Sold Out: The Struts
Beware Of Darkness
Sat, October 8, 2016
Doors: 7:30 pm / Show: 8:30 pmTrees
This event is all ageshttp://www.treesdallas.com/event/1245105/
"Every time we go into the studio we just want to channel exactly what we're all about onstage—something big, fun, unapologetic, rock & roll," says Spiller. "We love a song that makes everybody sing along, and touring quite extensively over the past few years has given us a lot of inspiration to bring that kind of energy to our album."
The follow-up to Have You Heard—a 2015 EP whose lead single "Could Have Been Me" hit #1 on Spotify's viral chart, earned more than 2.5 million Vevo/YouTube views, and shot to the top 5 on Modern Rock radio charts—Everybody Wants unleashes anthem after arena-ready anthem. Pairing up with producers like Gregg Alexander (former frontman for New Radicals) and Marti Frederiksen (Aerosmith, Mick Jagger) and recording in such far-flung locales as a refurbished London church and a studio in the Spanish region of Andalucía, The Struts prove the iconic power that's prompted Yahoo Music to name them "one of the most exciting and electric performers in rock today" and MTV to proclaim the band "well on their way to bringing rock & roll back to the forefront."
Throughout Everybody Wants, The Struts offer their own undeniable twist on sweetly sleazy glam-rock, delivering huge hooks and making brilliant use of Spiller's otherworldly vocal range. Even the album's breakup songs come on full throttle, with "Mary Go Round" backing its dreamy acoustic balladry with heavy drums, blistering guitar work, and fantastically glam-minded lyrics ("I can't even pour myself a glass of wine/Because every glass is stained with your lipstick shine"). Also evidence of The Struts' romantic sensibilities, the sweeping, heart-on-sleeve intensity of "A Call Away" offers a stirring testament to love against the odds. "It's about when I'd just moved to America and had a girlfriend back home, and everyone was asking how I was going to make it work," explains Slack. "The song's saying that we'll make it work no matter what, no matter how many miles apart we are."
At the core of Everybody Wants are power-chord-driven tracks like the hard-charging album-opener "Roll Up" (a "larger-than-life caricature of the person I am onstage, very glamorous and very cheeky," according to Spiller) and the gritty-yet-exhilarating "Kiss This" (a breakup song whose "message is really about standing up for yourself—sort of our version of a 'Young Hearts Run Free'-type song, but in a rock mentality," Spiller notes). With its hip-shaking rhythms and euphoric harmonies, "Times Are Changin'" recaps the band's recent glories ("I've been to New York City, I met the Rolling Stones"), while "The Ol' Switcharoo" blends bubblegum melodies and horn-backed grooves into the world's most irresistibly fun tribute to girlfriend-swapping.
The Struts also show their skill in merging high-drama storytelling and pop-perfect melody on Everybody Wants, with "Black Swan" spinning a darkly charged tale of warring families and star-crossed lovers. "I'd thought that 'Black Swan' would make a good title, so Luke and I started writing it together one night in his room," recalls Slack. "We finished the melodies, and the next morning he'd come up with this whole tragic love story to put into the lyrics." And on "Where Did She Go," The Struts close out Everybody Wants with an infectiously stomping epic that first came to life when Spiller was just 15. "My parents had just moved to this horrible seaside town, which wasn't a great place to be if you've got long hair or you're just an individual in any way," he says. "One night I was walking home quite drunk and started singing to myself, as you do, and this melody eventually came to me. I remember thinking, 'What kind of melody could you get a whole football stadium full of people to sing along to?', and then kept going from that."
Forming The Struts in Derby, England, in 2012, all four members began making music as teenagers, initially finding inspiration in groups like Oasis and the Libertines and then tracking their idols' influences to discover the glam bands that would one day shape their own sound. "When we first started, we both just wanted to make fun, happy rock songs with big choruses—the kind of thing that bands like Slade and T. Rex used to do," says Slack of his collaboration with Spiller. The trademark tongue-in-cheek swagger of classic glam also played a key part in the naming of the band, Spiller points out. "We were in rehearsals and someone saw me strutting around as we were playing, and made the suggestion that we call ourselves The Struts," he says. "We loved that from day one—it absolutely represents what we're about."
Largely on the strength of their dynamic live performance, the Struts fast built up a major following and started selling out shows all across Europe. Along with landing the Stade de France gig with the Rolling Stones, the band took the stage at the 2014 Isle of Wight Festival, with Spiller decked out in a shimmering-blue cape custom-made for him by Zandra Rhodes (the legendary designer who formerly created costumes for Queen's Freddie Mercury and Brian May). Over the past few years Spiller's role as a style idol has prevailed, with the New York Times recently spotlighting the singer in a fashion-centric feature and Ray Brown (an Australian designer who's also dreamed up outfits for AC/DC, Ozzy Osbourne, and Lady Gaga) coming up with costumes for The Struts' run of dates with Mötley Crüe.
In their lavish stage presence and magnetic appeal, The Struts have more than demonstrated a preternatural command of monumental crowds. But while all that glitz and flash never fail to thrill, the band's impassioned music and high-powered spirit also fulfill a far greater purpose. "The main mission of the band is to bring back that feeling of fun and rock & roll, especially to all those people who are bored by what's going on these days," says Spiller. "We really believe that music, when it's done right, can help you escape the present moment, and then just send you somewhere else entirely."
So taunts Kyle Nicolaides at the start of Are You Real?, the new Beware of Darkness album, and the frontman’s biggest and boldest statement yet. As saw-toothed, satin guitar riffs slice into crunching grooves, the new album serves as an urgent call to arms for not only the singer, but for the band’s sound as well. In an alternative lane that has lately been full of banjos and keyboards, this music ushers in a rebirth of a sound that is as refreshing as it is exciting, and goes much deeper than riffs. Nicolaides’s journey, since the release of his band’s debut album Orthodox in 2013, has come full circle. After trolling the depths and sludging through the bleak, Are You Real? is the story of how a rock star on the rise fought uncertainty and disillusionment to avoid flaming out. And, more importantly, how he has come through the other side revitalized and focused, and with the best songs of his young career.
Despite the highs that would come from Orthodox, including wildly popular shows, prominent synch placements, and critical favor, Nicolaides refers to his own personal psyche during that period of his career as significantly less than stellar. Lacking self-confidence in his ability to lead, soon anger, fear, and depression set in. Nicolaides was forced to look inside himself to try and rebuild what had been lost. He began to embrace challenges—to, as he says, and in the spirit of his band’s name, “be aware of darkness”—and through reading and meditation found a harmony that had previously been lacking not just in his music but in all corners of his life.
“After the first album, I didn’t think I was going to have a future in music at all, but ironically I realized the only power I really had to deal and cope with that was by writing more songs,” he says. “This new record started from dealing with that uncertainty. Then it morphed into this idea that I wanted to make the best rock record of the past ten years, something original and fresh that has twelve songs all in one lane, with the feeling of overcoming something. Before we made the record I decided I wanted it to be the experience everyone working on it would ever have, including myself. In a way, I worked from outside in, and made sure that everyone else was taken care of and happy so that we could build some kind of creative sanctuary and make sure the vibe was right.
Before entering the studio, Nicolaides set a goal to write 100 new songs—and he did. The biggest difference between songwriting on the first record versus the second was the revision process. The LP first was very much first thought best thought, but this time, I’d write a song, took only the parts I loved, then either combined it with another song, or completely rewrite it, put everything together—seeing what fit, and experimented a lot. “Sometimes I had to write a song 4 different times before I got the final version. But I wanted to make a cohesive, monster of an LP and that’s what it took.
Armed with demos of that slew of songs, Beware of Darkness headed into studios in the fall of 2015 to record with two producer-engineers, Jim Kaufmann and Catherine Marks “I realized that you have a choice between being depressed or working toward something while believing it’s gonna get better,” he says. “I think that was the shift as soon as I started writing the new record. I chose not to be depressed anymore and believe that it only gets better from here on.”
It’s clear from the opening squeal of “Muthafucka” that Beware of Darkness is on the up-and-up, and riding high on new wings while holding down that which endeared fans in the first place. That song’s process—written by pairing a Tempest drum machine beat with a raw riff and bass line built from the bottom-end up—was a blueprint for much of the album, and finds Nicolaides at the peak of his return.
Elsewhere, tracks pulse and rage while soaring and chiming; all is perhaps a little less sinister this time around. Where earlier Beware of Darkness material may have fallen more on the side of leather and metal, these songs hearken to the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Royal Blood, The Struts, Wolf Alice, Cage the Elephant, Skaters, even Nirvana. Songs like “Dope,”
“Summerdaze,” and “Sugar in the Raw” show their subtle hip-hop influence, and in fact the trio was co-written swiftly with the female hip-hop producer Trinity, a collaboration Nicolaides says was truly magic and inspiring.
The album’s titular question is born of a decidedly less-heady space but one that represents two sides of Beware of Darkness’s relationship with its Los Angeles home: encounters of art and artifice. Nicolaides says Are You Real? references both a graphic by the mid-century LA photographer Robert Heinecken he saw in a Pasadena art gallery, as well as less-specific meetings at parties with Angelenos whose elaborate personal sagas and vapid rationale could not be believed. “That’s the thing about LA,” he says, “I’ve never loved or hated anything about this city. There’s so many great things about it but there’s so many things that are just mind-blowingly soul-crushing.”
And now, amid the excitement for the release of Are You Real? (including airplay on Beats 1 Radio and newly announced summer tour dates), Nicolaides has refocused his original band and recognizes the trio’s innate cohesion, feeling fully fit to take charge in a mature and seasoned way. “The original band stayed together by the grace of god. I see myself now as a protector of the band.”
“No one appreciated what we had, including me,” he says of the early days. “You look back and say, ‘Wow, we were living the dream.’ We all got in a room together a month ago and the vibe was there. We played all these new songs and it sounded like we’d been playing them for ten years. We played older songs and they sounded twenty times better than when we played them last tour. That’s when I realized it’s my job to be a protector of this. Chemistry like this is sacred.”
As far as the future of Beware of Darkness is concerned, Nicolaides is setting his sights on the rafters. “This record for me is like a new start to a new chapter of my life,” he says. “It’s like the “Muthafucka” song: I’m a totally different person, confidence-wise, creatively, team-member wise, band-member wise. I hope this record is the start to the run of greatness that we’re gonna have. With each step we make, we keep building and getting bigger on our own terms.”
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