Meet Ireland’s hottest new band: The Strypes

PERRI CASSIE talks to drummer Evan Walsh about the formation of The Strypes, going on autopilot for arena shows, and whether or not guitar music is truly on its arse.

The Strypes are all under the age of 18, but have spent years spent honing their craft developing a sound reminiscent of ‘60s blues and ‘70s pub rock bands like The Rolling Stones, Dr. Feelgood, The Yardbirds, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Howlin’ Wolf. Their debut album Snapshot is live wire effort produced by Chris Thomas (The Beatles, Pulp, The Sex Pistols) that races through 12 tracks in just under 40 minutes. It’s a sound that has seen them pick up plenty of high-profile fans: Dave Grohl has called them “unbelievable”; they’ve toured with Arctic Monkeys; Noel Gallagher has been seen at their shows; and Elton John signed them to his management label.

You’ll be able to see the band for yourself at Splendour and a pair of sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne next month, but first let drummer Evan Walsh fill you in on their back story…

There’s still an element of the unknown with the band, tell me a little bit about the story of The Strypes and how they came to be?

Essentially we’re four mates from Ireland who formed a band. I’ve known the others my whole life, we grew up together and were always playing at each other’s houses and all that. We were friends from birth really. We always knew each and I suppose as we grew up we always had an interest in music and culture, and I think we were interested in the idea of forming a band from I’d say as early as eight or nine. The first thing we ever did was play a couple of songs at a school Christmas concert one year [but] the other two schoolmates kind of lost interest in playing and then we met Ross [Farrelly, frontman]. We invited him to come and jam with us, and we gelled pretty quickly. It was then we started thinking about properly forming a band and forming a repertoire.

We got interested in a lot of rhythm and blues, early rock and roll, garage rock, and punk bands as well. Early Rolling Stones stuff, The Undertones, The Animals, and then a lot of early blues and rock and roll stuff like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. A whole kind of world of influences opened to us, and we just ended up getting into to all this music growing up and we started gigging around our hometown of Cavan at whatever sort of local spots would take us. Eventually we started playing in Dublin and got a lot of interest up there and in other parts of Ireland, and then in 2012 we put out a four track EP of covers we made at home by ourselves and it got a lot of radio play in Ireland and interest from an Irish record company. We then went to London and played a few gigs out there and started getting attention from UK record companies and we finally signed for Mercury/Virgin EMI, and we’ve pretty much just been recording and gigging and stuff ever since.

So you’re a band that really started out playing covers, what was the first original song you wrote together as a band?

Well there would have been a couple of early attempts that never really came to anything but I think the earliest that we wrote nearly three years ago, was one of the album tracks Josh sings on the album called ‘She’s So Fine’. I came up with a riff on bass one day and we were jamming out, just playing 12-bar blues and josh came up with lyrics over it almost on the spot. The crowds seem to still like it.

Your worked with a prestigious producer in Chris Thomas on your debut album; what was that experience like?

That was a great experience. He’s a legend and it was totally amazing to think we made an album with him. The guy who worked with the Sex Pistols, The Pretenders and Paul McCartney, he even engineered The White Album. He’s produced for everybody. It was a great experience. We tried to record it quite quickly, all the tracks were almost like live in the studio with sort of minimal overdubs added afterward, so there wasn’t a whole lot of thought and analysis put into the production of it but he definitely has a good ear for things like that at this stage.

You signed a five-album deal, is that correct? Have you already started to piece together your next release? Any ideas in mind?

It’s two albums solid, with the option of signing on for three more if the next one goes well and if it ever gets to that point [laughs]. We’ve all got a job at hand at the moment to get songs together for the second album which ideally we’d be recording in the autumn of this year, around like September/October time to be in the studio. It’s that stereotypical second album [syndrome], everybody feels like there’s that pressure on them when they go to do it, so you just have to try not to think about it and just do. We were in Ireland just all of last month writing and it’s going very well, we’re happy with how we’re working and what we’re doing.

I don’t think it’ll be a radical progression from what has been heard so far. The whole thing with a band is that a natural progression has to take place at the member’s own kind of pace. I suppose perhaps the songwriting may be more sophisticated too because we’ll have written more songs at that point but I don’t think it’ll be too different stylistically. We get quite bored in the studio after a short period, so I don’t think we’ll be doing a Def Leppard on it and recording it one note at a time.

“The majority of music that’s being put out at the minute which is fairly complacent”

The Strypes have been pretty vocal about The X Factor and Simon Cowell. I did an interview with Kasabian recently and they seem to think guitar music is on its arse. What do you think about the current state of guitar music?

Well it is what it is, there’s not too much about it that we have any interest in. Damon Albarn made the point recently in an interview with an Irish newspaper and he said that pretty much everybody in the music industry has become more showbiz now than anything else; it’s all kind of glitz and glamour and red carpet nonsense. We don’t really buy into that. We don’t buy into the stereotypical notion that now we’re in a band we have to become part of the industry and we have to seem to be certain things and hang around certain people. We don’t buy into that notion at all, we’re kind of happy to just be doing our own thing while being in the band as well. I think [Albarn] had a fair point in that the whole thing is kind of showbiz-y and that if you want to find any raw excitement or power there’s not many places nowadays. A lot of the time you’re just looking back at the punk bands, or new wave stuff or early rock and roll, rhythm and blues stuff from the ‘40s and ‘50s, which I think carries more excitement today than the majority of music that’s being put out at the minute which is fairly complacent. Having said that there are a few bands around that we do like, we like The Black Keys, Jack White, and The Jim Jones Revue. There are people around doing some good things but there’s not a whole lot of them at the same time.

The Arctic Monkeys have paved the way a little bit with AM, but they received a bit of flack from The Orwells recently saying they do their live shows on autopilot and they’re the Backstreet Boys with guitars. As a band that’s supported them as well, what is your take on this?

I don’t know how much we’d agree with that, it makes sense for a band that are performing live, and especially doing the big arena tour like the Arctic Monkeys are, that once you get into doing the tour there’s a natural rhythm to the set that starts to develop. I don’t think you should be doing a different set every night or trying to make every gig entirely different because it’s never really going to work as well as that. I suppose that’s a very subjective thing, a matter of opinion on how a gig should be done. I didn’t watch them every night so I can’t say what the difference was from gig to gig but they seem to put a lot of work into it anyway. When you get to the bottom of it doing a big arena tour and being the main act must carry a lot of stress and pressure, so when you’re a band that’s worked its way up like that, and they’ve only just worked themselves up to that level, I suppose it’s about finding your place in that kind of circuit. I think maybe just a natural rhythm does develop and if that does make the gigs kind of similar, it’s not going to be the same people very night and I think people are just going to be happy to be hearing those songs.

The Strypes sideshows

Tuesday, July 22 – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne

Wednesday, July 23 – Newtown Social Club, Sydney