The Stroppies: ‘Smilers Strange Politely’

Original photo by Jamie Wdziekonski. Handmade collage by B.

Naarm/Melbourne band The Stroppies check in with Gimmie from the road, where they’re currently on a 20-date tour across the UK. May 6 will see them release new album Levity through Tough Love Records. Levity is darker than previous records, with their exploration and experimentation pushing the pop song even further than before, culminating in 10 focused tracks of their strongest work yet. Latest single  ‘Smilers Strange Politely’ dropped overnight with an accompanying clip filmed on a phone while on tour. Gimmie caught up with guitarist/vocalist Gus Lord.

You’re on tour supporting Paul Weller; how’s everything going? How are you feeling? What’s been the highlight so far?

GUS LORD: Yes, we are. It’s all going disturbingly well. We are having the pleasure of playing some lovely old Victorian era music halls and have been enjoying taking in the English countryside each day on the drives. Because we are support, we generally finish work at 9:00pm so It’s been very leisurely! The highlight of the tour has been the trip we took to Stonehenge on the way to Cornwall.

What’s it been like watching someone as legendary as Paul play night after night? Have you learnt anything or observed anything really cool?

GL: It’s been awesome. I don’t know if there’s anything that I’ve observed that sticks out but there’s a level of professionalism that permeates the whole experience, from the production to the performance and that kind of rubs off on you. I think we’ve become a better band. He’s a generous guy with his time and his words so that’s been nice too. Certainly, we have been made to feel very welcome and appreciated which is not usually the experience I’ve had when supporting larger artists.

Do you have any tour rituals?

GL: Tour is pretty banal so this is a bit of lame answer. We generally try and sniff out a Pret A Manger each morning. Pret a Manger is an English food franchise that deals in baguettes and coffee. It’s reliable. 

Which track from the new record have you been most excited to perform?

GL: I’m looking forward to performing a song called ‘Caveats’. It’s a moody, crooner type pop song. The song is about technology, modern channels of communication and the commodification of the self. We’ve been playing a song called ‘Entropy’ on this tour which is kind of similar and it’s got me pumped to do some more songs like this.

It’s almost time for The Stroppies new album Levity to be released into the world; in a nutshell, what’s the album about? It feels a little darker than previous releases. 

GL: It is darker. It’s been a dark time! I think it rocks harder than our previous records which is good. I don’t think there’s a grand statement to the record it’s just a continuation of our artistic development, utilising the pop song as a conduit for personal reflection. If I had to point to anything though I would say the answer is in the album title. Levity means to treat a serious matter with humour or a lack of respect. A lot of the songs on the record have heavy themes but they are intentionally obfuscated to make something more palatable through the music.

Album cover by Jamie Wdziekonski.

The band’s creative process is usually to create open ended music, quickly and haphazardly, this time around due to the global pandemic, as you were in Naarm, you were working within the confines of one of the longest lockdowns in the world; how did you navigate this? What new approach did you come up with to bring these songs to life?

GL: Well the quick part still rings true. We started recording in December and delivered the masters by February. Haphazard not so much, because in order to meet the deadline we had to focus and rehearse a fair bit. Due to Covid we couldn’t be present for the mixing of the album which was interesting. The inability to be present meant we had to hand this thing we were working on over to someone else and let them handle it without our influence. When we got the first mixes back, we were kind of overwhelmed cause they were quite bold. I don’t think it would have gone that way if things had been normal but I’m glad it did. I think the mix John did really added something special to it.

What did you love most about the process of making Levity?

GL: Just having an excuse to put time aside and have something to focus on. Everything was very diffuse and confusing during lockdown for me, and I lost a bit of enthusiasm for music making. It was great to have a project to work on.

You’ve just released single ‘Smilers Strange Politely’; what inspired the song?

GL: I’d had the title for the song kicking around in my notebook since the early days of the band. I was always trying to stick it to something a bit weirder but when me and Claudia were workshopping a poppy chord progression it slotted in nice and found its home. It’s a play of the phrase strangers smile politely and it came to me as I was standing at the train station during peak hour, awkwardly face to face with a stranger.

Photo: Jamie Wdziekonski.

The clip was shot while you’ve been on tour; where was it shot? Can you tell us a little about the shoot? It looks like it was really cold!

GL: It was shot in Cornwall on my mobile phone during a short stint of pre tour relaxation time we had. It’s a magic part of country with rolling hills joined together by little roads that are flanked by high stone walls cut into the earth with lots of little villages dotting the coast. The field we were in was adjacent to an old church dating back to (I think) the 14th century. It’s full of gravestones including one of a poor man who was “blown apart by cannonball” in the 18th century. Claudia’s father shot the video and in a nice bit of symmetry, he had actually made his own horror movies shot on Super 8 film as a teenager at the same church with his friends when he was 15 years old. The movies were full of fake prosthetics and practical effects. There was talk of combining some of his old footage with what we shot but we ended up opting for the simpler single shot because it doesn’t make much sense to have Dracula in the video clip.

What’s next for The Stroppies? 

GL: We will launch Levity in Melbourne 28th of May at the Curtin. There will be some regional/interstate dates too although those are TBC. Beyond that, hopefully just make another record and soon. The last 6 months have been inspiring so looking forward to getting into it.

Please check out: THE STROPPIES. Levity is out May 6 via Tough Love Records. Find The Stroppies on Facebook and on Instagram.