On The Frontier: An Interview with Royal Baths

From Left: Cox and Baer

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Jeremy Cox, guitarist for Royal Baths in a mop closet at The Empty Bottle over a few cans of Hamm’s. Their newest Better Luck Next Life is a jet-black piece of psychedelic rock, pulsing with unstable energy and reeking of bad intentions. Many thanks to Jeremy for meeting with me, and please take a moment to see Royal Baths when they come to your town, as they no doubt will. 

Frontier Psychiatrist: You guys just relocated to Brooklyn after building much of your career in San Francisco. Why move to Brooklyn, because everyone is there?

Jeremy Cox: (Laughs) We went through the City on tour a couple of times, and we noticed the audience was more receptive to what we were doing. And, obviously, there’s just a lot more people there. I was in San Francisco for about 4 years, Jigmae (vocals, guitar) was there for almost 8, so we certainly had our share of the Bay. [San Francisco] is one of, if not my favorite cities in the U.S., but obviously New York is a lot bigger, and it has a lot of history. We certainly have a budding romance with The City.

FP: Are you inspired by your time in New York?

JC: Well, we haven’t had much time, but it’s definitely inspiring and fast paced. Despite what everybody told me when I was moving out, there are a lot of very caring people in New York City; it’s quite the opposite of the notion that residents very cold and distant. I happen to think that with so much in New York, you’re bound to find a positive and supportive person everywhere and anywhere. The humanity is thick there. That said, I don’t know how much it directly affects our songwriting, but as people, it is putting us in a new headspace, which is definitely important to our songwriting process.

Royal Baths – Faster, Harder

FP: I understand you just recently wrote and recorded your follow-up to Better Luck Next Life. Can you tell us a bit about your experiences with the album finishing and release process?

JC: Well, Better Luck Next Life was recorded almost a year ago. That’s kind of the way all of our records have been, Litanies followed a similar pattern. The year difference between recording and release is largely circumstantial. It’s been a process of getting fucked, being confused about what the next step should be, remixing and working with labels, but basically it’s because we haven’t had a strong guideline for how our releases should work.

For example, despite finishing recording sessions for Better Luck Next Life last February, the album was not fully mixed until the end of the following June, due to unforeseen changes. We initially recorded the album using analog equipment, but due to budget and time concerns we had to convert the tape to digital and mix it that way.

FP: That’s a bummer.

JC: I’m not really a purist in that sense, because I think that digital mixing when you have no budget is really the only way to go. Unless you’re looking for that lo-fi sound, which we certainly are not, despite some attempting to tack us as one.

FP: I wouldn’t say you’re a lo-fi band, really. Better Luck Next Life has plenty of depth and layers that you would not be able to create in a lo-fi setting.

JC: Thank you, it’s good to hear that.

Royal Baths – Be Afraid of Me

FP: We’re loving Better Luck Next Life at FP. Our review came out a few weeks ago, and written by a great friend of mine, and he found that the album is distinctly American. Would you agree that the album is American in its excess and character?

JC: Rock and roll is from America, and people tend to forget that with the British Invasion and such, but it is profoundly American. And we’re a rock and roll band, and proud to be part of that lineage.

FP: It’s interesting, you have a psychedelic revival sound, but it’s still very fresh and new. Would you agree that Royal Baths have that classic garage-psych sound? How do you guys fit into the quickly growing psychedelic movement that indie-rock has been experiencing lately?

JC: Definitely, it’s undeniable. We’re not trying to paint the same painting that’s been done before, but we certainly have interest in the sounds that were explored in the past. While there’s a big garage-psych revival in the works, I wouldn’t say we are directly a part of it, more just linked to it. We’ve been integrated in that scene, for sure (singer Jigmae Baer once played drums for Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall) but I don’t think we belong to a specific movement, if that’s not too bold. I really don’t think that movements exist until at least a decade after, when you can look back and see all that happened collectively in a period of time.

FP: In the fine and modern art worlds, the term “movement” is not used lightly like it is by the music press. If you call something a movement, you need to be ready to face plenty of opposition. The music press doesn’t seem to feel the same way.

JC: I appreciate that thinking a lot, actually, and I would appreciate it a lot more if that was attributed to the music world. Unfortunately it is not. I think most descriptive words for music really just shows how bastardized the English language has become. (ed note: he must not read FP)

Then again, I’m not terribly articulate. It should be noted that Jigmae writes all our lyrics.

FP: Those are some pretty dark lyrics.

JC: (Laughs) A lot of them are tongue in cheek, honestly. Music is theatre, so it’s important to not get too attached to what he sings. We collaborate on themes, and I have input, but in the end it’s really his poetic narrative. I’m there to create a melody and to orchestrate the song around his words. We’re very open-minded when working with each other’s ideas, and a decision is always made, rather than just occurring.

Royal Baths – Black Sheep

FP: Do you find yourselves playing with a lot of the same bands, forming musical alliances?

JC: Well, we’re still pretty new to the New York scene, so regarding alliances we don’t have too many. I’m dating Lesley Hann from Friends, but we’ve only played together one time, so that’s the closest alliance I know of.

FP: I understand you’re on a pretty huge tour. What’s on the iPod?

JC: It really depends on the situation, and currently we’re driving through America so that’s where we’re focused. Today we listened to Townes Van Zandt, Leadbelly, The Gun Club and Leonard Cohen.

FP: Thanks a lot for your time, Jeremy. Best of luck on the tour.

JC: You’re welcome, and thank you.

Peter Lillis is Assistant Editor of Frontier Psychiatrist. This was his Almost Famous moment.

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