Interview by Barry Egan
The Daily Telegraph’s Neil McCormick declared in September 2013: “I have seen the future of rock and roll and it is too young to drink. Four teenagers sit side by side in a local bar in the Irish midlands town of Cavan, each with a pint glass of water in front of them,” McCormick noted in reference to lead guitarist Josh McLorey (then 17 years-of-age), bassist Pete O’Hanlon (17), drummer Evan Walsh (16) and singer Ross Farrelly (15).
When Cavan’s Fab 4 played the Late Show with David Letterman last year, the 66-year-old host of US TV’s biggest show looked like he was going to have a heart attack on the spot with excitement when they finished their performance of What A Shame.
“Yeah! How about that! I’m very excited,” Letterman added. “Before the show I said, ‘If this goes well, I’ll take you all to play laser tag.’”
Laser-tag with Letterman notwithstanding, The Strypes are taking the world, bit by bit, by sonic storm with their Dr Feelgood-meets-Arctic Monkeys mutant magnificence.
The Strypes’ love of almost bowel-shaking rhythm ’n’ blues comes, they say, from their teens in Cavan when they became obsessed with it and tried to pursue it as a genre for the band.
“The music was in us anyway,” says Josh, “because our parents were all in bands and we grew up with loads of great music being played around the house and we just cherry-picked.”
One of the great things about The Strypes is that they don’t let their influences overwhelm them: there is an authenticity to their music that over-rides any potential for the derivative.
“I think if you play with conviction, that will always come through,” says Pete. This was inarguably the case when they blasted Nick Lowe’s 1976 debut single on Stiff Records So It Goes into an other galaxy on the Windmill Lane Sessions on Independent.ie.
The collective hair-on-the-backs- of-everyone’s-neck in the famous Ringsend studio that day was standing up as the Ross told us: ‘Now up jumped the U.S. representative/He’s the one with the tired eyes/747 for the midnight condition/Flyin’ back from a peace keepin’ mission.’
It was a phenomenal performance. This is neither hack hyperbole nor anything to do with The Strypes’ tender age: there are plenty of young bands who are dreadful.
When they played Blue Collar Jane, their debut single on Mercury Records, on the BBC’s Later... with Jools Holland in April, 2013, The Guardian wrote — admittedly with their tongue firmly in their cheek — that The Strypes had saved rock ’n’ roll. The point being that here were four guys from Cavan playing their instruments with the power-pop-energy of The Who when they first emerged in 1965 with My Generation; there was a realness to The Strypes that ran contrary to the depressing vogue for manufactured bands who couldn’t play their instruments to save their (or their accountants’) lives.
“I think that ‘they’re saving rock ’n’ roll’ thing is bandied about for a lot of bands who come out with a bit of a splash to be begin with,” says Pete, “and then you don’t hear from them again. I’m not saying we will or won’t save rock ’n’ roll but!” laughs Pete.
Their beginnings as a band sound like an episode of Only Fools & Horses as they travelled around the country in Josh’s dad’s battered old van.
“We were packed in with the gear as well. And the back-doors didn’t close properly,” says Ross. “The doors would slide open,” laughs Pete. “So snow and hail and all this shite would come in on top of us on those particularly cold winter nights that we toured around Ireland.”
“We came home from a really long trip,” adds Pete, “and it was a sunny evening but as we got to the roundabout coming into Cavan town, the heavens opened and the van broke down on the roundabout. We had to get out and push it. Then some lads came along with a towrope, gave us a hand and then the rope broke. It was the perfect Cavan welcome.”
“It felt like coming home,” laughs Ross who writes the majority of the lyrics in the band. “I mainly write. I’ve written most of the tunes. I write mainly on an acoustic but various ways too. With this new record,” he says of Little Victories, a souped-up successor to 2013’s Snapshot, “I’ve been heavily influenced by hip-hop and a lot of the rhythms in hip-hop.
“The lyrics create their own rhythm against the drums in a lot of hip-hop songs. That was a big thing for me when I was writing the songs. So I wrote a lot of songs to drum-loops without any melody and I wrote lyrics over that first. And then I took the song to the guys. Then we arranged them and got a structure for them in Evan’s bedroom where we practise.”
“It’s tiny. We took the bed out,” says Evan.
“A full PA and all the instruments going full blast,” says Josh.
I ask are there neighbours or are they out in a field somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Cavan.
“It’s in a housing estate,” says Pete.
“The neighbours are fine with it,” says Ross.
“They were,” laughs Pete.
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