Royel Otis are embarking on the journey. Their debut EP ‘Campus’ promises the kind of sonic adventure that many band’s spend a career trying to capture. The bond between the two self-proclaimed “young scoundrels” reveals a kindship running far deeper than Otis and Royel’s nascent friendship, evoking influences that resonate with a power that’s at once both timeless and vital. “When we started the project we wanted to capture that feeling of driving down the coast with the window down and the sun’s out,” recalls frontman Otis of their formative mission statement. “A lot of my favourite songs have that nostalgic vibe to them and we wanted to conjure that feeling where memories from your childhood flood back to you.” Indeed, within the first bars of seismic EP opener, ‘Without You’, there’s a scene being set that glows with a charm that’s so familiar that you’re left wracking brains for where you’ve encountered its epic, effortless hooks before until you realise you are in fact uncovering an all new path. A more emphatic introduction you could not have wished for, ‘Without You’ is the kind of gem that fans of off-kilter indie-rock have been waiting for. With surging chords and soaring road-trip spirit it takes flight from the get-go. But scratch the surface and the plot thickens. “On first listen it sounds so upbeat and bubbly,” acknowledges Royel, of their standout single. “But it’s a song about not being able to contact the only person in the world that you actually want to talk to. It’s full of heartbreak and darkness.” That enforced clash of positivity and doom is a juxtaposition that runs to the band’s core. “A lot of people tell me how summery and uplifting our music is but when they do I know they’ve not properly listened to the lyrics.”
The reluctantly charismatic duo couldn’t have chosen more idyllic origins than the sun-drenched coastline of Australia’s iconic Bondai Beach, one of the most blissful beach destinations on the planet. But the narratives woven throughout this debut powerfully offset the surf-driven stereotypes sometimes aligned with the place they call home. “The one thing we both try to do is write with honesty,” Otis explains of the ambitions that root their song-writing partnership. “Straight from the heart, it is what it is. There’s no bullshit and that’s something that’s recurrent in everything that we do.” This rhetoric roots all four tracks, not least in their debut single, ‘Only One’. “I’m just so tired of my sick mind,” laments Otis in its opening bars, before the track takes flight. The track is propelled with a pulse-racing rush that feels equally rock’n’roll and ethereal. Across the EP there’s swaggering dues paid to indie God’s like The Strokes and MGMT as well as an otherworldly spirit invoked from leftfield icons like Jonathon Richmond and the band’s personal crate-digging favourite, Japanese ‘city-pop’ figurehead, Hiroshi Sato. It’s this unique blend of pop punch and leftfield oddity that enchanted legendary New York-based mixer Dave Fridmann who discovered their sounds and begged them to unite, bringing the same expansive aura that he did with the likes of the Flaming Lips and MGMT before them.
Meeting by chance in the local bar that Royel was tending, before long they’d discover a sense that their song-writing partnership was part of a plot that was just meant to be. “Although we’d never met, as soon as we started talking we suddenly realized how many weird crossovers our lives had,” recounts Royel.
“His parents weirdly knew mine. His uncle was one of my dad’s best mates, and when we first started messaging each other about music he told me he was randomly staying up at this old farm that we’d both grown up visiting. It was kind of spooky.” This sense of inevitability and fate emanates from every note of the record. The gorgeous waltzing ‘Days In The Dark’ is arguably the EP’s most ambitious offering, the kind of anthemic groove that could soundtrack the closing credits to the ultimate coming-of-age movie. At a time when the world feels riddled with uncertainty and teetering near the brink of some kind of new disaster on a daily basis, on their debut EP Royel Otis’ brand of anthem often feels fittingly epic. But there’s a knowing charm woven throughout both its brooding lyricism and consciously art-house references that undermines any risk of them taking themselves too seriously or entering realms of rock’n’roll cliché. “My dad always used to say that if you can’t laugh at yourself you’re missing out on the best joke in the world,” Royel reminisces. “Be honest when you need to be honest and if you need to get something off your chest because it means something to you then do it. But otherwise, just have a laugh. All will probably work out OK in the long run.” This assured manifesto rings very true for Royel Otis, and could well turn out to be something of an understatement.