Washington, D.C. rockers U.S. Royalty return to MOTR Pub on Thursday, May 15

U.S. Royalty
U.S. Royalty

Thursday, May 15, 2014
MOTR Pub, 1345 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati, Ohio; 513-381-6687
Free, ages 21-up, 10pm

U.S. Royalty searches for home on their sophomore album Blue Sunshine. Chronicling the search for connection, intimacy, and acceptance, the album recounts times of confusion giving way to moments of clarity. From the tender swell of lead track “Into The Thicket” to the orchestral thrust of album title track “Blue Sunshine,” the album explores the tension between polished composition and raw energy.

After relentlessly touring the U.S. over the last few years and performing at festivals such as SXSW, Art Basel, and the Sweetlife Festival, the Washington, D.C.-based band (John Thornley, Paul Thornley, Jacob Michael, and Luke Adams) wanted to take a season to reflect. With the unexpected passing of John and Paul’s father and the disorientation upon returning to a city forsaken for the road, they felt the need to start fresh. To focus on reflection and new approaches to songwriting, the band isolated themselves with longtime friend and engineer, Justin Long (Mirrors) for six months in a house overlooking a cemetery near Great Falls, MD. While in this setting, themes of home and longing gave rise to a larger picture of balancing life on the road the changes swirling around them. With these ideas brewing, the guys brought in another good friend, Sonny Kilfoyle (the band Minks), to co-produce and help guide these songs and lyrics to the surface. Soon after, U.S. Royalty decamped for Dreamland Studios, a former church turned recording studio in upstate New York. Most of the band’s members were first introduced to music while growing up in church, so it seemed only fitting to have this century-old, once-sacred space as a creative refuge. The studio’s kaleidoscopic stained glass, cavernous sanctuary live room, and reverb plates stretching the length of the basement provided a familiar and inspiring backdrop for the group to bring months of work to fruition.

The recording process consisted of the band making use of a church organ, mellotron, strings and an array of analog equipment to introduce subtle layers into their already dynamic 4-piece. Sparse and elegant one moment and brash and recklessly passionate the next, they weave a musical tapestry from such unlikely compatriots as Mazzy Star, Stevie Nicks, and The Verve, with the vocal fervor of early U2. Lyrically, the album draws from the well of saudade, a Portuguese word that conveys a deep, melancholic longing for someone or something, coupled with the knowledge that the person, place, or experience is forever out of reach.

The fascination with cinema continues the theme that U.S. Royalty developed with their debut album. Where Mirrors mimicked the swagger of Spaghetti Westerns and Kubrick films, Blue Sunshine can be read against the narrative content of Malick’s masterpiece “Days Of Heaven.” The characters in the film seem forever in flight, either running from the law or chasing inheritance money, but they’re also pulled in by America’s gorgeous open spaces and limitless opportunity, somehow finding comfort in the swirling change around them. Like the band, they manage to find shelter somewhere between the road and home. John’s weariness is laid bare in “Blue Sunshine,” as he asks with a howl, “Why is the peace we had drifting away?” The fingerpicking and harmonies of “Into the Thicket” and “Get On Home” sound like echoes of the film’s poignant shots of Texas wheat waving in the wind. In the record’s lone instrumental, “De Profundis,” guitarist Paul’s sparse, layered acoustic guitars duel each other from start to finish, producing glimpses of beauty that are pulled back down into the churning, muddy low-end. Luke and Jacob’s rhythm section, which relentlessly drives in songs like “Lady in Waiting” and “Valley Of The Sun,” stands it’s ground throughout the album giving it a solid foundation akin to the church they recorded in.

Blue Sunshine sounds like it was recorded in what those in the film industry call the “magic hour,” that softly lit time just before the sun rises and right after it sets. As light filtered through the old church’s stained glass, John penned the lyrics to “Get On Home” while acoustic guitar reverberated through the cavernous space. What may be the album’s most singular statement came from this unplanned moment, as John speaks for the band: “Lost a few friends, no fault of our own. Wasteland of the places I’ve come now to call my home.”