Get to know the Sydney duo carving their own refreshing sound from the heyday of indie greats
Royel Maddell has scruffy, Cobain-esque bangs that complement his croaky, stoner drawl and cover his face anonymously. Otis Pavlovic is as softly spoken as he is fresh-faced. They’re an unlikely pair, but they struck up a connection special enough to immediately form a band.
Royel Otis quickly found an international following for an earnest sound that recalled the greats of late 00s/early 2010 indie, from Phoenix to MGMT, just as music fans seemed to be yearning for that time when things felt a little less serious. Their driving breakout track ‘Oysters in My Pocket’ oozes this feeling with a dancing-in-your-room euphoria, while latest single ‘Adored’ reveals a darker, boisterous side to the Sydney duo.
Ahead of a string of August dates, calling at the likes of London, Nottingham and Glasgow, Royel Otis tell us a little more about their beginnings, finding their sound and their ruling mantra of procrastination.
When you were first sending each other demos and ideas, did you have any idea they’d blow up to the extent they have now?
Otis: I was traveling [back then], and I didn’t really know Roy that well, so we were kind of just talking over text. We’d hung out through mutual friends a bunch of times, but never hung out heaps. It wasn’t until we got back and then started hanging out that we got in the room and started liking what we’re doing together.
Royel: Yeah, once you got back we met at The Beachy – The Beach Road Hotel. Then I was like, these are some songs I’ve got…
How quickly did it all start snowballing from there?
Otis: It was probably two or three days after that we were meeting back up again and hanging out.
Royel: Within that month in the studio in Tamarama I think. It’s a blurry time.
Otis: Yeah, it was a month of hanging out and talking and doing some demos at Roy’s place in his little room.
I heard it was the Alessi Brothers’ ‘Seabird’ that kind of sparked your friendship, or at least your musical minds?
Royel: Well, Otis showed me that song, and I’d never heard it before. I can’t find a flaw of that song, start-to-finish. Even the weird outro thing that they throw in in the extended version. It’s just flawless. It’s wild.
Were there any other songs around that time that inspired you both?
Otis: There was heaps of stuff at the time. The Cure, New Order, that kind of world.
Royel: Frank Ocean’s ‘Nights’ is another song that is just a wildly good start-to-finish song that takes you in different places.
Other than what you both bring musically, what quality or qualities do you value most in each other?
Otis: Just the lightheartedness that Roy can bring, I reckon.
Royel: Otis is a very honest man, and I highly respect him for his honesty and ability to do the most gentlemanly thing.
Well, from gentlemanly behaviour to songs about wanking, tell me a bit more about ‘Adored’…
Royel: [laughs], who told you it was about that?!
I mean, I listened to the lyrics…
Otis: Some people have come to us questioning it, like is it about that? I’m glad you picked up on it.
Royel: That goes back to the honesty part.
It was produced by Dan Carey when you were in London – what’s it like coming to the other side of the world and working with guest producers?
Royel: We did a bunch of sessions with a lot of people and then ended up just working with Dan Carey. Everyone was incredible that we worked with, like James Ford, the boys from Hot Chip, they were all great, but I think the Dan Carey session was just much more raucous. It was our sort of vibe at the time. He’s intimidating. He stares right into your soul, he doesn’t blink much. But he’s a good man, so you want to impress him.
Otis: Yeah, he could tell you to get out of his studio at any time.
Do you think trying out different producers has helped sculpt an ideal sound for Royel Otis?
Otis: I think it took a little bit of searching, but yeah, I think we always had an idea. We’ve always said that having a distinct sound was such a good thing to have.
Royel: It makes our world, you know? If you hear something that sounds like us then it is us. Not like, oh that sounds like Tame Impala!
Otis: Yeah, so I think it took a couple of sessions and songs to sort of figure that out, but we’re getting there.
Royel: We’re finding the confidence that we needed, yeah.
It seems a lot the press, at least in the UK, seems to be feeding into a general feeling of nostalgia at the moment. How do you how do you feel about all the ‘indie sleaze’ comparisons?
Royel: I think it’s cool. I wouldn’t like to be referenced to the gigantic rock era. I don’t know…
Otis: If we’re gonna get referred to any era then that’s the best one.
Royel: Exactly, and indie is just short for independent. God, I’m far from independent, but I think, you know, that’s cool.
On your breakout song, ‘Oysters In My Pocket’, there’s a line: “We just haven’t learned much/ Oh well, that’s miles away”. Is that still your attitude towards the project and life in general right now?
Royel: Yeah, just having patience. Nothing happens fast. You know, nothing’s just a handout that comes to you. And also, there were a couple of things that were going on in our lives that felt miles away, sort of. Like, f*ck, we’ve got to pay rent, we got to figure out what we’re doing while everyone else has these steady jobs with constant pay. Just being like, you know, even if it’s tomorrow, or even if it’s this afternoon, it’s miles away.