Interview with Hotel Royal - July 17th, 2010
By Vanessa Markov
It’s because of people like the guys of Hotel Royal that they say some are just “born to be stars”. In an overly saturated local scene, Hotel Royal continues to beat every disheartening odd, leaving loud and lasting impressions everywhere they go. Their astoundingly tight performance, classic sound, and smart fusions have led them to open for high-profile bands and land first place prizes just two short years after forming. After playing a set at The Duke on Queen St. E. last Saturday night, I caught up with Chris, Andy, Johnny, and Nick to find out more about the guys with the musical Midas touch.
Vanessa: I wanted to do this interview because I noticed there’s not too much information on you guys anywhere, so I have a lot of basic questions.
Chris: Yeah, we’re a fairly new band. We’ve got our MySpace up, we’re just about to record new stuff, and there’s going to be a whole lot of information coming soon. Right now, we’re in the process of getting new recordings and merchandise out. All the good stuff is coming soon – more information.
Vanessa: Very cool. Ok so let’s start with a total background history: how did Hotel Royal form, where did you all come together, when, etc.?
Chris: Well, me and Andy, we’ve been playing in bands forever. Then, about two and a half years ago, we met Nicky our keyboard player and Johnny our bass player, and we formed Hotel Royal. We got it from – well it’s the name of a strip joint in our hometown. The funny thing is that I’ve only been there once, but we named [the band] after that because growing up around there, you see all walks of life going in and out of it, from the scuzzy people to the rich people. So I just thought it was a nice title and it worked well for where we came from, which is Whitby.
Vanessa: So the name encompasses a lot of what you’ve seen and experienced?
Chris: Yeah, yeah, it encompasses where we came from and what we’ve experienced growing up. And, I thought it was a catchy name, as well.
Vanessa: Awesome! I was going to ask about your name next, so there you have it! Now lately, say the last six months or so, you guys have been getting more popular, opening up for bigger bands, winning competitions and stuff. Have you had any particular strategy or focus, anything specific you’ve been working hard on to get you to this point?
Johnny: I can’t say we’re very strategic. We just write, record, play.
Chris: And keep playing.
Andy: I think the more you play, the better you get as a band. Like if you play a hundred shows, you’re going to be a lot tighter than if you just played two or three shows. So we’ve played more and we got tighter.
Chris: I think all of our hard work is coming to fruition now because, in the beginning, we took about a year just to hone our songs and stuff and not even play shows. We were a band but we didn’t play any shows for a good year. That’s kind of why we’re gaining recognition more recently, all of the working on the songs and then getting out there with them. Things have been going great recently, I can’t complain!
Vanessa: So who writes the songs?
Andy: Chris writes the lyrics and he’ll come to us with a riff and we’ll jam on it. If it sounds cool, we’ll take it from there and, you know, rearrange parts, this and that.
Chris: I like the idea of having input from all of the members. I come up with an idea and these guys take it to another place and make it Hotel Royal and not just…a song that I wrote. It makes it the whole band.
Vanessa: So it’s always a group effort.
Chris: Yeah...yeah! I like it that way.
Vanessa: When you guys perform, you’re really tight. You can tell it’s not just something you memorise and play. You’re all feeling it.
Andy: We jam together, yeah!
Vanessa: [to Chris] So, what do you write about? I mean, a lot of the songs seem to revolve around typical life. Are they true stories, your observations...?
Chris: I do a lot of people watching. I guess, like you said, I write about observations, stories, I guess fictional stories because some of the stuff I’ve never been through, but it could have happened in a past life! [Laughs] But yeah, stories I’ve heard from other people, a couple are real experiences. For the most part I like telling a story that takes you to another place that you might think you’ve been before.
“Bang Bang”, for instance, is about walking around and kind of trying to find somewhere to go, find where you belong. [The song] is kind of like a metaphor for feeling like you don’t belong and I think a lot of people feel like they’re wandering around trying to find that place.
Johnny: It’s not so personal so that other people can relate to it.
Chris: Yeah, I like when people can find their own story. Whatever I write about doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be about that. It’s whatever they interpret, they can put their own spin on it and that’s what it means.
Vanessa: You could say then, that you intend for people to find a way to relate to your music rather than trying to express a specific message.
Chris: Yeah, exactly! I’m not trying to be overly poetic, I’m just trying to get people to actually hear the story and not just blur it with metaphors. I like people to understand and get what I’m trying to say - if they can relate to it, that’s a bonus for sure.
Vanessa: What would you say your favourite Hotel Royal song is?
Chris: Mine would probably be “Bang Bang” because it’s upbeat and everyone gets to sing in it. I like the vibe; it takes me to a cool place. It encompasses our style really, it’s got the rock, but it’s also got the swing and the blues. So I think that’s my favourite song.
Andy: I would say my favourite song is one yet to be written. [To Johnny] Try and follow that answer! [Others laugh] So if I were to give you a real answer, I’d have to say “Are You In It for the Money?” It’s a classic; it’s like one of the first songs we ever wrote too. I think it stands the test of time.
Johnny: Yeah that was the first song I really got into.
Vanessa: [to Johnny] And what’s your favourite?
Johnny: I’m going to agree with Andy, for once. You can quote me on that.
Andy: [Laughing] For once! I should mark this on the calendar. What about you, Nicky?
Nick: “Rebel Yell”.
[Excessive laughter – Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” is Hotel Royal’s only cover song]
Nicky: Naw, I think it’s Love Junkie, our newest track. Like [Chris] said in the beginning, there’s some new stuff coming that we’re stoked about.
Vanessa: It sounds like Johnny and Andy don’t always agree; any major arguments?
Chris: [Laughing] To be honest, bands argue like any family, like any people who are passionate about something. I guess what it all comes down to is realising that the band is bigger than any stupid argument. You just keep on going.
Vanessa: Any major challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Johnny: Accepting each other’s differences and learning how to work with one another.
Chris: Yeah, and just being able to find members that are stoked to play and are as passionate as you are. You have to find those core members and know they’re into it because otherwise you get these guys playing with you for two years and then they back out, which I’ve experienced.
Andy: I think one of the biggest challenges with music in general is finding the right people and sticking around.
Vanessa: Earlier this year, in January, you guys opened for ill Scarlett and then later in April, you opened for Sloan. Tell me a bit about those experiences, working with those bands.
Johnny: I think they stole my bass cord. Sloan! In case you’re reading this! [Everyone laughs]
Chris: They were nice guys. You know, we grow up in Canada, seeing Sloan on Much Music and hearing them on the radio, so just to play the same show as them, it was very cool. And with ill Scarlett, they got big and we were happy to play with them. It was good times all around for sure, both shows had good turnouts.
Vanessa: Who’s the best band you’ve played with so far, or favourite band to have played with of all your shows?
Johnny: Creekwater Junkies.
Chris: For me, Sloan.
Andy: I’d have to say Hello Beautiful. Good buddies of ours.
Nick: Yeah, I’d say them too.
Vanessa: And who would you like to play with?
Chris: Danko Jones!
Johnny: Yeah, Danko Jones.
Chris: Jimi Hendrex, if someone could exhume him. [Laughter] No, I’d love to play with Danko Jones, hometown boy. Fun rock ‘n roll and he’s from Toronto. It’d be a good mix I think.
Vanessa: Awesome. And you guys recently won Bandwarz. Tell me a bit about getting involved in the competition and what it was like to win.
Andy: We weren’t actually originally supposed to be in it. Then we got a call saying another band had dropped off the bill and that we could fill their slot. So we did and, fortunately, we were able to advance that night. And, yeah, we won.
Johnny: Kind of happened by accident.
Chris: It did happen by accident. There’s this stigma attached to Bandwarz about competing with each other. And you can’t really judge bands and all the different genres, I mean, how do you judge apples and oranges? We entered anyway just to play a show and we ended up winning. We got great exposure, we got some newspaper articles out of it, some good TV out of it, so hey, it worked out.
Vanessa: And what exactly did you win?
Chris: We won some money, we won some recording time, free t-shirts, a photo shoot, and tattoos…. well, gift certificates for tattoos.
Vanessa: That’s a little suggestive! ‘Congratulations, go get inked!’ [Laughter]
Chris: So yeah, it was good. Bandwarz is cool, we walked away with a lot of stuff.
Andy: The people that were running it were really cool too. Becky, she’s been putting on shows in the area for a long time. She’s cool.
Vanessa: Very cool, so you can say Bandwarz gave you guys a nice boost.
Andy: The recording time for sure, we’re using that to record in the next couple weeks.
Johnny: It’s a nice little package to push us forward - the photos and t-shirts.
Chris: The cash helps pay our jam space rent. Yeah, it helps for sure, us poor guys.
Vanessa: [Laughing] Seems like there’s a big correlation between being a creative talent and being broke.
Johnny: That’s “Are You In It for the Money” right there.
Chris: Yeah and that’s why I wrote that song. Yeah sure, the money’s nice in the beginning, but at the end of the day you can’t just be in it for the money or you’re not going to be in it fully. It’s cliché but it’s true to an extent that money can’t buy you happiness. I mean, I’m broke but, I like what I’m doing, I’m having fun, so does it really matter?
Andy: Rock ‘n Roll ain’t lucrative!
Vanessa: Great answer and I agree. I have a question specifically for you, Chris. At first I thought it was just me, but apparently a lot of people are noticing a striking resemblance to – you already know who I’m going to say – Mick Jagger. How and when did this start?
Johnny: It’s those big ass lips.
Chris: [Laughing, hands covering his face] It’s not intentional, but everyone knows Rolling Stones and lots of people grew up listening to them or their parents listened to them. So I guess after hearing I look like Mick Jagger for so long and listening to them for so long, it just happened subconsciously. Rolling Stones is one of my favourite bands now, so it just seeps into my performance and it’s a great compliment to be told I remind people of Mick Jagger. He’s a great performer and a great musician.
Vanessa: Awesome. So you and Andy are obviously twins.
Vanessa: Took me a while to figure out how to tell you two apart, then I noticed tattoos.
Chris: [Laughing] Yeah, we can’t switch the tattoos.
Vanessa: Do you find it an advantage to work with your sibling?
Chris: It is an advantage, but obviously you take the good with the bad. We started playing music ten to fifteen years ago together and after finding Johnny and Nicky, we started Hotel Royal. Obviously, brothers fight and sometimes it’s hard, but I think it works out for the best in the end. And we’ve got the Van Halen thing going; you know, drummer and guitarist [laughs]. Not to compare us to Van Halen or anything!
Vanessa: Johnny, I’ve noticed more than once, you have a mean set of air splits. [Laughter] Do you practice that?
Johnny: I don’t practice...
Andy: It just happens!
Johnny: Speaking of Van Halen, it’s kind of a throw back to David Lee Roth. [Laughter] You know, its fun, but I have to use them sparingly or else Andy gets mad at me.
Andy: [Laughing] Just don’t overdo it is all I ask.
Johnny: Three times a song is pretty cool. [Everyone laughs]
Vanessa: What would you say is your favourite venue or best show you played?
Andy: I liked the Drake.
Chris: We’ve had a lot of good shows, but I like playing our hometown so I’d say Karma Nightclub. We didn’t form in Oshawa but there’s no venue in Whitby, so Oshawa’s kind of our pseudo hometown. Whenever we play there, it’s great, lots of people come out. It’s a good venue.
Johnny: The Sloan show was a big show. I look forward to playing all the Toronto venues.
Chris: I’d love to be able to play the Opera House or Phoenix or…
Andy: Massey Hall! Gotta dream big!
Chris: [Laughter] We’ll get there one day.
Andy: You could play anywhere, like you could play a parking lot but if there are a thousand people there, it’s gonna be killer right?
Vanessa: Yeah, totally.
Nick: Karma’s good, it’s perfectly sized. Like Johnny B’s was too big. Without a thousand people, it seemed like a ghost town in there.
Vanessa: So what’s next? Any tours planned?
Chris: Yeah, we plan on touring after getting these new songs recorded. We have about six songs we’re going to be doing and getting out to as many people as we can, getting out and playing a lot of shows. We’ve got new merchandise coming out too.
Johnny: Phase Two.
Vanessa: Getting bigger and better.
Chris: Yeah, bigger and better in Hotel Royal Land. We’re not in Texas anymore! [Laughter]
Vanessa: What would you say is the biggest compliment you’ve received as a band?
Chris: I would say when someone tells us they see something fresh. It may not seem like a crazy compliment, but to me, it’s like saying we’re different from all the bands out there. It makes me feel good every time. It’s like we’re doing something new to them. You don’t want to repeat what’s been done, but you do want to take influences from it.
Andy: When a musician comes up to you, like one of the bands you’re playing with, it’s like a show of respect.
Chris: Yeah, it’s good to get recognition from your peers.
Vanessa: Being a local indie band and having played music all your lives in different bands, what would you say is the biggest threat to – for lack of a better word – struggling musicians?
Chris: Hmm, I’d think it would be, I guess, ourselves.
Johnny: Inner turmoil.
Chris: Yeah, it’s so easy to give up and to think, ‘There are so many bands out there; why do they need us?’ But at the end of the day, if you think you’ve got something fresh to say out of all these bands, you just have to keep on going. If it’s in your heart and it’s your passion, you have to follow it. You can’t give in to yourself, and you just do it despite all those doubts.
Vanessa: You guys obviously spend a lot of time together practicing, recording, playing shows and such. When you do have leisure time, do you tend to spend it together? Any other activities you all enjoy doing together?
Andy: We’ll go to concerts, check out some live shows.
Chris: Yeah, we go to shows, listen to some vinyls.
Chris: We’ll play video games and such. But we like our own time too. Nicky likes to hang out with his wife and I like to hang out with my cats. [Laughter]
Johnny: I just got a motorcycle!
Vanessa: Awesome! So my last question is what is your opinion of the current local music scene?
Chris: Oh wow, I could go on for hours about that. There are a lot of bands out there and I think people can’t be afraid to start a scene. Someone has to start it, but everyone just wants to follow. It’s so easy to just be like: ‘Oh I won’t go to the show.’ There has to be a scene built, like Sunset Strip back in the day. It’s slowly but surely coming I think, but the scene has to have bands working together for the most part, setting up shows. Like us, being from Whitby, we can help bands coming from Toronto, and they can help us when we’re coming to Toronto. You’ve got to work with your peers. We’re all striving for the same goal.
Andy: I think as far as talent goes, the scene is doing well. There are a lot of good bands. I just think it’s unfortunate that, where we’re from, venues are closing and not opening, so it’s hard for everyone to get to play.
Chris: Yeah, it’s a struggle sometimes to find good venues. Bands can get together and find venues to play. When you have everyone helping each other out, you get bigger numbers and the bigger the numbers, the more damage you can do.
Vanessa: That’s a very good way of looking at things. Bands shouldn’t view one another as competition.
Chris: That’s the thing. You know, everyone wants the deal, but if you work together, you could still get a deal. It’s not about worrying about their music or what their writing; you do your music the best and they do their music the best and if people like you both, you become allies.
Vanessa: Absolutely. Anything else you wanted to mention about the band?
Johnny: Waiting on a video grant, maybe.
Chris: Yeah, we’re trying to get some grants for a video, always booking more shows, and writing new songs. But, it’s fun for us just to jam together. If people like our songs, it’s just a bonus.