Sydney’s Royal Headache burst into view back in 2011 upon the release of their self-titled album, an adrenaline shot of melodic energy and heart-on-sleeve romanticism that immediately lit up listeners home and away. They dug deep, and took their blinding live show on the road throughout North America and Australia, culminating in a series of opening dates for the Black Keys on their home continent, and a 7” single for Matador Records’ subscription series.
Why so quiet since then? “We aren’t a careerist band,” notes drummer Shortty (the members of Royal Headache take on such aliases; see also singer Shogun, guitarist Law, and bassist Joe). “We basically take breaks for a while. This last time, we really needed to step back from where the band was headed and get some perspective. That trajectory of playing all the time like we once did was not sustainable. We all have other life stuff going on, other complications, other bands, rent to pay.” Throughout that time, Royal Headache has been quietly socking away new songs for another spate of activity, and broke their silence by headlining Melbourne’s Maggot Fest last Halloween. “We started recording the second LP a while ago. The usual process for [every one of our] releases thus far is the initial recording, then Shogun doing vocals and us tinkering, basically doing bits and pieces then coming back to see how we feel about it.”
With that, Royal Headache is ready to ride once more. Their new album is called High and injects even more soul and passion into the breakneck formula that became synonymous with Royal Headache. If their first album was akin to a courtship, think of High as the romance. Not just on the level of two people falling in love, but a romance with the qualities of pop music that make Royal Headache who they are and inform what they do: eternal optimism, wistful beauty and interlocking presentation that evolves from four guys singing on a street corner to speed-addled rock, and all the brightness and darkness in between, teetering between stability and chaos and well-aware of how unsteady their footing might be. The amount of emotion and range of Shogun’s vocals and the whip-smart counterpoint provided by the band present a dash through decades of pop history, recombining not just the music but all of the feelings of pain and joy elicited from audiences, supercharged and ready to explode once more.
According to Shogun, these feelings came to the music by way of the middle period and painful end of one of these relationships. “It’s bittersweet,” he describes. “The whole of High is about someone I don’t see anymore. The music fits a bit too closely with my life in that respect. I write about four songs a week, and they’re all about things happening in my life. I’m no poet; this is just my way of dealing with the world around me and my place within it.” On the band’s periods of inactivity, Shogun claims that “I felt exhausted by the whole thing, pigeonholed into a garage-rock gimmick. Time away from all this has given me some new perspective. I’m a good singer and everyone loves a tune.” That’s an understatement. Shogun’s voice and lyrics aren’t so much a secret weapon in Royal Headache’s arsenal as they are the front line, happiness and hurt soaring above the songs, driving home all the feelings within.
Royal Headache is touring the U.S. this summer with Philadelphia’s Sheer Mag, including appearances at Los Angeles’ Berserktown II fest, and an open horizon thereafter. “I feel that we are in a good place right now,” says Shortty. “I feel like we aren’t a functional band in many ways, but it’s easier for us this way. We’re all excited and happy for the new songs on High. Although they have been worked and reworked over until they sounded right, they feel more relevant to us than ever before.”