Royal Headache of Sydney, Australia is a band that exists in a gray area, not quite angry enough to be full blown punk but not tame enough to fall under the great wide umbrella of indie rock. They avoid cliche but feel familiar, like a repackaged version of your dad’s favorite pub rock bands without any of the derivative qualities that these types of bands can possess. With their most recent album High (2015), Royal Headache established themselves as a band that sounds equal parts punk rock and blue eyed soul, simultaneously Elvis Costello and The Replacements. They blur both genre boundaries and, as I found out during their show at the Empty Bottle on July 14th, the definition of appropriate crowd reactions.
“Do whatever you want man, mosh and makeout at the same time,” Shogun, frontman of Royal Headache, said. “Dance off the heartache or, if you got someone special, celebrate it. If you love someone special smash into some innocent bystanders. Smash into some mouths.” Shogun was alluding to the crowd reactions at their sold-out Chicago show where nearly everyone in the audience was doing one of two things: bouncing into everyone near them or not-so-subtly displaying their affection.
With most of their songs being tales of heartache and love played at breakneck speeds, the two reactions don’t come off as peculiar but totally natural, as odd as they might be looking back retrospectively. The energy that the band brings every night commands some sort of reaction, although even their energy from show to show.
“It can be good sometimes,” Shogun said about playing festivals compared to smaller venues. “We try to sort of behave and get more Cheap Trick with it. Sometimes it can be like last night just thrills and spills. I think it’s better when we relax and just do what we do on a small stage.”
“It’s never not gonna be weird, let’s face it.” Joe, bassist, chimed in. “You just gotta go with it.” Playing a 300 capacity club just three days before a festival is no one’s definition of normal, but Royal Headache makes it work. Their set on Sunday at Pitchfork Music Festival had plenty of devoted fans and people who merely happened to wander over to the blue stage at the right time, but whoever made their way over was treated to a set that not even Royal Headache could have predicted the outcome of.
“We’ve played a few of these in the last year and sometimes we try to be a little slicker than we are,” they admitted. “Always a bit of suspense, a bit of terror. We can be wack sometimes.” The debut of several new songs on this stretch of tour and at the fest itself came as a surprise to members of the audience, but for Royal Headache it’s just part of keeping things interesting.
“[High] was actually tracked in 2012 and those songs were maybe two and a half years older than that, really old stuff,” Shogun said. “We have two records worth of music now, so I think when we get back home it’ll be quiet for a little while and after that it’ll be all new stuff. It is a little strange revisiting songs about things that happened a long time ago. You just sort of want to let things go.”
Old songs are still going to sneak their way into their setlist, but don’t expect Royal Headache to keep doing the same thing over and over. Being unpredictable can either make for a nice unexpected surprise at best or total self-destruction at worst, but one thing is clear about this band: Royal Headache will do things on their own terms and, lucky for us, it’s always them showing why they are one of the must-see bands in the independent scene today.