“Hopefully we’re a little smarter. We’re pretty good at corrupting ourselves though,” states Ryan Sambol, lead singer of The Strange Boys, when asked if he feels that he’s changed at all after three years of touring in a rock 'n' roll band. With three albums released in as many years, The Strange Boys have been pretty busy travelling and recording almost non-stop, not that you’d believe it when listening to their latest album Live Music, a record full of strolling ballads and nonchalantly executed pop songs that force themselves to be played over and over.
As with many of the band’s songs, a lyrical humour is apparent on Live Music with Sambol using an almost Morrisey-esque turn of phrase on songs like ‘Punk’s Pyjamas’ where he yelps, “I’m surprised you’re still alive, considering all the time you’ve spent in the middle of the road”.
Asked whether lyrics come easily to Sambol, he replies, “I think the best ones come naturally, it can sometimes go along way when you think about it more and you can work on what you actually want to say,” before quickly adding, “I still try!”, in some ways disappointingly declaring that it isn’t as easy as it sounds when we hear it sung in a nonchalant southern drawl.
The new record makes a slight departure in terms of genre; the band are usually lumped in with the garage rock scene, which sometimes seems a little unfair as their music contains far more elements than just straight up garage. Sambol shrugs this off as being “a little annoying” but doesn’t really seem too bothered. When asked if there was any dominant intention to move away from this genre on Live Music he declares that they were “not intentionally writing songs that weren’t in the garage format, but its welcome when people realise we’re not just writing garage.”
The album was recorded in two separate parts. Side A was recorded with Spoon drummer and producer Jim Eno in his Austin-located home studio in April. Side B was recorded in Mike McHugh’s Distillery, the same place where they recorded last year’s Be Brave. Sambol explains, “after we did the first session, Rough Trade wanted us to record another one”, “Why, didn’t they like it?” I ask, slightly baffled that the label could request such a thing. “They just thought that we could do more - we’ve always done things really quickly so we went into the studio and did it [the first session] really fast, but it ended up working really well as I ended up writing songs that wouldn’t have been on the album without recording the second session. It seemed to work for the best.”
At the time of recording, Ryan explained that the band were listening to The Grateful Dead, Nina Simone, and The Band, which all make sense when you listen to Live Music. The album possesses a distinctly American sound, a tasteful collection of influences from many great American bands. He also explains that he has been listening to a lot of African music recently, bands on the Sublime Frequencies label such as Doueh and Inerane, which he describes as, “the coolest music I’ve heard in a long time.” Perhaps a hint of what the next album will sound like? That might not be as stupid as it sounds - as mentioned earlier, The Strange Boys' music has many more elements to it than just garage rock and country, and Live Music has a prominent funk feel to it which many fans of the band may not have expected. As for plans for the next record, the band are taking a well deserved rest, Ryan states, “we’re taking a break, you can’t control writing that much though, when things come, they come,” suggesting that it is likely the band will be back fairly soon.
Throughout the interview it's clear that Sambol has a pretty casual approach to making music and that he is quite modest about his work. “We’re still not that big,” he says matter of factly, “I feel like we’re on a similar level to when we first started. We’re always trying to play to more people.” With an ability for creating such well-formed and influenced songs, it is likely that they will be doing so soon.