When it comes to songwriting, lyricism is important. But it’s not essential. Naturally, the predetermined stanzas force the listener to meditate on a single subject or emotion, confining them to a penitentiary of somebody else’s words. With this instrumental bands take on an immense responsibility. Their job is to help the audience feel 100 percent, while also stimulating them to think freely. Even while full-pumping passionate beats can elicit carefree vibes, they don’t come from lack of exertion and fortitude.
The Royal Noise (TRN) knows this first hand. The high-energy, East Coast groove quartet wreaks havoc on mainstream frequency and will spark a long-awaited jazz-rock funkfest in Wilmington at the Duck and Dive on March 13th. The jam band brings more than just music to the table, with an ultimate explosion of sound. From ebullient saxophone melodies to hypnotic guitar licks and animated synths, melded together by the cement of the rhythm section, TRN will blow your mind with their invented instrumentalism.
In the summer of 2010, Johan Harvey (guitar) and Mike LaBombard (saxophone/keyboard) started up an explorative musical project based out of Savannah, GA. The Royal Noise was born and nurtured by the neighboring music scene. “It’s like a mini New Orleans vibe,” Harvey says. And a boisterous locale is just the place to raise a band like TRN. They began more as a collective than anything else, presenting an ever-changing roster based on which musicians were available. Evocative of traditional jazz music groups, it was a mystery of who would be onstage any given night. “Some gigs we had as many as eight people join us,” Harvey claims.
The band’s first EP, “Off The Cuff” (2010), documents this trippy period with six live tracks. It’s a compilation of loud, loose, and experimental tunes that serve as a true foundation of the beginning of TRN. In addition to this exclusive blend, local artist Deric Murphy translated the sounds to visuals, with illustrations shown on the venue chalkboard during an assortment of shows while the band played (his work can be seen on the EP’s front and back cover art).
For two years, Harvey and LaBombard seemed unfazed by this semi-controlled chaos, until they seriously started to consider recording their first full-length album. Then, like never before, TRN sported a solidified lineup for their debut, “Keep On Moving,” released in 2012. Darius Shepherd complemented the tracks with deep-rooted bass lines, while Jonathan Proffitt held it together in the rhythm section. “That’s when the band became what you hear on our first two records,” Harvey says. The closing track, “Back at The Bakery,” signifies how TRN can light a room afire and extinguish the flames all in a matter of five minutes. The tune exhibits whipping licks and a strong saxophone presence emerging later in the breakdown.
Following this production, TRN took preliminary steps toward the band they are today. Backed by Home Grown Music Network, TRN was afforded the opportunity to transform into a regional act.
Only a year later, The Royal Noise completed their sophomore record, “Unbreakable” (2013), and further epitomized the diligence of the group. And they continue to work. TRN doesn’t let the latest 11 tracks define them; Harvey sees each album as more of a footprint, even from a certain point in time. “If we had headed into the studio on another day, those tunes would probably have come out completely different,” he explains.
In true fashion, the band takes a whole new spin when they perform. Each night becomes an adventure for the band and fans alike. TRN challenge one another to recreate every song they play based off of one melodic or rhythmic idea. “It can develop into an entire theme that gives a song an entirely new persona,” Harvey says. For example, “Bunot,” the initial song off “Unbreakable,” is a straight-rock tune on the album but is, at the moment, a heavy drum ‘n’ bass dance party during their live sets.
These change-ups are done in the best interest of the audience. TRN attracts a wide range of listeners, including those with a keen ear for sound. They like to keep the people on their toes, both physically and mentally. They draw fans who get down and rage, as well as others who just enjoy watching the compositions unfold. Their established cult following parades a cool mix of funksters, festival-goers, jazz heads, musicians, and non-musicians alike, but all remain true music lovers. In the end, everything they do stems from funk. “Our music [focuses] on musicianship and some involved songwriting, but we are always in service of the groove, first and foremost,” Harvey elaborates.
In early 2013 Harvey and LaBombard shifted TRN north to Philadelphia. Currently, their refreshed group consists of Rodrigo Pichardo (bass) and Aaron Zarro (drums). Harvey is confident their innovative members will help them reach unlimited horizons. “They’re both truly incredible musicians who have injected a whole new brand of funk into the band,” he says. TRN’s upcoming record will reflect the changes in their dynamic of songwriting, the way they play together, and everything that comes after.
TRN has just completed the recording process of their third and most ambitious studio effort to date. It’s now in the final mixing stages. “It’s been an incredible experience so far,” Harvey says of the unnamed release. “We’ve been working with Pete Mavrogeorgis at Dollhouse Studios in Savannah.” Mavrogeorgis and the band are recording through a lens of the past, reverting to old-school production and using 100 percent analog to 2’’ tape. Harvey likes the natural sound. “It’s a rare treat to be creating an album the way we are without a single computer in the room,” he says. “We can’t wait to put these new tunes out and into the world—this one’s going to be a dance party!”
From what began as an individual showcase of jazz and funk, the band now focuses on finding a more unified sound. “We want to channel the personality of the music and the journey each song takes,” Harvey says. In other words, TRN will not become slaves to one genre, but instead dominate the potential it brings.
With the release of their upcoming album set for May, the band will embark on their largest tour ever. Their journey will span the East Coast (VT to FL) and everything in between. They have no plan to slow down, either, and will play an increasing number of festivals, with spring tour announcements coming soon.
Duck and Dive will be TRN’s first show in Wilmington, and they’ll return in April to host the after party for Umphrey’s McGee, who will play Ziggy’s. “Our songs truly flourish on stage,” Harvey says. They take great pride in their instrumental sound. Even without lyrics, the music gains meaning through the listener—an invisible pact of give and take. The band relies on existential improvisation, creating their jams in the moment for the audience.
The Royal Noise
March 13th, 9 p.m.
Duck & Dive
114 Dock Street • Free