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Post-punk Brooklyn trio, The Royal They, released a self-titled album in September of 2016 with King Pizza Records. It’s easily one of my favorite discoveries leading into 2017. “Understate,” a song off their new album, really caught my attention and turned me on to the group. The dynamic is impactful and the emotion is raw and honest. Haunting vocal melodies drift through the verses, complete with an outburst of heaviness in the middle.
They organically come together to deliver a driving live performance with a full and heavy sound, even without a bass player. Rick Martinez is a hard hitter on drums. He energizes the songs with tight rolls and post-punk beats. Darrell Dumas shreds on guitar with solos that are otherworldly. Michelle Hutt cuts through with her blunt lyricism and captivating feminine vocals. Dumas and Hutt’s guitar parts are truly inventive and unique, complement each other with brilliant interplay.
They were recently a close second place behind Belle-Skinner in Deli Mag’s January artist of the month poll, and I expect they will continue to produce this beautifully honest music together and build their reputation and fan base in the Brooklyn music scene. I was fortunate enough to chat with them about how it began, what inspires them, and what’s next.
BTRtoday (BTR): Tell me about where you all come from. What’s your idea of fun?
Darrel Dumas (DD): Only two of us are from Earth. GUESS WHICH ONE ISN’T.
Michelle Hutt (MH): Originally from central New Jersey. I loved performing in musicals and doing gymnastics.
Rick Martinez (RM): Baltimore, DC area. I liked to mountain bike and play drums with my local buddies.
BTR: What were local haunts? What were some bands you looked up to?
DD: To be honest, I had no connection to the local scene on my home planet growing up. I was hermetic–perpetually locked in my bedroom practicing guitar. It wasn’t until I moved to NYC that I started connecting with people, and even then, it took years.
MH: I played solo acoustic stuff in high school. I didn’t go to a legitimate rock show until college (in NYC).
RM: I was in a classical orchestra and jazz big bands from middle school to college. I’d say I looked up to my teachers and mentors because they slay.
BTR: What or who influenced you creatively?
DD: What was always cool to me about TRT was that the bands that inspired us (or me, at least) to start this were all local bands that we knew from the Brooklyn scene. Three in particular that I can think of: Boytoy, who gave us the confidence to go the no-bassist route; Make Out, this short-lived but amazing manic retro power-pop group; and Rathborne, this new-wave punk outfit that does simple but catchy as hell songs. Honorable mention also include Low Fat Getting High. They completely shred.
MH: I’m drawn to music that is heavy, but still has great and clear melodies. Honestly, I feel like I am largely influenced by Darrell and Rick. This band has really pulled out a different side to my creativity.
RM: Playing with Darrell and Michelle, and without a bassist forces me to think differently regarding my creative approach to the drums. Fortunately, I have quite a bit of freedom to fill out the tunes.
BTR: What was the first instrument you fell in love with?
DD: I guess that would have to be the Mexican strat that spent more time in my adolescent embrace than any girl before or since.
MH: Fell in love with? I always loved singing. I also played piano but didn’t love it. I truly loved when I became competent enough on guitar to write full songs.
RN: My parents bought me a Pearl Export kit for xmas when I was nine. I nearly died.
BTR: What was your first favorite song or one that affected you the most?
DD: “Frail and Bedazzled” by Smashing Pumpkins was probably the first rock song I became legitimately smitten with.
MH: There was definitely a lot of Broadway and Celine Dion back in the day. But the song that affected me the most was “On My Way” by Ben Kweller. It was so simple, but so natural and compelling.
RM: It might be from the funk/disco era. It might be the Bee Gees. It might be “Stayin’ Alive.”
BTR: If not a native, when did you come to NYC? What attracted you? What repelled you?
DD: It was the least white place to go to college.
MH: I also came to NYC for college. But I always knew I’d end up here. I wanted to be where the people/artists/performers were. I wanted to be in the thick of it.
RM: I had no idea I was going until it became my last chance to get into college.
BTR: When was The Royal They born? Why? How?
DD: I guess this is where we talk about how Michelle and I met.
MH: Darrell and I were really inspired by “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World,” and we thought we’d make a band called “Sometimes a robot” that would feature synths on occasion, I think? It wasn’t really that serious until we started getting some songs together and we really liked it.
RM: Once upon a time… Darrell and Michelle asked me to play drums with them. They sent me demos and I said, “when is rehearsal?”
BTR: What’s the meaning behind the name?
DD: It’s nothing special or secret–it refers to the same concept that ”the royal we” refers to, the idea of an abstract and non-specific “they” as used in common parlance. Like “they’ve done studies.” Which is one of Michelle’s favorite things to say.
MH: Grumble, grumble….
BTR: Tell me about your writing and recording process.
DD: In a word: painful.
MH: I learned from a farmer that plants need a certain amount of strain or stress in order to produce flavorful fruits and vegetables.
RM: I play the mediator
BTR: Talk a bit about your releases and upcoming songs/albums
DD: Currently we have one official release on King Pizza Records, which is our self-titled tape. We actually recently went into the studio to track a couple older songs of ours that we may put out as a 7-inch in the near future. Beyond that we’ve got a bunch of new songs we’re finishing that’ll likely go onto a record sometime later this year.
RM: What he said. Also, I’m excited for our next full length soon to be recorded.
BTR: Who inspires the music today?
DD: Truth be told we largely continue to draw our inspiration from the local scene. Nothing gets the creative juices flowing like going to a DIY show and seeing other bands up close that positively rip, and who are also your peers and your friends and people you can talk to and shoot the shit with. It’s very inspiring.
MH: I’m always in awe of the bands we get to play with and see in the DIY scene. I have often recorded starts of songs on my phone on the way home from shows.
RM: Local all the way. And a lot of peers I went to school with.
BTR: Who is the artist for the album art on your self titled album? What’s the concept behind the imagery?
DD: The art for the record is actually a painting my little sister did. She was an early fan of the songs Michelle and I were coming up with, and on one particular occasion she told us she wanted to paint something directly inspired by our music. Two hours later she came back with that. Michelle and I were flabbergasted. It only took her two hours, too. She’s crazy talented.
Upcoming opportunities to catch them live are this Sunday at The Footlight in Ridgewood, Queens. They’ll be playing with Cup, Sammi Lanzetta, and Glass Slipper. After that they’re headed up to Boston on the Feb. 11 to play O’briens Pub with The Gala, Swivel, and Powerslut!