The New Souligarchy: Royal Family Records
One early wrinkle came when Eric Krasno opened an e-mail to discover that keyboardist Marco Benevento had launched his own label named Royal Potato Family.
“At first we were like, ‘What’s all that about?’” Krasno says. “I thought it was a joke but he didn’t know about our name and I guess his is based on some Bob Dylan reference. It’s no big deal because [the artists on the label are] friends and it’s good music. It would be a lot worse if was something that I didn’t like. We have the same publicist now [Kevin Calabro, co-founder of Royal Potato] which must be really confusing for him, but it’s fine. We haven’t had any major issues and we’re all just moving forward.”
The Royal Family momentum has seen the label realize its initial collaborative ideals on releases by Soulive and Krasno and most recently with its commitment to Nigel Hall, who had been based in Ryan Zoidis’s home state of Maine. Krasno recalls that Zoidis called him and raved, “This guy’s amazing. He does the greatest James Brown but he sings like Marvin Gaye.” On this recommendation, they flew Hall to New York (the musician’s first airplane ride) and he swiftly became a member of the family.
“He fit in so perfectly,” Krasno explains, “that within a few months, he was on the Lettuce album, the Soulive album and my album. We had him on everything and decided we have to make an album for this guy. That’s our first major project inspired by having this label—‘Hey we have this great artist, let’s make a record.’”
Hall remembers his initial encounter with Krasno and Deitch, who now back him in the Nigel Hall Band. “We all got into this conversation about the Headhunters, and I don’t know how we got there, but I sat down at the Wurlitzer, Kraz picked up the bass, Deitch got behind the drums and we started playing the Herbie Hancock Flood album from start to finish,” he says. “We were having so much fun and geeking out. I’m the biggest music nerd on the planet and they are too—everybody in the Royal Family is. So if I’m looking to do something with a 1973-74 vibe, they can pick that right up.”
Although Deitch and Krasno are ever-willing to delve into the early ‘70s, this is by no means the only era that occupies all their time and interest. The pair has formed a partnership as the production team known as The Fyre Dept that has crafted hip-hop beats for artists such as 50 Cent, Talib Kweli, Norah Jones and Justin Timberlake (even as Deitch continues to develop his Break Science project where he joins Borahm Lee to deliver live trip-hop, broken-beat and dubstep sounds). Although Royal Family has embraced an old-school aesthetic, it is also in touch with the challenges and opportunities of the present—hence its principals recognizing the need for an online distribution model.
Alan Evans has witnessed the paradigm shift in his role as owner of Playonbrother Studios where he regularly engineers and produces the music of emerging acts.
“A lot of younger cats come into the studio and it’s interesting to see how the vocabulary has changed,” he says. “I remember back in the day, [when I was in] my late teens, early twenties, the words being thrown around were A&R and demo tapes—‘We’re going to go send this demo tape to the A&R person over there.’ That was what you did but those are words you never hear anymore. Most of these younger cats don’t even know what an A&R person is. (The artists & repertoire department typically handles signing new artists within the major label hierarchy.) They’re putting out music on their own and it’s cool. They’re always asking me for advice and I’ll tell them, ‘If you figure it out, let me know.’”
What he does know is that Royal Family has “enough music of our own to last a couple years.” Soulive released The Beatles’ covers record, Rubber Soulive this past September. Neal, who recently scored the three volumes of the HBO documentary series The Blacklist, has already completed Bang, “an album of cinematic breakbeats.” Alan checks off the various other releases that he anticipates will follow: “Lettuce, Break Science, Nigel, me, an official Chapter 2 album—and we’re already talking about another Soulive album. We know Soulive is the driving force at least for now, so if we have an idea for a Soulive album that’s going to go out but other than that, whoever’s done is up at the plate.”
As for the future, Alan acknowledges, “We’re a new label teetering on the edge of the old school and the new school. We’re trying to figure it out—how we’re going to deliver our music, what’s the best way for us. I hope in the next three to five years we can figure out something that works. What I can say is that we’re going to do this on our own for as long as we can. The best things have always happened to us when we were doing what we loved, putting that energy out there in the universe.”
His brother Neal, adds his own succinct assessment of Royal Family: “It’s all about having a home.”
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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Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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