Interview // The Strypes
I had the pleasure of speaking with these young lads from Cavan (average age 15) a few days before they signed a five-album deal with Mercury Records. They already boast Paul Weller, Jeff Beck and… Brian Kerr among their fans.
Having recently inked an astonishing five-album deal with major label Mercury Records, The Strypes could be forgiven for indulging in a little bit of rock n’ roll excess, but the Cavan four-piece have their feet firmly planted on the ground despite a growing chorus of approval from some of rock royalty’s most prestigious names.
Modfather Paul Weller recently picked the band out as one of his favourite new bands in an interview with an influential UK magazine – as well as inviting them to open for him on a live session for Channel 4 – while former Yardbird and blues legend Jeff Beck has also made his admiration public.
In an exclusive interview with Something for the Weekend – on the eve of penning the record deal – the band are remarkably laid back about it all, choosing to lavish praise on their elders rather than acknowledge the talent and dedication that had bought them so much success so quickly.
Bassist Pete O’Hanlon notes: “When you’re talking to them, you’re not thinking ‘I’m talking to Paul Weller.’ It’s surreal when you think about it afterwards – you think ‘that was Paul Weller.’ Everyone’s so normal, so down to earth, and the bigger people are they seem to be more down to earth.”
Much of the Strypes’ media coverage to date has focused on their tender years – guitarist Josh McClorey is the oldest at 17, drummer Evan Walsh and bassist O’Hanlon are 16, while singer Ross Farrelly is just 15 – and even were they to combine all their ages, they’d still be four years younger than Beck.
Nevertheless, the most striking about the band is not their youth – though their Beatlesy haircuts accentuate that – but their drive and determination and, though they are modest in their words, their total belief in their own ability to make their way in an industry not exactly known for respecting tradition.
Upon being asked if they’re a little surprised by how well they’ve done considering the predominance in the charts of the X-Factor and other manufactured acts, Evan points out that there’s a primal urge that has drawn teenagers to rock n’ roll since it first reared its ghoulish head sixty years ago.
He says: “I think there’s an audience for rhythm and blues music, just that nobody’s really heard it. You find that young people who hear it, they’re hearing it for the first time – they haven’t heard of Chuck Berry or people like that. It’s such a raw, rough and ready, energetic form of music.
Guitarist Josh concurs, adding: “A lot of people can relate to it because it’s really simple and really raw – that’s why people like it.”
Their energy and impressive musicianship earned them viral success and a spot on the Late Late Show last April, within a week of releasing their first single, ‘You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover’ – a cover of Willie Dixon’s blues standard – on Youtube.
Evan says: “A week after it came out they rang us up. It came out on Friday the 13th, and the Saturday after that it was #1 on the iTunes blues chart, and the week after that we were on the Late Late – they rang up on the Monday morning.”
They recently appeared on the Late Late for a second time, performing their first self-written single, ‘Blue Collar Jane.’
“We’ve a good few originals now – we did an original the last time we were on the Late Late, ‘Blue Collar Jane.’ There are a couple of originals in the set, but it’s important to us to keep up the blues tradition – it’s not like a cover, they just do versions of the songs. “
The group hadn’t planned to put pen to paper quite so quickly – Evan revealed that they were “in very, very late talks” with Mercury and hoped to be sorted by the new year – but with five albums to deliver one would expect the group to be a little bit nervous.
To the contrary, they already have the bones of a first album mapped out, and are typically relaxed about how things will pan out from there onwards.
Evan continues: “We expect to release an album sometime next year.
“It will be a good mix of covers and originals. You can be a covers band or you can be a blues band, and blues bands generally do versions of other people’s songs as part of their standard record core anyway. It’s important for us to document the live act as it stands – we’ll try to record live to record.
“As a live band we’ve been compared to the Yardbirds or Dr Feelgood. We tend to play everything rather loud and rather fast. We automatically pump it up a bit.”
Josh adds: “All the artists that we really like from years ago and today do that. Like Jack White’s albums – all of his albums have some covers on them – the Stones, Dylan’s first album has a rake of tunes by other artists.”
Even the way they spell their name is, in part, a tribute to their forebears. Evan notes: “It’s something a lot of bands have done, like the Byrds or the Beatles. It was just a name that was around for years and we couldn’t think of anything else. It’s just kind of stuck.”
Josh, who lists Beatle Paul McCartney among his chief inspirations, agrees: “It’s just something we’ve always used – we were like ‘ah, well get a band name some day.’”
The Strypes support glam rock legends Squeeze at the O2 in London tonight before returning to Dublin on the 18th for their biggest headlining gig to date at Whelan’s – and the odds are that the gigs will only get bigger from hereon in.
Originally published in the Irish Sun on Friday, December 14.