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Royal Headache singer Shogun talks writing “from the gut,” the future of the band & more in BV interview

interview by Rob Duguay

Royal Headache @ Pitchfork 2016 (more by Ben Stas)

By combining a style of punk rock reminiscent of the Ramones and heartfelt soul that mirrors Motown’s golden age, Sydney, Australia’s Royal Headache resonate infectious energy on their 2011 self-titled debut and last year’s follow-up, High, not to mention their hyperactive live shows. Having come back to the U.S. to play the 2016 Pitchfork festival, their short tour wraps up with two Brooklyn shows: tonight (7/20) at Music Hall of Williamsburg (sold-out) and Thursday (7/21) at Market Hotel (tickets).

Ahead of those, we talked with Royal Headache’s charismatic frontman Shogun about the band getting more melodic, Sydney’s addiction to gambling, dealing with success, writing songs about heartbreak and rumors about the band’s future.

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When Royal Headache put out their second album High last year the band got even more melodic, especially on soulful tracks like “Wouldn’t You Know” and “Carolina”. What initially inspired the band to go that route and was that style a main goal while the band was recording the album?

I think melody was always really important to us. I don’t think there was any less of that when were making the first one, I just think the production rounds out a little bit more. I did kind of want to make a candy punk record. Some of it is a little darker but some of the songs are like a strawberry donut. Power pop is an interesting perversion of punk because it is so sweet, I just wanted to see what would happen if I made a punk record that was so absurdly sweet but also about some really disappointing, disgusting shit. I just wanted to see what that would sound like as with “My Own Fantasy”, I wanted to make the pinkest and sweetest punk record. I can tell with the songs that the mark is so melodic, in a major key and stupid.

You can definitely notice the band diving into more pop this time around with High.

With “My Own Fantasy” I wanted to push the power pop thing to an obscene conclusion.

The lyrics also provide a little bit of irony as well.

Yeah.

Royal Headache has gained a reputation of being a main fixture in the Sydney underground music scene. You guys have played all sorts of venues, including a boxing ring. What’s the DIY culture like in Sydney? Do you guys ever get in trouble with the cops? Are there a lot more basement shows than there are actual venues?

It’s a long story, the boxing ring was actually in Bakersfield, CA. I wish that was in Sydney, I wish we had more local venues like that in Sydney. People are trying, there’s a small but passionate kind of culture and there were a lot of venues that got shut down. Sydney just got crazily expensive like most larger cities in the world but it’s a younger city I suppose, there’s not as many old spaces. There used to be a time where they were filling up these venues with slot machines. There’s a big gambling culture in Sydney and it’s kind of become a bullshit city, there’s also a big corporate culture there. Basically the politicians are trying to turn everyone into a gambling addict and the people would much rather be a bunch of gambling addicts than a bunch of rock & roll fans. There seems to be a war against live music that’s been happening for the last five or 10 years so people do run out of places to play but I think there’s a small but passionate group of people who are pissed off about it and actually really love music. There are some great bands from Sydney, there’s not a lot of them but there are still people who care about music over there despite everything that’s going on.

It’s strange how from what you’re talking about politicians are trying to make Sydney into another Las Vegas. It seems that everyone is gambling their money away but you don’t see people writing about that and you don’t hear about it in the news so this is my first time hearing about it from you. It sounds insane that the politicians over there want to go that route.

There’s this big casino and they’re building another one near it. There’s all these laws about how you can’t drink and can’t smoke anywhere in the city but there are these casinos reaping the benefits of it where they’ll let you smoke indoors and drink all night. It’s almost like they’re trying to starve people of pleasure and they want to send them all to the casinos.

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Ever since Royal Headache put out their self-titled debut in 2011, the band has increasingly gained a dedicated following an in turn gotten bigger gigs. What are your feelings on the attention and acclaim that band has been getting and did you have a sense of the band’s success when you guys were first starting out?

It’s a funny one because we’ve been lucky in that people have always given a shit about this band from the get go. That’s pretty much because you get out what you put in and if you put in a lot of feeling and a lot of discipline into your work then people are going to notice because there are a lot of bands that don’t do that. With all that going from a local following to all sorts of internet bullshit we’re starting to get paid a little bit now which is nice because I’m an unemployable wreck so it’s nice not to be a bum for once. I can drop one shift a week at my job and have a little more time to myself and my music which is cool. It’s taken a little bit of time to get there but we’ll keep trying, I think once a band goes beyond a certain point you can’t really go back to the same scene. You don’t belong there anymore and everyone fucking hates you a little bit which is tough because you sort of lost your spot in the underground. It’s the inevitable cycle.

Yeah, it’s weird how some people refuse to celebrate the successes of others.

Like you know that lyric from that song from The Smiths “This Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore”, “I’ve seen this happen in other people’s lives / and now it’s happening in mine”? Yeah, it’s like that.

It’s also like that song from Morrissey “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful.”

That’s a song that’s definitely been playing around in my mind now and again in the last year or two.

There seems to be a pattern in a lot of different music scenes where a band or musician will get big and there’s a dividing line between the people who embrace their success and the people who despise them because of their success. It isn’t fair but if people are going to act that way then that’s the way they’re going to act and you can’t change their minds.

It’s kind of ridiculous.

You’ve written a lot of songs about heartbreak and longing for someone. Do you consider yourself a hopeless romantic or do you feel about relationships in a completely different way?

I don’t think of myself as a cerebral songwriter I just write from my gut. I don’t feel like I have to write in character, I just write about what’s happening to me at the time. The first record was actually more to do with loneliness, emptiness and nothingness where as the second record was a reflection on the situation I was in. I think a lot of us only have one profound experience like that and you might as well use it than let it destroy you. That was the experience I was having when I was writing and it was really special.

Like I said before, you’re an honest songwriter so I can totally tell how it’s completely natural for you to write songs about what’s going on in your life. There have been these rumors floating around that High is going to be the last album Royal Headache releases and the band is going to eventually break up. Is there any truth to that?

I’m really not sure. I think there will be one more, the whole thing is written so it would be kind of stupid to not record it. I don’t know when the next tour will be, maybe it’ll be a really long time but I’d like to do one more record have it be something that I’m really happy with.

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