Album two from the “genre-fluid” Cheltenham band has landed. Stella Sonic tells VR how the four-piece are looking to a bright future… By Craig Brackenridge
With a live work ethic that would have put James Brown to shame, UK rockers The Strays were promoting their debut album Drop Out Zone hard until the pandemic hit them where it hurts… right on the road. The Cheltenham band have a thrilling blend of anthemic rock’n’roll that appeals to an audience frontwoman Stella Sonic refers to as: “Anyone and everyone. There are no rules,” so the ban on live music was a cruel blow to a band that were fighting to establish their own sound.
Thankfully, they kept on rollin’ and their determination to maintain their momentum with new material saw them return to Western Star recording studios in May to lay down new tracks for their second album, Cool Your Jets. As the record hits the streets, Stella fills us in on how The Strays just can’t be stopped.
You seemed to be pounding stages everywhere following the release of Drop Out Zone. Did lockdown affect you?
Definitely! The thing we are passionate about is our live performance and that’s where you see the real ‘us’ as a band, getting in amongst people and making connections. We had some amazing gigs cancelled and lost some brilliant opportunities that we’d been excited about. Also, as we don’t all live particularly close to each other, it meant
that we were unable to do things like livestreams to keep our social media presence up, so we really did feel that we lost a bit of momentum. It was a pretty difficult time for us.
How did your recent return to Western Star studios go? Was there any sense of having to get back into the groove?
After hardly playing for a year and having the recording postponed several times due to lockdown, we were a little apprehensive. But once you step through the doors of Western Star you immediately feel at ease. Alan [Wilson] knows how to create a very relaxed and creative space, so it didn’t take long for us to get back into it. We always have loads of fun recording there, and hopefully that shows through in the music.
Do you arrive at the studio with all your songs fully-formed, or do things evolve during recording?
We had a full arsenal of songs ready, but a few had been written very recently, so the full package hadn’t been realised until we actually started laying down the tracks. That’s when a few tasty ideas would spring to mind that, in the end, really make the songs pop. We were recording quite a lot of material in a short space of time, though, so we had to be mindful of the schedule when we were playing with ideas.
The sessions seem to have created a vibrant new range of material. Was there any particular reason for this burst of creativity, or are you just constantly working on new material whenever possible?
We write songs regularly, and rarely are just sitting on old songs with nothing in the pipeline. Creating music is the best thing in the world and it’s not something that we can just stop doing. Every time we practise together, someone will come up with a cool riff or bassline and we have to stop and get it recorded on a phone so that we don’t forget it! There are ideas sitting in the background right now waiting to be developed for the next album.
Six of the tracks recorded will feature on the 10″ mini album Goodbye Cruel World, due for release in September. Is this your first appearance on vinyl, and how do you feel about the format?
This will be our first vinyl and we are so excited. It’s something that we have always wanted but never quite known how to go about. It will include two tracks from the album and four completely new ones, so it’s great to know we are getting even more songs out there!
Before that, your new album Cool Your Jets is released. It’s another all-original collection of new songs – would you say that your sound has evolved since you released your last album?
I feel like our sound is constantly evolving, and that’s exactly how it should be. As a band, we are a strange bunch, all with very different musical influences, so on paper maybe we shouldn’t work, but somehow when we get together it’s magic. We are exploring more sounds and genres, trying to create more ‘moments’ within our musical arrangements, and keeping things exciting for ourselves, and hopefully everyone else, too. We’re extremely proud of the songs that we’ve produced and feel like they have a real power behind them. Cool Your Jets is definitely an album to listen to while getting ready for a raucous night out!
There’s a lot of variety across the new album – big anthemic whoppers, heavier rockers and sleazy swingers – what’s the element that joins this varied selection of songs together?
We would like to think that although there are some varied tracks on the album, they all have the Strays sound. What this is, it’s hard to say, but I hope it comes from the way we deliver the unexpected in our songs and create moments that people will really enjoy – our tongue-in-cheek lyrical delivery, strange and wonderful guitar solos, crazy walking – and sometimes running – basslines and high-energy beats. The Strays sound is meant to be fun and emotive. That’s the bottom line.
How do you promote a new album while there is no clear picture of how live music will look in the near future?
That’s the million dollar question! We’re extremely proactive as a band in trying to find opportunities to share our music, and we already have a relatively busy gig schedule for the rest of the year. Whether those gigs will all happen is unknown, so I guess the key is to get out there and connect with more people online, and get involved in things that are happening to try to help save our live music industry, like The Music Venue Trust and companies like Fightback Lager, as well as supporting promoters that are trying to keep venues open and music alive. Promoting our music is one thing, but at the end of the day it’s about everyone working together to try to make sure we all continue to have live music in the future.
How do you feel about returning to performing live again after such a long break? Do you think audiences will be any different after lockdown?
It’s definitely going to be different! Anyone who has seen us knows that our performance style doesn’t lend itself to a quiet seated audience. We are loud, energetic, and enjoy audience interaction. Having to rein that in will be a challenge. We are mainly looking at festival slots, etc, for this year as it will allow a bit of freedom. Although the main worry at this stage is getting gig-fit after a year of slobbing around the house…
You have the type of sound which, while being rooted in rock’n’roll, definitely has a wider appeal – do you think it’s limiting for a band to be tied too closely to any particular genre?
From a marketing point of view, our choice to not be tied to a genre could be considered suicide! Filling in that “for fans of…” section when submitting music can be tricky. But I feel it’s important not to limit ourselves creatively, so the album has a bit of everything: rock’n’roll, punk, pop, blues and more. It might make it hard for people to put us in a genre box, but we prefer to be genre-fluid. Who wants to sound like someone else?
There’s a kind of feeling across all your songs, and in your live appearances, that there is a fierce, full-on ambition in the band – would you agree, and how do you see things progressing for The Strays?
That would be an accurate feeling! We are no spring chickens, and sometimes we really notice that certain avenues and opportunities are only open for the very young breakthrough bands, but we have a huge amount to offer and we
fully believe in what we are doing. Sometimes, it just takes the right blend to make a band work, and we have all found it right now, so right now is meant to be. We will continue to put 110% into our music and hope that people can see how much we love it. On our wishlist for the future would be to do a European and Japanese tour – or anywhere else that would have us. Plus, we would love to look at sync/licensing deals for our music. There is a lot of work to be done!