U.S. Royalty

Friends and music lovers, I am a regular contributor to indieball.com which recently featured my article on U.S. Royalty.

Schubas Tavern – Chicago, IL

Washington, D.C. quartet U.S. Royalty was formed in 2008 and has drawn a lot of buzz regarding the release of their debut album MIRRORS in January. Frontman John Thornley was kind enough to sit down and chat with me after their show at Schubas in Chicago last month.

In August 2009, U.S. Royalty released an EP entitled Midsommar; I am struck by a discernible shift from Midsommar’s more pop-ready rock elements to the classic rock-reminiscent and folksier MIRRORS. “We recorded those first tracks to send to people and book shows,” says Thornley. “They were songs that we knew would resonate and we still play many of them . . . In recording MIRRORS we never decided ‘this will be the sound.’ We just saw what developed organically.”

Influenced by life on the road, MIRRORS is indeed a journey. Ranging from gritty guitar and bluesy vocals to wistful sun-soaked harmonies, we are guided from mountains, through desert, to the sea in an Americana ode. Hints of backwoods twang blend with breezy West Coast vibes, indie pop, post-punk, and old fashioned rock & roll. Citing influences from Stevie Nicks (whom they covered in the Schuba’s set), Led Zeppelin, The Smashing Pumpkins, Muddy Waters, and The Talking Heads, it’s easy to see where U.S. Royalty gets their range.

MIRRORS is a great listen all the way through. However, it’s U.S. Royalty’s live performance that really sells me. Their raw and exuberant presence imbues the music with a dramatic force. “In the studio you want to highlight the craftsmanship, the layers in the music. It’s much more deliberate and subtle; everything is not firing at once the way it is live,” Thornley explains. “The music explodes onstage. The layers are still there but we are reacting to each other, to the audience, and to the material so it takes on a new energy.”

A cursory online search of the as-yet-unsigned band returns reviews comparing U.S. Royalty to quite a scope of successful acts. “I think the comparisons are interesting,” Thornley responds. “I can see The Killers maybe in our level of showmanship and The Black Keys in the bluesy elements of certain songs. I love Band of Horses but I really did not get that reference. Listening to our album or live show, it is not the same style for 12 songs in a row, which maybe causes a lot of comparisons, but we are just doing our own thing.”

John’s brother, Paul Thornley, grooves on the guitar in a fringed leather jacket that instantly recalls Stevie Ray Vaughn and I have to ask John about his tan snakeskin boots. “I got them outside of LA; I love it out there. There are so many hidden little towns outside the city and I always find great things.” Thornley lists Tune Inn as his favorite hometown spot in the District; “It’s much different than most of the bars in Capitol Hill. They can tend to be stiff and stuffy but this place has taxidermy and gun racks hanging on the walls.” As for the Windy City, Thornley replies “Chicago is becoming something of a second home for us. We always love playing at Schubas; it’s a great venue. Also, I just went to Skylark today and am confident it is the coolest bar in Chicago.”

Defying categorization, U.S. Royalty has been difficult to place. With their range of style and wealth of influences, it’s easy to play the comparison game, but U.S. Royalty knows who they are and they deliver. As you will glimpse with the tracks “Equestrian” and “Monte Carlo” here, MIRRORS is a well crafted body of work that flows over you, offering a sense of where U.S. Royalty has been and where they are going. I suggest you join them and enjoy the journey.

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