Published on May 17th, 2006 | by The Beige Baron


Royal Crown Revue

Royal Crown Revue percussionist Daniel Glass is calling from a very picturesque spot on the outskirts of LA called Silverlake.

“There are mountains in the distance, and there’s a large reservoir here… I look out over the water every morning.” The serenity of such a spot is a far cry from the fever pitch that was raised in the film The Mask, when Jim Carrey shouted the words “Let’s rock this joint!” to the in-house band of the Coco Bongo Club. Yep, this is that band. The Royal Crown Revue were the obvious choice to appear in the film, and have been asked to contribute to the soundtracks of many others, because they epitomise a certain timeless style. “We kind of have our own genre that we have defined… it’s fairly specific”, says Daniel, “We take central American styles… put them through a modern-day prism, and put them back into the world as something new.”

Asked about the pros and cons of having such a distinctive and recognisable sound, Daniel jokes: “The advantage is that nobody sounds like you, and the disadvantage is that nobody sounds like you.” Many would associate the RCR with what Daniel describes as the “retro swing phenomenon of the late 90’s”, which he admits has passed it’s peak. “It turned into an enormous trend, which has its plusses and minuses, because as with any trend, it must come to a crashing and embarrassing halt….”

But Daniel is keen to point out some important differences between the RCR and the many more fleetingly successful acts of the movement. “The bands who sold millions of records in the (retro swing) phenomenon, I don’t think, on a musical level, did much justice to what classic American music is all about”, he says, “Our records… are very eclectic. We’ll draw from a 1920’s style, New Orleans or Chicago Jazz, we’ll follow that up with a be-bop tune, we’ll follow that up with a Sinatra style tune, we’ll follow that up with a stomp/rhythm and blues thing…”

But the main thing that sets the Royal Crown Revue apart from the imitators is that they are still around. “We never sat around twiddling our thumbs since it ended as an official trend. We just keep on going… We’ve been doing it for fifteen years.”

Like many bands that re-shape the past, the music of the RCR is capable of reminding us all of often-overlooked artists that helped to define modern music. Daniel is keen to tell me about a couple such artists: “Definitely a big influence on us is Louis Prima… Louie Prima was huge as an influence for the entire retro swing movement. Louis Jordan is another artist that was a big influence, and he represents the junk blues style of the 1940’s which is one step away from rock’n’roll. A lot of people are surprised when they listen to Louie Prima and Louis Jordan because they hear it in the same way as they would hear rock’n’roll music. They’re surprised that it’s from the 40’s/early 50’s.”

While aiming for a nostalgic sound, the RCR are fairly open minded about whether or not the recording gear should reflect the same theme. “It’s funny, you talk about modern technology… we went back on Walk on Fire and used all the vintage technology: We used RCA’44 microphones, vintage pre-amps that went straight to tape… (But) on our Warner Brothers records, we went for a modernised, updated sound. We weren’t afraid to use some of the benefits of modern technology, in terms of echoes and delays and compression and that kind of stuff.” One of the reasons behind the longevity of the Royal Crown Revue is the constant demand for their work in film and television. Hey Pachuco, their feature song in The Mask, is one of those songs pretty much everybody knows, even if they don’t realise it. Every time you see a movie trailer where there’s some kind of slapstick or crazy antics involved, there’s a good chance you’ll be listening to that song. Daniel filled me in on some of the group’s more recent contributions: “We had something in Something’s got to give, something in The Cat in the Hat last year, we did something on an episode of Malcolm in the Middle… We’re looking to do some music now for a new Pixar film.” Of course, no group can sustain international success as long as the RCR without a reputation for solid live performances.

“None of our albums, even the live stuff, are able to capture the excitement of a Royal Crown Revue show.”, Daniel says. “We always go out there ready to throw down, and to give the audience their money’s worth, absolutely. There’s just stuff flying at you from all directions… everybody in the band gets to step out and do their thing, and Eddie (the vocalist) is sort of the ringmaster.”

Although much of the band’s live legacy is tied to The Derby, an art-deco style venue in Las Vegas where their shows helped inspire the concept art of The Mask, a more recent chapter in the band’s history was recorded in Melbourne’s own HiFi Bar; The 2001 release Passport to Australia. “The fans were just out of control on that tour”, Daniel explains, “We felt that the energy from the Australian fans was just so incredible that we wanted to capture that…”

For newly won converts, the band’s latest release Greetings from Hollywood makes a good stepping-in point. “It’s one part compilation, one part basement tapes, and one part brand new record. Everything on the album is unreleased – it’s all new stuff… It’s a good introduction for people who are just getting into the band, and it’s a thank-you to our fans.”

— Jesse Shrock

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Groping for trouts in a peculiar river.

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