A decade ago, it was a rule that interviews that probed the influences of hip, up-and-coming, underground-ish bands had to include gratuitous citations of “just, you know … like … jazz.” These days it’s Michael Jackson. Everyone says they dig Michael Jackson. Thriller-era. Or, even cooler, Off The Wall-era.
Listening to frontman Ryan Shaeffer, it’s pretty obvious that Royal Bangs dig Michael Jackson. Specifically Off The Wall-era Michael Jackson.
“He was always one of my favorites when I was a kid,” Schaeffer says. “We always really liked him.”
Of course. Everyone did. Especially these days.
But Knoxville’s latest on-the-vergers seem completely, unironically, eerily for reals about it. Because the music they were listening to in the van on their way to the show in Atlanta, the music they were listening to on June 25, the music they were listening to when they got the text message that Michael Jackson was dead … was Michael Jackson. Off The Wall-era Michael Jackson.
Keep on with the force… Don’t stop till you get enough.
Schaefer, 24, sums it up thusly: “It was weird.”
Weird, yes. But also indicative of Royal Bangs’ cultivation of actual authenticity. When Royal Bangs say they consult the Bee Gees, Fleetwood Mac, Springsteen, Thin Lizzy, the Blade Runner soundtrack, and Michael Jackson for inspiration, it isn’t hipster posturing. They really mean it. And thanks to that sincerity, their recently released sophomore record Let It Beep sounds bad. Like, Michael Jackson Bad.
Not that that’s anything new.
According to the lore behind the band’s 2007-ish discovery, Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney didn’t check out some obscure demo or catch the band’s 10th showcase at South by Southwest as a favor to a friend of a friend, but found them randomly and completely on his own … on MySpace. Found them and signed them, quickly, to his own Audio Eagle Records, and even re-released their self-recorded 2006 full-length debut We Breed Champions.
“It was flattering,” Schaeffer says of the professional attention. “It’s flattering anytime someone wants to put money into what you’re doing.”
But describing what exactly the five-piece band is doing and how they’re doing it is like trying to describe the step-by-step process of the Moonwalk: You’re not sure how it’s done; you just know it’s awesome. Reviewers use a lot of “-ic” words. Frantic, manic, spastic. They talk about layering. And they most certainly use the word “synth.” The sound is relentlessly catchy, Pixie Stix hyper, and cerebrally charming — a veritable Neverland Ranch of rock ’n’ roll, where visitors may find a stick-in-your-head lurch akin to Franz Ferdinand, a conservatory-esque, orchestral sophistication a la Vampire Weekend, and vague, occasional pangs of Built To Spill … more than enough to make Spin gush that the band’s 2008 Bonnaroo set is the sort of thing that makes “a late night worthwhile” and inspire Rolling Stone to name Royal Bangs their “new favorite rockers.”
But it’s the dedication to ’70s pop combined with whatever continental electronica Schaefer soaked up during a recent yearlong stay in France (“That’s what the publicist wrote,” he laughs. “I just went there to study and drink a lot of wine and eat good food.”) that earns Let It Beep a spot on the same European label as Yo La Tengo and Arcade Fire, and pushes the band’s buzz to a fevered, breakthrough pitch.
Just don’t tell that to Schaeffer. He’s disowning success like it’s Billie Jean’s son.
“There hasn’t really been, like, one really big thing I guess,” he says. “Except the fact that now we’re starting to have people come out that already know the new songs `the album just came out September 15`, or they’re coming out to see us, not just the other bands. … Honestly, our biggest achievement is that just this last month we all paid our rent from being in a band.”
But despite the sincere just-let-me-rock humility, you know he knows. You know he can feel it. There are publicists now. Things are happening. Good things. He can hear the song …
Royal Bangs! Heed the decree of the once and future King of Pop:
Keep on with the force … Don’t stop till you get enough. •