Pink Royal is a Lawrence-based band. They are playing Crossroads KC May 7th as a part of Middle of the Map Fest 2016. Vocalist Dylan Guthrie recently discussed his earliest musical memory, why he’s excited about playing CrossroadsKC and advice to musicians just starting out.
Did you come from a musical family? Were your parents musical?
Despite my last name being Guthrie, my immediate family was never very musical. My grandpa was in a pretty prominent Barbershop quartet when he was in his 20s in New York. Still, my parents forced me to begin taking piano lessons when I was five which I ended up falling in love with.
My mom had an old Yahama guitar lying around that she bought when living in New Zealand that she could play a few chords on. One day when I was around eleven I picked it up for the first time, and according to my parents I just started playing “Old St. Nicholas” by ear. I’m sure it was terrible, but looking back that was the moment I decided I was destined to ROCK.
What was your earliest musical memory?
This is not so much a memory of mine, but based on old home videos, I know my first experience with music was on the day I was born as I lounged in the Lawrence Memorial Hospital maternity ward. A particular video filmed by my father zooms in on little red-faced-baby-me, and you can hear some bebop in the background and my dad saying, “getting him started on the GOOD stuff.” I just asked him, and he claims it was a Dexter Gordon album.
What do you remember most about your first time onstage?
I remember getting in huge trouble because when I was a first grader I got picked to be a part of a small vocal ensemble at a school assembly. We were singing a song that was supposed to teach kids how to count to ten in Spanish. The music teacher worked really hard to get us ready for the show over a few months, and all the kids felt really special to be representing the 1st music class in front of the whole school. He taught us choreography and everything. We were the chosen ones! As soon as the song started I began dancing around the stage like a wild circus animal with complete disregard for everything we practiced. Now, the music teacher was a very calm person who I’d never seen get upset before, but I very distinctly remember him being absolutely furious with me after the performance. I was very close to getting kicked out of music class. If you’ve seen one of Pink Royal’s shows you’d probably agree that I haven’t changed all that much since then.
How did Pink Royal first get started?
Pink Royal started as a musical collective that played shows on Sundays in Lawrence at the Jazzhaus as a part of their Sunday jam session called “Speakeasy Sunday.” I wasn’t in the group at the time, but soon enough their old singer Chad “Mustard” Smith of Dumptruck Butterlips had plans to move to Austin, TX, and he asked me to join the group as his replacement. I respected the heck out of all the stuff that Steve LaCour (our current guitar player) was writing. It was so unique, but it was also incredibly hooky, so I obliged and joined the group. We spent a year or two mostly just getting whisky drunk at rehearsals and playing with whichever bands would have us on the bill. We eventually decided to record our debut album, TAPS, which we released in April 2015. Since then we’ve been treating this whole music thing like a job, which has paid off big time. Don’t worry, we still will drink a whisky or five with you, before, during, or after a show.
How does your creative process work when writing songs?
Personally I will tend to find a hook coming along to me at the strangest of times when I am nowhere near my guitar or other musicians, so I will just whip out my phone and record a voice memo, and record everything all at once whether I’m driving, out in public, or whatever. I’ll get my guitar later and work out the chords, hits, etc. whenever I get home. For me, writing songs seems to happen all at once. I’ll write five songs in as many days, and then not have another good one for five months.
Pink Royal is very collaborative, though. Normally someone will bring a riff or a chord progression to rehearsal or to Alex’s house on a rowdy Friday night after going out, and we will just mess around with it until we find something that makes us smile. I can do a whole show just making up lyrics and melodies, so there is a lot of room to be creative so long as we have something groovy to serve as a foundation. Everyone else does a great job of listening and bouncing ideas off of each other and we all contribute. It’s really organic. It normally takes us a few months before we’re ready to play something out because we’re pretty OCD about getting all the elements of a tune nice and tight before we play it for people.
You put on a fantastic live show. How do you approach recording in the studio differently than playing onstage?
With lots of patience! Recording is SO rewarding, but it is painstaking. We all have VERY strong ideas about the way we want things to sound, so it takes a while for us to agree on all the details. I always try to sing my vocals all in one take so there is a sense of continuity. It is important for us to capture that energy of a live performance when you boil a tune down to a nicely packaged mixed and mastered studio track. Our producer, Jim Barnes of KC’s Hembree, had a Ken Griffey Jr. baseball card he would tack up onto the board in front of the mic anytime he thought we needed additional inspirado.
You are playing Middle of the Map Fest at Crossroads KC this year. What are you most looking forward to about playing Middle of the Map 2016?
MOTM is like a scaled down version of Austin’s SXSW which we just recently got back from playing five shows in four days at. MOTM is way less overwhelming and way less commercial, which is definitely a bonus. It brings together some mega rad national and local acts. What I like most about festivals like this is stumbling around to different venues and discovering music I didn’t know about. I love hanging out with KC area musicians and music lovers as well. These are my PEOPLE, man!
This year, we’re totally stoked to play at Crossroads KC. A year a go it would’ve seemed like a pretty far off goal to play such an awesome stage, but we’re really happy that we get a chance to groove on down at such a cool venue.
What is the best advice you ever received about being a musician?
At Silly Goose’s Mix/Master 2014, Ink Magazine’s Chris Haghirian told the conference goers multiple times “treat your band like a business.” This advice really took root in our approach. Musicians are by rule not the most pragmatic minded people. We like to sleep in late, drink too much, and forget to respond to emails. Fighting against this mentality has been a key to our success as a band.
What are the biggest obstacles you’ve had to overcome in your career?
The biggest obstacles we face are finding common ground despite creative differences. This is very hard to do sometimes because in Pink Royal, we all have very strong opinions about everything from our music, to marketing, to which set we should play, to finances, to what Steve should wear to gigs (LOLOLOLOLOL, sorry Steve). It is super awesome to consistently maintain such commitment and such passion from everybody. When you’re in a serious band, you are pretty much dating five other people. Bands break up, they fight over text messages, they take selfies together and post them on social media, etc…We’ve had to learn how to actively listen to everyone’s opinion and problem solve as a group. Being in a band has taught us a lot about how to be better people.
What advice would you give to musicians just starting out?
Wherever you play, make sure you are always giving your all. Bare your soul. That’s what people want to see and hear. Whether you’re playing for five people or five hundred, being a musician is not about you. Playing a show is about everybody in your band and everyone in your audience connecting and enjoying their respite from the monotony of every day life. I consciously realize that I must look like a maniac when I perform, prancing around from one side of the stage to the other all whilst my face turns red and my veins pop out as I shamelessly belt another number. It’s all about letting go of your fear of whether or not you’re looking “cool.” It’s hip to be weird these days, so embrace your inner Chris Farley spirit animal and give everyone something to talk about.