Interview: Jed Elliott of The Struts (New Album: Strange Days)

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Jed Elliott (left) with The Struts (Photo by Beth Saravo)

On Oct. 16, The Struts released the band’s third album, Strange Days. Managing to record a new album in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic proved difficult. But after a round of tests to ensure everyone’s health and safety, the band moved in together and recorded the entire album from a home-studio over the course of just 10 days. Recording in a way they hadn’t before, during a time unlike any other, The Struts managed to capture the emotions of this moment in history, while balancing it with the fun escapism that many seek through their music.

With the addition of multiple major artists featured throughout the album, and even a cover of a Kiss deep-cut, The Struts pulled off an album that is true to their style, while simultaneously advancing their sound to levels not heard before.

Soon after the album’s release, The Struts bassist Jed Elliott spoke with Parklife DC’s Chris Smyth about all things Strange Days and how the band has been keeping busy during the pandemic.

(The transcription has been edited for clarity.)

Listen to the Parklife DC interview with Jed Elliott of The Struts:

Chris Smyth: Hi, it’s Chris Smyth with Parklife DC, and today I am fortunate enough to be able to speak with Jed Elliott of The Struts, who have a brand new album out now called Strange Days. Jed, how are you doing?

Jed Elliott: Hello, I’m very well. Thank you, mate. How are you?

CS: I’m doing well myself. All things considered I’m doing very well. What have you been doing? What’s keeping you busy? And where are you in the world at this point?

JE: Earlier in the year, we all moved to Los Angeles. And then obviously, with everything Covid-related, we came back to the UK to do some work. We are all currently camping back in the UK. And as is everyone in music, we are all itching to get back to work. But we were fortunate to still be able to put out a record in 2020. Which was still something exciting that we could focus on.

CS: I definitely want to get to the record, but if you’ll let me, I want to go back to the beginning of the pandemic when you guys were doing those Sunday Service videos. What brought that idea together, what motivated you to do those things?

JE: Obviously, early in the pandemic and the first lockdown it was kind of very hard to navigate how people were going to be spending their time. People started working from home. We had a big tour lined up for the year and beyond. So we thought what’s something, while everybody is at home and feeling a little bit glum, that we can try and do that is still a way we can interact with our fans from home while they’re at home too.

And it kind of made for us to do something we could have a bit of fun with as well and spend our time doing. And obviously, it was something we had never done before. We’re used to being in the studio or on tour, so doing funny skits and recording from our own makeshift home studios was a new challenge for us as well. And I think it was something that our fans could look forward to at the end of every week in what was proven to be a strange time.

CS: And is there any chance of those types of videos returning if this continues to go the way it looks right now?

JE: (Laughs) It’s not a bad suggestion if people want it. I don’t know how many more Spice Girls covers you’re gonna get, but there might be a few more treats lined up, for sure.

Watch The Struts perform in Sunday Service on YouTube:

CS: Great. Well let’s get to the main reason we are talking. Let’s talk about Strange Days. Is it fair to say that if there wasn’t a pandemic that you guys would have been on the road and this album wouldn’t have been coming out at this point?

JE: Yeah, absolutely. To be completely honest with you, we have a huge, huge body of work. We didn’t necessarily have the release date, but we were kind of coming close to finishing another album. All those ideas still exist. And I think we were lined up to tour through the summer and then have this new material. But yeah, with Covid, we went and got tested and went into a residential studio together. And yeah, definitely, this album would not have existed were it not for Covid. So, I guess there are some pros and cons to this year, as far as our band’s concerned.

CS: You just mentioned going into a home studio, and I want to talk about that because I watched your Strange Days trailer for the documentary that you guys put out. And you described it as going away to summer camp. Is that what it was like? You guys just hanging around and playing music for ten days?

JE: It really was, mate. We really lived and breathed it. We’ve not done that as a band for about seven years, honestly. Like, we live together on tour. Or when we’re not on tour, which is kind of an unknown for us really because we just tour all the time. But we’ll go back and have our own personal lives outside of it. So, to then spend this downtime where you leave the workday, you leave the studio and it’s just the band, some beers, some wine and a bunch of air mattresses, we definitely had some summer camp elements.

But it made it very exciting. It was an intense ten days. It was one of those things that we ended up on such a roll that we had a cheeky pool day. There was a lovely pool at our producer Jon’s studio so we took an afternoon off. The beers were flowing. And then we went straight back to work and continued doing what we do best.

Stream Strange Days by The Struts on Spotify:

CS: So, that sounds like a lot of fun. But what was the process? You mention having this whole body of work ready to go. So did you guys come in with songs you had mostly ready to go and just had to put down on track? Or was it you just kind of developed stuff over the course of those ten days?

JE: No, so everything that you hear on the Strange Days album was written within the four walls of that studio. It’s hard to say because with anything creative, we will always be stockpiling ideas. But they weren’t shared with one another until we were in the studio. And then you sort the wheat from the chaff and you see what certain people in the band are vibing and how you can play off one another. But nothing had been heard.

Luke [Spiller] had worked on some lyrics and had ideas from other songs that he had been working on and kind of developed. But it was very recent occurrences in his life that he have been channeling. And for Adam and I, we built up a kind of riff bank. I mean really the ideas for the album only came about within three weeks. And at first, we weren’t sure we would be able to do it because we got rapid tested and things like that.

So it was kind of a two, three week window where Adam and I just would spend every day jamming at home and making these voice memos on our phone. And that really is all we took into the studio, instrumentation wise. And then everything was made within ten days within those four walls.

CS: You talked about how there was a pretty fun vibe, but was it intense? Did you guys do a song a day or did you just kind of let it go and see what developed?

JE: There were some days where I think we actually did two songs. They weren’t necessarily finished or fully vocaled, but in terms of the writing and getting the drums down, I think there was a day where Geth [Davies] did three songs on drums and it was just a case of having it there. And when you’re on a roll, you’re on a roll.

We knew how lucky we were to be able to work in the pandemic, so we were just going all guns blazing. We were all fired up ready to make some music. We had our fun, but it was 99% work, 1% play. But it’s always fun when you’re in the studio.

Watch the official music video for “Strange Days” by The Struts and Robbie Williams on YouTube:

CS: I want to dive into a couple of the tracks, starting with the title track “Strange Days.” Personally, I really like it. I like how it progresses. It starts off very soft with just Luke over a piano, and then slowly you get some strings and then the guitar and drums. And then your bass comes in right around the second verse, and then by the end it’s almost like there’s an orchestra behind you. How did the process of coming up with that arraignment, could you walk me through that a little bit?

JE: So, I’ll tell you a little fun fact about that. We wrote the original version on the last day at the studio; it was the last song we came up with. And there is a version that we have somewhere deep in our emails that we thought was gonna be the original version, and it’s just Luke and the piano. It’s Luke and the piano for about three and a half minutes, and the the full band comes in the outro.

So that’s what we left the ten days with. And I think that is the only song that we went back in a couple of weeks after for another session because we realized the song sounded so big, and by the end of the last chorus it sounded so huge. We realized as well, I don’t know there was a vibe in the room, we felt it, we were on to something really, really good with that track.

And while I personally loved the stripped down version, when you are releasing a rock record, and you’re kind of thinking about getting people excited and radio and things like that, a four minute piano and vocal ballad with nothing else on it is quite hard for people to digest in the current age. And as a rock band, we were very glad to play on the track too. But that started off that was going to be a piano ballad, and we just sort of needed the extra boost, which is what you hear now.

Watch the official music video for “Wild Child” by The Struts with Tom Morello” on YouTube:

CS: And then the track “Wild Child” is a pretty rocking song with a strong baseline. Is it more fun when you get featured more prominently on a song?

JE: Yeah absolutely. Yeah, you are asking the right questions. As a bassist absolutely. But, you know what? “Strange Days” was the last song we did, and “Wild Child” was the first song we did. And what was funny was it was so much heavier than anything we’ve really done, and so much more riff-driven as a feature. So when we started the session with that, I was looking around at Adam [Slack] while we’re playing it and Geth’s doing this massive drum fill. We were thinking, “ok, this could be it.” Because we just wanted to experiment to be honest.

So that set the tone up pretty well. And then, like I said with the whole riff bank, Adam and I just have a bunch of stuff worked out, so what you hear me come in with when it drops down is something I’ve had. And then the main theme riff is something Adam had. And it’s just the beauty of a few ideas coming together. And obviously the help of Tom Morello when he puts his wild solo over the top of it. When you’ve got Tom Morello coming in to do some second guitar, it can’t really go wrong there.

CS: Well, that leads me right into what was going to be my next question. You had Tom Morello; you had quite a few guest appearances on this album. How did you guys pull that off?

JE: The trait that everybody shares is that they are all lovely, lovey human beings. They are all people that we have met on our travels on tour. They have kind of been fans of us or we have become friends with from touring. Honestly, we just reached out to them and said it’s a weird time, we are doing this album from home, how would you feel about laying down a part on this? We’d just send over ideas and get stuff back like we did in these ten days.

Truthfully, I don’t think, were it not for Covid, we would be able to pull off all those features because usually everybody has their own careers going. Everyone’s on tour. And it’s a big ask. You’re asking Def Leppard if they want come and play on our song. Were things back to normal and people were in their heavy touring routines, they may have politely declined. But what was fun here was everybody was home. Most of these musicians have home studios so they were completely up for it. They were very excited to be involved and put their amazing creative spin on what we had already achieved. So we got kind of lucky with that. And it’s no coincidence that they are all lovely people too so they were willing to pull off a favor for the boys.

CS: I’ll let you go on this. We don’t know when things are going to start getting back to normal. When everybody is going to be able to get back on the road. Is it too early to ask what you guys are planning after that? Are you going to pick up everything that got canceled and do that first? Or are you just going to have to rebuild, whenever that time is?

JE: As far as I’m aware, I think we want to honor everything we had in place. No one has the answers, and parts of the world are opening at different times. You just don’t know right now. But it is definitely is our intention, as far as the power that we have as the members of the band, we want to honor those shows that people have tickets for.

We’re a live touring band. We have so much fun with our fans out on the road. Trust me we are itching to play as much as the fan are to come out to shows again. Whatever capacity that is, whether it ends up being more drive in shows, we’re doing everything we can to be able to work as soon as possible, whatever that may look like.

CS: I don’t think you had anything on the books for DC, but I know your last two shows were sell-outs at the 9:30 Club, so whenever that comes up again why don’t you put DC on the schedule?

JE: (Laughs) Mate, we love DC! I absolutely love playing there. I’ll put in a word with the boys up top, and we’ll hopefully be back to DC before you know it.

***
Visit The Struts online for more music!

Here are some pictures of Jed and The Struts taken by Chris Smyth!

The Struts 6

The Struts 23

The Struts 12

The Struts 3

The Struts 16

The Struts 4

The Struts 4

The Struts 9

The Struts 17

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