Most bands pinball within the confines of a triangle, careening incessantly from point to point: studio, van, stage; with a liquor store pitted dead center like a throbbing, infected bulls eye.
Austin’s Royal Forest, on the other hand, is resolute about venturing out with gear in tow. Out, deep, high, and altogether far afield. To the point they lose themselves—identity and all.
If the name doesn’t register, it’s because they’re a reincarnation; like the AWOL high school babe that resurfaces on Facebook years later with a new surname and baby pictures galore. Identical to how Pearl Jam first ran as “Mookie Blaylock,” Royal Forest performed for years as “Loxsly,” until they rebranded: primarily to avoid confusion with a similarly named group from Madison, Wisconsin.
Further, Royal Forest has since downsized by one, retooled, and reinvented themselves from their Loxsly days. Three original members remain: founder, lead singer, and co-lyricist Cody Ground; guitarist and co-lyricist Justin Douglas (also on pedal steel); and bassist Erik Lugo. Junior member and drummer Blake Lange rounds out this innovative indie rock four-piece that originated in Waco nine years previous.
Bunkered with the band inside their quaint East Austin studio, one wrestles against the pull to sensationalize. Nonetheless, Royal Forest exudes the impossible air and license of a band set to take off. Their upcoming LP, Spillway, is a catchy 10-track stream of diverse, tape-looped indie-rock atmospherics that bears tonal and experimental resemblance to Wilco, with intermittent tremors evocative of early Radiohead.
But that’s the read of a single, solitary man.
Truthfully, a mind can throw up trying to pinpoint what Royal Forest sounds like—even the band has trouble (or perhaps reservations) with verbalizing the “who” and “what.” But, suffice it to say, a fan’s enduring pronouncement of “Shoegaze Roy Orbison” survives as insightful enough for rock’n’roll.
Difference being, Orbison never marched his dapper shoes into the Monahan Sand Dunes to croon “Only the Lonely.” Field recordings—the term for audio recordings staged outside the studio—are a Royal Forest pastime:opportunities to breach the triangle and explore the acoustics of unusual places; like the aforementioned sand dunes during an oncoming lightening storm, a decommissioned WWII submarine, and a single prop airplane flying high above the Texas hill country.
“We try to choose spaces that are really interesting—at least to us visually and acoustically. So, when we record in a space, it’s not just like shooting a video or doing a gimmicky thing—even though it might come off as gimmicky—it’s really trying to be creative and get out of the studio for a bit,” explains guitarist Justin Douglas.
“The recording of ‘Everyone Who Knows You’ (Spillway’s opening track) in the submarine: there was a lot of flip-flopping on, for releasing the single, if we should release that one or the studio (version), because even though the studio one took probably two months to do, and that one took three hours, I think it might’ve come out at least as good,” Douglas adds. “But there’s certainly something to it we wouldn’t have gotten if we weren’t there.”
Field recordings might strike a cynic as somewhat contrived, a cute shtick to help separate from the pack: but suspend judgment and watch the videos first. Their outings are both aesthetically and audibly gripping, buoying the appeal of a band armed with the artistry to justify most experimental yearnings. The distinct acoustic makeup of each environment projects accents, idiosyncrasies, and wrinkles that simply can’t be conjured from the studio.
The recording of Spillway was a two-and-a-half year marathon that was ultimately mastered and finalized at Abbey Road Studios. Yes, the Abbey Road Studios.
“Our record, Tomorrow’s Fossils (recorded as Loxsly, 2009), when we had it mastered and cut for vinyl, that was kind of done out of our hands and it came back pretty bad—it was bad,” says Douglas. “So we hunted around and Abbey Road had just started opening up mastering to a broader audience… When it came time to do this, we decided it was worth it to go ahead and have it cut over there, have it cut to copper, and they did it, and they did a tremendous job.”
Spillway excels as a spectrum of marked stylistic range, featuring wandering tempos that alternately cool-off and crank-up. “Almost Done” is an infectious, thumping romp, while “Goldwallpaper” is a dually minimal and sonically dense dichotomy. “Broken Bow,” the principal track suggestive of a bygone Radiohead, is as beautiful as anything currently emanating out of Austin.
Meanwhile, introductory tracks “Everyone Who Knows You” and “John Denver” echo and churn to great effect, turning listeners into immediate converts; the former is particularly strong: with its stern, rumbling bass overlapping a steady drizzle of digitized bubbles.
Ground and Douglas’ lyrics employ a host of natural imagery in their succinct micro-vignettes, casting “a surreal shadow on Americana,” while repeatedly invoking a mysterious, intangible woman impossible to shake loose.
“I think lyrically there’s sort of an American theme (laughs),” explains lead singer Cody Ground. “Surreal or Americana, or something like that. Taking a lot of those aspects and things that you associate with country music and with music like Neil Young and folk music, I guess, but kind of spinning them on its head. So they’re kind of a little bit more warped, if that makes sense.”
Adds Douglas: “A lot of the lyrics are derived from, sort of, coastal, Deep South coastal imagery, and the idea of a spillway just seemed interesting.”
Spillway by Royal Forest is available now via King Electric Record Company. The band will celebrate the album’s release in Austin with show at Holy Mountain on Friday, July 12—9 p.m.