Royal Headache fans had to be exceedingly patient when waiting for the band’s second album. The Sydney foursome released their self-titled debut in early 2011, and in spite of zero adjoining promotional activity, it became cherished around the world. Then a couple of years ago – with no follow-up to speak of – the band’s volatile frontman, Shogun, all but confirmed Royal Headache had broken up. However, destiny was quick to intervene, and last August came High – a brand new ten-track LP from one of Australia’s canniest rock bands. Mixdown speaks to bassist Joe Sukit about the rocky road leading to album number two.
Considering the first album came out at the beginning of 2011, the construction of High was rather drawn out. In various interviews from mid-2014, Shogun said the instrumental tracks for the album were recorded as far back as 2013. Did those original sessions survive onto the album?
About the end of 2012 we forced ourselves to go in and record a new record and tracked everything, tracked about 16 songs or something, and finished with it. I think we were all a bit exhausted by the year and we listened back to it and we all thought it was a bit shit. So we lost motivation to work on it and maybe just lost motivation for the band a little bit. Then we had that break and went back and listened to it and were, “Oh it’s not that bad.” So Shogun finished off his vocals and then we mixed it and that’s what it is.
Royal Headache is continually referred to as a garage rock band, and while it’s not an unfounded description, the performances and production on High don’t sound scrappy or rushed.
I don’t think we’re a garage band either. We just try to do whatever feels right and most of the time it seems to work out. There was about two years where we just didn’t think about [High]. It’s easy for us to spend way too much time not thinking about a record after we record it. We do this thing where we rush through and record everything in a day or in two days and then just sit there and don’t really work on it until about a year later. I think we’re too embarrassed by our own band. We always think that we sound weird.
When you started recording High, you’d seen how critically well-received the self-titled album was and witnessed it gain popularity in other parts of the globe. When you listened back to the initial sessions for High and weren’t too impressed, was there a feeling that it wasn’t a good enough follow-up, given the acclaim for the first record?
It was just a weird time. We just finished doing all these entertainment centre gigs with The Black Keys where
we had about 20 000 people telling us that we sucked, then you go into a studio... We were doing all these things that we wanted to do, but then also were like, “Well, why are we doing this stuff?” It takes its toll. At the best of times we’re not very confident. Basically it only takes one person to tell us that we’re shit and we’ll listen to them over a million people telling us that we’re good. We’re a bit weird like that. Just overall it was a weird time and we were probably exhausted and needed to take a break from the band. It worked out for the best really because we’ve come back and we’re writing new stuff and it’s like the pressure’s gone. It’s like, “Who gives a fuck?”
Like the songs on Royal Headache, the songs on High are pretty simple; structurally and technically there’s nothing overwrought or elaborate. But in this simplicity lies the magic of Royal Headache. The songs have a dynamic emotional character and an inbuilt depth that makes them repeatedly rewarding.
The songwriting, that’s kind of the main thing we do as a band – just spend a bit of time and try different things. That’s what we did with all those songs. There’s stuff on there like ‘Wouldn’t You Know’ where we basically just did a quiet lounge song, which we’d never really done before. It’s cool to try and do that different stuff.
The more time that passed between albums, the greater the anticipation became for the second Royal Headache album (at least among fans, a lot of whom really care about the band). Did that anticipation play a role in encouraging you to finish and release the album?
The best part about when we stopped playing – and Shogun’s out there saying that we’d broken up or whatever – was the fact that it took all the pressure off. It was like, “Nobody expects us to be a band anymore so we can just do whatever.” We started playing again for maybe about a year before the record came out, but just in our rehearsal studio just doing whatever ourselves. It was good. It was like starting again and just writing music for the fun of it. There was no pressure on anything really. It was like the start of the band again.
That no-pressure feeling will probably be difficult to maintain, especially since High has gained an even broader listenership than Royal Headache.
Yeah. We’ll have to keep breaking up.
Royal Headache will be touring nationally as part St Jerome’s Laneway Festival. High is out now through Distant and Vague Recordings/What’s Your Rupture?.