Royal & the Serpent Poises the Uncomfortable Question: 'IF I DIED WOULD ANYONE CARE' [Q&A]

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Photo:  Conner Sorrensen

If there's one thing alt-pop singer Royal & the Serpent does best, it's deftly navigate the messy contradictions of life - the hypocrisies and conflicts inherent in everyone's personality, no matter how hard we try to hide them. It's even in her name: the dignified Royal to the haunting Serpent; one cannot exist without the other.  

Her newest EP, IF I DIED WOULD ANYONE CARE,  digs deeper into these themes, exploring how depression manifests itself in both insidious and not-so-subtle ways. From the overworked frustration of "ALT B!TCH POSER" to the heartbreaking resolve of "BETTER," IF I DIED WOULD ANYONE CARE constructs a powerful portrait of an honest mental health story. True to form, Royal & the Serpent has crafted an EP that remains both hauntingly real and undeniably fun, all at once.

With the release of the EP, Royal is off to a running start for the new year, with no signs of slowing down. From heading on the road with grandson this month to slots at BottleRock and When We Were Young Festival, Royal & the Serpent is poised for an explosive 2022.  

We had the pleasure of chatting with Royal about the release of her new EP, teasing her fans, her When We Were Young Festival mishap, and so much more.

Ones to Watch: Congrats on the gold certification on “overwhelmed!" Did you ever expect something like that to happen when you released the song?

Royal & the Serpent: No, I definitely did not expect anything to happen the way that it did when I released "overwhelmed." And it’s crazy because I think after it all happened, I was just staring at the streaming numbers, like, "Is it gonna hit? Is it gonna happen?" And I was anticipating and hoping and waiting for a goal to happen, because I would see some of my other homies that had crazy TikTok songs starting to get [gold certifications] and think "I want one so bad."  

You're pretty active on TikTok and your songs have done well there. How has it changed how you connect with fans and how you share music?  

It definitely has a lot of positive aspects. I think it gives us the ability to connect with people and our fans much sooner with music than ever before, because we can actually have real time feedback on whether or not fans like the stuff that we’re creating. It’s really easy these days to just leak something that you wrote in the studio and if it goes crazy, then you know the people want it. And I think it’s been an interesting tool because it helps us with our release strategies and what music we’re putting out next and why, and how it’s doing. It's great getting that connection with fans, any opportunity that I get to actually talk to people and go into comments and even learn from them. I find that I learn from even the hate comments. I’m able to say, "Okay, well they have a good point there. How can I take this and do better next time?"

Speaking of music,  IF I DIED WOULD ANYONE CARE? just dropped. What were your inspirations for this project as a whole?

I wrote the EP when I was in some of the darkest times of my life and I was feeling a lot of pain. I think it came from this idea that I felt like I didn’t belong here and I didn’t wanna be here. And I felt separate from everything and I was able to make this little baby body of work. It’s titled IF I DIED WOULD ANYONE CARE?  because I think that’s ultimately how I felt when I was writing a lot of these songs. The goal of putting the project out the way that we have been doing it - with all this talk about death and suicide prevention and purgatory - it’s supposed to represent depression, and I want it to make people think about what it feels like to be depressed. And to remind people to reach out to the people that they love and make sure that people know that you love them and that you’re here for them.

In the past, you've shared that you felt that you got in your own way before you released your last EP "searching for nirvana" because you were in a dark place. Since writing this next EP also saw you exploring some dark periods, did you still experience that getting in your own way feeling?

I think I get in my own way more than anything or anyone else gets in my way. I think we can be our own worst critics and our own worst enemies. Sometimes the conversations that I have with myself, and the way that I talk to myself and verbiage I use, can be so detrimental to my mental health. I think the goal in this project specifically is to kill those parts of me - the parts that only care about what other people think about me and just want to be so well-liked. Those parts that feel like I’m not good enough to make room for something better to come in, so that I don’t have to be that way anymore.

What does the creative process look like for you?

I definitely feel like it’s a lot easier for things to flow when I’m experiencing something intense emotionally. I find sometimes when I’m just at my breaking point and I actually sit down and pick up a guitar, the words fall out a lot easier than being in a session trying to make something out of nothing. I usually take those moments that I have, maybe when I’m in solitude and really going through it, and then I take little bits of an idea I had, and bring that into the studio. I love getting other people’s feedback and then creating something from that. I think it’s easier to create and take something to its fullest form when you’re not in that emotional state, because I think you can see things a little clearer.

Of all the songs on the EP, is there one that you’re proudest of?

It’s tough! They all are so special to me, but I think it was really fun to see how well people reacted to "BETTER." I just played it on my last US tour that I did over the summer. I will say for some reason, something about "ALT B!TCH POSER" has always been I think my favorite song that I’ve written yet to this day. There’s something about it that is so real and it makes me feel something every time.

We want to talk about your two most recent videos, because there’s an interesting juxtaposition between them. Let's start with "PHUCKBOI REJECTS." Those lyrics felt a little too real, so we just gotta ask, are you good?

No, I’m good! I definitely had an angry, feisty moment where all these words started spewing out, but no, I’m totally good. I’m actually in an incredibly happy relationship right now with somebody who’s definitely not a phuckboi. And I think at the end of day I realized I'm the phuckboi!

The video looked like it was so much fun to shoot. What was the experience of filming it like?

I love shooting music videos - it’s probably my favorite part of the job. I love getting to be on camera and go crazy. All the videos from this project are supposed to be set in a different room of purgatory, which is another metaphor for depression. They’re these little rooms inside my mind that feel like purgatory, which is why it’s totally desolate. There’s no people, there’s very minimal set design. They're supposed to be these little settings in these dark places and corners of my mind, and I felt like for "PHUCKBOI REJECTS," because of this addictive nature of the chase of these people that don’t like us back, it felt like a ward was the right place. Having been to them before for addiction, it felt very fitting.

In contrast to "PHUCKBOI REJECTS," which is still fun despite its darkness, the music video for "BETTER" is a brutally honest look at aspects of mental health issues that a lot of people tend to shy away from. How did you decide on that not-so-glamorous depiction?

Yeah, you’re right. It’s the truth. That song in general was some of the most honest I think I’ve ever been coming into the studio - it was just the truth. I think when you are depressed it's really hard to take care of yourself, no matter what you do. And it’s something that I wanted to show - this is what my world looks like when I am unable to do the things that I know that I need to do. And so many people can relate to that, but it's a common thing that doesn’t really get talked about. You see talks about it, but in media and in movies and stuff, I just haven’t seen a lot of it.

You said that you played "BETTER" on your last tour. What have been the reactions from fans who heard it?

I got more messages and requests for "BETTER" to come out than I’ve ever had for anything I’ve done. People have been begging for it for months since I started playing it on tour and I keep just teasing them saying, "I’m gonna put out, I'm gonna put it out," and then putting something else out. I’ve put out two songs since they’ve been begging for it, so I’m really happy to finally give it to them.

Speaking of tour, you're going on the road with grandson in February. How stoked are you about getting back to touring and playing live?

I am so excited to go out with grandson, because he's my friend and one of my mentors and has been such a great role model for me in the industry and always been there for me. I’m just stoked to go and be a part of his world and meet his fans. He’s also just so cool and such a great artist and I’ve been a fan of his for so long that it’s like - I’m freaking out, I freaked out when he called me and asked me. I freaked out!

We're sure that you’re excited for every stop, but is there any venue or city in particular that you’re looking forward to?

I actually am pretty excited for the Florida stuff because my parents live in Florida and I have family in Florida who've never been able to see me. Like the Tampa show, I think my grandparents will even be able to come to, which is so crazy.

We simply could not talk about you playing live without asking about When We Were Young festival. How does it feel to be on that lineup?

I mean, it’s absolutely insane and it was extra funny because my team ask me if I wanna do these things, but I don’t ask the details. Usually I just remember what I said yes to when they ask me to post the day that everybody’s posting it. I had woken up late that day and I had gotten all these texts from all of my friends congratulating me, but I didn’t know what they were congratulating me for. And I went online and commented on the thing, like "I didn’t even know I was on this!" And the whole internet has been posting my statement and feeding the conspiracy. It feels absolutely surreal. I can’t believe this is a real thing and I can’t believe that I’m on it. I don’t know how I’m on it or why - and it’s three shows! I get to play three times and they just keep adding more dates. I really don’t think that this is real life. I can’t believe it - I think I’m dreaming.

We know this is an impossible question because they’re all incredible, but who are you most excited about on the lineup?

Oh, My Chemical Romance for sure, a hundred percent. And I’m so excited for so many of the other bands! I’ve actually played a few shows now with Sleeping with Sirens and I’m such a fan of them and they’re amazing, I’m excited to see them again. And I’m really stoked to see Bring Me [to the Horizon] because I keep missing their shows every time they’re in LA.

If you were able to create your own dream lineup for a festival with no restrictions, who would be headlining and who would be the new names that you’re super stoked for?

Oh my gosh. Okay. So first of all, all of my friends are playing. Everybody that I’m homies with, I just love their music. I honestly listen to my friends music more than anything, like Beauty School Dropout and Poutyface and phem and DE'WAYNE and Siiickbrain. I think I would have Willow because she’s just so incredible. And then I would bring in some weirder stuff like the CORPSE and WHOKILLEDXIX's and Jasiah and SAIAH and POORSTACY. And then, can I bring Nirvana back to life?

Absolutely, anyone you want.

Nirvana’s the main headliner, then we have Willow after that, and then all my friends play. That’s the show.

Royal & the Serpent's IF I DIED WOULD ANYONE CARE  is available everywhere you can stream it.

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