From 2011 to 2020, SAAM hosted Luce Unplugged, a free, monthly concert series that celebrated the work of local musicians in its Luce Foundation Center. Since in-person events have been restricted during the pandemic, we teamed up with a local music podcast, Hometown Sounds, to continue to bring you music and conversations from your favorite DC artists. In our April episode, we talk with Broke Royals’ Philip, Colin, Taimir, Benji, and Rebecca, about working with producers and supporting their musical community. To hear the full interview, visit hometownsoundsdc.com.
Hometown Sounds: You worked on the single “Postcard” with Bartees Strange, who joined us on this podcast last summer. Can you tell us about working with him as a producer and how you as artists work with producers?
Philip: It’s been a dream to work with Bartees. I connected with him online a few years ago. He’s had a terrific couple of years, so it was serendipitous that we had already linked up. I told him, ”Hey, we've got these songs and they're pretty fleshed out, but I think they could use a guiding hand.”
We knew we were going to go to the Ivakota recording studio in D.C., because we've worked with the owner, Ben Green in the past. Ben Green is the best. I asked Ben, would you mind if Bartees came, and he said, “Yeah, of course. He seems cool, and this seems like a fun idea."
Bartees listened to the music that we had ready. We record close to completed demos before we go into the studio so that we can go in with purpose. He had thoughtful ideas. Ben Green had done this with us in the moment, but we'd never thought to do the pre-production stage in this way. It was awesome to get Bartees’s ideas about how to rearrange things.
For our closing track on our new album, Bartees suggested we take the instruments out for an a capella version. We [disagreed] but after Colin mixed the arrangement, we realized he was right; it was the best thing ever. That was the story of working with him; each time he would toss out these ideas. We'd initially disagree, only to realize he's right. That's great. That's the best thing on earth.
Rebecca, you're the newest addition to Broke Royals. What's it like having the fresh perspective of someone who you haven't worked within a band context for years?
Rebecca: It's been a very fun entry into the band. I played in another band, Not Your Groupies, before joining Broke Royals. We each came to that group with our own writing and musical taste. We were figuring out what sound we wanted to have. This is obviously a very different experience. I've learned so much from everyone here. We've started playing some live shows and it’s been fun to interpret the recorded stuff for live performances.
Colin: We worked with an incredible keyboardist named Andrew Pendergrast, who goes by Trash Boat, on this record. He recorded the keys. We did all this during the pandemic, when we weren't performing, then had to figure out how to bring the keyboard elements into the live sphere. Rebecca is a perfect fit for this. Actually, she’d already been singing background vocals on St. Luxury and on the upcoming album.
Philip: Rebecca has also been our design lead since St. Luxury. You’ll notice a, quite a nice glow up between [the 2017 album and the 2019 album]. That was entirely thanks to Rebecca and her mood boards and her design ideas.
You recently tweeted a joke I want to ask you about, “About to get the Bandcamp battle pass.” What is the Bandcamp battle pass?
Benji: It's a Fortnite joke. Bandcamp was recently purchased by Epic Games, maker of the video game Fortnite. Like many musicians on that day, I was taking time to voice my thoughts on the changing landscape of music and massively-multiplayer, online video games.
I'll take a moment to be a sincere about Bandcamp. I am concerned about what this is going to mean for music consumption, because Bandcamp held its ground as its own independent entity, then they were bought by an enormous [conglomerate]. I hope that Bandcamp can use this opportunity to push in better directions. This is a time and place where a lot of artists really depend and rely on it to continue to do the right thing.
Tell us about your series, Alone Together. What are you doing with the songs you wrote during the series?
Colin: That project was super cool. We did that early in the pandemic. We wrote a song publicly each week. Phil would send me a song idea, I'd add drums to it, and Benji would add guitars. Taimir would add bass and whatever else he wanted, sometimes guitars. Then, we'd send it on to Nate, our live sound guy. He would mix it for us and then we'd get on a call and listen to it for the first time together.
That was such a cool experience because it pushed us out of our comfort zone. It’s one of the biggest reasons that we're able to do this album. If you listen to our overall catalogue, it's not a big shift from our last album, but it helped us push it. We started using slide guitar on some tracks because Benji played with more things. I couldn't record drums, so I got comfortable with digital drum programming
We ended up releasing U+Me+WWIII, and Gold Brick Champion, which we collaborated with Bartees Strange on. Hard Year, one of our favorites, may be on the upcoming record.
Your debut single About Time came out in May 2014, nearly eight years ago. If you could travel back in time and impart some wisdom about making music and being in a band, what would it be?
Philip: You're not going to get famous. Just don't worry about it. Just have fun. We worked so hard to make everything just right. I would try to reset the expectation for myself. It’s just about good work.
To our own credit, I will say once we put an album out, the goal was not, “We're going to get famous on the next one.” It was, “This time is we're going to do something better than the last thing that we did." To this day, that's all we really care about. What will be more exciting to us than the last thing? What will make us feel like we’ve hit another milestone?
Colin: Instead of being bummed that you're not up there having meteoric success, you can look around and see who in your community you can help support. How can I be a better member of my scene and my community? I think we’ve always had that in our blood as well. We were so tied to the DC community and the larger DC-Maryland-Virginia area. It's the happiest part of making music.
The less time you spend alone in a bubble, and the more time you share making music with other people, the more fun it is. Whether that's playing shows or collaborating on projects, that's been the number one thing that's helped me understand what it means to make music in a different way.