TVD Contributor Ariane Trahan is the founder of Easy Apple, an artist development company that bridges the gap for musicians between New York City and New Orleans. She recently spoke with two members of Royal Teeth and discussed the band’s career arc and future plans.
What creates a good story? In my line of work I like to have my ears at attention when I am dealing with musicians. A lot of times they don’t even know they have a story to tell. Sometimes they’re convinced they do but prove weak at sharing it. Partly from Lafayette, partly from New Orleans, Royal Teeth is a band that is still writing the first chapter of their lighthearted fun-filled narrative. I stepped in last Saturday to talk with Gary Larsen (vox/guitar) and Josh Hefner (percussion) about how this impressive sextet has begun work on their version of Happily Ever After.
It’s 5pm on a Saturday afternoon and I am nursing an Abita Satsuma on Bayou Beer Garden’s back patio. I’m scribbling some last minute notes for my interview when I catch Larsen and Hefner timidly trotting up the wooden walkway that connects the bar to the garden. I wave them over, we do the standard salutations and handshakes, and after a few minutes of settling in and explaining my approach to the discussion, Larsen takes it from the top:
Larsen: The band, the way it is now, hasn’t actually been together very long. (Since) November of last year. I moved in with our bass player, Joshua Wells, about two years ago. We had been writing songs for a while, but nothing like Royal Teeth. It was very acoustic based, almost a different genre completely.
Hefner: Wells, Poe and I played in Oh, Juliet! together for a few years, so we already knew each other.
Ariane: …and Nora? How did that connection happen?
Larsen: When we had an opening for a singer, Stevie Billeud – our guitar player – knew a girl with a great voice who just moved out of Lafayette to New Orleans. It was pretty simple, I just Facebook messaged her. She agreed to meet us at Hey! Cafe after we stalked some Youtube videos of her.
Hefner: This is Nora’s first band. Her first time on stage was at The Saint with us. She had about a week, maybe two band rehearsals to prepare!
Larsen: It’s just like everything else in this band, everything just happens so fast. For us it seems like years ago since that show at The Saint. We’ve come so far. And with Nora it’s such a weird balance because I’m so in your face and she’s so, kind of reserved. I think it’s a good thing and we’ve gotten that tackled.
The fellas have a moment of chuckles as they recall Larsen having repeated vocal issues, not being able to sing on several occasions. Apparently he’d get through the shows with a little help from Sir Whiskey and Lady Honey, until he realized he just had a bad case of allergies and started popping the necessary meds.
Ariane: I read everything I could find on Royal Teeth this week, and though there were a couple mentions of “The Live Office Session,” there was no music to be found with this title.
Hefner: We pulled it off iTunes. We were buying time. We wanted to release something for people to have, but we also wanted to start off on the right foot and really plan our first record, which was already scheduled with Eric Bass, and we knew it would take awhile. We did a show called Off the Record, which is like a local storytellers type of thing at The Office in Lafayette.
Larsen: We were like, “We don’t play any of these songs anymore, we’ve grown so much so quickly, and we didn’t want our first representation to be what we were when we first started.”
Act Naturally, Royal Teeth’s official debut, was released last month on July 15th. In support of its unveiling they held not one, but three, CD Release parties – in Lafayette, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans. What is evident during this interview is the intelligent risks that Royal Teeth take. Prime example: including a cover of The Knife’s chart-topper “Heartbeats” on their debut recording.
Larsen: A friend of mine, just to do it, emailed their management company and said, “Hey, you should listen to this cover my friends did of “Heartbeats!” Their management said they really liked it and wanted to pass this along to the members of The Knife, so I’m pretty sure they actually heard it.
Hefner: It wasn’t just a duplication of what The Knife did, and that’s why we felt comfortable putting it on the EP.
Larsen: Our producer had never even heard the original, and when we offered to show it to him, he chose not to. He didn’t want to be influenced by anything, and just wanted to do it as if it was our song.
Royal Teeth does take a lot of risks, but they’re undeniably of the necessary kind. They talk with proud clarity about their goals with live shows and their interactions with fans.
Larsen: We wanted to do little things locally that would make our shows more interactive, so we got balloons, like we were throwing a party. We got confetti cans, and we shoot off these cans at certain parts. It’s like we’re not just playing at a distance. We risk people being unresponsive. It’s that fear that no one’s going to connect with you, but we just have to do it.
I go into the crowd and play the floor tom to close our set. This one kid was in the front row texting on his phone, so I grabbed his phone, I grabbed him, and brought him on stage. He played the tambourine and danced his butt off the entire last song. I felt like we created a connection with someone who will leave the show and really remember it.
Hefner: Gary’s taken people’s cameras before. He’ll just shoot whatever he wants to film.
Larsen: Hey, I always give it back though! Most of the time.
Ariane: You also had time to work with Jared Serigne on a music video for “My Donna.” One day of shooting and no clear cut concept going in, and the result was something very positive for Royal Teeth.
Larsen: As everything, that happened pretty quick! We got kinda lucky that Jared and Joshua had been hanging out around bars, and we knew that Jared had been doing film stuff and wanted to break into music videos, so we all trusted his ideas and thought it was a great opportunity. We spent the entire day in Abita Springs, and we lucked up to find out there was a bike festival happening the same day. That wasn’t planned. When people found out we were shooting a music video, they let us ride their bikes for the shoot. It was miserably hot but a really fun day. Definitely a success. We’re working with Jared again to release another video, this time for “Wild.”
Nine months into this band, and they have a spitfire of a debut EP, a very well-done video, 400 fans attending Monday night shows, and interest from music executives nationwide. All without any promotion! This is the perfect beginning to a publicist’s dream story for her client.
Hefner: A lot of bands work really hard on touring and leaving New Orleans, but we’ve been very successful, so far, without having gone on a tour or even left Louisiana. We feel pretty grateful. Sony has reached out to us. BMI and ASCAP are really into the stuff. 3OH!3‘s manager hit us up. The singer for The Summer Set tweeted about us. How are these people hearing about us? We haven’t even sent the record out to anyone.
Hefner and Larsen are very careful with their choice of words right about now. I can sense there’s even bigger things cooking in their world that they would be delighted to share with me, but after reminding them they are on the record, they smile at each other with sealed lips.
Ariane: So there’s a Royal Teeth show happening soon, yeah?
Larsen: This is our first show in New Orleans since our release.
Hefner: Yeah, we don’t want people to be like, “Aww, we’ll just catch ‘em next week.” I think a lot of bands over saturate the market. You gotta watch that. I’d rather have one good show every six weeks than three semi-good shows every two weeks.
Larsen: I never really understood it until like, when I see shows that I haven’t seen in awhile. Like the show we’re going see tonight (Vox & The Hound). I didn’t realize how bad I wanted to see them, but it’s because I haven’t seen them. When bands play back-to-back shows, it’s not like, “Do I want to see this band?” It’s more like a question of, “Do I wanna go out?” We want people to really say, “I want to go see this band and it’s going to be a fantastic experience.”
Since seeing them perform months ago, I am very excited to see Royal Teeth’s progress. You can see for yourself just how great they are at making concerts fun again this Thursday, September 1st at The Maison. Put your phones away, guys and gals, unless you’re really good at playing the tambourine.