The Royal They has always been a band with a ton of variety in their catalogue, and the stuff they’re writing now is some of their most adventurous yet, according to Darrel Dumas. Read all about it in our interview with the band.
After having released one of last years very best albums, Foreign Being, in early January, The Royal They announced in October via social media that they were taking a break from “the limelight” to, among other things, write songs for a new album. Never late to jump to conclusions we did the maths. Seeing how there was less than 16 months between Foreign Being and their self titled debut album we took this as a promise of a new album due this very spring. Giddy with happiness and so very proud of our immense deductive skills we wasted no time and contacted the band to get the scoop on all things royal.
“We haven’t set down anything concrete for a new record yet, but we have a bunch of new songs in the works and we’re hoping to get back into the studio in the next year to record them.” Darrell Dumas, One of the two guitarists of the band, promptly talked us down.
Well our math might have been off by about 45% but who cares. We were dying to learn more about this new album, whatever the release date might turn out to be. Accordingly we fired off a barrage of questions about the new material, covering everything from writing process, sources of inspiration, themes that needs to be loudly dealt with (or perhaps gently and soft-spokenly …what do we know) to weather or not the pizza king would grant us vinyl this time around.
Patiently trying to accommodate our curiosity, Darrell explained, ”We’ve always put a lot of stake in being a band with a ton of variety in our catalogue, and the stuff we’re writing now is some of our most adventurous yet. It’s really exciting.” Rick Martinez, who plays the drums in the band picked up that thread, “The recording/songwriting process is always exciting for this band. As Darrell stated, we’re shooting for the stars with some of this material. Our last rehearsal left me completely inspired.” Michelle Hutt, the other guitarist and lead singer of the band agreed, “Our new material is venturing even further into the depths of fun for us, and I hope people will enjoy it! We will see about the themes, but there certainly is a lot going on in the world and our lives that we will be drawing from.”
We learned that they all come from very divers musical backgrounds. Rick is a jazz drummer, Michelle is trained in musical theater and classical voice, and Darrell is a rock guitarist but with a background in classical piano. Michelle elaborated some more on her influences, “I tend to be all over the place in terms of what I like musically. I love musical theater, Celine Dion, ABBA, and tons of local and DIY bands [such as] Playboy Manbaby, Haybaby, Doll Baby, Illiterate Light, just to name a few. The thing I like most in an artist is the ability to write something that is catchy, but still diverts from the expected path. I don’t want to be able to guess the rest of a melody. I want to be surprised. In terms of what inspires me when I’m writing music… I don’t know. Honestly, it’s usually just a very intense or uneasy emotion that I’m feeling that won’t go away until I write a song that expresses it.” Rick explained his influences as well, “I try to listen to everything. Classical, heavy metal, hip hop etc… kind of comes with the territory of being a drummer who’s played in a lot of different ensembles. This kind of background actually helps flex stylistically to whatever Darrell and Michelle come up with.”
Michelle described her songwriting to be almost like an “audio scrapbook” of sorts for Foreign Being. “We tend to write music reflecting how we are feeling. So, in a way, our songs are a reflection of a certain period of time.” she told us. Rick agreed, “There are a lot of high highs and low lows explored on [that] album [Foreign Being]. Much of the material presented has helped us through some pivotal issues in our lives.”
Rick went on to tell us about the prospects for vinyl, “As far as vinyl goes… We’ve all had to exercise quite a bit of restraint over the years despite our desires to see each of these albums fully realized in that medium. I’m not entirely sure what [our third] album will bring but personally, I’d like to explore some ideas for a music video […]or better yet, put those funds towards an international tour!” Michelle added, “So, our label actually wanted to release ‘Foreign Being’ on vinyl, but we ultimately decided not to. I’m in medical school at the moment, and couldn’t realistically tour enough for vinyl to make financial sense.”
So, yeah you read that right. Michelle is in med school. Darrell picked that ball up, “The future is a wide open road! The next year is set to be an interesting one mainly because Michelle is starting her third and busiest year of medical school. She’s a med student and a punk rock musician at the same time – doesn’t get more badass than that, but we’re pushing ourselves and our music all the time. For my part I’m hoping we get out to play some of the corners of the world we haven’t been to yet. There are a lot of them.” Badassery was correctly mentioned and then Rick told us, “I’m working a bit remote from the West Coast now…” These are things that might have lesser bands calling it quits. Do these guys somehow get more than 24 hours from their days? How do they find time for rehearsals at all, and beyond that, a long-distance collaborative creative project?
“Sadly, I do not have more than 24 hours in my day. It would be grand. Honestly, the main constraint is that I can’t usually play shows on school nights or when I have an exam coming up. It’s been hard to schedule things, but we make it work one way or another.” Michelle told us. “It definitely forces us to adapt. Before Rick moved and Michelle was in med school, our rehearsals often just turned into opportunities to work on new songs. Now we have to be much more judicious and structured with our time. Fortunately it hasn’t stifled our creativity, and we still have a lot of new and interesting songs in the works.” Darrell elaborated. “We have been trying to keep our weekly band phone meetings despite everyone’s busy schedule and post to a collective google drive. I fly back and forth quite often so it’s still realistic to play shows. Planning them has just been a bit more of a challenge.” Rick explained, hinting at how they get it to work at all.
So the subject of touring and playing gigs kept coming up and as it happens that is one of our favourite topics. It’s a Bummer that we were stuck on the wrong side of the Atlantic in order to have got to see the Small Car Big Dreams Tour last summer. You’d think that perhaps really really small cars might be able to drive on water but apparently not. So instead we had to ask. Was the tour as wonderful as we made it out in our romantic minds?
Darrell tried his best to console us, “Some day they’ll invent one [car that runs on water]… the Small Car Big Dreams tour was named for our decision, rather than renting a van or something, to just downsize our entire touring setup to something that could fit in Michelle’s old Toyota Camry. We clocked something like 3,500 miles in that little car, all told. Way easier to park, too. I’m still proud of us for that.” Michelle went on, “It was a crazy, fun time. We saw so many places we had never been before. We saw old friends and met new ones. I was struck by the kindness of people who hosted us, played with us, and came to the shows. It was like being taken into a community for a day. We really got to know people even though we were only with them for less than a day.” Rick pointed out that the tour and how it was set up seemed to reaffirm the bands “less is more” mentality. “We don’t need a lot of gear to get our point across musically. Ironically, that small car loaded to the gills was pretty freeing mentally.” he explained.
Roger, Roger, on the whole philosophy of the tour but we wanted to know what it was like on stage. The Royal They is only a 3-piece band (with no bass no less). With such a small set-up on stage, we really needed more details on what their live shows are like in order for us to be able to really picture it in our heads. Darrell tried to accommodate us, “Our songwriting is very deliberately minimalist. We don’t tend to write songs that can’t be performed live exactly the way we wrote or recorded them, which means our live sets end up sounding a lot like our records. That being said, we have a ton of energy onstage. It’s particularly fun because we look very unassuming and no one expects such a small band with no bass to have as much energy or fill as much space as we do.” Michelle elaborated further, “We purposefully keep it simple. We like to mess with people’s expectations. We always played Truncheon first, which starts quiet and demure, but then suddenly rips. It’s fun to watch the audience reactions to that. Other than that, we just try to be our genuine selves on the stage and perform these songs.” Rick agrees, “It’s a pretty simplistic set-up to be honest. No lights or fancy fog machines at this stage. We split the guitars through a bass rig if available and it actually fills out the sound quite nicely. The drums are usually no more than a four piece kit. For tour, I had a nesting 3 piece jazz kit with a piccolo snare drum. Definitely turned some heads with the size and sound that came from this set up.”
The guys were really trying to bring it to life for us but alas it was no substitute for the real deal. However there is hope yet. “I’d love for us to release our next record and get to play some of our favourite cities again. I also believe a small UK tour may be in the works for next winter.” Michelle told us. This is huge! The UK is only like a couple of hours away. We were beside ourselves with excitement at the prospect of that. Darrell seamed equally enthusiastic, “My god, I genuinely can’t wait until we get over there. That would be a dream come true for me.” Rick agreed, “I’ve personally played a handful of times across the pond and it has been nothing short of spectacular. Performing live in other countries has always been exciting and romantic for me. Especially in places like the U.K. where the culture is so well embraced and supported.”
On the whole the Royal They seemed to be on the same page on all topics we broached. Could that really be. Surely there has to be some friction in any creative collective. “The main things that keep us together are friendship, toilet humor, and making music that we want to see in the world. Working together on creative projects can lead to disagreements at points, but eventually those disagreements resolve in a better song.” Michelle had us know. It turned out the Royal They agrees even on how they disagree. ”At the end of the day, we all strive for a process or product that makes us happy. Being honest with ourselves and to each other has probably been our greatest strength while writing songs. Admittedly, it’s not always the easiest and tactful route, but open communication keeps our friendship and music exactly where it needs to be. We’ve found that this process yields some of our most inspiring results.” Rick told us, true to form, agreeing with Michelle.
Darrell went for full disclosure in letting us know how the band came together, “Well, Michelle and I have been dating for six years now, and about halfway through that time we decided since neither of us were particularly happy with our current bands that we might as well start our own together.” He then went on to tell us how Rick was brought in to round out the band, “I knew [him] from college and other bands I’d played in, and since he was far and away the best drummer I knew, he was the obvious choice. It became pretty clear early on that the three of us together had something really special, and we’ve been riding that wave ever since.”
“Before The Royal They, I couldn’t even wrap my head around the idea of being part of a scene. It took forming this band with Michelle and Rick and then accidentally stumbling across a group of like-minded people who really cared about what we were doing for me to realize just how invaluable that kind of community is. In retrospect it makes sense – before this, I wrote and recorded all my own music by myself in my bedroom. It tracks that the first band where songwriting became a collaborative exercise for me would also be the first band that would find a true and meaningful place in a local music scene.” Darrell continued.
Rick also had some praise for the scene the Royal They are a part of, “I won’t speak for the other two, but with Royal They, the King Pizza community has really been our home in the DIY/Punk/Garage scene. We’ve made a ton of friends and feel pretty comfortable trying anything new in front of them.” Michelle went on, “I feel incredibly fortunate that we have such a great community that has supported us and lifted us up. King Pizza is not just a record label, it’s a group of artists and friends who support each other ‘til the end. I wish we had one home base, but sadly the venues close so quickly in Brooklyn that the home base has to shift every couple of years. Currently the home base is The Gutter. It’s pretty grand. It used to be this place called Don Pedro’s, but it closed. I definitely stumbled into the DIY scene later on in my life. I was not some cool punk rock kid in high school. I was a straight-up, goody-two-shoes nerd who thought Ben Folds Five was edgy.”
After that in depth report about the Royal They’s home base we really had but one question left. What’s that hat all about? …yeah the one on the cover of Foreign Being, when will it be available as merch and what would the shipping to Europe be like? “The idea for the hat came when we were driving back home from some tour. It ended up being a true collaborative effort.” Michelle explained. “We had originally contemplated making the whole headdress out of papier-mâché and having Michelle wear it on the cover. Ultimately though we decided a drawing would be a whole lot easier.” Darrell elaborated. Rick added, “Given our time constraints and limited abilities to sculpt, we decided to tackle this one old school using pencil and paper. The end result offered a nice contrast to our self-titled album and I’m pretty proud of how it turned out.” Darrell finished, “We’ll have to get back to you on the shipping to Europe…” with Michelle pointing out that King Pizza does ship internationally so there is a chance for us to get our hands on it, they just have to actually make it first.
So that was it for this Interview …well at least that is how the whole thing played out in our heads. In reality we never could get them all on one phone line let alone in the same room long enough. Instead we E-mailed a bunch back and forth with the incredibly wonderful guys in The Royal They. At least it was really easy to get the quotes to be accurate.
Oh! and we almost forgot as is (going to be) tradition for these feature articles, Rick came up with our next challenge. A tune that you love that you would never have guessed didn’t have bass on it (White Stripes songs excluded). That is what we are taking on for our next challenge as soon as we are done with the current one.
- A tune that is the first track you would want to see live as soon as live music is a thing again.
- A tune that is a good post-sugar-high-come-down.
- A tune that uses an odd time signature very effectively.
- A tune that makes the title sequence of a TV-series really sing.
- A tune that is so simple a child could have written it.