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Big-T & the Bada-Bings

Royal Crown Revue
by Elva Ramirez

Taking the Philadelphia Warped Tour stage after teeny-bop punksters Blink 182, Royal Crown Revue keeps the T-shirt and tank top crowd hopping before closing out the balmy July night. Girls no older than 18 sing along with frontman Eddie Nichols on "Zip Gun Bop," and one of the security guards in front of the stage, whose purpose is to prevent rambunctious fans from stagediving, visibly grooves. After their set, band members sign autographs, take pictures and chat with the milling fans. Then, just as RCR hornmen Bill Ungerman and Mando Dorame are about to relax in the tour bus about 30 minutes after their short but high-energy set, a roadie sticks his head in and says some fans are looking for autographs. Again they head out and chat for a few minutes. Again they head back inside to rest after work. But then they’re still working, answering questions about their music and their newest release on Side One/Dummy Records, Walk on Fire, which premiered in stores just the day before.

ATOMIC: Would you consider Walk on Fire to be a departure from your previous work or a continuation?

Mando Dorame: I would say that it’s a continuation of things that we have always liked. It’s a departure from our major label (Warner Brothers, with whom they were previously signed).

ATOMIC: So how is that different, going from a major label to a smaller one?

MD: (deadpans) A lot nicer.

Bill Ungerman: We got to play like we want to play, record like we want to record.

ATOMIC: In terms of creative freedom, what types of choices did you make with the new album that a bigger label might have hindered?

BU: We worked with Micheal Napolitano [producer for Squirrel Nut Zippers, among others], who was very open to our suggestions. We recorded it live. We set up one mike for the horns, two for the drums, one for the bass, so it was like an old-style recording.

MD: We used a lot of vintage equipment too. Mikes, pre-amps.

A: When you say "recorded live," does that mean you had just one take?

MD: That just means that we recorded everybody playing at one time.

BU: No overdubs. It’s mostly us just playing [and sounding] like when [we play live].

MD: As opposed to overdubbing, and laying down a bit of the rhythm section and bringing in the horns later and dubbing them in over the track, you know what I mean…

BU: It’s a fresher sound that way. But there are some imperfections on this album, here and there. And that’s cool, actually. Because I think it gives it more soul. It’s not all perfect.

A: Do you have a favorite song on the album?

MD: I like the "Watts Local." I like it cause its sort of written with my dad in mind. It’s the train he used to take in Watts, you know and he used to tell me about. One time, man, he was telling me this story, the Watts Local was like a train, you know, a lot of poor folk, you know what I mean, took it to ride around. And one time my dad told me that, uh, that he and his friends actually hijacked it once. They got on it and threw the conductor off it, and they were drinkin’ beer in there and just partying, and they would go through, you know, the pick-ups and just pick up all these people. And then cops caught up to them, but they said that they got off on the stop, like, right before the cops got them. And so a lot of people got busted, but he said he didn't. So I just kinda think about all that, you know, when writing ["Watts Local"]. He told me that one day, so…it’s kind of fun to think about it, in the song. I wrote the music, and me and Eddie wrote the lyrics on that.

A: Does this album have a particular style that differentiates it from your previous albums?

MD: (dryly) This album has no style. Whatsoever. What do you mean by "style"?

A: "Style" as in "genre."

BU: Slightly jazzier.

MD: Royal Crown Style.

A: What would Royal Crown Style be?

MD: Now that's a good question.

(Bass player Veikko Lepisto boards the tour bus and muscles his way into the interview.)

VL: (Riffing like a ’50s radio D.J.) It’s the hard-boiled sound, all around town going ’round with the Royal Crown.

MD: In a nutshell.

(Veikko steps outside and is replaced by guitarist James Achor, who soon joins the discussion.)

A: How would you describe the cover of Walk on Fire?

BU: It’s kind of like old circus posters…

A: So work with me here. The cover of Mugzy’s Move has a ’30s gangster look to it. The Contender has Eddie looking like a ’20s boxer. Now this cover has a vaudeville/traveling circus feel to it, kind of 1910 or 1900s or so. Are you going further back with each album cover?

BU: (blinks, then teasingly) I think you’re reading a little too much into it. It’s not a conscious decision.

A: Are there any musical styles that you think you haven’t fully explored yet? (Mando, James and Bill all brighten up and talk over each other.)

MD & JA: ’40s Latin, Afro-Cuban, Puerto Rican music…Rock-steady Reggae, Soul music...

BU: There’s so much out there, man, I don’t see us limiting ourselves.

MD: Way back, we did ’50s stuff, Elvis songs…

JA: We just used to survive shows. In the beginning, people would shout out songs and we would just try to play it…We did a lot of rockabilly just cause the chord progressions were easier to figure out at the time.

BU: I’ve always liked rhythm and blues, jump blues.

MD: We used to do Louis Jordan.

JA: I would like this band to do an instrumental record. I think it would show a side of this band that people don’t know about. And within the realm of that, it could be everything from surf to…

MD: …soul music. You can’t run out of things to do. There’s so much out there.

JA: Stylistically, we can’t pretend not to be who we are. We’re on the Warped Tour with Pennywise and all these other names, that’s cool, but you know, we have a horn section and we’re not going to push it to the back and try pretend we’re a punk rock band. We are going to be the Royal Crown Revue, but if we do it right, it works like it did tonight, because we are a hybrid of so many things that are American music.


Behind in your reading?
Check out past ATOMIC features.

Dear Dottie
1999 Article List
2000 Article List
2001 Article List
2002 Article List
2003 Article List
2004 Article List
SwingTime! Across The USA:
The Jivin' Lindy Hoppers
Breuker Breaks The Rules
Beatin' The Chops:
The Vegas Rockabilly Weekender
Paris (Combo) By Night
Sewing To the Oldies
Royal Crown Revue
Walks On Fire
Ode To An Ape:
The Legacy of King Kong
Karaoke Swings!


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