Featuring infectious melodies and riveting vocals, The Last Royal’s are riding high on the recent success of their addictive alt-rock hit “Crystal Vases” from their self-titled EP. They’re currently in the studio putting the finishing touches on their eagerly anticipated debut album, tentatively titled Twistification. Along with Mason Ingram, Eric James make up this dynamic new band. James, the lead singer and the creative power behind the songs on the EP, took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to chat with us.
Cretin: I first heard you guys on Sirius XM’s AltNation, when they played “Crystal Vases.” How did you guys get that break? Were you targeting AltNation?
Eric James: We had signed with, Ooh La La Records, and their radio promoter was targeting college and FM specialty radio. Regan, who’s a great DJ as well as the program director at AltNation heard the song and actually tracked me down personally through Facebook. He loved the music and just simply wanted to work it because he liked it. They just started playing it; it caught on and they got good feedback from listeners and that’s where we’re at.
Cretin: The characters in your songs seem real, and you can feel a real connection to them. Is there anything autobiographical in the lyrics?
Eric James: It’s all real; from living around Manhattan for the last four years. Crystal Vases specifically I had in mind an Upper East Side type of woman. Nothing in any of the songs was directly from a friend or acquaintance, but it’s all real characters. I’m sure you kind find a match somewhere in this city of 4 million if you looked hard enough. I love to weave story telling with my own sentiments in that Dylan style where he’s singing about the Jack of Hearts and all these characters and you’re wondering if he actually encountered these people.
Cretin: You mention Dylan and in other interviews you reference other acts from the 50’s to the present. It sounds like your musical background is pretty diverse, any piece of that background that has most influenced you?
Eric James: Everybody kind of grows up listening to what their parents listened to. My dad was a Beatles guy through and through. The musical pop elements were implanted in my brain as a young kid through the Beatles. Lyrically speaking I feel it was Dylan who always explored the most territory. He had that way of challenging people with hard concepts through whimsical lyrics (pauses) and also through whimsical melodies. Ultimately I feel that’s what my favorite bands do. It’s sort of the beauty of rock music. You can sing a very depressing line or very hard concept and put it with a beautiful major melody and somehow that juxtaposition is a beautiful thing.
Cretin: The way your band does that reminds me a bit of the Smiths from back in the 80’s.
Eric James: They were great at that.
Cretin: More recently, Foster The People’s “Pumped up Kicks” is kind of like that: a whimsical song with dark lyrics.
Eric James: I listened to that song for months before I realized what he was saying, and then I read the lyrics and couldn’t believe what I was reading.
Cretin: On the EP, all of the songs are very different. Do you have a personal favorite, or any one style that you really enjoyed more than the other?
Eric James: I love the remix of Backseat, the Crayon mix. It’s real off the cuff. It reminds me of the fact that one of the great qualities of being a musician is that you get to recreate these songs night after night. I have a bad habit of altering songs as we go along and the band learns them. Some of the label people don’t like that I keep doing that, but I can’t seem to stop. The fact that made the EP was a big win for me.
Cretin: Are we going to hear any of these songs on the forthcoming album?
Eric James: We’ve re-cut “Come Take My Hand” and nobody has heard it yet as it’s still being mixed and we remixed “Backseat” in a whole new way. “Crystal Vases” will remain the same, as it seems to be working. And we’ll also have seven or eight new tracks. Almost everything is done, still working vocals and synths, but we’re getting there.
Cretin: Will we see this album before the end of the year?
Eric James: We’ll be done and in our hands in a few months, and then it’s up to the record company. It depends; the sooner the better for me.
Cretin: What’s the attraction to playing those older analog keyboards?
Eric James: It’s that those instruments are so volatile. We literally don’t know what it’s going to sound like day to day, because the circuits are constantly changing with the weather. It creates an excitement, a sense of newness. It’s a living art, and if we don’t capture the sound this hour it could change, or be a sound that does not inspire us.
Cretin: Being from Philly, have you ever heard the Hooters?
Eric James: I know Eric Bazillian a little bit. We were going to collaborate on something, but it never worked out. I wrote a song with their keyboard player and I know the band, but I don’t know the music real well.
Cretin: They were famous for using a melodica.
Eric James: Yeah, that’s great stuff. We use an old thrift store air organ that’s out of tune. It’s actually what we used on the Backseat Lovers remix. It’s a 1970’s toy air organ that cost me about $20.
Cretin: OK, let’s wrap this up with some quick questions. Do you smoke two packs a day?
Eric James: (laughs) Absolutely not, I do not smoke.
Cretin: Favorite place in NYC to see live music?
Eric James: Rockwood Music Hall. It’s always free and for that reason you see a lot of musicians every night.
Cretin: You have a teepee as your EP Cover Art, as you were shooting for the TP-EP theme, did you ever consider a roll of toilet paper instead?
Eric James: (laughs) No, our hope would be that some crazy fan a few years from now would make a version like that.
Cretin: You guys have some great covers on your website: EMF, OMD and Prince. Is there one cover form a different artist that you really enjoy?
Eric James: I have some friends in a band called Lovedrug– they were doing a kick start campaign to raise some money to record a full-length. Someone who donated money asked them to cover a song from Willy Wonka a song called “Pure Imagination.” It was amazing, and I love the idea of throwing the wackiest song possible at a band and seeing what they can do with it. I was inspired. (It is cool and different. Check it out: Pure Imagination)
Cretin: When your album comes out you hit it big and you’re doing the festival circuit next year, who are you ready to share the stage with?
Eric James: We’ve talked about Arcade Fire sort of being the top of the game right now. Why not shoot for the top?
Cretin: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Eric James: I just want people to know that I’m thrilled that the music is getting out there and we feel very blessed to be staying alive and doing this music. We hope to become great songwriters someday and keep it coming.
To hear or purchase Last Royals music visit one of the following websites:
Check out my recent interview with Lovedrug’s Michael Shepard