Royal Teeth Discuss Setbacks and Being Amateurs
Words by Annette Hansen
When you hear the word “amateur,” you probably picture someone who is unpolished, a beginner. In the last couple of years, Louisiana’s indie pop quartet Royal Teeth have begun to see the word in a whole new light. In fact, for them, the term is more like a badge of honor, so much so that the band named their most recent EP, Amateurs.
For the band, consisting of vocalists Gary Larsen and Nora Patterson, guitarist Josh Hefner and drummer Thomas Onebane, this new music was a chance to find themselves all over again, “We figured we’d go back to where we started and kind of get back to basics, kind of the reason we did [music]in the first place,” Larsen says.
This callback to a simpler time was more than just a creative choice, though. For years, Royal Teeth had been working their way up the ladder in their music career. In 2014, the band were at a high point with a feature on American Idol and a breakout track with “Wild,” off their debut album Glow, but after some tricky label switches, they found themselves at a standstill.
“When things got kind of slow, we sort of had to decide if it’s time to get a day job because it’s not like the money’s coming in when you’re not working,” Larsen expresses. “That’s a bit tough.”
In 2015, Royal Teeth signed with Elektra Records, but after some change-ups in the label, the band were having to face waiting for months to move forward as a band. They were in a position where they had to choose between their new label and continuing to tour and work. For them, the notion of not working wasn’t an option.
“We were like ‘we can’t afford to live six to twelve months on doing nothing,’” Larsen explains. “They’re all good people. It’s just that when that became the reality, we were like ‘we can’t do this.’”
Earlier this year while Royal Teeth took a short break from their tour with The Summer Set, they wound up meeting with Round Hill Records owner Josh Gruss. “He loved the band and he said he wanted to give it a shot,” Larsen says. The label went on to release the long-awaited Amateurs. “It’s not everyday that your band gets a third chance.”
Royal Teeth didn’t let any of the setbacks keep them from creating the music that they loved to make. Through all the label confusion and even a few lineup changes, the band progressed forward and continued to write.
“We’ve been writing for the past six years or so together, and we write a lot, so I think naturally you are going to experiment, grow and change,” Larsen expresses.
According to Larsen, everything the band had been going through wasn’t a setback for them but an opportunity to channel it and challenge themselves as writers.
“There’s a little more punch to [Amateurs], and I think it’s because we were in a weird place, a frustrating place, trying to get out and figure out how to keep going.”
Amateurs has a certain intensity to it that drives the EP and only builds on what the band has cultivated with releases like Glow and Act Naturally. Larsen says that the goal for this release was to create something with more spark and vitality than what they had done before.
“I think a lot of people associate our live show with a high energy, exciting performance,” Larsen explains. “We try to keep everyone up the whole time rather than letting it fall back down. I don’t know if Glow really did that. I think this time around we really wanted to make sure that we did.”
Not only has the music been revitalized, but the band’s mentality of where they’ve been and where they still want to go has a new flame behind it. Taking it back to the basics, reminding themselves the beauty of being amateurs helped them re-center their focus.
“A lot of good things happened early on,” Larsen says. “I think it’s easy to think that’s always going to happen.”
But when things seemed uncertain for Royal Teeth, Larsen says they found new clarity. “I think once you have that reality, that sort of ‘this is all just temporary,’ it really makes you love what you’re doing now more than you ever did before.”
The ups and downs of the music business have not beaten Royal Teeth down, it’s only made them stronger and more resilient.
“It’s so easy to overthink every little process and sort of lose passion and the drive, for the fire to go out,” Larsen relays. “At the end of the day, we just sort of focus on the real important things which is making sure that the music doesn’t lose the passion.”
Larsen says it’s that determination that has kept them afloat. “I think for us that’s how we’ve overcome [obstacles]in the past, just by putting our heads down and being a band.”