Royel Otis: “We Agreed A While Ago To Just Back Each Other”

Guitar-pop duo Royel Otis are one of Australia’s most in-demand acts. Writer and Junkee’s Music Editorial Specialist Ben Madden caught up with the band to talk about their debut album, ‘PRATTS & PAIN’, and how South London influenced the album’s sound.

royel otis band promotional photo

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It’s a great time to be Royel Otis.

When I speak with bandmates Royel Maddell and Otis Pavlovic, they’re a week out from releasing their debut album, PRATTS & PAIN and they’ve just taken part in triple j’s Like A Version segment, sharing their now-viral cover of Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s ‘Murder on the Dancefloor’. Largely recorded in South London with Grammy Award-winning producer Dan Carey, the album’s title comes from the name of South London pub Pratts & Payne, where the band wrote many of the lyrics for the album — more on that later. 

South London’s a world away from the Byron Bay area, where the bandmates first connected to make music back in 2019. Running in similar musical circles, Otis, before heading on a European gap year trip, emailed demos to Royel. From there, Royel began working on the demos, and soon sensed that they were kindred musical spirits. Once Otis returned from his travels, Royel Otis was formed. Things have been on hyperdrive ever since for the band, who’ve released a trio of EPs to date: 2021’s Campus, 2022’s Bar & Grill and 2023’s Sofa Kings, all featuring sunny guitar-pop that emulates the Byron Bay weather.

PRATTS & PAIN, by comparison, sounds ever-so-slightly gloomier, while retaining the sense of fun that’s been a staple of Royel Otis’ music. The swirling ‘Molly’ could soundtrack a walk through the streets on an overcast day, and Otis sounds like he’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders as he laments, “Mix the Molly with the game/For now we’ll stay awake/But by now it’s all the same”. Elsewhere on the album, highlight ‘Foam’ features a tinge of world-weariness, and the chorus would make a terrifying threat — “Slow down and keep my name out your mouth/Could burn your lot to the ground/Just to hear the sound/Of you crying”. “[Producer] Dan definitely made things darker, in a sense,” Royel says. “It feels like where you record, the sound of the area translates into the recordings. If you record something in Byron [Bay], it sounds beachy and stuff like that. And then recording in South London with Dan, it definitely sounds a bit more dreary and grey”.

The band is effusive with praise when talking about working with Dan. Royel says he helped capture the spontaneous and playful energy that crackles throughout PRATTS & PAIN. “He played bass on a few of the tracks as well, and he’s an incredible bass player. He’s an incredible person and musician all-around, but he was amazing playing bass, and a couple of the tracks we just jammed on and played live. And that was so much fun. We have so much respect for him, as most of the ideas that he would bring to the table we were happy with, pretty much 99.9 percent. I wouldn’t tell him about the other percent.”

It’s hard not to get sidetracked when talking to Royel Otis — even across a Zoom call, the two bandmates fire quips back and forth at each other with ease. During one particularly entertaining aside, Royel compares the act of spending hours in the studio, trying to write that perfect song, to being in a casino, where you’re “sitting in a chair, pissing yourself trying to get that jackpot”. You’ve got to really want it, he says, because “the people who get the jackpots, they’ve all shit and pissed themselves”. Words of wisdom to live by. 

Lyrically, PRATTS & PAIN operates in a slightly surreal space — which is perhaps best illustrated by the opening track ‘Adored’. The song is all about giving yourself some self-love, and while lyrics like “And I’ll see this through though I’d never want to be with you/And my veins turn blue ’cause they’re throbbing over pictures of you” may not be 100% direct, it’s not too difficult to work out what’s going on. It’s a song that Royel hopes inspires people to take care of themselves, saying, “I think it’s important to be honest, and everyone, maybe not everyone, but I mean, everyone needs a little TLC, a little tender loving care. And if no one else is giving it to them. Just take it for yourself, you know, allow yourself, take it.”

Where do you turn to when you’re writing and recording your debut album half a world away from home? As it turned out Streatham pub Pratts & Payne was the perfect place to brainstorm, proving to be a source of inspiration (and liquid courage). “It was really funny when we were doing lyrics for that song [‘Adored’], because we were just sitting in the pub, and we’re just both throwing ideas at each other,” Otis recalls. “And some of the stuff we’re coming up with without being completely direct about it. We just started giggling, cracking up. That can be pretty fun, that part of it.” 

The video for ‘Adored’ was created by Canadian artist Blatant Space, who used AI. Moving through a range of scenes at breakneck speed, it’s a video that’ll throw you slightly off-kilter. When asked whether they feel that AI may impact the way music is created going forward, Otis suggests that it takes away from what makes music so captivating. “The point of writing music is figuring out things yourself and learning things and I feel like it’s kind of, in a way, a cheapskate [way],” he says. “It might take a while to learn all those things, it can take years. It feels like everything can be so immediate these days, if you want like a lyric idea or a structure of a song, probably sounds even on it, you can just type it in and get it, which is cool, but also I feel like the process of music sometimes, it’s just like figuring out yourself and all the weird little nuances that come with it.”

There’s a simple formula that’s helped keep Royel Otis on track to date: supporting each other in every situation. Mixing friendship and business has sunk many bands, but Royel and Otis are ready for whatever the music industry throws at them. “We agreed a while ago to just back each other against everyone else,” Royel says. “And then if we disagree with each other, then we’ll just bring it up privately without third party involvement.” When later looking back at their career to date, the message is clear: the band’s just happy to be in the game. Otis says he’s proud of them “giving it a crack”. Royel adds, “I’m proud of my man Otis. I’m also proud that we’re still here. There’s been some sketchy moments. There’s still so much more to be proud of to come, hopefully — we won’t get ahead of ourselves.”

The band’s currently on an Australian tour to celebrate the release of PRATTS & PAIN, with stints in the US and Europe on the horizon. To keep themselves entertained, they’ve invented a version of Uno you can play with a regular 52-card deck. All signs point to superstardom for Royel Otis, but looking forward, they’re content to let things play out as they may. So what do they hope to get out of 2024? “Peace and a paycheck,” Royel says. “The two don’t usually go hand in hand, but I just hope things keep going the way they have been so far. It’s been somewhat cruisy, so hopefully it stays cruisy.”

Royel Otis’ new album PRATTS & PAIN is out now.

Ben Madden is a Melbourne-based music writer and Junkee’s Music Editorial Specialist. You can follow him on Twitter at @benmaddenwriter and Instagram at @benmaddenwriter, as well as keep up with his Sucks column here.

Image: Georges Antoni