The New Souligarchy: Royal Family Records
Although founded by musicians with decidedly retro tastes, Royal Family Records embraces and likely embodies the future of the recording industry.
Soulive guitarist Eric Krasno, whose group is at the core of the venture, explains, “We want to start putting out music in a different fashion. We want to put together projects in a few days and then have them out the next day. Our website will be a portal where people can check out what we’re doing in close to real time with a video of how it came together, because we’re creating music all the time in the studio.”
“What I would like to see,” adds Krasno’s bandmate of just over a decade, keyboard player Neal Evans, “is the elimination of CDs. They sound horrible and they’re environmentally unsustainable. Once we have the infrastructure in place, we can offer that immediacy: We’ll cut something, master it and make it available online. Digital distribution has changed everything for bands and independent labels, so we don’t need to sit there and plan out, ‘OK, Neal’s is the next album on the schedule and Nigel [Hall]’s album is coming out after that.’ We want to be able to put out music immediately with no limitations and no schedules because the more music we get out there, the more people we’re going to bring to Royal Family.”
The Family, which includes Soulive, Lettuce, Fyre Dept, Break Science, Nigel Hall and Chapter 2, is not only defined by nomenclature but also by kinship. Neal’s brother Alan, the drummer who completes the Soulive triumvirate and also has a solo release in the works, remarks, “I started playing drums when I was nine months old, and for Neal it was the same. Music was around the house and it was just something we fell into. It’s easier for us to play music than it is to talk.”
Back in March 1999, the Evans brothers invited Krasno, who was then playing guitar with Lettuce, to join them at their newly-built home studio near Woodstock, N.Y. for a spontaneous session that yielded Soulive’s debut EP Get Down! This album set the group down a path that carried the three musicians to the Far East, Africa, Europe and South America, while recording a series of albums for Blue Note and subsequently Concord/Stax.
The decision to establish Royal Family Records, which debuted last year with the band’s Up Here release, was a product of the group’s response to the aforementioned label settings.
“I wouldn’t say it left a bad taste in my mouth but I learned a lot from the experience,” Alan Evans offers. “I remember being surrounded by people just talking and talking. They didn’t listen, they just talked. They’d take us out to dinner, fly us here to there but then someone explained to me, ‘You know, it’s your money they’re spending. That’s coming out of album sales and they’re going to get their money back before you get any.’ We came to realize that if we did this on our own and sold 5,000 copies, we’d probably make more money than if we sold 50,000 with these cats.”
His brother is slightly more upbeat: “Both labels were great and had good intentions but then you see the timetables and sometimes you might find you’re not the priority or that there’s just a different vision of what people want you to be and how they want to classify you. When you have your own label, you make those decisions yourself. Once we decided that [ Up Here ] was going to be our first release on our own label, there was a difference in the energy. It was cut at Alan’s studio [Playonbrother in Hatfield, Mass.] and there wasn’t that feeling that we were on the bill even though we were. It was a totally different approach going in there and knowing it was all ours and we didn’t have to concern ourselves with anything but making an album because we wanted to. So we just went up there and had fun.”
All three members describe such an unfettered spirit in the creation and development of Royal Family Records as well. The label is not only the product of blood relations but also of another brotherhood that extends back to high school.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
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