It's not often that rock audiences get a heads-up to witness a turning point in a band's career, so here's a hot tip, faithful reader: Tonight is the first night of the rest of Royal Bangs' life. When the Knoxville five-piece takes the stage for their CD release show at the Catalyst later this evening, their set of alarmingly catchy and youthful spazz-pop will double as a temporary farewell to Knoxville, and the next morning will see them hitting the road for an extended two-month mission to share one of our city's best-kept secrets with the rest of the country.
Having toured on and off for the last two years in support of their 2007 LP We Breed Champions, the band is well-acquainted with the sweaty interior of a gear-stuffed van. But this time out will be a little different. Thanks in part to their record label Audio Eagle, the band now has a high-profile booking agency getting them into the best rock clubs in the biggest cities, a manager to handle the details, and even a publicist to let people know they're coming—all traditionally tasks the band has taken on themselves. It's a considerable adjustment, and not one the band takes lightly.
"Our main concern is not handing shit off to other people because it's easier," says frontman Ryan Schaefer. "It's about finding people who are really good at one thing and getting them to do that. It lets [the band] focus on the things that we're best at."
Certainly the most important addition to the band's arsenal is their new record Let It Beep, which will be available at the Catalyst show and given a nationwide release by Audio Eagle on September 15. (A European release is slated for Oct. 30 by Berlin's City Slang Records, where Royal Bangs share a roster with Arcade Fire and Yo La Tengo.) Early word, including Metro Pulse's own enthusiastic reception last week, celebrates the manic, densely arranged record as the band's most accomplished work to date.
To hear Schaefer tell it, the record doesn't have much competition in their catalog. It's not an issue of humility—the Bangs are nothing if not endearingly confident—but of revised history. Let It Beep is the third Royal Bangs record (or the fifth, if Schaefer and drummer Chris Rusk's proto-Bangs albums as Suburban Urchins count) but the band has abandoned everything up through 2004's Julius Vampire Breath, which Schaefer insists was just a mess of stray ideas and overdubs amid a series of lineup changes. Schaefer calls it a "condensed Chinese Democracy."
"It wasn't very fun back then," he says. "I think we were just taking it too seriously, too early. That record sucks."
The similarly self-recorded follow-up We Breed Champions remains in the band's good graces, but the stability of a more permanent lineup—rounded out by bassist Henry Gibson and guitarists Sam Stratton and Brandon Biondo—and the move to professional recording facilities makes Let It Beep that much more of an event. Though Schaefer retained control of the proceedings during the band's 10-day marathon at Tangerine Sound Studios in Akron, he concedes that it was a much different experience.
"Before we recorded whenever and wherever we could, and that was great," he says. "But this one was more focused. There was a lot more doing our homework before we got up there."
Once the record was done, the band spent the summer traveling around and tightening up the new material onstage, including a captivating set at Sundown in the City in May. But the scope of their fall schedule remains daunting. They'll be joined initially by Brooklyn sleaze-rock outfit Tiger City and soon afterward by Drummer, an Ohio indie supergroup featuring Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, who as co-proprietor of Audio Eagle has been Royal Bangs' benefactor since he fell in love with We Breed Champions. Along the way the band will frequent more sizable and reputable clubs than they're used to, even playing at Colorado's famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre during the annual Monolith Festival.
Still, Royal Bangs seem ready for whatever happens. "All we want to do is keep doing what we're doing, keep playing and not die," Schaefer says. "Not starve. Just keep doing it. At this point it's a big if. We don't have jobs at this point, or money in the bank. But this tour is about just taking the jump, saying ‘F--k it' and doing it anyway. The only direction we gave our booking agent for the tour is, ‘We don't want any days off.'"