The Strypes interview: 'we’re conscious of not getting lost in our own bulls**t'

The band talk to The Independent about songs with stories and famous fans, and exclusively reveal the video for their new single Great Expectations

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Describing members of a band as “down to earth” always seems like damning with faint praise. But the Strypes are in no mood to pretend they are something they’re not. There’s no playacting to make headlines, no loudmouth criticism of other acts or the music industry at large, no political posturing or Gallagher-esque shock tactics. They're just four Irish lads in their (very) early twenties with their heads screwed on the right way, itching to get on with what they do well - putting on one hell of a rock and roll show.

“We’re always very conscious of not getting lost in our own bullshit,” says guitarist Josh McClorey, stroking his beard. “I don’t think any of us would let the others get away with that. It is just playing guitar in a band at the end of the day. We’ve known each other since we were seven, and went from playing gigs at school to more festivals, and it’s just spiralled since then. There’s been no unique journey as such.”

Two things invaded every inch of magazine space about the Strypes in their early days - their frighteningly young age (they had supported the Arctic Monkeys and played on David Letterman’s chat show by the age of 17), and the fact that plenty of household name rockers (Alice Cooper, Elton John, Dave Grohl and Paul Weller to name a handful) are devoted fans of their music.  

So it’s wise to get them out of the way early on in our conversation. “Having famous fans hasn’t put extra pressure on us at all,” bassist Pete O’Hanlon says emphatically. “In the beginning it could have been a bit of a deterrent to people discovering us, because that’s all that was being talked about in relation to us. 

“It means so much more when it’s someone who we’re a massive fan of anyway. And when we’re on festival bills with them it’s just like we’re their peers. The coolest moments were when the Undertones dedicated Teenage Kicks to us at a gig, and when we played with the Boomtown Rats. When it’s people we admire, that’s the reward.”

The comparisons to the Undertones are fairly inevitable. Both bands were thrust into the spotlight at a tender age, play comparable forms of catchy punk pop and were born in towns just a 100 mile drive apart across the Irish border. While their classmates booted footballs down the park in their hometown of Cavan, the Strypes sat in each others houses listening to old records as they discovered music together: the Beatles and the Who first, then Dr Feelgood, Elvis Costello and Little Richard. The first song they practised together? Teenage Kicks, of course.

Their evident respect for the history of rhythm and blues is refreshing considering they are barely out of their teenage years. We meet in the lobby of the band’s west London hotel hours before they’re due to take to the stage at Dingwalls, a sweaty dive in Camden Town afforded legendary status since The Clash, Sex Pistols and Ramones took to the stage there. ”People are always asking where’s on your bucket list to play, but to be honest Dingwalls is up there with the very ultimate,” says drummer Evan Walsh, grinning excitedly. “The history of the place is unbelievable. We never really had goals when we were starting out, but this one’s going to be special.”

Like many of their heroes before them, the Strypes place high emphasis on writing songs with distinct stories. Their third album in four years, titled Spitting Image, finds the band sowing new sounds (“Swampy, bluesy, New Orleansy, creepy things”, smirks Walsh) into their tidy three-chord stompers. 

Great Expectations, the video for which is debuted exclusively by in the Independent today, is a definite standout, weaving smart, melancholic lyrics into a sunny tune reminiscent of the Kooks at their crowd-pleasing best. The presence of Ethan Johns, who previously worked with Laura Marling, Paul McCartney and crafted the Kings of Leon’s finest records, on production duties has refreshed the formula and captured the urgency of their live performances.

“Disastrous family holidays, getting a bollocking at school - we’re just talking about simple stuff that can be personal, but also has elements of things people can relate to,” McClorey says. There’s two writing camps in the band, and being at home for quite a while inspired feelings of suburban dread in all of us. But really the songs are just a mix of all our experiences.”

While recording was being tied up, the guitarist lent his services to none other than Mr Weller, whose new album he contributed to. “It was surreal how casual the whole thing was,” he offers. “There’s no pretence with him, it was straight in and working, no bullshit.”

The band’s new album artwork and videos - all sharp suits, bright colours and big sunglasses - point to a strong sense of style, something they’ve been keen to cultivate. “Things have just gone the way of bands not giving a shite what they look like any more. It’s just as important to put forward a strong image,” says O’Hanlon.

The band have been looking for ways to refresh their sound

“Actually looking like a band when you go on stage is incredibly important. We like talking to audiences and having a connection with them, but at the same time you need to look the part - you can’t look like you’ve just walked on stage out of the crowd. You need to project how you feel you are to people.”

It’s fair to say that the singer is not often the least extroverted person in a band but Ross Farrelly, for all his booming presence during the Strypes’ raucous performances, very much keeps himself to himself. The youngest member of the group, he joined late but quickly asserted himself front and centre, and gave the band its smooth and distinctive voice. “I couldn’t tell you anyone that’s around in the charts in the moment,” he chips in as the conversation turns to the state of rock music today.

Good rock and roll isn’t dead, you just have to look a bit harder to find it

"But we’ve never seen the point of swiping at other acts we don’t like. Good rock and roll isn’t dead, you just have to look a bit harder to find it. Streaming services have been good for us in terms of getting people to hear our music, and you’ll get to the point where Spotify just cuts out the middleman and starts signing acts for itself. Then the picture will get really interesting.”

A lot of bands seem to get butterflies during album release week, waiting for the fruit of their hard labours to finally go global (“And knowing we can’t change anything, that’s the hard bit,” sighs O’Hanlon). But even in this, the Strypes show remarkable maturity that belies their youth. “The only goal was to make a record on a major label, on our own terms without much intervention,” Walsh says calmly. 

“And that’s what we’ve managed. Everything else is a bonus really. Success is only defined by your own criteria, and the goalposts change every record. It’s like worrying about exams on the day before results, you should have been worried while you were doing it.”

So there you have it: no grand proclamations about wanting to set the world alight, or bragging about their impressive list of achievements to date. Not a music journalist’s dream, perhaps, but plenty of their elders could take a leaf out of the Strypes’ guide to keeping your feet on the ground.

Spitting Image, the new album from the Strypes, is out today on Virgin EMI