July 28, 2010
In the ever-changing landscape of music, it’s often hard to get a foothold. The availability of music, the over-crowding of the Internet with carbon copy band after carbon copy group, and the unimpressed everyday Simon Cowells in the audience make success something that is, arguably, more difficult than ever before. U.S. Royalty front man, John Thornley, and the rest of the band recognize this shift in how music is presented, obtained and used today. With the release of their debut EP “Midsommer,” they have opted to forego any conventional CD format. Instead they offer their music streaming online as a digital download and as a vinyl 7-inch.
“We talked about this last summer when we first were going to record. We didn’t see the point of making CDs when everyone downloads it and burns it to a CD if they want to listen to it in their car,” says Thornley. This prompts one to question the future of compact discs and the way people get their music. With the rise of iTunes and, as Thornley mentions, the creation of a competing Google music service rumored to be called “Google Audio,” the future of compact discs seems bleak. Though surely they will still be in existence, CDs may have lost their domination of the music market to the digital format in the same way 8-tracks and cassette tapes did in the past. Thornley wonders, “how much longer the CD will stay around?” Whereas, “vinyl is something you can have and collect.” Vinyl has always been a collector’s item for bands, though not nearly as popular in recent years as discs. Thornley notes that even Target and popular stores like Urban Outfitters sell small portable record players.
Thornley thinks there is something about having a larger collectable that will make vinyl more popular as digital format takes over saying, “…I think a lot of younger people are getting into vinyl; it’s like a CD, but bigger artwork.” This is an approach that most bands might not take, but it makes sense when coupled with digital download. If you as a consumer are paying for the artwork, why not have it bigger and if you can’t play the actual record on a turntable, the 7-inch comes with a free online download of the album that you can put on your iPod or burn to a CD. Though most bands still offer discs for purchase, more bands might take the lead from groups like Radiohead who recently offered an entire album for free download. Thornley thinks that this is the trend that will take hold even more than it already has while offering large print artwork for those who still want something tangible and collectable.
With this new development, bands both benefit and are challenged to step up their game. While bands are able to reach a much broader audience than before, the bar for quality music is also raised. All the accessibility means nothing if the music isn’t there. This is a challenge met by U.S. Royalty by a simple but effective policy; “[we write]things we want to listen to on repeat.” And fans can do just that at www.engineroomrecordings.com. In a market saturated with songs and bands, this might be the best method of writing.
U.S. Royalty has the kind of sound that is appealing to a large audience without being over polished or produced. Thornley’s vocals have a smooth quality that is catchy without being too cookie cutter or inauthentic as the kind of rock that floods the radio airwaves. This delicate balance may be, in part, attributed to what Thornley refers to as a collaborated nature between other friend’s bands in the DC area that share ideas. “We try to make a good scene in DC for music…everyone’s helping each other as far as…getting things together or helping playing shows or booking,” Thornley says.
Playing with brother Paul Thornley on guitar, Jacob Michael on bass and Luke Adams on drums, U.S. Royalty has gotten critical acclaim from Spin Magazine, The Washington Post and Nylon and is already a local favorite playing venues such as the Velvet Lounge, the Black Cat, and 9:30 club. In addition to great recording quality and catchy songs with a sincere backbone, U.S. Royalty brings energy to their live shows, which makes them as entertaining as musically talented. “The energy we feel from the songs that we’re playing translates to us being energetic with the songs,” says Thornley.
The band’s brothers have been playing together since middle school when John played drums and Paul played bass — adding other members in college and eventually in Washington, DC. Though playing with a sibling can offer countless benefits such as growing up with the same musical influences (the Thornleys were exposed to classical rock like Led Zepplin, the Doors, and David Bowie and bands like Oasis, among others, during their formative years.), “…It gets rough faster [with a sibling]than with your friends, because you know each other so well… But ten minutes later you don’t know what you’re fighting about and go back to collaborating.”
The decision of the band name rests on bassist Jake who, according to Thornley, coined the band name while trying to book a show for the yet unnamed group. “He just told them U.S. Royalty and he called me around Christmas time and said, ‘Hey, I just told this guy our name was U.S. Royalty’ and I said, ‘Let’s go with it, sounds cool.’” Thornley also says there are lots of songs that end up being scrapped only to revisit parts months or years down the line. “If we’re excited about things it will translate… at the same time we keep the ideas around because sometimes [an old idea]fits with the new idea… There’s a new song that we’ve been working on recently that Paul and I had been jamming on two years ago… we added a new aspect and recently he pulled out the riff again… and now it’s one of my favorite songs we’re working on.”
Though U.S. Royalty is relatively new, having formed in 2007, they have gained a formidable following and respect in the area. Their songs play over and over again in your head and have a quality that has given success to so many prominent rock bands of their genre. Yet, they still manage to have the rough edge of a band that has maintained its base in the local music scene. This is a band that you’ll want to say you knew early on before they got really big.