll hum a solo without having a guitar in my hands, and I’ll have to figure out what I was doing. It’s different every time. I’d love to ask Brian how he does it, if I meet him. What do you do?
I tend to like improvising. I love that “seat of your pants” thing. If your solo in “One Night Only” had a bit of “messing around” as you said, it’s a great example of conscious crafting and improvising. The intro part is a real ear-catcher.
Thank you. That definitely was a situation where the initial idea came while I was noodling, but then it took quite a while to decide how to phrase and refine each part.
Did you ever take lessons, or did you learn everything by ear?
I never had lessons. It was actually Green Day that got me into playing guitar when I was 13. I remember seeing the video for “Minority” on TV, and I was like, “Wow, I want to do that.” So I bought a Squier Strat, and I learned from downloading Green Day videos and copying how Billy Joe played. Then, at 15, I got into Oasis, and I started being aware of solos. But I don’t feel like I started playing properly until I was 18, and began playing in bands and writing songs. I used to jam with my cousin’s cover band in my hometown—just playing rhythm—and sometimes he’d throw me into the deep end in front of the crowd. He’d say, “Do a solo!” I’m like, “I don’t even know how to play.” But I think it was really good, because when you’re thrown into the deep end, you have to learn how to swim. I guess I picked up things that he was doing, and I learned by playing live, really—making horrendous mistakes along the way. YouTube lessons really helped me, as well.
From a performance standpoint, what’s it like going from small clubs to arenas?
To me, it all depends on my monitor mix. Sometimes, the stage volume can be loud in a small club, and that can get a bit overwhelming. On the other hand, there are times when I can’t have my guitar loud enough, because Luke can’t hear himself. And then, you have those horrible gigs where you can’t really hear the guitar, and you can’t really hear the vocals. That’s the problem with smaller clubs, and it’s quite frustrating. None of us want to use in-ear monitors, so we kind of just duke it out. But we did a show in Quebec with the Who, and it was the best gig I’ve ever played. It was in front of 80,000 people, and the wedges were incredible. We could hear everything crystal clear. Of course, if you walk away from the sweet spot of the wedges, it gets tougher. You can feel the drums, for example, but not hear them. But you just get used to everything, you know? You trust your sense of rhythm, and you just get on with it.