U.S. Royalty Talk New Album ‘Blue Sunshine,’ Getting a Shout-Out from Jay Carney
Yesterday (Jan. 21) marked the release of ‘Blue Sunshine,’ the sophomore record by Washington, D.C., foursome U.S. Royalty. The album is a follow-up to the band’s 2011 debut ‘Mirrors,’ and it marks their progression from heady pop-rockers to a serious experimental outfit capable of psychedelic melancholia. The album is partially inspired by the death of brothers and band members Paul and John Thornley’s father, and it also ties in elements of the 1978 film ‘Days of Heaven.’ Frontman John Thornley responded to some questions from Diffuser.fm about channeling emotions into songwriting and getting name-dropped by the U.S. press secretary at an official White House press briefing.
How is ‘Blue Sunshine’ different from ‘Mirrors’? Do you see this album as an extension of previous releases, or do you see it more as exploring new territory altogether?
It’s an extension in the sense of us looking to hone our sound into something that is less derived from our influences and more what we do as a group when we write and perform together. Mirrors was us riffing off what first brought us together — rock ‘n’ roll music in a bluesy anthem form. With ‘Blue Sunshine,’ we wanted to layer lots of sounds and ideas but in a way that was trim and to the point. We would edit out parts of songs that we thought were fluff to serve the song as a whole. Then hopefully the layers within the song would keep us coming back for more.
The album was fueled by some pretty intense emotional circumstances. Can you talk about channeling that into songwriting?
I don’t think it was a conscious decision when we were pulling together songs for this album. These songs range from being written right after ‘Mirrors’ to two weeks before we finished the recording. I think the time we spent with the material, gave us the clarity to vet songs that didn’t fit with this project. Only after we finished recording this album and then stepping back did we start to see how the past few years had affected us, lyrically, musically and as a group.
How was your experience recording in the church-turned-recording space of Dreamland Studios?
After working on songs in D.C., L.A., and other places along the road, it was nice to retreat to this quiet place nestled in Upstate New York. We hired our friend Sonny Kilfoyle, the band Minks and Justin Long, who worked on ‘Mirrors,’ to help us record the material. A couple of us grew up in church, so this was a familiar setting and maybe added some unexpected nostalgic weight to the situation. The place sounded great and had a good amount of equipment to fool around with, some of which shows up on the record. The mellotron and church organ shows up on most of the songs and little string arrangements highlight parts of songs.
The album is inspired by cinematic elements from ‘Days of Heaven,’ as well as the guitar playing of Lindsey Buckingham. How do those and other influences transpire in on the record?
We like the search for home aspect in that film. The idea of continually moving around to find a place to settle down and find some peace but not sure if you’ll ever find it. The shots are just really beautiful as well. All of these songs were written separately from watching the film, but when we were watching it in the studio, we wanted the recordings of some of the guitars or vocals to have a last light of day glimmer to them, a closeness and fragility that could look out on a wide expanse.
What challenges do you face being unsigned and releasing material, specifically that young musicians might not realize?
I think with platforms like Tunecore, it’s easier nowadays more so than ever to release material out and into the public. Just about anyone can upload music to Spotify, iTunes, and YouTube. People genuinely feel the need to talk about songs they discover and connect with their friends and co-workers. If a song is “great,” it will cut through the rest of the static. The hardest part is learning to walk away. One of the most important lessons we’ve learned thus far is the need for deadlines and being disciplined enough to stick to them. Sometimes, you find yourself so emotionally invested in a song you want to rework it in search of perfection. However, more times than not, you will find that the “magic” is in the roughness of the initial idea.
You guys got a shout-out from U.S. Press Secretary Jay Carney last summer. What was your reaction to that?
Surprised…even though DC is a very political city we don’t usually run into that crowd in such a direct way.
With a new album and a new year, what are you most anticipating in the coming months?
Looking forward to fans getting a chance to dig into the new material. We’ve begun working on new material and are tossing around some ideas of interesting ways to get it out and more often. We also have a photo book coming out around the same time as the ‘Blue Sunshine’ vinyl (mid-February 2014). It will be called ‘Hurry Up and Wait’ and is a collection of photos from a tour we did in the fall of 2013. Other than that, we’re looking forward to exploring these songs on the road come springtime.