The Royal Sun finds its station

by Jordan Green

A concise if colorful set of rules is posted on the wall of the basement rehearsal space on Lee Street.

“Absolutely no loud sounds during the week before 5 p.m.,” it reads. “No smoking. No using other people’s gear without asking. No sexy parties. Drinking, of course, is allowed.”

Three of the four members of the Royal Sun have been waiting for bass player Patrick Jones to return from a trip back to his house to pick up some gear this Sunday evening. He comes in a little before 8 p.m. carrying a six-pack of Old Chub beer in a brown paper bag.

After dinner at El Carreton, they settle in for several hours of rehearsing. Despite some moderate drinking on the job, the band members – jazz and classical music students who have applied themselves to the labor of experimental rock – reveal a collective personality that tends toward ascetic, modest and workmanlike.

After a tangential conversation spurred by the presence of an adult bookstore next door to the rehearsal space, Jones makes the comment that he’s “not a connoisseur of porn.” And at dinner, drummer Max Wood relates that he moved to Greensboro to follow a woman, but the relationship ended because of the time demands of making music.

They agree to practice a new song they merely call “the new one.” In its present incarnation it features a moderately paced drumbeat, a spare loping bass line and a gentle wash of vocals that provide a light, jazzy effect.

There are frequent stops for discussion among the four players about how to shape the song.

“Do you guys think the ending should be a little quieter to show off the keyboards?” Jones asks. They seem never to directly respond to other’s questions, but rather pile on new queries, experiment with sounds and subtly resolve problems by playing through them. In answer to Jones’ question, they reach a consensus that the sound is muddy.

“It trails off a little bit there,” says guitarist Nick Wagner.

“Do you want me to build it a little more?” asks Wood.

“Wasn’t there supposed to be a breath in there?” asks keyboardist Andy Ross.

Wood makes a suggestion.

To which Jones responds: “Can we just play it, and maybe I’ll understand what you’re talking about.”

They play.

“What?” Wood asks, catching Jones’ glance.

“It’s just kind of weird,” Jones says.

“We should give you bass notes through the last three chords.”

They play.

“I don’t like that F though,” Wagner says to Jones. “It’s not a good note.”

They play.

“That’s better,” Max says, “but something….”

Wagner laughs.

“This is what happens when we start working on one idea,” he says.

“It gets really hard,” Wood says.

The band is back together after a six-week hiatus, and they’re rehearsing some songs for a show at Two Art Chicks with Autopassion and the Tiny Meteors the following weekend.

They made a modest splash last November with the release of their self-titled debut EP, displaying an introspective electronic pop sound replete with sophisticated jazzy transitions and courtly folk lyricism, and received a friendly reception at the “Style in Stereo” fashion show hosted by WUAG FM at the Flying Anvil the following month. Later, the Anvil’s Andrew Dudek promised them an opening slot in front of the acclaimed West Coast band Deerhoof, they say, and then the venue went under.

With a check in hand from Two Art Chicks for a few CD sales and undeterred by the vicissitudes of the local music scene, they’ve set about the task of writing and recording a new batch of songs.

“Earlier last year we were in a room with instruments and a computer,” Wagner says. “We didn’t have a drummer. We played with a drum machine. Max came in and made it a band. We wrote all these songs on a computer, and figured out how to play them on our instruments later.”

“We played our first show at the Werehouse [in Winston-Salem],” Wood adds. “It could have gone really bad, but it was great.”

The four members all studied music in college, which gave them a vocabulary but also a set of conventions they hope to transcend.

Wagner and Jones studied jazz together at UNC-Wilmington and played in a funk band at a place called Omar’s on a night when the club offered $10 all-you-can-drink domestic beer specials. Wood and Ross attended UNCG together, and Ross enrolled in the sound engineering program at GTCC.

A lot of their music professors weren’t that impressive, Jones says. College music programs were “like a factory.”

“They teach you the music in a classical sense where you’re just learning other people’s work instead of creating your own.” Wagner says. “Jazz is supposed to be about expanding the boundaries. I would love to take some kids’ brains and try to massage them.”

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