Exuberant disco rock by Sweden’s best dressed rockers: Royal Republic interviewed

Sweden’s “best-dressed rockers” Royal Republic, as declared by a German magazine, were back with their fifth album “Club Majesty” in May last year, a band that built their reputation by hard work on stages across Europe. Their maniacal live shows and irrepressible sense of style and humour have earned them a well-deserved reputation and a huge fanbase across Europe, especially in Germany where they play major festival stages and sold-out venues wherever they stopover.

When the Malmö based four-piece stopped their tour bus in Hamburg on their most successful tour so far to play their biggest headline show ever, we sat down with drummer Per and bassist Jonas and chat about being a disco rock band ending up at metal label Nuclear Blast, their huge success in Europe, and not getting attention in Sweden.

“We’re not a rock band but we rock”

Great to have you back in Hamburg. Today is exactly one year since you were supposed to play here in Sporthalle but you ended up in production problems with “Club Majesty” and had to postpone it all?
Per: Everything just fucked up for us. The record was late because we didn’t have a label, it was just a mess while we tried to sort it all out, and then we wanted to have the same producer again and had to wait for him to finish his projects. We really wanted to work with the same producer team again, even if we had to postpone everything.

That means working with Christian Neander and Michael Tibes, the Selig/Pohlmann producer duo that worked with you on “Weekend Man” as well. How did it happen that you started working with them?
Per: Christian was working with our management, they did management for him as well. At the time we did lots of co-writes, just ahead of “Weekend Man”. I and Hannes tried to do something together with Joy & Linnea Deb in Stockholm who usually write schlager music, but we realized it was never going to work out, and it didn’t (laugh). But it was fun and a great experience for me.

After that I and Adam set off to co-write music in Los Angeles, in some cool studios at Mulholland Drive, but we just ended up being pissed off. At the same time Jonas and Hannes worked with Christian in Germany and I guess you had a great time together and had lots of fun, and when we needed a new producer we picked him. A great choice because he’s that type of studio dad that we need; and Michael is that sort of gizmo geek with loads of secret studio devices.

”Club Majesty” is quite different from “Weekend Man” or anything you have released before. It’s a discorock record and you have an eighties-sounding saxophone on almost all songs. How did that happen?
Per: (laugh) It was never our intention, it was us joking with our manager. Adam learned to play sax and put it on one demo song and our manager said “If you record it with sax no radio station will play it”, and then we put it on almost all songs.

Something else that changed over the years is the band’s image. You had a rock aesthetic from the beginning and today it’s Swedish dance band [traditional Swedish music] suites.
Jonas: You can see it as we’re trying to provoke a bit.

Per: We don’t point fingers at people but we love being a thorn in your side (laugh) because it’s fun to provoke people and to question norms in the music industry, we’ve always been like that.

In the beginning we had people telling us to set up scandals and band stories just to create some sort of reputation, and we had a chat about it between us, like “How can we do that? We’re just these super honest dudes?”. Of course we drink alcohol and meet girls, but doesn’t everyone do that?

That’s what I mean; you’ve always had this kind “super great lads” reputation doing what you do with a huge sense of humour rather than being the cool band that won’t put on a smile on the press photos. That being said, you ended up on Nuclear Blast, a label with angry tattooed metal men with long hair and dark voices. How did that happen?
Jonas: I can really understand that people wonder about it, it’s a bit fun that we’re on that label.

Per: The first time we were at their office in a tiny city just outside Stuttgart, where the walls are papered with metal bands like Cannibal Corpse and Slayer, we met this big man with a dark voice saying “Hello, nice to meet you” [growling metal voice]. I guess they needed a band for their after works.

Jonas: But you can’t hide the fact that people buy tickets to our shows. The sub-label we’re on, Arising Empire, maybe just want a flagship act.

The record was released already in May. When you consider how the sound has changed from “Weekend Man”, how did your fans receive it?
Jonas: I would say surprisingly well. Every new record we release is an evolution because it’s boring to repeat the same sound once again, and we always start the writing process by asking ourselves “What do we do this time?”.

Per: Let’s say that we aim for something or somewhere when we start a new process and always end up a bit off target.

We’ve always considered us to have dance music in our DNA, if you consider songs like ”Tommy Gun” and ”Full Steam Spacemachine”, and have always played rock n’ roll that has dance beats in it.

People like the record, or at least we don’t hear that much from those who don’t like it.

Jonas: Of course there’s always a few who feel like “That’s not really what I wanted”.

Per: The problem is to promote and sell a disco album to a rock audience. Many of our fans identify themselves as die hard rockers and it may be a bit difficult to sell a disco glamor identity to them.

That’s the thing, you always get booked to rock festivals, like Download Fest last summer.
Per: Honestly, we’re not a rock band but we rock.

Jonas: It’s great to have us as something different, a break from all the evilness and melancholy on the other stages, but something with an attitude (laugh).

Per: And people usually say ”That was much heavier than I would have thought”. That’s why we feel like a rock act when we perform.

But you’re not afraid to end up in between genres? Many festivals want to have “the rock band” or “the metal band”, and when you have your own sound it may become a problem.
Per: We had a discussion about that with our booker in Germany; she has worked with us the last ten years. I asked her “Do you know any other band that play the same type of venues and stages as us and don’t have any radiohit?”. We had a hit with ”Tommy Gun” but that was early in our career and after that nothing has really happened and we rarely get picked up by any major radio station – no major media covers us. There’s no radio, no media channel or any magazine that really supports us with coverages.

So I asked her ”Do you deal with any other band that get such little publicity but still play for 5 000?”. She just said “I never heard of anything similar”. We have really earned our fans by doing great performances.

Taken Germany by storm

Success and recognition in the music industry certainly aren’t easy to achieve, and many bands go without either for their whole careers. Royal Republic certainly have a dedicated home fanbase but never broken out of the club circuit in Sweden. However, while failing to please their home crowd they manage to make waves elsewhere, and play arena shows in Europe.

To continue on your increasing popularity; you’re huge in Germany and have sold out Sporthalle tonight, that’s 5 000 in the audience, but on home turf it doesn’t really work out?
Per: It was unbelievably hard to get it to work out in the beginning. We wanted to go all in and had a spirit like “Let’s take this as far as possible”, but if you want to do that and start in Sweden where you only have Fridays and Saturdays to play it’s impossible. You can’t go to Kiruna [far up in the north of Sweden, 1 800km from their hometown] to play a show, it’s not sustainable to do that.

Very early in our career we hooked up with a German management and did a few shows in Germany before we got a support slot to Donots, and that was a huge breakthrough for us. Suddenly we played Germany all the time. After that first gig with Donots we earned ourselves an audience, and I even remember that we had fans that turned up at several shows on that tour and I just thought “Who are these weirdos?” (laugh).

Germany loved us from the start, and it’s amazing how much you can tour here. It’s not a problem to play seven days a week, and that was what we did right from the start here. We started doing it in the UK as well but had some bad luck, lost our label and had a small breakdown in the band, and it all came to a halt.

Sweden is really tricky though, it’s too many cool bands coming out of Sweden. Everything happened to quick and was a bit too good for us in the beginning; Bandit Rock [radio station] loved us and everyone thought we were the new The Hives, like “Here’s The Hives Jr”, and maybe they were right at the time. We suffer a bit from it today, but we haven’t put too much effort in promotion campaigns for our records in Sweden either. However, despite all that we managed to grow in Sweden anyway, not as quick as in Germany but we grow. We just don’t play in Sweden that often.

But it is a bit annoying that we can sell thousands of tickets in Germany and across Europe, but in Sweden nobody cares, no one writes anything – ever. Sydsvenskan, the major newspaper in our hometown, have never reviewed any of our records or any gig.

How about America, a country that loves bands with an attitude?
Per: We’ve been there twice but it’s so fucking big. And we got over there a bit too late. But I don’t think we have the energy to do that massive amount of work we’ve done in Europe again. To reach a 5 000-audience takes a lot of work.

On this tour it’s not only Germany doing well for us although we always sell most tickets here.

Jonas: We sold more than 1 000 tickets in London for the first time, 1 600 in Paris and 2 000 in Prague.

Per: And almost 1 000 tickets in Manchester, Nottingham and Glasgow which means that we get attention in other places as well, like in Madrid. It’s fair to say that we just started to do really well, but I don’t think we have energy enough to conquer America.

We have discussed it with managements and they want us to physically be where the market is, to live over there, if anyone would take us serious. It doesn’t work out to release a new song and then leave for a tour in Europe and expect everything to be as it was when we left when we come back again. You have to be there and tour as long as the song works out and then produce a new song and restart the whole circuit

It did work out really well those few times we’ve been over there. As soon as we have people in the audience it works great for us.

Tonight is your biggest headline ever and you have sold 5 000 tickets, next week you play Pustervik in Gothenburg for 400. What’s most fun?
Jonas: To me personally it is the variety of venues and crowds that is fun, just to get the feeling “Wow! What a crowd!”, I get stunned every time. But it’s also really fun to play those intimate shows at smaller venues where you have a connection to the audience. The balance between arenas and club venues is important because you keep your feet on the ground.

Per: On a stage like this, in Sporthalle, you have no eye contact with the people, it’s just a mass of people. It really doesn’t matter if it’s a 1 000 people in the audience or 250, what matters is if they have fun.

We talked down our gig in Hull recently. Hull is just a tiny city in the UK and we thought “Why the hell did we come here?”, we had rarely sold any tickets. In the end 250 super happy and rowdy Brits turned up; that made our day. That’s when you really want to do a great performance.

Photos by ©Kevin Winiker
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About J.N.

Music researcher with an unhealthy passion for music and music festivals. Former studio owner, semi-functional drummer and with a fairly good collection of old analogue synthesizers from the 70's. Indie rock, post rock, electronic/industrial and drum & bass (kind of a mix, yeah?) are usual stuff in my playlists but everything that sounds good will fit in.