The big review: Reading Festival 2023
Don Broco, Sleep Token, Hot Milk and more fly the flag for rock at Reading & Leeds 2023.
If you want to know what relations were like between the brothers of Palaye Royale before COVID: they got into a fistfight with one another. On the forecourt of an Austrian petrol station. While on magic mushrooms.
“Dude, I don’t recommend it,” shrugs singer Remington Leith of the incident, one of a few in which brotherly bickering on the road between himself, guitarist Sebastian Danzig and drummer Emerson Barrett became actually quite mean.
You ask him how this happened – both in the ‘what pushed you to that point?’ meaning of the question, and also in the sense of how it’s actually possible to be co-ordinated enough and in an aggressive enough mood on such a drug to effectively throw a punch at someone – and he shrugs again. “It wasn’t the best fight, but we were at our wits’ end with one another.”
Palaye Royale were at the hot end of almost ceaseless touring. When they hadn’t been touring, they’d been making records. These had to be done quick, on account of having a diary full of touring up ahead – you see where this is going. The brothers had spent the thick end of a decade at the coalface of being in a band, first as Kropp Circle (a play on their real familial name), then as the more regal Palaye Royale.
They’d also finally started to get their wheels turning properly. Using London venues as a metric for measurement, they recall today how they’d gone from playing the 200-capacity Camden Assembly on their first visit to the capital in November 2017, to the O2 Academy Brixton two years later. The latter tour was to bring the curtain down on their Boom Boom Room era, a pair of albums released as Side A (2016) and Side B (2018), which had seen the band hoover up a cult clique of fans, a movement named in keeping with their flair for the fabulous, Soldiers Of The Royal Council.
In February 2020, Palaye Royale were winning. They were making a good case for their ambitions to be the most stylish, swaggering and sassy new(ish) band in town, whether that town be London, Los Angeles or their home of Las Vegas. Like Indiana Jones just sliding under a closing tomb door, they notched up another London victory, before COVID turned everything off.
It was a break they didn’t realise they needed until they were forced to take it.
“I didn't even think we realised how whittled we were becoming and how bitter toward one another we were getting,” says Remington. “And it took us taking a break to see that, because otherwise we would have kept going and just kept touring and then burnt out. I think we would have imploded.”
And so, with touring off, Palaye Royale were able to stop for a minute. They recalibrated, they regrouped, and they really thought about what they were. They’d always talked about being more than a band – and Emerson, especially, references his group as an “art project” with arms beyond music – now with the wind behind them and success under their belts, they could work out what that really meant. The result is Fever Dream, by far the strongest thing to which the band have put their name, a record that made Palaye Royale realise what they are.
Even at one o’clock in the afternoon, wearing shades, a scruffy shirt, and hair that looks exactly like his admission that, “I just got out of bed 20 minutes ago,” Remington Leith still appears very Palaye Royale. On the sofa next to him, his brothers look more familiarly so. Emerson – hooped shirt, beret – is a picture of louche cool, while a remark that Sebastian’s suit is not what one would expect at such an hour gets the response that, “I’m only not wearing a suit when I’m jogging.”
Palaye Royale is all-encompassing, to the point that Sebastian says, “I don’t have any hobbies or anything outside this. Everything is related to the band in some way.” That’s kind of where the trouble started – there was no getting away from it.
When they did begin writing what would become Fever Dream, the freedom to take more time than usual meant cutting things away to see what was what. Often, it involved simply sitting at an upright piano and waiting for inspiration to strike. At other times, spotting instruments like Mellotrons, ideas would come more quickly. All of it, though, they had the freedom to explore at their own pace.
“With the lockdown situation and not being able to leave the house, you really honed in on every note and every lyric,” explains Remington. “So we actually took our time, instead of touring, then having two weeks off for recording here and there, and then touring again, and then another two weeks off and trying to finish the record that way. It almost brought us back to our roots from when we were kids, just making music. There were no limits. And we went as crazy as we could with it.”
“It was a great way of putting together this album,” agrees Sebastian. “We had a Mellotron in the room, we had the pianos in the room, we had all these interesting instruments that technically don't really ever go to in a rock band situation. It's usually always the after fact when people will put Mellotron or strings after the fact, [but] we were starting with those instruments and then building a rock track around it.”
There’s something very golden age of both rock’n’roll and Hollywood about the set-up. The band worked in an ancient-by-LA-standards house which was once part of the original 1920s Hollywoodland development (from which the city’s iconic sign comes) and at one time belonged to French singing star Maurice Chevalier. Making their own music in the place sounds like something from the ’70s, when bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath would be sequestered in houses and luxury hotels to find a mojo and make music from it.
“We set up a mattress for our producer on the floor and pretty much worked, like, 16, 18 hours a day,” says Remington. “We definitely lost our minds a little bit.”
“The most magical moments of creation are from 10pm to 6am,” adds Emerson. “That was where we get the real incredible stuff.”
“We're definitely all night owls,” continues Sebastian. “But it's such an amazing process losing time like that. It's really easy to get lost in a song, and you could just keep going and changing it and evolving it. But that’s what was so great about Chris [Greatti, producer], he was there to bring us out and go, ‘Okay, let’s stay ’til this is done.’”
Even when their producer wasn’t so keen on staying up, the band would do vocals in the middle of the night. Adding to the ’70s vibe, a circle of friends and musicians would drop by the house to hang out, and often end up on a song. Like phem, who adds extra sparkle to the title-track, or LP, on Line It Up. And they weren’t the only guests in the studio…
“Dude, that place was haunted,” drawls Emerson. “We would have parties every now and again. And constantly people were talking about how they would hear voices and see ghosts in the house.”
At first they didn’t believe it. But word was that one previous occupier had murdered his wife in the building. And then Remington had a run-in with something not of this world.
“I didn't believe any of that shit, but I saw it with my own eyes one day and I ran upstairs and hid underneath my bed.”
Come on, are you sure it wasn’t a spirit from a bottle? Jack Daniel, Jim Beam, Glen Morangie…
“No, I know it was true because I was completely sober.”
So what happened?
“I went downstairs go get some water before bed. I'm walking downstairs and then I see this woman in a white dress go into the guest bathroom. I run to my room, freaking out, and my roommate says, ‘Dude, that's... there's no way.’ When we went downstairs, lightbulbs started flickering, and then one burst out.
“Two days later, I hear my roommate running up and down the stairs,” he continues. “I can't fucking sleep, and I go to like call him out, and he's completely passed out his bed. The next day we looked up the history of the house, and standing next to the fireplace in the house is a woman in a white dress.
“I don't really believe in any of that shit but it was fucking creepy.”
Elsewhere, the darkness was more real. But again, it was a thing that, ultimately, strengthened the bond between the three. For Remington, having part of his life in neutral for so long after years of it being front and centre meant filling a void, not always with good things.
“During this record, I was going through some personal stuff,” he begins. “I definitely felt like we were in the best place as brothers and as bandmates and stuff, but it was a tough time, because my entire life was touring, and I just felt like I had no purpose. I felt like life had no meaning when I wasn't onstage. So I tried to compensate by partying a lot. And I definitely caught up in a bad time. And luckily, I had these two to kind of bring me out. It was a dark period, but we were creating the best music.
“There's one lyric in particular in the song Oblivion that I think captures the record,” he continues. “‘I’m in between the best and the worst of me.’ And I feel like that kind of captures the record perfectly. It shows the darkness, but we're actually showing the light for the first time.”
Emerson, often the band’s main ideas man, expands on this perspective.
“I think that's also a thing of being a human being – we go through a series and set of obstacles that we have to make a decision to find the good or the bad,” he says. “I don't think any one person is truly good, or any one person is truly evil. We have to go through our day and make a conscious decision to be good or bad, so we're always going through that process of evolution. We’re always progressing in this life and trying to be the best versions of ourselves, but it's very easy to slip when there's so many obstacles being thrown your way. So, having each other, we're able to keep an eye on each other when one of us gets a bit evil.”
The world in which Palaye Royale operate and the world they want to create via the band is the positive, bright end of all this, filled with love and art and excitement and wonder. This is what the brothers wanted to preserve when things came to a head.
Their frontier is not one that stops with music venues. They want in on the worlds of art and fashion, of film. Cool stuff. That they’ve released a graphic novel, and played at LA Fashion Week, as models strode up and down the runway. Just as when they’ve toured with Rob Zombie or, most recently, Korn, they note enthusiastically that people probably weren’t quite expecting what they brought.
“We love that hoity-toity shit,” grins Sebastian. “You have all these runway models going down the runway, and we're playing a fucking rock punk show. Remington’s hanging from the rafters overhead and scaring people.”
“I love to scare fucking old people,” laughs Remington. “They have no idea what the fuck they're looking at. And I love it!”
The circles in which they move now are full of movers and shakers. Post Malone is one. Pussy Riot for another. It’s a vibe Sebastian likens to “what The Velvet Underground did with Andy Warhol”. The president of Kodak film is a fan, says Emerson, to the point where they’re regulars at a restaurant he owns, which offers as good a window as any into Palaye Royale’s world. “Everyone that has this identity hangs out there,” he says. “We've become good friends with Shepard Fairey and a bunch of different street artists and poets and philosophers.”
When it’s noted that it basically sounds like they’re pining for Camden Town in 2004, during the period when the areas streets and pubs were home to the likes of Amy Winehouse, The Libertines, plus a million other similarly-minded spirits, they nod in the affirmative. And they have bragging rights: Libertines singer Carl Barat opened for them on their UK tour earlier this year. It was exactly what they’d hoped for.
“Every day he would sit onstage, holding fucking shots for us,” beams Sebastian. “The first day we met him, he knocked on the door. We were like, ‘Oh my god. That's so cool. We met Carl!’ And then two seconds later he bangs on door like, ‘Boys – let's do a fucking shot.’ I was like, ‘I love this. This is the best week of our fucking touring career!’”
And just as you’re thinking that maybe a band with the unhealthy stories The Libertines do might not be such great role models, here again the members of Palaye Royale see more than music. Carl Barat, along with co-Libertine Pete Doherty, own a hotel in Margate, dedicated to giving guests a chicly scruffy rock’n’roll immersive experience. This, they say, is the sort of thing they want for themselves.
“We're starting to venture out into like, doing our own outside-of-venue shows, and making an immersive experience doing that,” says Sebastian. “Emerson has been looking into opening up some nightclubs. It’s like when you have something like The Libertines’ hotel, those are just beautiful experiences.”
We come back to why Palaye Royale are stronger than whatever might happen during a psychedelic punch-up in a motorway services. Because this is what they are. Talking to them, it’s easy to believe just how jazzed they are about the possibilities of their ideas, just as you can believe they really don’t know anything else. And nor would they want to. The reason they go so hard is because they want to make something that can be shared with their fans, something that you can really take a bath in, immerse yourself in. So long as it’s fabulous and exciting, Palaye Royale wouldn’t say no.
“This is the world we've created and the world that we get to live in – and it's beautiful,” grins Sebastian. “It's absolutely amazing. And it's because of the power of fans that we have, that we continue to grow and always push boundaries. And it's not like, ‘Well, let's have a hit go to the radio, go to arenas, and everyone makes money.’ That money, what it's doing for us is to make the show bigger, make the fucking world bigger.”
“I want to build our own cultural thing that stands within this generation,” says Emerson. “And I want to bring together this Royal Council fanbase of ours, and connect to them on an even deeper, further level. We feel very inspired that it's almost like an open art project with thousands of kids. We love to do things that are a bit out of the box, things that excite us because we're all looking for a reason to get up every day.”
And then, casually, he sinks a bit further into the sofa and casually sums up his band as succinctly as two hours of conversation.
“When we find crazy roads that not many people go down, that's usually where we’ll go.”
Fever Dream is out now via Sumerian
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