The Last Royals’ Twist Beginnings

According to their Facebook page, The Last Royals would describe their sound as “urban walking music”—an unusual genre classification, but one that ultimately works for Eric James and Mason Ingram. James and Ingram met after working on a charity album with Michael Beck, and then began working together, sharing an interest in more classic rock and Americana influences than modern indie-rock fallbacks. The result was the Brooklyn-based duo’s self-titled EP in 2010. After working and re-working more tracks, the band just put out their first full-length, Twistification, the title of which refers to an old Southern Baptist document that a friend told James about, forbidding “twistification.”

In support of their first record release, James and Ingram are playing a three-week residency at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City, rather than doing a regional tour. The Last Royals believe that there are still enough people they have yet to reach in New York, the band is better served by hitting that audience first.

We spoke with Eric James about re-cutting their tracks, not listening to a lot of indie rock, and making their own version of “forbidden” music. 

ILANA KAPLAN: I’ve been listening to your album on repeat on Spotify, before I was recommended to listen to you guys. It showed up under “What’s New,” and I was pleasantly surprised. Your EP came out a couple of years ago; what was the delay between the EP and the album release for Twistification?

ERIC JAMES: Yeah. Looking back, I think there was the usual red tape, anytime you’re signing contracts and forming new partnerships with labels and stuff, that always holds it up a bit. Mostly it was me meeting Mason, the drummer. We started to realize that as we were playing these songs out, they were feeling very different from the original way that many of them had been recorded. We agreed with the label to go in and touch up a couple of the songs: two songs turned into three, then four. We ended up re-cutting the whole record except for the song “Crystal Vases.” I think that was the holdup; the label first grabbed onto the original batch of songs I turned in to them. Then I started saying it should feel more like a band and less like an electro kind of thing. It took a while to hash that out, and all along the way playing live with the players and seeing that the songs had a different life than we originally thought.

KAPLAN: It sounds like the songs have really come together. Have you guys been playing a lot of shows throughout the US, or is this residency at Rockwood Music Hall your first big gig?

JAMES: We’ve done a little bit of touring: some regional stuff. We were out last fall for a couple of weeks, but we haven’t gone as far as the West Coast. We’ve done SXSW. We’ve never done a full-on US tour. I think it’s one of the things about living in New York. You can go play in Altoona, Pennsylvania and there might be three people there, and you can play New York twice in a month, and you can play to different people every time. It’s that kind of city. One of the upsides of living in this crazy town is that there are so many places to play. We decided on a residency instead of doing an East Coast-y thing, there are still a lot of people that we want to experience the live show. We’re sort of focusing on that for now.

KAPLAN: Cool. Are you guys originally both from New York, or do you use the city as your home base?

JAMES: No. Mason, our drummer, is from Austin, Texas. I was born in Michigan, but grew up in Philadelphia. We’ve both been here for about six or seven years.

KAPLAN: What part of Brooklyn do you guys live in?

JAMES: I’m in Park Slope, and Mason is in the Bushwick area.

KAPLAN: Nice! I’m in Greenpoint.

JAMES: Oh nice! Great spot.

KAPLAN: Great spots to eat.

JAMES: I know. Every time I go there, I’m like “this place is amazing.” And amazing rooftop views.

KAPLAN: Definitely! Who are some of your influences? In my head, the music drastically changes from an electro-pop sound to a folk-rock sound.

JAMES: My original influences are the classic, original rock bands. The Beatles are an original influence. My dad grew up listening to The Beatles, so therefore I did. My dad used to quiz me on the last track of Abbey Road. There’s this part where there are three different guitar solos, and he used to ask me which part was John, Paul, or George.  These days, I listen to everything. I’m not an indie-music hound. I can’t take in that much information without feeling overwhelmed. I find myself going back to the old stuff. I go back to Bob Dylan a lot. I love Americana bands like Wilco. Ryan Adams is awesome.  I also love hard-rock bands. This record has lyrics that can take people on a journey for 40 minutes, but the music itself is hopefully fun, rock-‘n’-roll.

KAPLAN: On the topic of other musicians, who would you love to play with now that Twistification has been released?

JAMES: U2, for sure. They are my favorite modern band. They are masters of arena rock, and they’re one of my favorite bands of all time. I’ve seen them probably more than any popular band. I think one of the things they do really well is take out openers that are up-and-coming. I first heard Arcade Fire when they were on tour with U2. I love that they are willing to take out bands that might not have fully broken yet. Obviously, have broken on some level. That would be a dream for me, to play with those guys.

KAPLAN: I concur. How did you come up with such a “twisty” title for your album?

JAMES: The title is a funny thing. A friend of mine who grew up in the south was telling me how he went to a very conservative, Southern Baptist school. They had this 100-year-old document of by-laws that they wouldn’t engage in drinking alcohol, they wouldn’t play cards or would by no means engage in the act of “twistification.” I just thought it was the most hilarious thing. It was years ago when I heard that story. I thought that would make an amazing album title. I’ve been waiting all these years to use it. We knew that album was going to be called Twistification before we even made it. It was fun to have that tunnel to kind of push things through. The idea, of course, is that it’s slightly forbidden, teenage grooves and longings. Hopefully some of that stuff comes across in the songs.