THE STRAYS
Le Futur Noir
TVT Records

We’ve all had our bad habits at one time or another. I was living in London, got a demo deal through Sanctuary so they put us in a studio right above a pub with various drug dealers ‘round the corner. It ended up being a disaster. That’s when I pretty much quit. There were just too many temptations around. I spent two years cleaning my act up – being a family man. When I felt I had beaten my affliction I decided to give it another go. I moved to LA and ended up working with these guys.” ~ Toby Marriott

This highly anticipated slab had a number of hurdles to overcome in order to win our praise. First and most obvious is the tailgate party surrounding its lead singer and guitarist Toby Marriott. The son of famed Small Faces/Humble Pie founder Steve Marriott, pressure was on young Toby to deliver an enticing bit of old school vibrato. The shadow of such a legacy, though unclaimed, has haunted the band’s debut. Then there was the issue of the band’s label mates which include everything from Lil Jon and the Ying Yang Twins to Poison/G&R clones Towers of London. To clearly separate themselves from the pack, The Strays had to deliver something uniquely powerful, catchy and original. With Le Futur Noir (French translation “The Black Future”) the LA-based foursome have achieved and surpassed all expectations. In fact this may well be the rock record for the holiday season surpassing both The Killers and Jet.

Celebrating his influences from late ‘70s punk, including The Clash, The Sex Pistols and the occasional Ramones, Marriott leads his international crew through a barrage of riff-dominated pop rock. There are the big and beefy “You Are the Evolution,” “Geneva Code” and the garage-tinged “Peach Acid.” Yet it’s their subtle flare in songs like “Block Alarm,” “Start a Riot” and “Let down the Girls” that prove this band is more than just a fabricated showpiece. Le Futur Noir is a real English record. It’s more than Marriott’s thick accent – it’s in their chord changes, their flirtation with dance beats and the Dream Syndicate/Buzzcocks delivery. Several of the record’s 13 tracks are well over two years old. They’ve been beaten up and hammered out – played live, shelved and then resurrected. The results are sturdy well-honed rumblers all coming in under three minutes.

Marriott leans heavily on Columbian-born guitarist Jeffrey Saenz and his start-stop attack. Live, Saenz plants his feet firmly next to his amp, Les Paul slung low between his knees and head drooped - very Ramones-like. He punished his guitar with chainsaw scraping as the full blast of “Miracles’ and “Future Primitives” bludgeons all those within ear shot. Marriott winds in and out with stinging proficiency occasionally locking licks with Saenz all the while the mic echoes his piercing vocals. Bassist Dimitrious Koutsiouris sits back on the drumbeat and lays in a restless thump as the chief architect for the band’s foundation. Solid from start to finish the record finds its salvation in dirty, raucous rock but with melody almost as if INXS were a punk band. Fans of Transporter 2 will recognize “Life Support” as it was prominently affixed to the cult film last year.

The Cutting Edge was able to catch up with The Strays opening for Veruca Salt under a harvest moon in Sacramento, CA. They piled out of their road-worn van a disheveled bunch, loaded their gear and put on a spectacular display for the crowd. Edgy and determined, their scorching set brought to life a record already bristling with high-octane energy. Reminiscent of the Manic Street Preachers in their prime, the band contorted between solo leads, heart pounding rhythms and fresh power pop. “Pop song with a lot of muscled up guitars – yeah, that’s about right,” said Marriott after the gig. “The older generation expects us to be the next Humble Pie and we’re not. Kids today don’t really care who my dad was. We’re not Humble Pie; we’re not the Small Faces. We don’t want to be. We’ve had a few reviews where we’ve been compared to them. Just because of who I am I get measured against them.”

Yet Marriott understands the need for a comparison. “You have a generation that lost their musical icons, Hendrix, Morrison even my dad (Steve Marriott) and if they had a kid, people would then look to that person to maybe replace what they’ve been missing.” Marriott goes on to explain his personal effort was to develop a band with a broad diversity of influence and find a common soul that bound them. Guitarist Jeffery Saenz stepped outside the dressing room to explain. “We started playing together two and a half years ago and literally got thrown into a studio situation instantly. We had to put together five songs really quickly and cut a demo for the label. Three of the five actually made it to this album - which says something about how well we work together. ‘Life Support,’ ‘Start a Riot’ and ‘Peach Acid’ were the roots of our sound. So there are songs on this record that are that old. We believe in the philosophy that any thing of worth takes time to grow and mature. We’re still growing and finding ourselves.”

Developing as a working band gave The Strays opportunity to push ideas back and forth, play live and learn to live together. Even in the final hours before delivering the masters to the label the band was pooling songs. Says Marriott, “There were a couple songs that just made it. ‘You Are the Evolution,’ our current single was one. In a way we really fought to get the album we wanted. There was a lot of last minute stuff that we campaigned very hard to get. ‘Future Primitives,’ ‘Sirens’ and ‘Let down Girls” were a few others. Luckily we’ve got a real cool A&R guy at the label that is way in to rock. He even likes our current reggae infused direction that were exploring.” 

With the current success of their video and film feature for “Life Support” the band are eager to spread the word. “We pride ourselves on our live show,” says Saenz. “A lot of bands try to translate their record into their live show; we try and translate our live show into a record. We want to capture the energy we have on stage to the record opposed to vice-versa.”  This has been a big year for the four. They’ve finally found a permanent drummer and have sorted out proper management. “We truthfully didn’t have an agent ‘till six months ago,” continues Saenz. “We booked all our own tours – which we’re now on our seventh tour coast-to-coast. For the first year and a half we used an old SUV and beat-up pick up truck to get us from gig to gig. We’d work extra hours at our day jobs, stockpile a few extra dollars and hit the five for five deal at Dominos.”

The question of songs that made the set list gets tossed around. “We’re proud of the natural evolution of the band,” states Marriott. “We don’t think too much on what we want to sound like.” Then he quotes Keith Richards, “The only rules in music are the ones you make yourselves. If I started thinking about what avenue we’re going to go down on the next album or the one after that, it would be too much thought. Half this record was written at any spare moment we had. It worked out because that’s where we were at the time.” Saenz agrees, “It wouldn’t take away from the spontaneity to look too far forward, but it would be nice to lock ourselves away in a room somewhere and hammer out some stuff that way.”

The two claim to be constantly writing and though Marriott does the lion’s share, both Saenz and Koutsiouris are actively involved. “We’re both lead players,” says Marriott referring to he and Saenz. “On Le Futur Noir it was like let’s go with some quick songs, get to the point – fast and dirty mate. But the next record will have more guitars up front. Were in a good spot right now. The crowds have been great. I read about some band’s slaggin’ off the industry but it’s done all right by us. We’re adjusting to it. Back when I was a kid it was take the bus to the shop buy the record, get back home and lock yourself away. Downloading has made kids a bit lazier. Go to the computer, download a song – done. The other side is we’ve been able to promote ourselves better – people can check us out, maybe come out to a show and dig what we do. It’s all relative.

Website: The Strays, TVT Records