Royal Teeth: Ready for the World

Life is about to get interesting for Royal Teeth. The Lafayette-rooted band has built a national foothold in record time, landing TV-commercial and videogame placement barely two years after forming. As a band dealing in effervescent pop, with a photogenic male/female frontline, they’ve easily stood out from the local crowd; they jumped right to the Acura Stage for their their recent Jazz Fest debut, and are about to play Voodoo in October. And now with the release of their full-length debut Glow (Dangerbird) and a round of touring that’s already begun, a national breakthrough is well within reach.“It’s a really exciting, nerve-wracking time,” notes Gary Larson, the band’s co-singer, co-guitarist and main songwriter, over coffee with co-lead singer Nora Patterson at the band’s neighborhood hangout, Rue de la Course. “The CD is about to come out and that really decides a lot of what our future’s gonna look like. So we just have our fingers crossed that people really enjoy it and connect to it. We’re moving on to where we’d like to be in a year, meeting new fans and bringing more people in. I think we’ll be OK with that.” 

Royal Teeth, Nora Patterson, Gary Larson, photo Elsa Hahne, Golden Richard III

Royal Teeth's Nora Patterson and Gary Larson (Photo: Elsa Hahne and Golden Richard III)

That sense of anticipation—and the feeling that big things just might be on the way—is exactly what Glow is all about. Even the press release says the songs “spin an exuberant tale of possibility,” and, for once, such a release is dead on: There’s a sense throughout that a big experience is coming—it could be grand or it could even be tragic, but it’s not going to be boring. “Everything’s been new and our whole lives have changed completely in the past year,” Larson says. “So the record has a sense of discovery, the good and bad of that. Even if the music’s really upbeat there’s a yearning, a desperation in some of the lyrics.” Part of that stems from recording it in Toronto last winter, with producer Gavin Brown. “We’re a band that everyone considers bright and upbeat; but here we were in a different city, making a record in the snow. So calling it Glow was kind of an inspiration to us—you can glow in the light and the dark, and you can cover both kinds of emotions and shine through that.”

Most of Royal Teeth’s lineup—Larson, bassist Joshua Wells, drummer Josh Hefner, guitarist Stevie Billeaud and keyboardist Andrew Poe—played together for a few years in embryonic lineups. Even then, Larson was gravitating naturally to songwriting. “We had a different female singer at the time, so we’d already established that we wanted to do the guy-girl vocal thing, but at the time I was more in the forefront,” Larson says. “I wasn’t thinking of pop music yet, it was more singer/songwriter-y acoustic stuff. I guess I knew that I loved playing music but wasn’t sure what I wanted out of it yet.”

Then Patterson magically appeared, just like an angel in a good pop song. Or to be more prosaic about it, she posted some YouTube videos just when they needed a front-woman. But since she’d never been in a band before, it took a certain leap of faith to put her in. “I knew the guys from going to school in Lafayette,” says Patterson. “Then I move to New Orleans and I hear from Gary, saying the band had a show in a week and they’d heard I could sing. So we practiced for a week and did our first show at the Saint. Which was probably really bad, but it was a lot of fun and we got along really well. If it felt weird at all I would have said something, but you know when something is just right. I thought it was just going to be a hobby or another fun thing to do when I wasn’t at work, but it ended up becoming my job.”

Royal Teeth, glow in the dark, photo Elsa Hahne, Golden Richard III

The Royal Teeth (Photo: Elsa Hahne and Golden Richard III)

Larson is a lot more effusive about how well things worked. “You know what I liked?” he asks Patterson. “My favorite thing you did, we basically met you and laid this whole thing out. We told you we have a band, we have all these shows and all this practice time, we have all this stuff and you’d never done anything.” Then, turning to the interviewer, “She looked kind of sad, but she had this quiet confidence about her and she’s like, ‘Yeah, I can do that.’ And that’s all she said.  And something about the way she said that made me feel really good about it.” Patterson also gently elbowed herself from backup singer to front-woman. “When she joined the band, it just opened up a different possibility. Slowly but surely she’s been taking more of a dual role, and now we like to look at it as two lead singers instead of a singer and a background singer. The only reason that happened, though, is because of how she stepped up and just took charge; she’s such a great singer, I can’t take all the spotlight. Now I have to dance extra hard so I don’t get shut out.”

Intentionally or not, Patterson’s addition also upped the sex-appeal ante. “Yeah, so how do you feel about people posting you as their ‘Woman Crush Wednesday’ on Instagram?” Larson asks her. “Weird,” she answers. Counters Larson, “I promise you that wasn’t in our tryout list, ‘You have to be attractive to be in our band.’ It was just people we knew and it just ended up working out that way; we were lucky. Sure, it is a little bit weird and when you start seeing your picture on the Internet or you Google yourself and find people posting you—or posting her, because everyone loves Nora. It’s just great to know that people are connecting to us in some way, even if they just think we’re cute. It’s a gateway into them hopefully liking a song we do.”

So far “Wild” is their calling card and arguably their best song; it appeared on their debut EP Act Naturally (titled after a song of theirs, not the Buck Owens/Beatles oldie) and gets reprised on Glow. Opening with the line, “Don’t you think it’s time for you and me to make some history?,” it could be about falling in love or conquering the world—for those of a certain age and mindset, those things feel pretty much the same anyway. It sports a lovely video that’s both sensual and surreal, but it’s the longing gazes that Larson and Patterson cast at each other—the kind of softer emotions that almost never work in a music video—that make it linger.

Royal Teeth, Nora Patterson, Gary Larson, photo Elsa Hahne, Golden Richard III

The Royal Teeth's Nora Patterson and Gary Larson (Photo: Elsa Hahne and Golden Richard III)

“We do use the chemistry to our advantage. We try to make it look real on stage, whether or not it is, so people connect to us,” notes Patterson. The pair’s personalities are complimentary, offstage and on: Larson is naturally gregarious while Patterson is charmingly shy, looking down and speaking softly. “The best kind of music and art or anything you can give to people is honest,” Larson says. ”Even just watching the video you can feel there was something there and I think people really do pick up on the emotions of the singers.”

This begs the question of whether they’re a couple. “I don’t think we’ve ever actually been asked that but … well, yes,” Larson says. “The funny thing is we’ve lied about it but it’s not something we really advertise. We try to avoid it if possible, because we don’t want people to look at the band and imagine that it’s all about us. So we don’t want it to become, you know, a thing.” Still, Larson’s not the type to turn down a good source of song fodder when he’s got one. “When you have a common theme of love, it’s really easy to take it from so many different places. So there are some songs on the record that aren’t about our particular relationship. One of them I remember writing about a friend and one was more about family. So you can take honest feelings from so many people that you love and care about. You can make that into a basic love song whether if it’s about a boy or girl in love or not.”

Nor do Patterson and Larson mind if you bring up the most obvious example of a couple-fronted band. “Someone once referred to us as a modern-day Fleetwood Mac, which is a huge compliment,” says Patterson. Adds Larson, “Hopefully we won’t end up like Fleetwood Mac. But then again we might write Rumours and that might be the best thing that ever happened. That’s an amazing album.”

Another classic-rock figure turns up, at least spiritually, early in Glow: “Vagabonds” catches a pair of young lovers meeting on the driveway at night, singing along with the radio, ready to make tracks away from a dead-end town, with “everything we need here in this car.” You can guess what tramps like them were born to do. “That’s exactly what our producer said,” Larson notes. “He’s a funny guy, very expressive, and when we played that song he starts dancing around the room, looks over at us and says, ‘This is old Springsteen baby, I love this!’ So that’s exactly what we wanted.” Especially since Larson’s always out to write something universal. “That song’s really about the idea of throwing caution to the wind—trying to capture a moment where you’re feeling so many possibilities and try new things, whether they’re things you’re supposed to be doing or not. It’s a wonderful thing to think about sometimes—maybe when people are frustrated at work, they can relate to that idea.”

Royal Teeth, glitter, photo Elsa Hahne, Golden Richard III

Royal Teeth (Photo: Elsa Hahne and Golden Richard III)

That’s about it for before-their-time throwbacks, however: For the most part, Royal Teeth’s sound is shiny and modern, untouched by pre-’80s pop. (You could find some U2 in their chiming guitar lines, or some Pixies in the male/female harmonies, but even those would be a stretch.) A closer parallel might be the Raveonettes or their Dangerbird label-mates, Silversun Pickups. Here’s the rub, however: As far as New Orleans is concerned, Royal Teeth is a between-the-eyes pop group, potentially the most commercial Louisiana act this side of Britney Spears. But the rest of the world is likely to find them downright quirky, or to lump them with whatever’s left of alternative rock. Credit that to their moodiness, the offbeat melodic turns and chord changes, and the bend of distorted guitars with bright vocals—all the very things that make them interesting. And when was the last time you heard a commercial pop album where the vocals are Autotune-free?

None of which kept “Wild” from going viral, and for a song that isn’t technically a hit single (yet), it’s been everywhere: On two commercials (for Buick and State Farm), on an Oprah Winfrey promo and on MTV; they also played it live on Carson Daly’s Last Call in March. And if you need proof that Royal Teeth were born under a good sign, here it is: The song initially caught on without the benefit of a publishing deal. “We have one now, but we didn’t at the time,” Larson says. “It gave us money to tour, basically—we knew nothing about publishing deals, but when money came in, it meant we could go out for a few months and actually play some shows. The biggest thing so far has been FIFA 13, the soccer video game.” A strange place, you might think, for a song about sex. “That’s originally what it was but when I sing, ‘I believe I can make you scream,’ I’m thinking about the crowd out there. And when we sing about making some history it’s more like we’re singing to each other: ‘This is something special. Let’s make this happen.’”