Royal Headache: Kings Of Pop
From their boatshed rehearsal space in Sydney’s western suburbs, Royal Headache are making waves with their snotty brand of pop punk. They talk to TIM SCOTT about their origins, their Midwestern influences and why people should burn their Van She records. Photography by SHANTI ROY.
Raw can mean unprepared, rough, makeshift or crude. It can also mean painfully open or brutally harsh. Then there’s raw as in uncooked –we’re talking salmonella here. The music of Sydney’s Royal Headache ticks all these boxes.
The four-piece play the kind of poppy punk that gets down on its knees, grasps its hands together and just begs you to dance rather than stand there with your arms all crossed. Until this interview, I knew nothing about the band besides Alicia from The Diamond Sea/Dick Diver vouching for them, and their song ‘Girls’ on their MySpace page being the catchiest thing I’d heard in ages.
They’ve only played liked three gigs. They jam in a boatshed. Their music is nuts crazy. Go listen to ‘Girls’ and just try to keep your arms crossed.
Tell us about yourselves. Ps. This feels like speed dating.
Shortty: Royal Headache has been kicking around in some form for a bit over six months. There’s Law on royal Rickenbacker, Shogun singing and me on sweet beats. Our bass player just jumped ship.
Law: We’re located in Sydney and jam in a boatshed in the backyard of my parent’s house in Putney. We used to burn through a case of Hammer’n’Tongs each week but that has since stopped due to jams being set on the day after big nights out in the city (ha!).
What other bands/projects have you/are you involved in?
Shortty: Shogun and I have been playing in various punk and indie bands since our late teens and now we are in our late ’20s. Law is a tad bit younger but has played in his fair share too. Over the years, the three of us have collectively been involved in maybe close to 20 musical projects, not to mention the countless one-off jams that never actually went anywhere. Some of them with people who now only serve to generate feelings of awkwardness when you see them on the street.
Why is it that halfway through ‘Girls’ – a song that goes for one minutes, 40 second – it all breaks down? Emphysema?
Shortty: Yeah, the hard-rocking lifestyle is taking its sweet toll. Actually, the song is meant to stop there. Just not for as long as that, so it sounds like it fell apart. When we recorded it my kick pedal flipped out of the drum kit and we started giggling.
It has a very Marked Men feel to it. Are bands from the Midwest an influence? By Midwest, I don’t mean Parramatta.
Shortty: The seeds of the band were planted when I ran into Law after a long break. It was during the wee hours of the morning in some mindless shithole, and we got chatting about our mutual love for a number of bands, which included the Marked Men. We made the usual promises to get together and jam some tunes. But guess what? A few weeks later it actually happened. It wasn’t like all those other inebriated conversations you have with folks about starting new projects. Any real possibilities usually disappear the moment they stub out their cigarettes. As far as our influences go, they are pretty broad. How about we narrow it down and say our songs are drawn from rock music in all its forms spanning the past 50 years? Ha! I would say the basic ingredients for Royal Headache tunes have generally been pop catchiness with [The Buzzocks’] Singles Going Steady energy. Oh, and fun!
“I would say the basic ingredients for Royal Headache tunes have generally been pop catchiness with [The Buzzocks’] 'Singles Going Steady' energy. Oh, and fun!”
Law: I remember coming home from overseas with my last band and feeling totally over music, the band broke up shortly afterwards and I was content with just taking it easy for a while until I picked up On The Outside and Fix My Brain by the Marked Men. Both of those albums instantly made me want to pick up the guitar again. The Equals, Don Gardner, Irma Thomas, BBQ, The Potential Johns, The Bureaucrats, The Nerves, The Falcons, Bojax, Lemuria and The Busy Signals have all been pretty big influences on me as well.
Are there any bands from Parramatta that are an influence on you?
Shortty: My first share house was in a suburb adjoining Parramatta. Shogun lived there at some point too. The rent was super cheap. It was this overgrown manner at the arse of a dead-end street. It was wedged between the M2 freeway and an abandoned house and bushland at the back. We had a wine cellar under the house which doubled as a jam room/occasional show space. We could jam/party until the wee hours. There was also a weird outhouse at the back with a trapdoor which led to what looked like a gimp chamber. Depending on who you speak to the house also contained a ghost. I haven’t been back there for years, but I’ve heard it’s been demolished.
Do I know any bands from Parra? Excuse my ignorance, but probably not. As far as Western Sydney goes, the Black Diamonds were great but they’re from Lithgow which is a little further out in the mountains. I read once that when the Scientists supported the Angels at Parramatta Leagues Club in the early ’80s, the crowd hated them so much they were pelted with bottles and they had to retreat from the stage. So I guess it has traditionally been more pub-rock territory.
You also say you are fans of the Nerves and I can hear the whole power pop thing going on.
Shortty: Yeah, for sure. We love those guys. I think in some Sydney circles melody/pop is still considered a bit of a dirty word which is kind of silly. People seem to have a preference for this nonchalant, monotone, curled-up lip thing. That’s not our vibe. Basically, there was no-one that we were aware of in this city playing the songs that we wanted to hear. Songs that make you feel warm. We just wanted to bust out stuff that was relatively uncomplicated, but still immediate and catchy. We are lucky too, as Shogun can actually really sing. He adds a lot.
I like how you have recorded the songs as loud as you can to the point that it just blows out ridiculously. Do you play live in the same way?
Law: I’d say so. I remember people at the first show we played saying that we were insanely loud.
The production – or lack thereof – just adds to the songs charms. What kind of shoebox did you set up in?
Shortty: We set up a dictaphone in the corner of the jam room at Law’s place. I think it works pretty well. When we record again we might borrow some microphones and make it sound a bit more “proper”. But definitely not too “proper”. This type of music loses its guts the moment it gets too polished.
So when are people going to be able to buy your songs on iTunes?
Shortty: Ha! Not any time soon. When I buy a record, the first thing I do is open the sleeve and have a good sniff. I enjoy the full package that accompanies the songs – be it the art, lyrics, liner notes or whatever. It’s a bit more tangible and engaging than a file on the computer. We are looking to put out a 7" some time this year.
Law: I’m currently in the process of making tapes for the shows and as giveaways to friends.
To date you have only a few shows under your belt with four more in the works. Are you just going to give it up after that? Maybe get Van She to remix one of your songs then call it quits?
Shortty: We are training up a new bassist, so hopefully that works out. Looking to play out a bunch, tour and put out some 45s – the usual stuff. If you people wanna hear cool synth-based stuff, you should burn your Van She Records and listen to U.K Tears.