The Strypes: “You need to go a bit insane about what you love to really pull it off”

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Image courtesy of XIIIfromTOKYO, via Wikimedia Commons

After storming onto the scene at the tender age of 16, The Strypes have continued to grow and evolve their modern-yet-traditional rock ‘n’ roll sound. Taking influence from the classic blues genre, the group have recently released their latest offering Spitting Image. We got the chance to speak to bassist Peter O’Hanlon about the band’s next steps.

 

So, for the latest album you’ve taken a bit more time and preparation than usual, how did that affect the outcome of the sound?

Peter: Well we wrapped up finishing the last album in 2015 and had a month or two off, got bored very quickly and got deep into demoing. I don’t think we’d demoed to the extent that we did on this album before. We actually got a friend of ours to mix them as well so they sounded really, really proper. The biggest thing that defined the sound of the album though was the producer, a chap called Ethan Jones, who’s worked with Laura Marling, Ryan Adams and he did the first few Kings of Leon albums, he’s worked with Tom Jones as well. He also produced that Radio 6 thing, the cover of “God Only Knows”. We’d known him for years, like 4 or 5 years ago he tried to sign us but it didn’t work out. We always wanted to work with him though. We were demoing anyway and he happened to be in the same place and stuck his head in and said, “Do you mind if I hear what you’re doing?” and we just said go for it, not in a million years was he gonna produce it, we just thought he was being polite. Then he said “Great, I’d love to do the album”. We were delighted. He had a massive impact on how the album sounded, even the approach. He came to Cavan (the band’s hometown in Ireland) and sat with us for a few days in the town hall and came out of that with a really clear idea of what we’d got. We gave him material, he gave it direction.

 

You’ve worked with people like Chris Thomas before (The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Queen etc.) so how does Ethan compare with that sort of experience?

Peter: Those chaps have a very different way of working, they grew up working in a very analogue way, but Ethan wasn’t like “analogue is the only way!”, he was just like “whatever makes it sound good”. Like there’s a few synthesizery bits on the album and he was like “I’ll ProTunes the fuck out of it if it needs it”. Which is sound because sometimes I like the idea of analogue because it’s kinda cool or something, but as a working method sometimes it’s just not applicable. Whatever suits the song.

 

So you’re not going to do a Foo Fighters anytime soon? I know you’ve said Garage rock is how you’d like to be seen, would you ever consider doing an album in a garage like them?

Peter: I’d love to! That’s the thing most people don’t seem to see, is that you don’t need a million mics on everything. If you can plonk one mic in the middle and it sounds good, that’s the simplest thing you can get. It’s distilling it down to its core element, that’s what the point of musical recording is. A friend of ours actually called when we were doing demos, he had a very basic setup but we just went for it and recorded a really overloaded performance but it sounds brilliant. Technically it’s terrible, it’s a mess, but the energy that’s playing into it sounds amazing. There’s no right or wrong way to record, there’s just different methods. Whatever works for Foo Fighters wouldn’t work for Brendan Benson.

 

In terms of your Rock ‘n’ Roll influences, Sir Elton John said that you guys understand the genre better than he’s managed to do his whole life, what is it you think you get more?

Peter: I don’t know about that, when he said that, we were very grateful to hear it but just absolutely, when we were younger, devoured books and films and all the documentaries we could find. Even the crap ones. We absorbed everything. We’re the kind of people that if we get into something we become total anoraks about it, we learned Muddy Waters’ birthday, all that stuff. We had to know everything about it. Well you don’t have to but I have to, I really need to know every inch of it. We weren’t doing anything else, we were still in school at the time. You need to go a bit insane about what you love to really pull it off.

 

Did that sort of work ethic feed into how you practiced when you were younger? I was in a band at the same time but obviously it didn’t work, could we have done with a dose of obsession?

Peter: Definitely, if we weren’t playing in England, if we weren’t doing a tour, if we didn’t have an album out I’d still be playing. It’s something I desperately want to do, even if it was at a level where it couldn’t sustain itself and I had to get a job, I would still do it. It’s all I really want to do. After the last 5 years as well, it’s now the only thing I can do, that I’m qualified to do after leaving school. The obsession was definitely amazing though, we would listen to a Who song or something, then all learn to play it the next day. At the weekends, we could go in at 10 in the morning and not come out until midnight. We could do a new set every week. When we were 14 we couldn’t play enough.

 

What do you think you would be doing if the success hadn’t kicked in so early?

Peter: I think I’d be doing an arts degree, Journalism or English or something like that. Or I was going to be a forensic scientist, they taught a course at school and brought these people in and I thought it was fantastic. I could do that, I could be in a band and be a forensic scientist [laughs].

 

With all your experience in Rock ‘n’ Roll, if you could pick any other genre to play what would it be?

Peter: I’d love to be in like a really, really good reggae band. I’d love something like that. I mean ideally, I’d say something like a really hardcore punk band like Hüsker Dü or Sugar, something really edgy but that’s kind of in the vain of what we do already, so that’s a bit of cop out. We could turn into a hardcore band if we wanted. So, something like a reggae band would be great. Or I’d love, now I can’t sing and I’ve never pretended to be able to sing, but I’d love to be able to do Billy Bragg electric guitar kinda folky stuff. A real one-man-band, distilling all the elements down to one core again.

 

The Strypes’ new album ‘Spitting Image’ is out now: