If you attended U.S. Royalty's recent show at DC's 9:30 Club, you got the feeling that it might be one of those seminal gigs where a band and their audience were onto something that the rest of the world just hadn't caught up to...yet.
What makes U.S. Royalty remarkable is their "old-school" approach to music - catchy-as-hell songs played with the intensity of a band with a point to prove - that rock and roll ain't dead!
To hear lead singer John Thornley discuss the band's deliberate approach to their music - both live and in the studio - it becomes obvious that U.S. Royalty's meticulously crafted songs and blistering live performances are no happy accident or fluke.
I purposely attended your recent 9:30 Club show without ever having heard a note of your music. I didn’t want any preconceived notions or hype to cloud my impression. What impressed me most was the band's effort to make it a Rock Show. Compared to YouTube clips I've since seen of your earlier performances, there seems to be a progression in the “image and theatric” aspect of your shows. Has your attention to the “show” been deliberate, or is it just a natural evolution?
I think it's a natural evolution. Sure, we pay attention to it more, but because we are allowed the opportunity to. The house shows, the small club shows, there's not a lot of control over the way you present yourself. Not that bands can't set themselves apart in those arenas with imagery and such, but there are many factors that can make it derail and it becomes more of a distraction than an attraction. So we opted to focus on becoming a tighter performing unit and on songwriting so that when the time comes for there to be more of a stage production, the harder parts of being a band are well practiced. I think a lot of the parts of our "show" have always been what I envisioned in my head as what we would do, provided the chance to execute it properly. This is just the beginning though, as we are taking more time in planning the stage production aspect of our shows. We are a patient band. There is a time for everything, we don't need to do everything at once.
Similarly, your songs take on a slightly harder, blues-ier edge live. Is this an indication of the direction the band plans to explore in the future, or is it just the difference between studio and stage?
At this point it's the difference between studio and stage. In the past we had people who wanted to record us and "capture the live sound" and we weren't really happy with the way it sounded. So we went the opposite direction when doing Mirrors. We said let's not make this how we sound live but rather a record someone could put on and listen to over and over because it sounds good. So we focused on layers and parts and not so much a live and loud feel. But we also took each song on its own terms and if it needed to be done live in a room with everyone sitting in, doing nine hours of takes until we got it, then that's what we did. I think live shows for us though, will always be harder and bluesier because there's an energy that's there. Maybe one day we'll capture that energy in the studio as well. As for the future, the stuff we've been writing lately has been just as raw as "The Desert Won't Save You" to more droning and groove-oriented (songs). As the months go by and we work through songs, we will see where we end up.
In an era when rock bands aren’t really the main focus of the few major record companies left, and at a time when even the few rock acts on these labels literally have one shot to score a huge hit right out of the box, what do you guys see as advantages to going the do-it-yourself route where someone like LA Reid isn’t breathing down your necks for Katy Perry-sized hits?
Mirrors was done with our own money and resources, so the only people breathing down our necks are the other guys in the band....whether it be to come up with songs, finish lyrics, write more parts, book shows, etc. We all work to keep each other focused on the project we are trying to finish at the moment. So I can't really speak from experience about being on a small or large label.
Esquire recently ranked you #35 (!!!) on their list of the 50 Most Fashionable Musicians. You’re in the company of David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Mick Jagger, and Miles Davis! You’ve also been involved with Gant Rugger and American Eagle. How did the rock-to-fashion crossover come about? Did you court the fashion world, or did they just notice what snazzy dressers you guys are and decide they needed to get with you?
I think it just came about from being in and around NYC for the past few years and continually playing shows in all sorts of venues. Some people from Gant had seen us at a show and asked to use a song for their campaign. That was the start of it all and now other people in the fashion industry continue to come to us. We have never approached anyone to include us in their campaigns or shoots. It seems to happen naturally.
What are your plans – albums, national or international tours, more forays into fashion, endorsements – for the immediate future?
We will be playing Midpoint Music Festival in Cincinatti, OH on Sept. 22nd. We'll be doing other shows and such for the next few months. In the meantime, we've been holed up in Potomac, MD writing and recording new material. It's nice and quiet up there and it's close to Great Falls Park so we've been able to do some hiking. Some of the new material we've been playing at gigs. Right now, there are no set dates for any release of the stuff, just working on getting all the ideas down.