In an interview based on the release of her latest album, Heart of Shadows, the Canadian pop icon, ROYAL, explains why it is important to stick to her independent roots when tackling the music industry and reveals that tapping into past experiences has helped make her the artist she is today.
With a mix of brave vocals and heart-filled sound, Canadian Indie artist ROYAL isn’t someone to attach labels to or pigeonhole. An emerging talent with a unique sound that fuses dreamy electro-pop with emotion-packed soulful singing, ROYAL refuses to be caged by the conformities of modern pop music, and is sticking to her indie roots in order to grow and develop as an artist. Following the success of her single ‘Christmas with you’ which peaked at #33 on the Canadian HOT AC Top 40 Charts, and after collaborating with CONRO on ‘City Lights’, ROYAL has dived into her most challenging project yet with the release of her newest album, Heart of Shadows, which takes its audiences into the darker past of her life, exploring elements of lost identity and tortured romance. We caught up with ROYAL to talk about the new project, and to discuss why she feels it so important to maintain her independence and let her creativity grow.
I understand you were discovered when performing in Saskatchewan at a family gathering. First off, I would love to know what drew you to pursuing a career in music.
ROYAL: I’ve always been drawn to music on a personal level, but I had never considered pursuing it as a career until I was discovered by Jack Lenz at that event. It is because of his belief in me, and support for my music, that I recorded my first album at his recording studio in Toronto and have since continued to pursue a career. My family and friends have also played a key role in my career as an independent artist, as this has never been an easy path. Being an artist is a very vulnerable position, and without support from my loved ones, it would be difficult to continue this pursuit.
Sticking to your independent roots seems to be very important to you in your career. What made you choose to be an independent artist?
ROYAL: I became an independent artist because it is important to me to be able to maintain creative control of my art and how I am presented to the world. I grew up with my mother as my idol, and she has always carried herself with dignity and class and that is how I aspire to be. I feel there is still a lot of pressure on women to portray themselves differently from how they would like to be, and because I’m my own boss, I have no one to listen to but myself. I’ve always been a bit of an odd duck – I mean if you can track down some pictures of my eleven-year-old self, you will be greatly amused. Ultimately, I don’t intend on following any rules regarding fashion, how I present myself or my creative content – ever. As the classic quote by Oscar Wilde goes, ‘be yourself, everyone else is taken’.
How much freedom do you have as an artist, considering the process of creating an album?
ROYAL: I am happy to say that I have full creative control of my art and career. Art is not meant to be a caged animal. It is meant to be free and meaningful.
Do you write your songs yourself?
ROYAL: I do write my own songs, but I always welcome critique by artists whom I have great respect for, and I love collaborating. Luca Fogale was the perfect partner to create this album with because his main goal was to nurture my creative expression and not hinder it or take it over with his own vision. Being an independent artist provides me with full creative control with everything I do, and I like to be involved in every detail of it. For example, when it comes to tasks such as designing the album artwork, I meet with my graphic designer, and together we build the ideas in person. Having full control is an amazing honour, although I do admit there are days when it all becomes a bit too overwhelming. I look forward to a day when my team has grown, and I have more help to build my career.
I understand Heart of Shadows taps into your past, based on tortured romance and loss of identity. What made you tap into these emotions and utilise them as an artist?
ROYAL: Songwriting has always been my way of expressing myself and making sense of my emotions, so it felt natural to create this album with a highly emotional pulse and include stories of my life that I believe can connect on a deeper level with my audience. I had a difficult life as a young adult – beyond the normal heartbreak and more common trails of a young woman – but all of those experiences helped me in becoming a much stronger and confident person. A small part of me wanted to bring these songs into the album to show those who tried to break me down that they failed, and I have risen above it all. Most importantly, however, I want to share my stories to help others who may be going through similar battles and show them that they can survive and grow stronger because of them.
‘Christmas With You’, your first holiday single, peaked at #33 on the Canadian HOT AC Top 40 Charts, how did you respond to the success?
ROYAL: When my radio tracker called me with the news, I jumped up and down like a kid on Christmas morning. I collaborated with my talented friend John Newton on that song and I was so pleased to see it break into radio. This opened more doors for me in the world of radio and gave me a bit of a confidence boost to fuel me onto the next project.
Tell me about your collaborations with others?
ROYAL: Since my collaboration with electronica artist, CONRO on our song ‘City Lights’, I have received many requests to collaborate with other artists in that genre around the world. It is a very interesting and challenging form of writing for me, as I love to embellish lyrics and this style of writing is much more ‘to the point’. I am currently working on two other collaborations and would love to do more songwriting with other artists within my realm of genre and see what we can do with those songs.
What is your process of collaborating?
ROYAL: The process of my current collaborations normally begins with that artist reaching out to me to add vocals and lyrics to their demo track. I will write up to five different options and send them back to see if they are happy with the direction that I’ve taken the song. Most of the time, we collaborate from then on and add more hooks to what I have written. It’s a fun and challenging experience that allows me to break into a genre outside of my current sound.
As a music icon, what’s an average day like for you?
ROYAL: I am humbled by the notion of being noted as a music icon. I’m not sure I have acquired the status quite yet, but once again, thank you! An average day for me consists of waking up to a fresh pot of coffee and turning on my computer and diving into my current album release campaign, music video planning and live performance preparation. I wear many hats as an independent artist, which is quite challenging and fun. At the moment my days are completely full with more business than creative, but I am about to begin rigorous rehearsing with a new band which is very exciting and it will provide me with some creative relief.
What is your favourite part about this line of work?
ROYAL: My favourite part of my career is the fact that I am able to pursue something that I am passionate about. I can’t imagine being chained to a job that sucks the life out of you. How is that living? I love that I can turn my creative art into a business, I am very fortunate to have this opportunity in life.
Your least favourite?
ROYAL: My least favourite part of my line of work is that every part of creating and releasing music is incredibly expensive. Luckily there are wonderful people and businesses in the world that are creating more grant opportunities for independent artists every day. These grants are by no means an easy thing to acquire, but you can always reach out to a grant writer to help you with the process.
You must have an extraordinary number of dedicated fans, please tell me how you interact with and respond to them.
ROYAL: I am so grateful to everyone who shows love and support for my music! I love when people reach out to me directly via social media or at my shows to connect about my music. To hear someone tell me that my music helped them through a difficult time – or that they want to hear more about how I created it – is truly the most rewarding feeling. I also love getting to know my listeners and befriending them, because after all, life is all about connecting. Even someone as big of an introvert as me loves connecting with people.
Have you ever dealt with performance anxiety?
ROYAL: Only at every single show I’ve ever done, ha-ha! I suffer greatly from performance anxiety and stage fright, but I will never let it hold me back from performing. It takes a lot of coaxing and preparation, but usually I am able to pull myself out of it after a few songs. Surprisingly enough, I have less anxiety with large audiences as opposed to smaller ones. It also helps to have a band on stage with me. It puts less pressure on me to carry to the show by myself, and I can let loose a bit more with my friends on stage.
Tell me about your favourite performance venues, or countries in which you have performed.
ROYAL: I love being able to perform on a professional stage, whether it be at a music festival or official music venue. Something about it gives me more confidence in my performance, and makes the whole experience a bit more ‘epic’. I love performing in Vancouver where I have an incredible hub of supporters who really get into the show. In fact, I have my first album release show coming up there on February 1st! I’m so excited I can feel the tingles already.
What advice would you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
ROYAL: My advice would be to continue to challenge yourself, while staying true to your morals. Never allow fear to hold you back from any opportunity, and don’t be afraid to reach out to others for support and build a community. This is no easy path, so be prepared for some struggle and surround yourself with people who will love and support you in the good and bad times. Most of all, believe in yourself. You were given this gift for a reason, now go have some fun with it!
Thank you once again for your time and effort in answering these questions for Splendid Fred Magazine.
ROYAL: Thank you so much for your kind words and support! I greatly appreciate you taking the time to interview and get to know me!
Heart of Shadows by ROYAL was released on the 2nd November 2018. To listen to a taste of the album, please visit: https://soundcloud.com/royalofficialmusic/sets/heart-of-shadows-1
Visit ROYAL’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfQIUWUFroh33S_U8IvcyMw
You can also find ROYAL on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter: @IAmRoyalMusic
and listen on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/1vmznUPb08GfN4EdnVCs3c?si=3Z09G7MBSd2GL6eTgdeo1g