No rules. Pay homage to the song. Don't do too much or too little.
These are the three philosophies that the Royal has adhered to since forming over two years ago. "Whatever is effective for the song, pay homage to the song," frontman Tyler Hayden explains. "Because if the song is already there, you just have to find it. For me, it felt easier. I had some skeletons of songs there, and I tried to just exploit the hell out of what everybody else could bring to the table. These guys are so much more talented in their roles than I could ever be as a solo musician."
Hayden reached this conclusion after taking a break from fronting a pair of popular local acts, Laylights and Astra Moveo. He spent a year writing in his studio, and once knew he had a few good tracks to play, he drafted some friends to form the Royal, an outfit comprised of like-minded players that Hayden had found at Lost Lake. The first to come on board was bassist Matty Clark, a scene veteran who's played bass in a number of critically acclaimed Denver bands, like TaunTaun and Il Cattivo, among others.
Hayden and Clark had worked together at the East Colfax bar, and that's also where the former met drummer Eric Marshall, who, in addition to being a member of Astra Moveo towards the end of that combo's run, had previously played with Reverend Leon's Revival and the Haggardies. Keyboardist Colby Rogers, meanwhile, who moved to Denver from Nashville about four years ago, came into Lost Lake one day, and that's where Hayden hit him up. "'You look like a musician. What do you play?'" Hayden remembers asking him. "He said, 'I play piano and keys.' He basically auditioned for me by playing the piano, and playing any random key that this street person, like, screamed at him."
Guitarist Jack Schuler, the only member without a Lost Lake connection, was originally just going to do some design work for Astra Moveo, but then Hayden found out Schuler was a good player and invited him into the fold. "I felt like I manifested the right players for some reason," says Hayden, marveling. "Like out of thin air, it just sort of happened."
Well, happened in reverse, if you ask Rogers, who's done session work and toured with a number of Nashville-based acts. Working with the Royal early on was quite different from working with any of the other bands he'd played in before, mainly because the Royal was already established and had a handful of songs before they ever rehearsed together.
"With Tyler having access to a studio, the first practices were much different than when I'd get together with other musicians," Rogers notes. "We'd find a garage or rehearsal space, we'd set up and start hacking though material. But he already had these skeletons of songs that he was sending me at the time, and he already knew these guys, and we would go in the studio and just come up with ideas, or ideas that he had, and just lay down individual tracks. So we were together for a while before we ever got a rehearsal space and sat down and played together."
"Like Colby was saying," Hayden elaborates, "you get in the grind of your rehearsal space and of just trying to write, trying to write, instead of a very focused process of listening back and getting that playback and that instant sort of feedback for yourself.... I think it was just easier for me to start that way, and then go and rehearse the tracks and feel them more alive and know exactly how they exist, and then go back and tweak some stuff on the album that we worked out live."
Rogers remembers when the band finally got a rehearsal space. They knew all the songs from the rough demos, and all the instruments were set up in the room for rehearsal. "I think 'Prize Fighter' was the first song that we did, and I was thinking, 'What if we all suck?'" Rogers recalls with a laugh. "The recording process and the studio were sounding really good. What if we get together and there's no innate chemistry and we just kind of suck together? How weird is that going to be, to pack up all this equipment and be like, 'It was really cool knowing you guys'?"
Those fears were obviously assuaged. After recording the demos, the band went on to play a number of shows and rehearsed quite a bit before going into the studio to record its debut, Forever Endeavor. "We did do it organically, in a sense where it was tested material," Hayden says. "But yeah, every song on the album, we like. There's no filler — at least for me, anyway — which is nice. I think the process, at least our process, got me to that point. My past bands, of course there was filler. Stuff that just fills time because you came up with it, so you might as well play it."
But when comparing working with the Royal to working with his other projects, Hayden acknowledges that his success in guiding the band is also due to working with completely different people with different styles and different tastes. "I'm in a different place, creatively, completely," he points out. "I think at the start of Laylights, everything was so collaborative. Astra Moveo was also collaborative, but for me, to take the time away from collaboration and really center myself into what colors I paint from melodically and vocally, and just tuning my ears to a certain something and taking that time, is really important for me. I think that's probably how it differs. It's because I took that time for myself. It was just so much back-and-forth with the people that I was collaborating with, who were very talented, but, I don't know, I had more vision because I got out of the water, and I saw where I was swimming a little bit."
While Hayden doesn't want to pigeonhole the Royal and the band's wide-ranging sound, which Clark describes as "piano-driven dark dance rock," he notes that it is at least partly inspired by a disparate number of influences, everyone from Queen and ELO to the National and Muse to Roxy Music and the Smiths.
"Not that anything on the record reflects it," he says, "but I've always wanted to write that 'Bohemian Rhapsody,' or a timeless track, something that, every time you hear it, there's just something about it that takes you back to a certain time, or gets some resonance out of someone else who might not be in the know of what the track is about, necessarily, or why it was written, but it has a certain sonic quality, or a certain soul or depth to it, that resonates."
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With powerful bridges, crescendos and dropouts on some cuts, the thirteen-track Forever Endeavor edges in that direction. At times, it's even epic, which Hayden says can be credited to a concerted effort to create tension and release where appropriate. "We play music to create art and stuff, but you also do it because it's fun," Clark clarifies. "That's why I like to play music, like when you do that big, epic sweeping thing, where you cut out right before you come back, like back in the chorus. That's a sick feeling when the crowd is pumped on it."
At times with the Royal, Hayden says, there's a feeling when he knows he's tapping into something else and grounding it with something else in his reality. "It's almost like wind hitting you in the face — and it's not just the bass amp kicking extra air at you," he says. "It's like actual...you're moving while you're standing still. It's some crazy feeling. Yeah, it's the greatest feeling ever. Some of these tracks, it takes me there every single time when I'm on stage. I will get to an emotional place where I'll be fucking crying on stage for, as far as I'm concerned, no reason. It's just because the song is so there for me. And it's not real, in the sense that it just takes me back to what it's written about, but it's to be able to present it on stage.
"It's so fucking cool and powerful just to feel that energy," Hayden concludes. "That's where I want to be all the time."