Given less-than-ideal conditions at the smaller venues at the world's biggest music and arts festival, members of Knoxville's Royal Bangs had frets aplenty going into their early morning set at Bonnaroo.
"We were really excited, but also worried," says Bangs frontman Ryan Schaefer of the band's June 13 performance in the festival's Troo Music Lounge. "The sound in those tents can be weird, and we have lots of electronics."
As it turns out, Schaefer and company needn't have worried. Not only did the band's various loops and samples come off without a hitch, but within minutes, the five-piece outfit found themselves playing to a full tent of boisterous Bonna-revelers, many of them gleefully cutting a rug in front of the diminutive stage. "There weren't many people at first; then they started to pour in," says Schaefer. "I called to them, got them to come up to the stage and start dancing. It was really awesome. Everyone was super-excited; we've never played a show where so many people in the audience were that excited before.
"I think we were playing just as some other bands were letting out," he adds, unassumingly. "I guess we had an optimal spot."
Schaefer's modesty is becoming, but unnecessary. The truth is that the Royal Bangs, with their frenetic mixture of headlong punk, mad-scientist electronica, and shambling indie rock, are as explosive and startlingly original as any Knoxville export in many years. So much so that their self-released debut album We Breed Champions caught the ear—off a mere MySpace page, no less—of Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, who eventually signed the band to his own label, Audio Eagle. We Breed Champions was re-released on Audio Eagle in May.
"I got to remix it, then it got remastered for the Audio Eagle release," says Schaefer, who notes that the record was entirely self-produced over a whirlwind two weeks in 2006. "They [Audio Eagle] have been awesome, really cool. They're helping us out with publicity, and the Black Keys are taking us out for nine dates in October.
"The cool thing about Patrick and Audio Eagle is they seem to keep it pretty simple," Schaefer continues. "It's like, ‘This is a record we like, and so we want to put it out.' I like that about them."
To date, only one of the band has met Carney in person—that being drummer Chris Rusk—though Schaefer says he's talked to the Keys skinsman on several occasions by phone and e-mail.
With the Black Keys dates just around the corner, the Royal Bangs have a 15-date tour in place beginning in mid-June and running through July 5; they'll get another tune-up for the Keys run come August, when they'll play four more dates, including one at Barley's Taproom and Pizzeria in Knoxville, with Oh No, Oh My! and Antenna Shoes.
"We're playing with lots of smaller, really cool bands between now and October," Schaefer says. "Worst-case scenario, even if no one shows up for any of those dates, it'll still be fun just to watch the other bands."
With We Breed Champions just now seeing wider distribution with Audio Eagle, Schaefer says the Bangs don't have a timetable for a follow-up release. But that doesn't mean they're not working on it; the band already has four new songs recorded, though not finished.
"We haven't found time to really sit down and hash things out as much as we'd like," Schaefer says. "Hopefully in September, maybe we'll have time to really work out some new stuff. That's all subject to change, though. Right now we're just happy to see our record re-released with Audio Eagle. We haven't even started to talk about a schedule for the next one."