Friday, November 12, 2010

Too Much Fun Interview: Royal Forest

Royal Forest are a band you can label right away. But be aware the label may not stick. They are delicate and melodic at first glance, all pretty vocals and power-ballad piano, but between the big showpiece moments in their songs are unexpected detours through rough territory. Live the band turns their backs a bit on the precisely arranged nature of their recordings, allowing chaos to enter in. They don't jam, precisely, but they are more willing than you would expect given the ambitious, tightly composed elements of their writing to let things unwind and see what happens. This mix of the planned and the unplanned makes their music interesting.

It seems appropriate that they've had a name change already in their career... it fits the shifting, castles-in-the-sand quality that I like most about them. "A little more sober" in the early afternoon than they might have been for an evening show, the quintet winds down its Saturday set with a patient, slow-burning cover of Neil Young's "Borrowed Tune" that summarizes their intent nicely. Some time later I meet up with Justin, Cody, Eric and Garrett in the artist tent.

As the band formerly known as Loxsly continues developing their identity as Royal Forest, they're working on bringing more of the uncertainty of their live shows to their recordings. In the studio up to this point, they've had really firm ideas, "philosophies," about what they want to accomplish on a recording. By contrast, they "don't have any idea" what they sound like live. For their next album, they're tracking "to tape, all in a room" for the first time. That could lead to a shift in sound from earlier efforts that were constructed part by part.

It also requires new working methods. Justin has set up a studio in remote Leakey, Texas, taking his equipment out to a place where Royal Forest find few distractions. Recording is "the only thing you can do in Leakey. It makes us work." Work will continue on the next record in the new year. The band hopes to have a few tracks from the Leakey sessions completed in time for the next major Austin music festival in March.

I never get tired of tour stories... it's funny how every band has different luck; how there's certain cities for everybody that click or don't click. Royal Forest love Columbus (although they understand that's "not the norm" for many touring bands), Brooklyn, Washington, D.C., and Tulsa (even though every time they go there they get food poisoning). They're not big fans of Olympia, Washington, where the meth-heads evidently set up on blankets right out in the street to celebrate the weekend. "Bands on the East Coast have it easy," they say. Coming from out west where cities are further apart, the tiniest flaw in a tour plan can make the difference between profit and catastrophe. A rented tour van with insufficient fuel efficiency led to cancellations on one jaunt, for which they blame The Lemurs, from whom the van was procured. Royal Forest are eager to jump-start their official band feud with The Lemurs.

Touring must be done, for a lot of reasons. "There are a lot of Austin bands that don't draw here that are more relevant out of town." And they echo the commonly-voiced sentiment that hometown fans and writers aren't interested in Austin bands until someone outside the community pays them attention. In town, they have learned to be selective. "We burned out on taking every show we can get." They love Mohawk, and the U.S. Art Authority is a favorite new venue -- "a little bit different than the usual." Favorite local bands: Frank Smith, The Great Nostalgic (who have recorded at Justin's Shine Studios), YellowFever, Oh No Oh My.

I hope to see Royal Forest playing more frequently in Austin, as their development as a live band seems to just be taking flight. Something I forget all the time, writing about as many brand new bands as I do, is that it takes years sometimes for a group of musicians to really gel into a proper band. Band name changes and tour disasters notwithstanding, Royal Forest have kept the flame alive.

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