This interview was conducted late July 2008 when The Kings Royal vocalist Benny Marchant phoned me long distance on from Abilene, Texas, on an off-day from the band's North American tour opening for Candlebox. When the band landed in New Jersey in early September, I questioned his bandmates about the musical direction of The Kings Royal.
Thanks for agreeing to do this interview Benny. I stole this quote from your MySpace page: "I live on a beach and write music all day." Talk a bit about the origin of your band, The Kings Royal, and tell me how that quote affects the band's songwriting process. Also, what's been the bigger challenge, finding the right band chemistry or getting noticed in a very crowded Southern California music scene?
I'm originally from Maryland, and I drove out to Nashville and did a record with a couple of guys. That's how I met our producer, David J. Holman, when he was kind enough to mix that record. A couple years later, when I realized that Nashville wasn't the rock scene I was looking for, I drove out to Los Angeles. I called David then; he was really the only guy I knew in Los Angeles. I kept writing and writing to try to convince him to do a record with me. When he finally heard a song he liked, he encouraged me to keep it in that form. As a producer, David is very hands-on and that's wonderful. The way he directed me, and the way that he taught me to be myself and come up with this music, is unbelievable. Once I had a bunch of songs, we headed into the studio and hired a bunch of guys. The first thing we did before recording was to search on eBay for a keyboard called a Vox Continental, which was one of the main keyboards of the 60s. That's David's baby and he loves it. He used it when he played all of the keyboards on our record. When the record was coming along, drummer Brian Burwell, who at that point was a hired musician, David the producer, and I sat down and talked about how it should actually be a band. That's the way the music was going. That was good because I didn't want to be a solo act anymore; I was so new to the game. Being around other musicians and feeding off their energy was great. Brian introduced us to guitarist Sean Hennesy and bass guitarist Adam Kury. Those guys are the link to Candlebox since they also play in that band. Once they heard the music, they jumped aboard and joined. We thought of the name King Pest, which was an Edgar Allan Poe story. Somebody in England had that name so we stuck with the name King. We wanted something pompous. I'm a baseball fan and my team is the Kansas City Royals. We combined the two into The Kings Royal. To make it more of a band project, we went back into the studio and recorded another 10 or 12 songs. Right now, we're actually sitting on 32 songs. We've only released 13 so far. Before the tour started, Brian told us that he couldn't do it. We got lucky when Kevin Martin from Candlebox mentioned that Dave Krusen, the original Pearl Jam drummer, was available. We called him up, he came down to the studio and heard the songs, and he agreed to go out on tour with us. Walker Gibson is our new keyboardist. He's a friend of Sean's and he's such a great personality. I've yet to write with him, but I'm anxious to hear his music and see what he brings to the table when we do write.
When I write, I like to be in a room all by myself where nobody can hear me. Sometimes I do my thing and bring it to the band. We also write on the spot during rehearsal. Doing it both ways is very cool.
As far as your question about the band's biggest challenge, being honest I'm going to call myself really lucky and call the band really lucky. Chemistry or getting noticed hasn't been a problem. We're working with David J. Holman on what has become his solo project. When you have somebody in the industry like David involved, who's so connected, who knows everyone, it was easy to get the musicians. Adam and Sean didn't have an audition. Knowing their personalities and their history, we knew it would work. We became friends the moment we met. We were playing The Cat Club and a few other venues in Los Angeles when Kevin Martin did us a huge favor and helped us get a residency at The Viper Room. Playing there every week earlier this year in February and March really helped. It got me going. It was the first time in Los Angeles that I was a frontman in a band. I gained a lot of learning experience in that time. It's weird because our approach was different, doing studio work first before live work, which is kind of unheard of. The best part is being ourselves. We don't have to be anybody else and we're comfortable with what we do.
As I listen to The Kings Royal, I feel you've captured the classic rock sound and fused it with sounds of the 21st century. Music fans can follow these links to your band's website and MySpace page and listen to your music. Before they jump there, I'd like you to describe your musical direction without stamping a label on it. After all, I'm sure that your bandmates rooted in Candlebox would agree that being labeled a grunge band because they broke from Seattle was a label they tried to avoid. Also, talk more about the debut record "Beginning."
You're exactly right about being labeled. The Kings Royal does not want to be labeled. We want to do music and have it broad. The songs we uploaded at our MySpace page aren't necessarily our strongest songs. We wanted to show our range and depth and to avoid being labeled. I'd have to say that The Kings Royals' sound is very 60s and 70s oriented, with a modern touch to it. We used just the basics when we recorded it. There is some orchestration with bits of violin, but it's basically drums, two guitars, keyboards, bass, and a vocal on everything we recorded. We're like a mix of The Kinks, The Doors, and a newer band like The Strokes. Playing live, "The Winning Number" is probably my favorite. On the CD "Beginning," I'd probably say it's "In My Own World."
That's ironic Benny because when I first listened to your track "Sensual," I thought of The Kinks. On the non-album track, "She," which is a video at your website, I thought of The Doors.
That's cool Dave. Our CD "Beginning" is more rock, and we released that first because we planned the tour with Candlebox. We plan on releasing a vinyl album with more of the 60s influenced songs like "She" on it. Those songs are mixed and mastered, and we'll decide when to press it after the tour ends. Until then fans can download "Beginning" at i-Tunes, and they can purchase the CD through our website and at shows. I'm at the merch booth right after our set, selling and signing our CD, and talking with anybody who wants to say hello.
(WRITER'S NOTE: WHEN I MET THE BAND IN-PERSON AT THEIR NEW JERSEY SHOW, I ASKED BENNY'S BANDMATES TO ALSO DESCRIBE THE MUSICAL DIRECTION OF THE KINGS ROYAL)
SEAN: My dad describes it as "if The Doors were still around today." I can agree with that a lot. Old school 60s and 70s music was music when it was real, when people made chords instead of sliding one finger up and down the guitar's neck all the time.
ADAM: The reasons people will like the sound of The Kings Royal is because we're not like all of the power metal bands out there now. Music is often all about trends. One band gets semi-successful and the record labels then sign every other band that remotely sounds like them. I can't think of another band out there that sounds like we do. Our sound is 60s and 70s influenced as is some of our writing. It's a very simple and open style, with specific movements and melodies that don't need to be dressed up with 20 guitars to sound cool. Our sound is very alive, with a lot of space around it.
DAVE: I'd describe the sound of The Kings Royal as a new take on an old sound that kind of faded out. We're a real organic band with keyboards played in a rootsier, rock and roll vibe. That's rare these days because most keyboard orientated bands kept getting more and more modern. Our sound is also current; it's not so derivative of something from the past that we sound like a cover band at the same time.
WALKER: Benny described it best as The Doors meet The Strokes. We have the old school keyboard sound with modern guitars played with a poppy edge.
The 21st century so far presents a music industry where indie artists can market themselves and get their music to fans directly without record label intervention. Is that The Kings Royal philosophy or is that dictated by today's industry?
Both. Having the opportunity to do everything yourself is something you have to take. Our philosophy when we started was to keep everything as tight-knit as possible and family before there was any outside influence on the band. We wanted to record music, start playing live, get a tour, and try to get everything going. That way, if a record label jumps in with any interest, they already like us because of who we are. They won't try to change us. But we're curious about what's out there and we're starting to talk to record people.
Is there a middle ground in today's music industry where a record label can jump in and give you some tour support without the band sacrificing artistic control?
Yes, the possibility is there.
The Kings Royal are wrapping up their first tour as an opening act for Candlebox, and touring challenges any band with pitfalls and lots of down time. How's the fan reception been so far and how are Sean and Adam handling the double-duty chores? Also since Adam. Sean, and even Dave Krusen have roots in Candlebox, does The Kings Royal have to cut off the umbilical cord after this tour and separate itself?
The reception so far has been awesome. The people and the fans have been great. We're lucky to be opening for Candlebox and their draw is amazing. Their fans are people who love good music and who expect the amazing live performance that Candlebox provides. Even though we have an opening slot, people get there early, standing up front to watch us and cheer us on. That type of reception is keeping our spirits up. This is my first tour ever and I couldn't be happier. This is all I want to do. I want to live on a tour bus; I don't want a home anymore.
The double duty hasn't been a problem. Adam seems to be doing great, and Sean has all the energy in the world. Nothing touches him. They both travel with us and we have less people on our bus. It's quieter. They get more sleep and there's no politics. No nothing.
We have touring veterans in this band, unlike me, and they do their own thing. They've learned how to handle downtime and how to avoid the pitfalls. We do things together, like watching a movie on the tour bus, and we do find time to write together. We've managed to keep things cool and keep things neutral with no drama.
To answer your question about needing to cut the Candlebox umbilical cord, I'd say probably. The only reason I'm saying that is because half of our material might not appeal to a rock crowd looking for fast-tempo songs. Yet Candlebox has helped us out so much. We'll have to evaluate very carefully any future offers to tour with Candlebox.
I'm sure it's hard to look ahead since your first tour is wrapping up and since your first record was just released. What's the next step for The Kings Royal?
After we end this tour, we're heading right back into the studio in Los Angeles to finish up some songs we've already started working on. During our current tour, we've been working on trying to line up things for the next tour. We want to keep this thing going. The Kings Royal is a work in progress. We're learning as we go and we're adding new things as we go. I mentioned a vinyl record earlier that we plan on releasing and you mentioned studio videos that fans can check out at our website, www.thekingsroyal.com. In Seattle, we did an interview and a pod cast where our first three songs were recorded. If that video isn't uploaded yet at our MySpace page, www.myspace.com/thekingsroyal, then it will be uploaded soon. There are also some videos from earlier shows at the Viper Room up on youtube.
A few days before his tragic death, Dimebag Darrell and his band, Damageplan, played at the same New Jersey club that The Kings Royal recently played. While chatting with Dime in the parking lot, without any set-up from publicists or management, he allowed me to turn on a tape recorder and ask him about the Dallas music scene when he was breaking Pantera. He was such a genuine person and I hope to keep his memory alive by closing my interviews with a question about his legacy. How did Dimebag Darrell impact you?
When I first got into music, it was classic rock and songs like "Stairway to Heaven." When I got into high school, I didn't know anybody and I wasn't in any cliques. But I loved Pantera and my favorite song was "Fucking Hostile" from "Vulgar Display of Power." I loved the angst in that record. I was really shocked when I heard about his death. I never met him and it's harder to take now, after you're telling me what a genuine guy Dimebag was. What a talented guy and what a tragic loss.