ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 2, 1990
By Steve Newton
When the Royal Court of China’s debut album hit the record racks three years ago, it took a few people by surprise. By the daintiness of the band’s name, possible buyers might be forgiven for taking it as yet another panty-waist British synth duo churning out lame pseudo-pop. But when you threw the album on the ol’ turntable (remember turntables?), a chaotic, Tennessee-brewed rock ’n’ roll noise assailed the ears.
First impressions can be tricky.
“There were a lot of bands from Nashville that were being pigeonholed by their names at that time,” says RCOC vocalist Joe Blanton. “Like Jason and the Scorchers—every band was doing this country-punk thing. And we weren’t. We really didn’t want to be thrown into that category—we wanted a name that was ambiguous so that we could move around and throw some people.”
The band’s debut album did have quite a rootsy gleam to it—which wasn’t surprising considering the band’ s hometown—but that backwoods sound wasn’t necessarily what chief songwriter Blanton was striving for.
“We always wanted to be a really straight-up rock ’n’ roll band,” he claims. “Me and Chris [Mekow, the drummer] were like the two non-country guys—I mean I owe my roots to the Sex Pistols and Alice Cooper. But Robert [Logue, bassist/mandolinist] and Oscar [Rice, the guitarist] were really into the country thing. So basically the country elements of the music got pushed to the forefront in the studio. Live, we were a balls-out rock band.”
It was on the band’s second album, Geared & Primed, that Blanton’s love of the raunchier side of things asserted itself. The group had moved from Nashville to L.A., recruited new guitarist Jeff Mays, and recorded tunes like “Half the Truth”, “Mr. Indecision”, and the title track, which were much more concrete slabs of rock ’n’ roll. But despite major-label distribution and critical raves in everything from this here publication to Britain’s metal bible, Kerrang!, the Royal Court of China remained virtually unknown. This led to a parting of ways with the band’s record company, A&M.
“Every time I get into it I tend to rag on [A&M] too much, ” says Blanton, “but basically they didn’t understand how to market hard rock at the time. We were like guinea pigs. Plus the guy who signed us moved on, which kinda left us the bastards of the label. So we went in and said, ‘Look, it’s not workin’ out. Let us go.'”
A&M promptly did just that, and since releasing Geared & Primed last year, the band has been writing new songs and doing showcases for other labels. Atlantic took a gander at the band last week. And the group has also been working in yet another lead guitarist, Seattle native Brian Jennings.
“Basically we’ve been a Bermuda Triangle for guitar players,” chuckles Blanton. “It’s like they come in and nobody knows what happens to them.”
Curious Vancouverites will have a chance to check out the new edition of RCOC when the band makes its Canadian debut at Club Soda this month (Monday, August 13). According to Blanton, the band’s experiences and transformations during the last few years have helped cut the gristle off its sound, resulting in a leaner, meaner brand of rock.
“We’ve always been experimental by nature, and that’s kinda where the fun in the art lies for me—to try new things. But you get an identity crisis in the process, if you don’t have some basic guidelines to follow. Our new material is like the stuff on Geared & Primed, except it’s a bit more unified and focused. We’ve found what we do best, and we’re sticking to it.”