Royal Bangs have spent the last few months re-introducing their latest lineup and most recent material to audiences in Knoxville and elsewhere—including a semi-annual run at SXSW in Austin, Texas—but there's been little to report from the band since last year. Expectations were high for the Bangs as they hit the studio last summer after bouncing around the U.S. and Europe in support of 2011's well-received Flux Outside, and then—nothing.
That all changed in late June, when Rolling Stone premiered the band's new video, "Better Run," along with an announcement that Brass, their fifth full-length, will finally see release on Sept. 17 on Modern Art Records.
The ominously silly clip for "Better Run," featuring Big Bad Oven's Josh Wolitzky as a poor soul plagued by birthday cake and The Prisoner-esque orbs, is the work of Knoxville-based Mistakist Productions, whose eye-popping 2012 Knoxville 24-Hour Film Festival entry, starring onetime Royal Bangs bassist Henry Gibson, caught the band's attention as they planned their first real video collaboration. Royal Bangs frontman Ryan Schaefer credits Mistakist's Brandon Langley and Tyler McGary with shaping the band's vision for the clip.
"We all came up with a grab bag of borderline idiotic ideas on a long van ride back from a tour," Schaefer says, insisting the concept has little to do with the song itself. "Luckily Brandon and Tyler are good at translating that kind of stuff into a coherent video."
Even more exciting for Royal Bangs, of course, is having a new record to promote. Recorded about a year ago in Nashville with Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, Brass is the band's most surprising leap in more than a decade of making music. Gone is the inward grandeur and Dave Fridmann-mixed excess of Flux Outside, replaced by a more straightforward sound that ingests broader influences like soul, '70s rock, and Knoxville's own guitar-pop legacy while somehow narrowing the group's own sound down to its essence.
Carney, a friend and longtime patron, who released the Bangs' 2008 breakthrough, We Breed Champions, and its 2009 follow-up, Let It Beep, on his own Audio Eagle records, played a crucial role in the band's evolution, pushing them out of the comfort zone they had settled into after years of recording at home and with friends.
"On all the other records, the songs weren't usually written but maybe halfway before we went into the studio, and then we'd kind of figure it out as we recorded it," Schaefer says. "This time, all of the songs were written, arranged, and demoed before we got there, and we could just focus on playing together. It's also the first time we've really worked with a producer. As I say this, I realize I've just described the method by which almost every normal band makes a record since probably the '60s. Slow learners, I guess."
With a release date finally in sight, the band is now gearing up for another round of touring, beginning with a two-week stint opening for Jimmy Eat World in August. Despite the pressures of throwing himself and his bandmates back into the music-business fray, Schaefer continues to take on new challenges.
"I'm in the process of trying to put together this batshit crazy light show that, for some reason, I committed to building from scratch," he says. "If it works, it will be pretty wild, I think. I give it about a 51 percent chance."