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Royel Otis and the Art of Not Taking It Too Seriously

Updated: Mar 11

Every now and then, a band emerges that seems to infiltrate every corner of the music scene, appearing on screens, dominating festival line-ups, and popping up wherever music is discussed. It's as if they materialize out of thin air, suddenly ubiquitous. It would be safe to say that Royel Otis, the Sydney based duo, is that band of the year. Met in 2019, the duo almost immediately formed their musical project, Pavlovic claiming this was "the collaboration he'd been chasing his whole life"

While it might be tempting and easy to attribute their meteoric rise to their viral cover of "Murder on the Dancefloor," such a simplistic explanation would be a rookie mistake even if it undoubtedly contributed to their exposure. Royal Otis's ascent to fame (with a capital F) runs deeper than mere luck. It stems from their profound understanding of alternative music and their innovative and raw approach to its evolution. 

Their journey began with the release of their debut single, "Only One," which beautifully captured the sunny and breezy essence of surf rock and their Australian roots, intertwined with jangly guitar sounds. It laid the foundation for their sound, characterized by its infectious energy and head-swaying melodies. It was their 2022 single, "Oysters in My Pocket," that truly showcased their growth and artistic maturity. Taking the same sun soaked elements, they elevated their sound to new heights and created a distinct sound of their own consisting of an intuitive way of creating music, all the while referencing their favorite guitar music bands.

Bursting with dopamine-fueled energy, their latest album, "PRATS & PAIN," stands out as their most instrumentally-driven and immersive record to date, cementing their well-deserved position within the music scene. With jangly guitars, smooth vocals, and direct lyrics that waste no time in conveying their messages, exemplified particularly well in the track "Foam," the album is annoyingly captivating from start to finish. 

Recently, I’ve interviewed Otis to talk about their PRATTS & Pain and all things Royel Otis.

Instead of the common scenario where bands are formed among childhood friends, you two met quite recently and decided to team up as a duo. How has it been, diving into the music scene with someone you've only recently connected with? 

It’s been very interesting. Before forming the band we have met a couple of times briefly at bars and stuff but we never really hung out. The first time we actually hung out we started talking about music and realized that we had the same interests when it came to the bands we liked. We started sharing demos with each other. I've gotten to know Royel much more in these last five years as a friend as well. We were always friends but weren't that close.

So it started almost as a business partnership and then evolved into a full-blown friendship? 

Yeah, kinda. But we did hang out quite a bit before deciding to start our own project. 

How does each of you contribute individually to the project as a duo? Do you have distinct divisions in terms of who does what? 

It changes a lot. Sometimes Royel will have a demo and he’ll bring it and sometimes I’ll have one and we add onto it. Each time is different because we write songs in our own time. 

I really like how direct your lyrics are, I feel like you’re taking a brutalist approach with it. Do you find inspiration strikes naturally, or do you have dedicated writing sessions to refine your message?

Sometimes, we'll have a beer, sit down, and write lyrics together, which takes the edge off a little and makes it less sentimental. While we do have sentimental and personal songs as well, most of our work comes from collaborating together and creating a world where it's not too serious.

The act of writing lyrics together must have also brought you closer as friends. You never know what the other person will want to express with their choice of words. 

Yeah, Absolutely. We probably kinda got thrown in the deep end, and it can feel vulnerable and testing. There are a whole lot of things that come of it. But we always like to give it a crack and listen to each other’s ideas. If a song feels strongly about something, we’ll listen to it together and maybe put more in or take more out. 

PRATTS & PAIN seems to embrace a more atmospheric and instrumental-heavy direction compared to your previous work. How do you feel it reflects your artistic growth?

At the time we were recording the album, we weren't overthinking things. I think you can tell with songs like Velvet and Big City that they were recorded live. We didn’t do many takes. If there were weird background vocals or sounds, we wanted to keep them in as imperfections. We were simply trying to have fun with it and not take it too seriously.

The song Molly made me think of Venus in Furs by The Velvet Underground and immediately transported me to New York, even though I’ve never been. If you were to pick a time in the history of music, which era would you pick to witness for yourself?

I'd probably say the 80s, particularly new wave. Bands like The Cure and Joy Division, that kind of world, are my go-to influences. Of course, there are many different eras and styles that I enjoy as well.

Talking about New York, you’re playing a show there soon. What are you particularly looking forward to during this tour?

We’re just excited to be out there and give it a crack but I also think that the venues will be cool. We’re playing at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles and at Racket in New York for instance. 

What is the main difference between the rest of the world and the Australian music scene?

Australia could be a little behind. In the UK, for example, there is a scene around up-and-coming bands. I definitely noticed that when we were touring the UK and people would come up to us after the shows saying “I didn’t know you guys before, but I’ll definitely be listening to you now.” I don’t feel like we have it in Australia.

Do you believe that this “discovery” approach contributed to the success of your European tour last year, which sold out entirely?

Yeah, probably. We played at Antwerp in Belgium and it was sold out and I didn’t think anybody would be there, it was so random. There was a 60 year old guy at the front just dancing and having a great time. 

Your cover of Murder on the Dancefloor was the textbook definition of viral. I noticed that you were very actively using TikTok and social media way before that video though. Do you see social media as an extension of your artistry or do you feel like it’s an unavoidable responsibility for artists these days?

It depends on the artist obviously, but there have been times when we were like “I don’t really want to push this.” but you have to do it and it’s the only way. It's not like 2005. I think it’s a responsibility but we’ve accepted the fact that you have to it if you’re releasing music in this day and age. 

I recently read an interview with Julian Casablancas where he said that he didn’t understand the hype around The Strokes as it was happening as everything happened too fast. I feel like the hype surrounding you at the moment kind of feels the same. How have you been navigating this new-found hype around Royel Otis?

It’s weird. It is a bit of that in a sense. We’re moving non-stop, constantly playing shows and recording. It’s not like we have changed anything, that’s what we have been doing for the last four years anyway. It just feels like the outside perception of us has changed. There are more people at shows, more people coming and asking if we can sign stuff. 

If you could give yourself advice or a pep talk back when you first started making music with this project in 2019, considering all the changes since then, what would you say to yourself?

Don’t overthink it and just keep being consistent. If something feels like a drag don't dwell on it too much and keep pushing.

Cover illustration by: Taya Welter


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