The Lucky Strikes

Interview by Aline Giordano. Article written by Aline Giordano and Andrew Heather

The Lucky Strike in ConcertI spoke to The Lucky Strikes while touring their third and latest album, the meticulously put together ‘Gabriel, forgive my 22 sins’. The album picks up the story of Frankie - first introduced to us in The Felice Brothers’ Frankie’s Gun – taking it a step further: in fact, a step much further in terms of music dynamics, emotions, power, subtlety and introspection.

Though seemingly set in the romanticised past times of American gangsters, the album’s sentiment is very much of the here and now. To me the lyrics resonate with so many different meanings: like the work of the best fiction writers they use storytelling to describe or invoke real feelings and emotions that are far from fictional. They use the fictional past to describe the present.

Now don’t get me wrong and get the impression that The Lucky Strikes' music is too cerebral to be accessible; far from it. Right from the start the raw energy and crafted melodies hit you square between the eyes with enough of a hook to catch you, and then enough depth to reel you in. Once you’re caught you just have to keep coming back for more, and each subsequent listen is more rewarding than the last with an ability to stun you with that one killer lyric that strikes straight at the heart.

This interview is a captivating insight into the calm, considered and mature minds of Essex-based storytellers and song-writers The Lucky Strikes.

I like The Lucky Strikes’ blog. I really like reading it. Are the stories true?

Matt: (guitars and vocals) ‘Whatever you write is always going to be a linguistic construct. Still they are all true. I try to write the blog as true to what is experienced as possible. I won’t necessarily say everything is true, because you are presenting an image that you want people to enjoy and engage in. Like anything you write, you select what you put in and you revise the writing, but it is very true to life and to what we do’.

Q magazine described you as ‘The Waterboys on trucker pills’. I assume this was meant in a good way?

Matt: ‘Yes, it was! (laugh) Q have been very good to us. Obviously The Waterboys have a very Celtic/Irish sound and the ‘trucker pills’ are referring to the more American influence in our music’.

‘Gabriel, Forgive my 22 Sins’ revolves around one person. Do you want to talk about where the idea came from?

Dave (accordion/keyboards): ‘It was an idea I had about this character called Frankie. I had this image of a boxer, who took a bribe to throw a fight and the aftermath of what happened is what this album is about. It’s not so much the event itself but the consequences which I found fascinating. So it all spiralled off that idea’.

So did you do some research?

Matt: ‘Yes, we did. What is good about this is that you can explore emotions and situations over more than one song. There are a lot of different aspects that you can bring into it. I studied history at university so I enjoyed the research aspect. For our fourth record we are doing another concept about Essex, where we come from. We’ve done a lot of archival research in local newspapers to find out stories and themes about our home town going over a hundred years. Both ‘The Chronicles of Solomon Quick’ and ‘Gabriel, forgive my 22 sins’ albums, we did do research to try and understand what we were writing about. It’s not a research project per se. Fiction takes over when you write and so does poetic licence’.

Dave: ‘You take the historical facts as a starting point, and from that you develop the ideas and the emotions that I think that person might have gone through. I don’t know what a boxer might have felt like after throwing a fight, but if I can read about what happened to him in his life, then I can add my own perspective onto it’.

Will (drums): ‘From my point of view, and I’m no writer, the concept helps us understand the songs and what they are about. I feel like I take on a new character each time we make a new record. Matt and Dave tell us the story but it really feels like a combined effort. When we put these songs together for the first time, we all played our part. They bring in their ideas, but we all have a little piece of the story, which helps us write as a band’.

How do you translate emotions into music?

Will: ‘We work hard on our dynamics as a band. For example, a mandolin might work better on this or a banjo might create a certain mood. When we put a song together I feel like we’re creating more a visual than a soundtrack.

Matt: ‘Just to add a point on the emotion side - I think we all write differently. For me, I write very personal songs, but I hide those personal emotions up in the songs. It’s almost like singing behind a mask. Going back to your question about how you convey emotions, I think you do have to look at your own experiences. Sometimes when I write a song about Frankie I might be writing a song about myself and not necessarily about Frankie. But other times it’s more of an academic exercise. I might say, well actually I’m not a boxer; I’ve never thrown a fight but let’s be creative with the thinking.

Have you been to a boxing match?

Matt: [pause]‘I haven’t.’

Dave: ‘No’

So, isn’t there a danger of romanticising an aggressive sport?

Dave: ‘There has often been a romance around boxing. I read two books which influenced this album’s writing and that was The Fight by Norman Mailer and The Man with the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren. Both are about boxing. There is something so poetic and beautiful about the writers’ descriptions of the characters that were involved and the actual blood thirty fights themselves.’

Matt: ‘The boxing doesn’t actually play a main part in the record. It could have been a mafia deal or a theft. It’s more about the descent into madness. I see the point you’re making. It is dangerous sometimes to romanticise things that are not necessarily romantic in reality but I think boxing is a safe bet. We can get away with fictional characters and a licence to romanticise. I personally would not feel comfortable romanticising about real life deaths or murders’.

‘The Lord above, he kills my friends’ I find those lyrics very poignant… Is it Frankie speaking or is it the writer speaking?

Matt: ‘I wrote those lyrics… It is a bit of both. When we were writing the concept, I liked writing about the other characters in Frankie’s story, and Romans 8 is part of the story where Frankie has thrown the fight and he gets into thieving and into trouble. The song’s about a robbery that goes wrong and a thieving colleague who dies in his youth and his prime. There are some lines in the bible Romans 8 which resonated very much with me when I read them. So the line’ The Lord above he kills my friend’ was about Frankie thinking how the Lord can take someone away. I’ve had friends and relatives who passed away and I do wonder whether this is for a greater purpose. So it is highly personalised but it’s also relative to the story.

For more details, visit… The Lucky Strikes blog