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Interview with The Strypes at Bestival 2013

Interview with The Strypes at Bestival 2013

At Bestival 2013, we had the chance to chat with one of the most highly regarded bands of the year in the wake of their debut record, Snapshot. 

SJ: I caught you over at your surprise gig at the (tiny) Polka tent last night and it was great. You shook the place.

[General murmur of thanks]

SJ: It seemed as though you were really enjoying it because you sailed past your set curfew. You said, ‘one more song’, but then it was two and then three more. How much fun was it?

Josh McClorey (guitar/vocals): We haven’t played a tent like that at a festival. Well, not this year anyway. Something that was small and kind-of compact. It was the liveliest gig of the year… Or, hmm, well, the second liveliest.

SJ: Did you find that it was a return to roots, going back to the smaller venues?

Josh: Yeah, because last year we did a lot of Irish festivals and it was that kind of vibe, as they were in small towns and it felt like we were back doing those sort of gigs again. This year we’ve been doing the English festivals and it’s a different type of gig. It’s a lot bigger. You get to play to so many people, which is great, but sometimes, when you do get an intimate gig and someone’s that close to you, you can’t beat that.

SJ: And I suppose you can look into people’s eyes and know whether something’s working or not more?

All: [resounding agreement] Yeah, yeah

Evan Walsh (drums): Well, you feel more in control, actually. Well, I do anyway. I feel more like, ‘I know what I am doing’ in that sort of environment as opposed to a huge venue or huge tent where you are too far back and it can feel as though people aren’t actually watching you. It can feel as though you’re playing to no one.

SJ: Yeah, you get some of these big festivals and there is a barrier and then a huge gap to the front row. It must create a bit of disconnect between you and the audience?

Evan: Yeah, definitely. You need to work harder, I suppose. You have to put on more of a ‘show’ in order to put it across.

Pete O’Hanlon (bass/vocals): Obviously, it’s great playing in a huge tent packed with people but the distance is kind of annoying. It’s nice to play in a vibey tent, and to play for people who are just there for you as well.

SJ: I have to say I was struck by how comfortable you all are on stage.

Josh: Well, yeah, but that’s because we’ve done about like 300 gigs in the last 2 years, and this year we’ve been hitting the bigger stages and bigger crowds so we’re just getting used to that size of it. And, it’s hard to compare both because they’re two completely different gigs, and a big gig like today is… you put on a different show because it’s not as close, so you’re going to have to work harder.

SJ: So do you feel your posturing or body language changes? Is that what you mean?

Pete: Your attitude changes, and your performance is slightly different, but we always try to maintain a standard of show at the same time. You just kind of feel a bit different at a gig like that (the Polka tent the night before) and a gig like tonight.

SJ: Are you excited about the fact that you’re finally getting to release the record tomorrow? Is it a long time coming?

Pete: It’s nice to say it’s finally out and now we can tour the shite out of it.

Evan: We finished the album around May or June, so we’ve been sitting on it for a couple of months, so it feels like a sense of ‘finally’, so it’s really good that it’s going to be out there.

SJ: How many of the songs that are on the record had you written before you were signed?

(some good natured disagreement follows as to whether it was 2, 3 or 4)

Josh: A few of them kind of came to the fore while we were recording as well. It was case of, ‘oh we have this one, give this one a go’.

Evan: And some that we’d forgotten about.

Josh: And a few were written in the studio. We had a couple of original tunes and then we went in to do the record, and as it went on, the excitement of making the record spurred you on, well me anyway, to write another one.

SJ: So it inspired you?

Josh: Yeah, yeah, to write more tunes and then as we were recording we were getting into new bands all the time. So as we were recording we were getting into bands like the Undertones and people like that, so the style of song sort of changes.

SJ: I was wondering about your friendships. Did you have your friendships long before the band started?

All: Yeah

Evan: Yeah, a decade before.

SJ: So you really are childhood friends?

[all murmur agreement]

Evan: We are, yeah. We’ve known each other our whole lives. Josh knew Ross (Farrelly – vocals/harp) growing up, and me and Pete hung out, and then we met Ross about 4 years ago. So we’ve really just grown up around each other. The lads always came to my house growing up. It was just a meeting place that we had. Music was always around. Our parents were all involved in arts to some sort of degree, whether it was being in a band or plays or whatnot. They were just people who were involved in that sort of stuff, so it was always around us and we naturally gravitated towards it.

SJ: And they encouraged you, I expect?

Evan: Yes, completely.

Pete: They were always encouraging us to give it a go. It would be the same in anything we did; if we went into the theatre or stage acting, they’d still support us all the way.

Evan: My dad has been driving us around and getting us gigs from day one. He was very keen to help us out. We were rehearsing in a room and we said that we liked to play and he started helping us out. Now, he co-manages the band.

SJ: A bit like Paul Weller did with his dad?

All: [murmured agreement]

Pete: Yeah, and he turned out alright!

SJ: So, with that background, I imagine that you all went on a voyage together of discovering music and sharing records?

Josh: Yeah, particularly the last 2 or 3 years when you start getting into music yourself and what we found was that… well, Dr Feelgood is obviously the biggest influence on the band… (points over towards Evan).. well, I think it was you who got us into them first.

Evan: Yeah, and we turned each other on to other stuff as well.

SJ: Well, yeah, it’s what a good friendship group will do, I suppose?

Evan: Yeah, and we’ve always been into music growing up, but as you get into your teens some things just come down on you like a tonne of bricks; a style of music or a certain band. Or you find ‘your’ band and you start looking for similar stuff like that. That seems to happen when you’re 13 or 14.

SJ: Speaking of Dr Feelgood, I know that you played with Wilko Johnson the other month. How was that?

Josh: Amazing.

Pete: Thrilling. To be able to play with him and think that this was the same man that we’ve watched on youtube thousands of times was amazing.

Evan: We did ‘Roxette’ and ‘She’s Does It Right’ with him, which are two of the biggest Dr Feelgood songs, so it was, well, my personal highlight of the whole experience so far.

Greg: And what with the grave circumstances of Wilko Johnson’s illness (he is suffering with terminal cancer)… he’s very brave. 

Josh: Yeah, his outlook on it is incredible and it’s just inspiring. Living every day to the full… it’s just amazing.

Evan: And when you’re around talking to him and having a conversation with him he doesn’t come across as though he is ill or in any way flagging. He’s as effervescent as he always was. He really is.

Pete: In the last few years, since that documentary came out, ‘Oil City Confidential’, there’s been a rediscovery of a cultural icon… so it’s nice that at least he’s had a nice past few years.

Evan: That is probably one of the greatest music films ever made. It’s an exhilarating experience to watch.

SJ: I don’t want to patronise you or anything by asking this question, but with your youth and the music that you’re into, did you find, especially in the early days, that you had try and worker harder to convince people that you did know your stuff and to take you seriously?

Evan: Yeah, I think there’s a cynicism towards our generation’s shared knowledge of music and whether we know these things or whether we’ve been spoon fed it growing up. But we have all naturally gravitated towards it ourselves. I think in the early days, when we first started playing the club circuit in Dublin, we played entirely over 18 venues…

Pete: Because there is no such thing as an under 18s venue in Ireland.

Evan: There’s no middle ground, which doesn’t help. So when we were playing these over 18s pubs and venues, when we were setting up or taking the stage there was a sort of cynicism. They did kind of turn their nose up a little bit, but then you have to try and win them over during the gig and we succeeded quite a lot.

Pete: It’s a case of saying, I’m going to show you.

Evan: The funny thing is, the people who are being cynical are kind of missing a trick, in that rock n’ roll is youth music. It’s teenage rebellion music. In the 50s, it was the soundtrack to bedroom doors being slammed. Why should it be irrelevant to us? If you look back to punk and new wave that was fed-up teenagers. That’s what rock n’ roll is.

SJ: You’ve had a lot of endorsements from some big people in the business. Because of this, do you feel any added pressure? Or a weight of expectation?

Josh: I don’t think so. I think that positive feedback from people that I really admire and respect, people like Elton, Paul Weller and whoever we’ve met, if anything, it just spurs you on. It’s a case of, ‘this is really cool. This guy likes us’, and you think well, we respect them and they’ve had a good career, so it encourages you, because if he believes in it then why can’t we be the best band that we can be?

Pete: You still have to maintain an air of yourself. You can’t end up thinking, ‘well, they think I’m great so I must be absolutely amazing’. You still have to think, we’re still just an upcoming band. We have to keep our heads on the ground.

Evan: Yeah, you can’t let it all go to your head. You have to think of it as being just a person who likes the band.

SJ: Would you ever consider any sort of collaboration with any of these people if they picked up the phone?

Pete: Well, I think you have to let yourself become a bit more established first, so you don’t become known for that association.

Josh: Well, it depends, if you meet someone that you just get on with and they say that they fancy doing a track, then of course you will.

Pete: Yeah, in certain circumstances I suppose we would.

SJ: So, when did you all sit down in a room together and think let’s start playing together? Because you all have your own instruments and you’re all so adept at them, including you, Ross, with your harp playing.

Ross: Ah, thanks.

SJ: Did you talk about it? Was it a conscious decision?

Pete: We just grew up doing it.

Evan: We’ve been playing instruments since a very early age.

Pete: It wasn’t a conscious decision. We didn’t decide to. We just went from playing in an empty bedroom to playing pubs in Cavan and then further afield in Dublin. It was all just really natural and word of mouth. It was that which got us this far.

SJ: Had you been playing for a long time? As a fellow guitarist, I must say, Josh, I was impressed with your guitar tone. How do you get that?

Josh: Ah thanks very much. It’s just a case of turning everything up to ten. Initially, I played bass when I was 5 or 6. I started off on that and then I switched to guitar when I was about 10. It was the other way round for Pete…

Pete: Yeah, yeah, it was. I wasn’t playing lead or anything like that. I was just playing rhythm and then I switched to bass. It was just a natural thing.

Josh: I think with the harmonica thing, we’d got into blues guys like Muddy Waters and Slim Harpo, people like that. It just seemed to fit in really well with what we were doing, so we said let’s just add a harmonica.

Ross: When I used to listen or see bands like the Yardbirds or Manfred Mann or Dr Feelgood, the singers always played harmonica.

SJ: Do you get nervous anymore?

Josh: I don’t think we ever did, really. I mean there are a few times, depending on the gig, but I think that because of the amount of experience we have with gigging so much. Also, I think that because there are four of us, and because we feel quite confident in ourselves, we know that we are going to play a show as good as we can play. After that it’s just up to the audience. If the audience like it, they do and if they don’t they don’t. The four of us have to play as good as we can play. There’s no point in getting nervous.

Pete: We’ve reached the point, well for me, where I now play to myself. I like to listen out for myself. We’re past the point of letting a gig live or die by how the audience reacts. Well, I am.

SJ: Is it a case that you have enough confidence in each other that if you feel that one of you isn’t on it, you look around and the others will pick that person up? Is that something that you translate to the audience?

Josh: Yeah, you’ve got each other to fall back on. The thing is, even if the crowd aren’t digging it in the beginning, you just say that you’re going to play like we always play and generally you do find that you win more people over than if you go, ‘oh well, the crowd is dead, so I’m going to be dead’. It doesn’t work, because you’ve got to feed off the crowd but they’ve also got to feed off you. So, someone has to ignite some sort of spark.


For those that don't know who The Strypes are - check out the video below:

Interview by Greg Wetherall

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