Last Royals Eric James Interview
The Last Royals burst onto the Alt-Rock scene five years ago with their sweetly addictive hit “Crystal Vases.” Since then, they delivered an extremely likeable album packed with addictive, fun pop rock, but if you’re like most alt-rock fans, you probably never even knew. Now, the creator of The Last Royals, Eric James has delivered something very different on the intoxicating new album Never Be Alone. It’s another excellent album, but the sound has changed a bit since you last hear his voice.
Eric was our first interview ever at Rara’s Farm and now he’s back, and he’s got a lot to share.
Since we last chatted
It’s been a crazy couple of years. My wife and I have had three kids in the last six years and living in New York that’s crazy.
The Crystal Vases success
I had recorded “Crystal Vases” on an earlier EP, and it got picked up by Ooh La La Records. Then radio, particularly Sirius XM, was playing the song a lot and we had that beautiful moment where we hit one of the little lotteries that people hope for in the music business.
The momentum with “Crystal Vases” failed to carry the 2013 release of Twistification
We tried to jump on the success of “Crystal Vases” and follow the waves but we were probably a little late. Which can often happen after a song does its thing, and you get a label lined up and your band lined up. We got a tour going and then a tour fell through and then you get the next one. You do your best to keep the story going. That’s the mode we found ourselves in for the life of Twistification. Everyone wanted to talk about “Crystal Vases.” The band was in that funny spot where the song was kind of old to us at that point, but it was new to a lot of people. But we had some great stuff off of that record and had some great tours including a great response at a beautiful festival (Firefly).
How did Twistification inexplicably fail to find radio success?
That’s a good question. You can spend a lot of time wondering why this one hits and that one doesn’t. It’s interesting, the song “Friday Night” was a favorite when we played live and was almost always our closer. That one had the most plays on all of our outlets even though it was never on the radio. We really wanted our label to promote the song to try to bring it to radio, but they didn’t believe in it. And that’s just the way it goes. On the other hand, I didn’t think “Crystal Vases” was anything worth writing home about, but my manager thought it was something. (Laughing) I feel the longer I do this, the more clueless I become.
But we did have some great placements on ads and commercials. Little things to keep you going and help pay the bills.
Check out our 2013 review of Twistification here, and see what I thought when the album first hit the streets.
What happened with the label after Twistification?
We had done some touring and they wanted us to do some more. We were willing, but we were looking for some benefits. I don’t want to dog anybody; we just couldn’t get on the same page on where to put our efforts and resources, which is really quite common. We both had strong opinions on what to do next. We thought “Friday Night” should get some support and they thought we should just keep touring. We’d keep doing runs and lose a bunch of money and realized maybe it wasn’t the best thing for us.
I eventually went to the label and said let’s call this what it is, you’re going to make money because “Crystal Vases” did fine. Let’s call this thing what it is and part amicably. Unfortunately they were unwilling to do that. Because I had an exclusive recording contract, I couldn’t work on things without their permission. I got myself into a sticky situation where I had to take a full year where I basically ignored everything about the Last Royals. It was very frustrating, but eventually we got out of the deal.
I don’t think this is a time, whether it’s music or any kind of intellectual property, to be following the old models of signing an exclusive distribution deal. We should all (musicians, artists, coders, creatives) be working more as freelancers and doing licensing deals. It’s crazy to think that we should be modeling this off of the old style. It’s crazy to sign long-term contracts we should really just be going project to project.
We’re still real close and we still work on a few other projects together, but I’m solo now. We cracked it open after I got off of that deal and started making a new record last summer. We got all the way to mastering on the first five songs and we both looked at each other and agreed that we hated it… I wanted to steer it in a more personal direction, a little bit more grown up and he said “Go do your own thing.”
Pushing your voice in new directions on the excellent new album Never Be Alone
Interestingly, most of the tunes on this new record are in a lower key than we would have done a few years back – maybe a little more mellow. But what you’re hearing is that I’m singing a little more intimately on this record. And then there are some tunes where I’m just going for it. I like to think I’m becoming a better singer.
The Melancholy Feel of the lyrics on Never Be Alone
Albums should capture a season in your life. This time around, with three kids under six it’s kind of insane and we had our hands full. Then we had a really hard thing a few years back, where my wife’s mother passed away. She suffered from mental illness and she took her own life. A lot of the lyrics are about that and working through it and trying to understand what happened there. I spent the first year after she died, with my wife in this crazy mourning period. I realized I probably hadn’t been working through it myself and felt it necessary to put it into a few of these songs; the song “Tragedy” the most clear cut example of that. That was really healing for me, and my wife and I have had some long, interesting and sometime tense conversations about how to talk about this. I don’t want to glorify it, but it’s real life and people have to deal with this maybe more than we’d like.
Never Be Alone – A love song?
This record has more love songs than I’ve ever been able to craft before. My wife has said that I’m heartless because I really have a hard time writing a sappy love song. For some reason that has always eluded me and we always joke around about it. Maybe I’m addicted to struggle and the last few years being so hard has helped me see how much I desire and want to commit to my wife. “Never Be Alone” is a song about us. My manager says he can’t listen to it because it’s really sappy, but the great thing about a song is that everyone gets to make their own interpretation.
“Miles Away” – Love the piano
There are definitely some piano moments. My producer, Mike Beck, and I heard something very personal and there’s something classic about a nice sounding piano. A few years ago that probably would have been more of a synthy poppy thing but there’s a melancholy to the piano that I feel is hard to recreate.
Are record sales still critical?
I am by far not an expert. My experience with our music has been good for us. I’m not making a lot of money, but it is helping to pay the bills. The bands that are top tier are still selling records, but most people in the indie rock world don’t have the luxury of expecting that anymore. Bands who come out and sell 10,000 copies is considered a win, whereas ten years ago that meant you were done.
Can a musician make money with Spotify
I don’t know. My manager and business partner studies this stuff and loves to know what’s going on with new tech but I’d rather stay out of it. In the press, we are told that Spotify screws the artist because it doesn’t pay enough and it doesn’t pay anywhere near what the old precedent used to be. It’s true, but there’s another way to look at it.
Labels are always so late to the game. With Napster they were so late to the game and they tried to block it, They finally won, but it was already too late. They pushed iTunes, and now iTunes is basically like Spotify. I’ve come to a point where I don’t really care what happens with the business, I just have to make the music. It’s taken me a long time to get there, and I’ve just gotten there in the last few years. If you accept that this is how it is now, Spotify becomes a marketing tool for you. For someone at my level, it’s insane to not give people a chance to hear your music.
If you own your own publishing and you haven’t handed out pieces of the pie to a bunch of people, Spotify is not that bad. We’ve done a lot with it and it helped us fund this next record. In five to ten years it will probably be totally different. Maybe music is going to get better because it is harder and harder to do it?
Well – that would be a nice silver lining because we sure could use some killer new rock. Eric is working on the lyric video, something he cleverly refers to as “online liner notes,” for “Tragedy.” In the meantime, check out this beautiful clip for “Miles Away,” and see why it’s one of the most captivating songs off of Never Be Alone.
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