For Irish rockers The Strypes, the past two years have been nothing short of a whirlwind. Their debut album Snapshot dropped in 2013 to acclaim from the likes of Sir Elton John, Dave Grohl and Noel Gallagher. Two years – and Glastonbury sets and Arctic Monkeys tours later – they’re back with second album Little Victories, a much groovier release that draws on hip-hop and funk to give this rock ‘n roll revival a modern edge.
Oh, and did we mention they’re all still in their teens? Yeah…
We caught up with lead guitarist and vocalist Josh McClorey from his home in Ireland to chat about the new album, what the boys learned from touring with the Arctic Monkeys and when we might get the chance to see them in Australia again.
Music Feeds: Hey Josh, how are you?
Josh McClorey: Yeah, I’m good thanks! I’m just at home, just in Cavan at the moment.
MF: Is it the first time you’ve been home in a while?
JM: We’ve been over and back a little bit now, festival season’s kind of ending so we’ve been over here, then back, now we’re back home again. It’s kind of nice to break it up a little bit.
Watch: The Strypes – Get Into It (Live)
MF: Well first a huge congratulations is in order – it’s been a huge summer for you guys, you’ve had sets at Glastonbury, T In The Park, Oui FM – how’s your festival season been?
JM: It’s been crazy! Considering we don’t have a record out yet, and the first album cycle’s over, we weren’t expecting too much from this summer because we’ve sort of been in that stage of limbo. But the crowds have been really insane this year – probably the best year for crowds, for us.
We did a festival in France a couple of weeks ago, and it was just the craziest gig of all time – we had 30,000 people, and everyone was going mad. It’s just stepped up a gear in terms of live performances and crowd reactions.
MF: I managed to get to your Glastonbury set, but we were only given a couple of hours notice on the screens around the festival that you guys would be replacing Azealia Banks. How much notice did you get before playing?
JM: It wasn’t too bad, we got two days I think – we found out on the Thursday, and played the Saturday morning. But yeah, Glastonbury was great. It was so unexpected, and the whole thing was really quick – we got down really early in the morning, did that morning set and then had to go straight back up to London; we had to keep travelling. So we just jumped in, did the gig and then left, but it was really cool.
We didn’t think there was going to be anyone there, because obviously it was a last minute changeover, and Azealia Banks isn’t in any way the same crowd as us – but yeah, it was great.
MF: You played a couple of tracks from the new record Little Victories around the festivals – what was the response, did people seem to enjoy them?
JM: Yeah, yeah – really overwhelmed and sort of surprised that they’re being reacted to really well already even though nobody knows the songs yet. I think live performance-wise we’re getting a lot better, and for the last year and a half, two years, we’ve been able to really come out as players, and in showmanship, and being in a good live band and being able to play those festival sort of stages. And again, the crowds have just stepped us up too – this summer’s been a lot crazier than last summer.
MF: Speaking of showmanship – you three standing at the front [Josh, Pete and Ross] have some little synchronised choreography in a few tracks; where did that come from?
JM: Yeah, Pete and Ross kind of started that – it’s just, we really love all those ’60s groups, the synchronised guitars – it’s a bit of fun, and it just became a ‘thing’ I suppose, just to have a laugh.
Watch: The Strypes – A Good Night’s Sleep And A Cab Fare Home
MF: To me, the new record sounds quite a lot more rhythmic than [début album] Snapshot. I guess where you had those straight rock ‘n’ roll lines in Snapshot, there are some really cool moments of syncopation and just some interesting beats, I guess. Was there anything in particular you were listening to around writing and production time?
JM: In terms of composition, hip-hop was a huge influence. I was really interested in that rhythm, and I love the way that hip-hop and rappers’ lyrics flow, and how they hit above a beat, and that in itself creates its own rhythm just with the vocals and drums. That really fascinated me, so when I was writing I just got a drum loop and just did the lyrics over that, and then put the melody in later. So yeah, there’s a lot more groove on this record.
I think there are probably different influences coming in, I suppose we’re all getting influenced by different things – for me a lot of funk, a lot of hip-hop and soul. The songs now just sat more in those sort of grooves – on the first record it was all very four-to-the-floor, now there are a lot more dynamics, a lot more contrast on this record.
MF: I suppose it’s easy to pick out quite a few older influences in your music – Dr Feelgood, The Animals, The Stones as well – but this new stuff does seem like it’s got a real modern influence to it, a kind of sophistication I guess those bands didn’t necessarily have (or need)?
JM: For sure! There’s definitely a more direct modern influence this time, in terms of all the hip-hop stuff and how we approached that. I suppose that’s what’s great about the whole thing, we’re in an age where every five-six weeks somebody else comes out with something completely new that’ll change everything, and then somebody else comes out with something new again, there’s so much development.
It’s so great that, you know, you can be crazy into funk for six weeks, and then get mad into jazz, or latch onto one band – and I think with this record it was a lot more individual influences; so more coming together and meeting in the middle. With the first record, we all had the same four or five influences, and were really sure of what kind of album we wanted to make – so with this one it was a lot more open, really – and that’s what makes this one much more unique than the first one; more uniquely ‘The Strypes’ than it could be anybody else.
MF: Cruel Brunette is probably my favourite track on the record, and it sounds incredible live, too. The lyrics feel kind of Ray Davies-esque, that really observational kind of stuff. I don’t know if that was something you noticed?
JM: Ha – that was the one I didn’t write, that’s [bass player] Pete’s song! But you’re right, it’s very Ray Davies influenced, also very Billy Bragg I think, as well.
Gallery: The Strypes @ Splendour 2014 / Photos Ashley Mar
MF: More generally – being a more traditional rock ‘n roll group in a landscape of what seems to be moving towards an overwhelmingly electronic industry – whether that’s EDM or just more electronic production techniques – how does that feel?
JM: I mean, it’s great! I’ve thought about this a lot – and I think there’ll always be room for guitar music, and there’ll always be room for EDM. I actually absolutely adore EDM, I love all dance music. I think the problem is that guitar music isn’t played – there are really very few guitar bands being played on the radio now – I think just because it’s very easy for radio to love and play EDM, but I think what’s lacking here is some sort of lyrical thing.
I think in America, I suppose with hip-hop being so big, musically that sort of satisfies everybody, but lyrically with just the EDM there’s something sort of lacking in the UK, and that hip-hop brings the lyrical satisfaction to America. I think if you actually look at all the guitar bands in the UK and Europe, lyrically they really are head and shoulders above everybody else – they’re all brilliant, but there’s just barely any on the radio right now.
MF: I suppose now we just have to dig a little deeper and sift through such a flood of content online to find what we’re missing, either lyrically or otherwise…
JM: Yeah! You just have to look, and in a way that’s what is great about the internet, you don’t have to listen to anything you don’t want to anymore, it’s not like there’s just a few radio stations or whatever – listen to exactly what you want all the time, make your own playlists, your own radio stations – whatever!
MF: In terms of the creation process with Little Victories, how did it differ to Snapshot? I mean with that one, none of you had ever really made a record before – do you now feel a lot more in your element and confident creating a body of work?
JM: This is definitely the first record where we didn’t have all the songs roadtested, you know. With the first album, we’d been gigging for three or four years – all the songs were there, we’d tried them out, we knew they sounded good live, back then it was a matter of going in, pressing record and just letting us play.
With this record, I suppose we were just on tour so we didn’t get to test the new stuff – it kind of came from scratch, and the songs were more built up in the studio than the first record.
For me, that’s a lot more interesting, because I love taking the finished track and then listening back to the original demo, and seeing how far you’ve come. So it was really interesting, particularly with songs like (I Wanna Be Your) Everyday, and Three Streets And A Village Green, and tracks like that, they started as completely different songs, and their true development happened in the studio.
Watch: The Strypes – I Need To Be Your Only (Live)
MF: I guess from a songwriting perspective as well, now you’re not writing just from your house in a small Irish town – you’re on the road all the time, you’re all over the world playing crazy venues with huge bands; has that changed your content or your approach to writing?
JM: Yeah, I think what I’ve realised is – well, I’m still trying to figure myself out as a writer. I think that at the minute I can only really write, I suppose, songs about experiences that I’ve had or that are around me at the time, and I suppose the last year and a half of my life has been my only influence, lyrically, on the songs – and everything that goes with being in a band and being this age – moving out, going back home, missing my family and friends, being homesick, trying to have a relationship, and the great bits about being in a band too.
That’s all I can write about! People this age is all I can write about, so I guess that’s just the type of writer I am at the minute; that may change one day but for now I’m quite personal. And apart from that, you know, I just wanna write good tunes! I wanna write songs that aren’t fucking meaningless tunes, I want people to relate to them and see the similarities with their own lives.
MF: You’ve supported and played with some incredible people over the last few years – the Monkeys, Wilko Johnson and the Foo Fighters. What have you learnt from touring, from surrounding yourself with people you grew up listening to – musically and otherwise?
JM: I’ve learnt that everyone loves ping pong! EVERYONE takes a ping pong table on tour – apart from us, we’re not big enough to have a ping pong table yet, apparently.
MF: That’s the next step then – lift your game if only for the ping pong!
JM: Yeah – they’re all really good, too – so we’ve just been learning ping pong, really!
I think seriously, though, the biggest thing I did learn was touring with the Monkeys, actually. How you can be so successful and play such big venues without it ever once affecting you as a person. Those guys are totally down to earth, there is absolutely no bullshit with them at all – they’re really, really just normal lads from Sheffield – it never went to anybody’s head at ALL.
To be honest, I was so nervous – they’re one of my favourite bands ever, so to go on tour, meet them and hang out with them, I know people say you should never meet your heroes, but I was delighted with it – they were brilliant! They were really helpful, and we hung out loads, and yeah – they’re really chill lads, all they care about is going out and making good tunes and having a laugh. Nobody has any notions about themselves, nobody thinks they’re a rock star. We learnt a lot from that – just to always stay grounded.
MF: That’s quite surprising to me, having only seen what I now assume is their stage persona; particularly Turner. It’s just such a convincing character as an audience member – that arrogant, hip-swinging, rock star thing that you automatically assume carries on into real life. I think as well the way their lyrical attitude has developed over the albums makes you believe that characters are real.
JM: I think it catches a lot of people by surprise! I think it’s kind of like a Bowie thing – obviously that was extreme, but he definitely puts on his own his character. I guess when you’re in that public eye the whole time, and he’s obviously in the public eye a hundred million times, that’s the good thing about being on stage. You can be anybody, have a laugh and do whatever – it makes you more confident and actually helps you be yourself more, and enjoy gigging!
Watch: The Strypes – Blue Collar Jane
MF: It wasn’t widely played in Australia, I don’t think, but the BBC made a documentary about you last year – I thought it was a really well-made film, but it showed quite a lot of tension sort of artistically and personally as well, particularly between you and the rest of the band, and I heard that some of you might have felt misrepresented?
JM: For the most part, I suppose it came across particularly honest. I mean, none of us have bad feelings – we’ve known each other since we were four years old, so anything that was said was already said. I think where people were probably shocked was when the film crews and [director] Julien Temple came in at a point in time when we had 20 songs rejected. You’ve gotta remember, we’re nineteen year-old boys!
We’re all really, really harsh about our opinions! If something goes wrong, we’re going to go mad – because that’s what teenagers… well, that’s what people do! It’s not like we’re 26, 27 and someone’s like “look, I don’t like your songs” and we can take it on the chin very easily. We’re going to be like “well, fuck you!”.
It was just a time when everyone was sort of trying to figure it all out, was the record going to come together, or whatever – but it’s been great, really. You know, we’ve all been through a rough patch, and really that’s nothing. At the time, we were all like “oh Jesus, we just don’t know what to do” but in retrospect it’s like – well, that’s not a big deal – you didn’t like a bit of this song, I didn’t like a bit of that song, but that cancels each other out.
Now we’ve made a really good album that we’re all really happy with, and we’re all still best mates, so, we just let it run its course, nobody tried to force anything and we just let the record turn out naturally – and we’re all happy!
MF: Finally – when do we get to have you back in Australia – can it be soon, please?
JM: I don’t know! I wanted to get back this year; I was trying really hard to get back this year. Hopefully we’ll do a festival early next year, I’m not sure what we’ll do yet. I’m mad to go – I’m mad to get back to Byron, to be honest! I fell in love with it. Also Sydney, actually – my favourite restaurant in the whole world is in Sydney, but I’ve only eaten there once! It’s vegetarian, it’s called Billy Kwong.
MF: If you’re into vegetarian food, I’m just going to defend Melbourne a bit here and say that we have some unbelievable vegetarian stuff down here too – if you haven’t tried Vegie Bar, it’s a classic down here – I’ve taken people who kind of eat nothing but meat and they’re obsessed.
JM: Amazing, I’ll make sure I go there – you have to go to this Billy Kwong too, if you’re vegetarian!
‘Little Victories’ is out August 21st, you can grab a pre-order here.
Watch: The Strypes – Mystery Man
The Strypes - Splendour In The Grass 2014, Byron Bay 25/07/14
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