"Taking your time is important." This is a guideline that the members of American Royalty follow with no exceptions. And with their time, spent right, comes a result unlike anything their peers would have guessed. Some consider their sound a mix psychedelic blues-rock and raw electronic tracks most fit for a festival. I wouldn't know what to call it either, and I think that's the best part. In an era where dance music, and even rock, is disgustingly forced out and people's tastes are compromised in favor of the mainstream market's demands, American Royalty have found a way to develop their own signature sound that remains true to their influences, all while achieving their success in a humble and natural manner. It's a rare thing, especially in the younger crowd.
But I don't think Marc Gilfry, Billy Scher (who we've spoken with before), and Mat Ungson necessarily sought out for recognition upon forming their band. It seems that respect and the prizes that come with it are simply icing on the cake given their care-free lifestyle, and the guys are most definitely enjoying every second of it. But that's not to say they haven't been working hard, when actually they are working harder than you. Yes, you. The last few years were fundamental for American Royalty's growth, including a new found love for analog equipment, vintage synths, DJing, touring with staple figures such as Ladyhawke, and even moving to New York as of recent times. I was fortunate enough to catch one of their performances prior to their relocation and I'm ashamed to admit it was actually my first time seeing them. I won't spoil any details but it sounded like they were remixing their own songs live, but those tracks were indeed the original versions. Go see for yourself. This time around I sat down with the trio to discuss American Royalty's new "Prismatic" EP, where their heads are at, and how they've grown up. Read on. Learn.
What’s up guys, how have you been?
Really great. How you been?
Not bad! So you released the new EP in February, how would you consider the new material different or evolved from “Matchstick”?
The new material is certainly different from Matchstick. Quite honestly, if it were all the same, we would bore ourselves to death. We’ve come to a point in our musical journey where we’ve decided that there are no rules, sonically speaking. We don’t try to sound like any other band, we don’t try to follow sonic formulas that have been laid out before. We try to write music that excites the ear and comes from the deep within the mind. SOUL-DRIVEN. Those are the only criteria.
2012 was a year that American Royalty played live more than ever. Has the increased time spent on stage influenced the new EP? In what ways has American Royalty grown from heavy touring?
Absolutely. Because of our experience playing live this year, we’ve figured out ways to do unconventional things in a live setting. For example, Marc is now using a foot pedal to control a live side-chain of his keyboard. That, for one, has totally changed the game and the writing process.
Explain the studio process that went into “Prismatic.” Do you guys still write music the same way since you began, or have your individual production roles changed?
It hasn’t changed much. But undoubtedly some songs on Prismatic were very affected by our development as a live band. “Hungry” is a great example of a song that was more band-focused. It’s live, its rockin, its loud.
I like how when asked about the release of a full LP, you simply state that it’ll happen when you’re ready. Although the band is surely almost ready, do you care to explain the importance of taking your time? Is patience in creating music a disappearing aspect?
Taking your time is important, but it’s also really important to release material and move on. To be honest, we kinda like being under pressure to release new material, so maybe we actually need a deadline for a full length and then it will happen. Either way, we’ve been only thinking about EPs.... talk about a full length is starting to come up. We’ll see what happens.
I’ve also read that you usually can’t stand to listen to your own recording outside of the studio. Do you think you benefit from not re-listening to your own music a lot of the time?
If you spent half the time we have spent with each of these songs before they are released, believe us, you wouldn’t want to listen to them ever again either. We also like to have a fresh ear / clear mind when putting the songs into our live show. Some of the songs take on entirely new reincarnations of themselves in the live world. We’re constantly embedding ourselves in this world of remix after remix, edit after edit, refix, mashup, sample, etc. That gives the music this sense of evolution for us, which excites us.
Even though you’re all from different places originally, I imagine the “LA lifestyle” has set in more than ever. Does living here play any role in song-writing inspiration?
Hmmmmm. LA is a very cool place right now with a lot of great underground clubs popping off. We have friends doing awesome things. There’s always something to do and good music to see. We think the lifestyle of constantly being around a lot of progressive music and progressive people influences us. But now we’re in New York City, where there is, arguably, even more new music happening. Shit is going to get even weirder.
When starting out, did you find it challenging or confusing to develop your sound due to so many influences melting into one studio? Were all the flavors of American Royalty an intentional goal, or simply a result when you come together?
All we really knew is that we loved electronic music and the blues. There were no rules. All the rock influence, all the classic songwriting is just an extension of ourselves. The sound has developed out of a passion for new sounds, and a need for soul.
While you’re all equally passionate and curious about making music, do you ever reach a point where one of you wants the song to go in a different direction or drift toward one sound more than the other? How do you work around this, and do you have a constant formula?
We can’t think of a particular instance. We have so many songs in the works and that have been thrown aside, I think the more likely thing for us to do is just toss it rather than argue about it. We only work on stuff that everyone is really into.
Avoiding any dumb genre naming, how would you describe the feelings and sounds tied to American Royalty? What are some of your personally essential elements in a track?
The essential elements for us are 1. Innovation and 2. Good songwriting. The song has to mean something, and it has to grab your attention. This isn’t muzack. If we wanted everything to be groovy and played in the background, then we wouldn’t be making music like this. Don’t get us wrong, there’s a time and a place for that kind of music. Our goal is to keep people on their toes.
Who do you guys look up to from the past? It’s clear that you listen to a lot of everything…who are some of your favorite DJ/producers today, as well as bands?
From the past: Jimi, Son House, Kokomo Arnold, Leadbelly, Dylan, Iggy Pop, Frank Sinatra, Zeppelin, Zappa
From the future: Night Slugs, Fade to Mind, Dirtybird, Exploited, Body High, Brainfeeder.
I imagine you guys grew up on rock, right? How did you merge into electronic music, and when did you begin DJing on the side? Do you think this is a healthy balance to fully enjoy music all the time while being in a band? Explain your relationship with the label you’re signed to, Guns In The Sun. How did you meet those guys and become one big family? What’s the best part about working with your best friends?
Yea we grew up on rock. None of us really started giving electronic music much attention until our late teens, which certainly puts us at a disadvantage when compared to some of these wunderkid 16-year-old producers coming out of the UK and the rest of Europe. But we love our good ol’ rock n roll. There’s a very unique feeling that you get listening to a live rock band that we’ve always felt is lacking in a lot of electronic acts. It’s sloppier, sometimes louder, and in the pocket. It’s real, and it’s raw.
We started DJing on the side because we started going to parties and wanted to kick the deejay off the decks and take over. We were luckily able to learn on CDJs because the label guys (Guns In The Sun Records) are all great deejays.
Guns In The Sun is very much family. They put out our first EP and toured us around the country with only 5 songs to play. Hahahaha. It was awesome. The best and worst part about working with your best friends is that you get caught in (and end up contributing to) ridiculous email chains. Work is often sidelined for a stupid joke. There’s plenty of blackmail in our inboxes. I suppose that creates a sense of unity through mutual assured destruction.
On the topic of family vibes, would you consider the scene in LA to feel like that too? Who are some bands that you’re friends with that we should listen to? What parties in this city do you guys frequently attend? And in general, what are some of the best reasons to live here?
We love our LA people. Big shouts out to the Superhumanoids, Bixel Boys, Steffi Graff, Hit City Records, and Gene’s Liquor. We would always hit A Club Called Rhonda and MFG parties. They do it proper.
But now you’re living in NYC! What caused this decision, and how long will you be out there? You guys have played in NY before, how was it?
We just wanted to move. So far it’s been pretty damn good. We sold out our first show. We’re vibing in the city. Seeing lots of great acts come through. We have a practice space in beautiful Williamsburg about a 10 min walk to a bar called Lulu’s where you can get a beer and a personal pizza for $3. Top notch. More than anything, we just needed to switch it up. It didn’t matter where we lived, and NYC was on the bucket list.
Do you feel that your surroundings greatly affect your music? What sort of role do you see the east coast playing in American Royalty?
Yea definitely. The new material that we’ve been writing doesn’t necessarily have an east coast vibe. We’re not really sure what THAT would be anyhow. If you’re asking whether we’re going to follow Alicia Keys and Jay Z and make the next NYC anthem…….. well, ya. that sounds like a great idea.
Tell us a little bit about the songs on the new EP in regards to your experiences over the last year growing as a band. While you seem to like to keep meanings to yourself and generally universal for your listeners, were there any specific moments or ideas during the process that you recall as special?
We don’t normally explain the meaning of songs, but maybe this is a good opportunity. So congratulations, if you’re still reading this, you’ve won the grand prize. We’re going to explain why we wrote the song “Mariah”.
“Mariah”, though it may sound like a love song, is actually more about traveling. The song is about being called by the wind to move on, keep pushing forward, go someplace new and exciting. The idea comes from a song “They Call the Wind Maria” in the Broadway play, "Paint Your Wagon."
We wrote that song knowing that we were off to New York. If you listen very closely, there’s some constant background noise throughout the song. That “noise” is from sound samples that we collected on our phones. It starts as ambient noise from LA and ends with ambient noise from NYC. You would never know that or be able to tell by listening to the song. It was more of a personal homage to these two cities and to our moving process. But now you know.
Looking toward the near and distant future, what’s next? Will the release see any remixes? Fill us in on things to come!
Yea we have a remix EP coming out soon! It will feature remixes from some of our favorite producers. We can't announce the remixers just yet, but soon. We’re really excited about that. There will definitely be a music video or two as well.
Thanks for chatting guys, looking forward to catching up next time. How about some final words for aspiring musicians reading this?
Capture your ideas as quickly as possible. Don’t wait. Make music when and where you feel inspired.