ROYAL TEETH: SUNDAY, APRIL 24—GENTILLY STAGE, 2:10 P.M.
There’s a lot that didn’t happen to Royal Teeth since they last released an album: They didn’t record with a major label, didn’t get world-famous and didn’t make a million bucks—all of which seemed possible after 2013’s well-received Glow. After a couple near-misses they’re an indie band again, with business in their own hands and some strong new material up their sleeve. For the time being, they say that will do fine.
Spurred on by its single and video “Wild,” Glow showed a modern pop band with all the right stuff—catchy hooks, glossy production, smart lyrics and a playfully sexy image. And it did succeed in making a whirlwind out of their life for a time. They toured behind it for a year and landed “Wild” on several TV ads, then American Idol came calling. At the invitation of Judge Harry Connick, Jr., Royal Teeth played the song live on the show on March 20, 2014.
“It was the least comfortable I’ve ever been playing that song,” singer/guitarist Gary Larsen says. “I can personally say that I was terrified, but it’s a wonderful thing for a band like us to get to that level. It felt as crazy as it can be—once you get out there and the lights are shining on you, it’s hard to keep your gravity. Everyone there was nice to us and in terms of buzz, it did us a lot of good. And it’s funny because in terms of the life cycle of ‘Wild’ it had already been around for a couple of years, so we thought the song had already run its course, done what it needed to do and it was time to move on. Then we get the email from American Idol and it’s ‘Here we go again.’”
By now they’d signed a major-label deal with Elektra, but this ended before anything was released. Pushed for details, Larsen says that Elektra would have demanded a long-term release schedule that would have kept them sitting on their hands for too long. As for making musical compromises, it never even got that far. “I can’t go too in detail, but the timeline was the gist of it. We’re not a band that makes a lot of money; we have to stay busy to support ourselves. They were going to put us in a position where we couldn’t be active for most of the year, and I couldn’t handle staying home for another six to twelve months.”
Instead they’ve recorded new music with producer Eric Bass, who helmed the original version of “Wild.” The plan is to roll it out gradually, with the single of “Kids Conspire”/”Is It Just Me” coming first, then an EP in early summer and a full LP late in the year. In terms of immediate pop appeal, both songs give “Wild” a run for its money, and the arrangements are more adventurous: The former song is full of exotic sounds, from scratchy-record samples to tribal percussion, while the latter has a guitar-driven sound that’s fairly raw for this band. But what really makes both songs is Nora Patterson’s vocal charm. While she shared most of the vocals with Larsen before, she’s a full-fledged frontwoman this time.
“That’s definitely happened, but we didn‘t want to make a big thing out of it,” Larsen says. “This is her first band, so recording Glow was a new experience for her—you could tell she wasn’t as much of a presence yet. But she’s really grown, from being home and writing so much, and her lyrics are amazing. You can still hear a little of my voice in there, but I wasn’t going to go ‘Hey, what about me?’ if that’s what works for the song.” The heavier guitar sound is also the product of personnel changes: Keyboardist Andrew Poe and guitarist Steve Billeaud both left after Glow; new guitarist Thomas Onebane is an old friend from Lafayette (the rest of the band now resides in New Orleans). “It probably won’t sound quite as different to the average listener as it does to us, but we feel like the music is coming from a whole new place,” Larsen says. “A lot of the songs on Glow were written via email, and maybe we lost a little of that personality that people respond to. This time we want to capture more of the energy that happens when we play it live.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is the band’s upbeat worldview. The chorus of “Kids Conspire”—“Take me all the way up!”—is partly the band’s pep talk to itself after the ups and downs of the past couple years. “The whole song started with that one chorus idea. It’s one of those songs where everyone can connect in their own way, but to me it’s about not giving up on what you care about—overcoming the fear of growing up and dealing with the heaviness that’s in front of you, but still trying to find that feeling of wonder in the world. So the message is basically to stay hopeful.”