Knoxville, Tennessee high school pals Sam Stratton (guitar), Ryan Schaefer (vocals, multi-instrumentalist) and Chris Rusk (drums) have no trouble getting noticed. Discovered by Patrick Carney of The Black Keys – who released their debut recording We Breed Champions (2008) on his Audio Eagle Records label – the band has been enjoying forward momentum ever since. Their sophomore LP Let It Beep (2009) caught the ears of music critics everywhere, described by one as “a chirpier, younger, less navel-gazing Radiohead.” With a steadily growing fan base and a recent move to Glassnote Records, Ryan Schaefer comments on the band’s inception, inspirations, and their recently-created album Flux Outside.
What’s the music scene like in your hometown?
There are a surprising number of really great bands in Knoxville for a town of its size. I think it has a lot to do with a bar called Pilot Light that books mostly experimental music. It’s been around for about a decade.
You started out as a quartet, but recently became a trio. How does this affect your sound?
I think the live shows are tighter and a little bit more focused. When we record, we just track whatever instruments the songs need and don’t worry too much about the way we’ll play it live. Usually we end up with a completely different arrangement to play at shows.
SPINmagazine named you one of the Five Best New Artists in their April 2011 issue, saying: ‘[they] sound like shaggy, brainy, hippie kids who once had their possibly stoned minds blown by jam bands…’ Is any part of that accurate?
This couldn’t be further from the truth; jam bands were the enemy when we were growing up. We were interested in punk music and combining it with things like T. Rex, the Rolling Stones, Sonic Youth, Pavement, or the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. We were – and still are – interested in making music that’s noisy, abrasive and hopefully concise.
You also earned great reviews during SXSW this year. What does it mean for a band to perform there?
This was the third time we’ve played SXSW and we did nine shows. We always have a good time in Austin and the shows were especially fun this year. I don’t know what it means to other bands to play there – I get the feeling that some may have pretty unrealistic expectations about what can happen for you – but it’s always been good to us.
Tell me about the recording of your new album, Flux Outside.
We recorded it in an old house in Knoxville with Scott Minor. He helped us engineer the record, and later we mixed it with Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, MGMT) at Tarbox Road Studios in New York. Recording in Knoxville afforded us a lot of time to experiment and try out different sounds and techniques without the pressure of recording in some really expensive studio in New York or L.A.
You’ve said that this record “is not just another in a progression of little steps forward. It’s something different.” How so?
This is the first time we took a block of time off from touring to write all of the songs together as one album. We had clear ideas about how we wanted them to sound, how we wanted to record them, and how we wanted them to work together. In the past we’d just work on one song at a time, play it on the road; write another one as it came to us, play it on the road, and so on. It was a great help to take time out to assemble the thing as an album, rather than just a compilation of songs we’d come up with over a year or two.
You recently got to perform Fireball on Letterman. How was it?
Surreal… Dave is really tall.
The Royal Bang’s Flux Outside is available in stores and online. To learn more about the band, visit their MySpace profile or follow @royalbangs on Twitter.