It hardly raises an eyebrow when popstars climb the ranks despite being little more than fresh faced pubescents, yet for Irish rhythm and blues four piece, The Strypes, age is a really big issue, to be discussed in hushed, sometimes awed, tones.
Perhaps it’s because their youngest, 15-year-old drummer Evan Walsh (at the time of interview), and the oldest, 17-year-old guitarist Josh McClory (with bassist Peter O’Hanlon and singer Ross Farrelly sharing the sweet 16) are not just vocal about their talents but have achieved what some artists only begin dreaming about at that age. So far they can boast an EP of covers that stayed at No.1 for six weeks on the iTunes blues chart, a slot on Jools Holland, a major label deal, praise from the likes of Sir Elton John, Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller, a Glastonbury stage and a supporting slot with Arctic Monkeys. If they had a quid for every time someone’s used the word ‘precocious’ about them, they could start their own record label.
They, honestly, seem vaguely baffled by the fuss. Picking up instruments and becoming a band felt completely natural since their families, says Evan, were “either in bands or roadies for bands. Whatever we did my parents became quite actively involved, encouraging us to be creative and do things, and were constantly playing music around the place.” That The Strypes did it when they were in primary school seems obsolete.
They’re lounging on a battered sofa in a dressing room, preparing for their under-18s gig which will be followed by an over-18s gig a few hours later. Suited and booted, they’re recalling some of their first gigs in their hometown of Cavan, and Dublin.
“When we started playing clubs,” says Peter with a wry grin, “we nearly always played over-18 gigs for the first 18 months. We were 14/15 year olds skulking around in the shadows then suddenly came out on stage and and everyone was like, ‘what’s that about then?’ In the end I think we won them over.”
“That’s normally the way,” shrugs Josh. “All that cynicism in the beginning, but we don’t get the age thing… the bands we love, they started really young. It’s just that people start things later now.”
Their intensity is reserved for the stage where they strike out with a ferocity, ripping through their original material as well as the covers that initially brought them so much attention, giving Willy Dixon and Billy Bob Arnold the kind of revamp that’d raise them from the grave. The EP, ‘Young, Gifted and Blue’, claims Evan, “was a complete accident. Back in April of 2012 we were just gigging around Cavan and other bits around Ireland and we had no aspirations to make a serious go of it. It was just a thing we did outside of school for a bit of fun so we said, ‘oh, we’ll do the recording’ because of a mate of my dad had a makeshift recording studio at his house.”
“We released it on iTunes and it went to number one in the blues charts straight away and we thought, ‘great all our friends have bought it but it’ll be gone tomorrow’,” says Josh, “but it stayed there for six weeks.”
“That was when we started to get record company interest from Universal Ireland who offered to sign us straight away but the deal they were offering at the time wasn’t…” Evan pauses. “It wasn’t worth taking the risks involved. So we held out for the next nine months and then we signed with Mercury.”
Raucous and raw, The Strypes wear their love of 70s pub bands and garage rock on their sleeves. ‘Blue Collar Jane’ and recent offering ‘Hometown Girls’ stomp their polished heels, littering handclaps and blasts of harmonica as if sonics alone could blow the stage clear of all the manufactured garbage hoisted upon us by modern impresarios, such as the Goliath that is Cowell. The mere mention of his name causes noses to wrinkle like a stench has permeated the room.
“Kids crave fame rather than want to be a musician,” sighs Josh.
Peter, a confessed cynic, frowns. “Kids think it’s now a right to have fame.”
“It’d be a lot better if that side of showbiz didn’t exist,” Evan adds.
“Because they’re pumped with it (instant fame) all the time that’s what they think they want to do,” Josh reasons. “If bands could influence kids, like, instead of just wanting to be famous they want to be a musician, that’d be great.”
The Strypes may be flying the flag for keeping it old school but they point out that without several new artists, they might not have been so quick to be picked up.
“There’s people like Jake Bugg and Palma Violets who are bringing guitar music back. We wouldn’t have got signed if Jake hadn’t come along. He sparked an interest in really young performers,” Evan states frankly.
Life, in fact, would be markedly different for the four. For starters, there’d be less travelling around in vans and playing to eager audiences, more sitting behind a school desk. All four left their education to take up being a full time musician, something their parents completely support.
“We’re just rolling with it,” Josh says. “We don’t really have a plan, it’s just to see how this goes and if it goes well, that’s great. If it doesn’t, then we can go back to education, but you can’t go back and do this. It feels right now for everyone, it’s an opportunity you can’t miss.”
But, as perhaps gas mask wearing, obscenity screaming Justin Bieber has proved, sometimes fame and fortune at a young age can have some adverse affects on the tender teenage ego. Evan shrugs this off. “The egotistical side doesn’t appeal to us. The excesses, the kind of grandeur… it doesn’t appeal to me to be a superstar or a rockstar or whatever you want to call it, the appealing thing is to get in a van and play gigs.”
Josh glances the neat crease of his suit trousers and says simply, “We don’t crave anything like that, we don’t really care about drugs or drink or anything. We just want to play music.”