While the rock attitude tends to reject the idea of image, it would be foolish to say the presentation isn’t important for any band. For the Strypes controlling their look has been just as hard as controlling their music but taking the lead has made all the difference. We chatted with The Strypes ahead of the band’s Montreal show at Petit Campus on March 30th to talk about their new album Spitting Image and how they started working with Paul Weller.
Northern Transmissions: How do you think knowing each other and playing together for so long before you went professional has helped you at this stage in your career and keep things from getting to hectic between everyone?
The Strypes: It just made it so much easier because we never really formed like a normal band since we knew each other for so long. We all grew up together and have so much history, so it was more of a nebulous thing that we came together. We don’t have that thing that other bands might have where you only find out about certain things out on the road, which can cause trouble.
NT: How did Ethan Johns help shape your music for this latest record?
The Strypes: We first met Ethan about four years ago when were about to get signed the first time. We went to his house and got along really well, but we didn’t end up working together for one reason or another in those four to five years. We were doing some demos at a studio in Bath, and he has a studio there too so we bumped into him. He listened to the demos and was so excited by what he heard that he asked to do the album. We didn’t have anybody in mind yet since we’d just been doing demos, so when he walked into the picture it just seemed practical. It was done all in one chunk, which was a nice change of pace.
NT: How did you get involved with Paul Weller’s album, what was it like and did you bring something from that to your new record as well?
The Strypes: We did a gig with Paul about five years ago at Abbey Road, and we got to know each other after that. He has a studio in Surrey, and he ended up producing one of the songs on our EP. We started the relationship with him then and I (Josh) was lucky enough to be asked to play on his album. He got me in on an EP and his last record, and now we’re on the road with him doing some shows in the U.K.. The thing I got from working with him in the studio was his work ethic and how much energy he puts into his music. He’s at his studio at 10 a.m. and he’s there until 11 at night without really taking a break. To be around someone of that ilk and musicianship was very beneficial.
NT: What inspired you to get involved with the Dublin Simon Community Music Marathon busking session and what was it like busking for a change with all those other bands?
The Strypes: It was just the time of year for a lot of charity events in Dublin. We’re patrons of a charity called Enable Ireland, which works through local bars to raise money for cancer research. We arranged it with our agent. The marathon playing started at 10 a.m. and ended at midnight, there was 25 bands involved so it was amazing.
NT: A lot of people have highlighted your age as a shocker, but from your experience does it mean people try to push you around more than they should?
The Strypes: You do have to be very strong in the music industry to be able to have any input in your music. Our main concern is to do with the creative aspects and the writing, to control how we’re perceived. It seems natural that the band would have the most say in that, but a lot of people in the music business have come to not think that. Bands can become bottom of the food chain like that. It was and has been very difficult, but you just have to be steadfast with your opinion. The age has something to do with that but a lot of bands face that early in their career regardless of their age. There’s no band that hasn’t been pigeonholed in some way by the media either.
NT: Where did the idea for the live in Tokyo album come about, and what did you want to do to make sure it stood out as a live record?
The Strypes: The thing is that obviously live shows and playing live is our bread and butter. We were just doing some shows and decided to record it. Those turned out really well. We’re big fans of live records and obviously all of our big influences were heavyweights in the live circuit, so it felt right to do. The label in Japan were also very keen to make something happen. The Japanese market are very keen on those kinds of things and are ironclad on the bands that come. It would be hard though in anywhere but Japan to put out a live album and have that kind of love.
NT: You’ve always stood by the ideas of aesthetics as well, why do you think so many bands forget this and why is it important to you to look like a band?
The Strypes: Image should never take over from the music, it should never be a style over substance scenario. A lot of bands can end up in that studio where they get focused on image but just don’t have the chops to back it up. The pairing of the two in bands like the White Stripes and even the Hives specifically always look great. Selling music is 90% presentation, so if you think of a band and can immediately picture them because of their strong image, even if it’s just colours that’s brilliant. There have even been bands we love that were famous for not having anything flashy, but those were bands coming up in a time where everyone wore suits so it was rebellious. You don’t have to have suits or rock n’ rolling clothes, but it’s good to stand out if you’re going to end up in front of people. There’s no reason to not want to in a band, because you’re putting yourself out there to be seen.
Words by Owen Maxwell