Before the struts went on tour last year with Mötley Crüe, Luke Spiller got a bit of fatherly advice from Nikki Sixx. “He said, ‘Look, you guys are shit-hot,'” says Spiller, the U.K. glam-rock group’s 27-year-old frontman. “‘Go easy on the drugs. Go easy on the pussy. Stay focused, and just keep it about the music.’ Those words coming from a man of his stature really mean something. You’d have to be stupid not to listen.”
On this particular shit-hot afternoon in Los Angeles, the Struts are about to perform at Shaun White’s Air + Style Festival – a bleak parking-lot gathering whose lineup is a mish-mash of rock, hip-hop and EDM, and whose main event is the 16-story snowboard jump that towers on the horizon. The Struts’ set is 30 minutes of bombastic, boldly off-trend rock & roll that wears its classic glam influences on its glittery sleeve. Even with the midday sun melting makeup and glitter and hair spray into his eyes, Spiller gave the man-made mountain some serious competition for the eyeballs. The frontman, who has said he wears “about 80 percent women’s clothes,” is dressed in patent-leather pants with gold fringe and a flouncy electric-blue top. He stalks the stage with Freddie Mercury flair and Phil Lynott swagger, constantly imploring the crowd to fucking enjoy themselves already.
“There are bands in the U.K. who are not willing to work their audience,” says Spiller. “That’s what an audience wants – to be told, ‘C’mon!’ Because as soon as the person next to you starts losing their inhibitions, that’s your ecstasy! That’s what helps you to let go.”
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The Struts – Spiller, guitarist Adam Slack, bassist Jed Elliott and drummer Gethin Davies – have been working for their audience for five years, and it’s starting to pay off. The band just released its U.S. debut, Everybody Wants, and its arena-size single “Could Have Been Me” has reached the Top Five on alternative-rock radio and scored close to 9 million plays on Spotify. Two years ago, the Rolling Stones tapped the Struts to open for them in Paris – where Spiller’s penchant for telling the crowd what to do reared its head. “Luke’s telling 75,000 people to sit down on the floor!” says Elliott. Adds Spiller, “The people we could connect to – the first 10,000 in the crowd – they were loving it!”
The hit single and Stones gig are proof of what Spiller and his bandmates always knew: that there’s a sizable audience for a young rock band that couldn’t sound less like the Top 40. “There were kids like me when I was growing up, and we would talk for hours about AC/DC and Led Zeppelin,” Spiller says. “There’s no smoke without fire. We’re not the only ones. I know that. But it doesn’t matter if kids end up dressing like us. We’ve just always kept the faith that we need to write the best songs we can. That’s the number-one priority.”
Spiller – raised in Bristol in a religious Christian household – first felt the thrill of commanding an audience at age nine, when he played the rock & roll pharaoh in his school’s production of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. At 15, hearing the music of British glam revivalists the Darkness changed his life. Soon, he was wearing eyeliner to school, and found himself “obsessed with everything Sixties and Seventies. I was very nostalgic, and something about that era fascinated me.”
When it came to his favorite bands, Spiller watched every live performance clip he could find, studying his heroes’ moves, trying to figure out how they did what they did and how he could push it forward. A few years later, in a friend’s kitchen, he got the words “SIR ROCK & ROLL” tattooed over his heart. As the band took off, Spiller connected with Zandra Rhodes, who designed outfits for Mercury and Queen guitarist Brian May. Soon, she began designing Spiller’s stage clothes as well – including that electric-blue top he wore in L.A.
The Struts say “Could Have Been Me” was inspired by a moment a few years ago when they almost lost their way. They had signed a bad record deal and were being asked to change their look and their sound. “The label was like, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if you sounded like Bastille and had a floor tom to hit during certain songs?'” Spiller says. “We were really at a fork in the road: ‘Do we carry on doing what we truly believe? Or do we get tempted into chasing what other contemporaries are doing?’ ”And we were like, ‘Fuck it, let’s make this song even more obvious as to what we’re about.’ I’ve always stuck to the same thing, because I believe in it 100 percent.”