Pop Stars by the Book

Local indie rockers U.S. Royalty study up on what makes a hit

September 5, 2013
USRoyalty-Promo-Photo-2013-1

When it came time for D.C. indie rockers U.S. Royalty to unveil the sweeping, hypnotic title track from their sophomore album, “Blue Sunshine,” for the world, singer John Thornley wanted “something to entertain the eyes while you listen to the song.”

There wasn’t time to set up a proper video shoot, so he attached a GoPro camera to a buddy’s motorcycle and had him take a serene drive through Rock Creek Park, not far from Thornley’s Mount Pleasant home.

The tranquil visuals of the video hark back to the two weeks that U.S. Royalty spent recording the album last November at Dreamland Studios in upstate New York. The four-piece band (which includes Thornley’s brother, Paul, on guitar, bassist Jacob Michael and drummer Luke Adams) lived in the studio, a converted church, while working.

“I think it helps free up your mind,” Thornley says of the country setting. “You can go do other things and then come back refreshed to the music.”

For the album, which doesn’t yet have a firm release date, “we wanted to focus all our energies on writing our versions of pop songs,” he says.

That meant expanding on the sound of 2011’s “Mirrors” in subtle ways: orchestra flourishes, guitar-picking styles and vocal effects. It also led the band members to obsess over details as they mixed the record near a cemetery in Potomac, Md. — a process that took five months.

“It was a long time,” says Thornley, who moonlights as a disc jokey and vegan baker. “No band should ever mix their album. We did.”

In his downtime from mixing, Thornley studied a little-known tome, “The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way),” by Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, which outlines a model for pop success. He also leafed through D.C. indie icon Ian Svenonius’ “Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ’n’ Roll Group.”

“There is a pattern with it all,” Thornley says of making pop songs. “It was fun reading that stuff and taking notes: OK, there is certain beat or bpm that people respond to — that’s why it works.

“But,” Thornley adds, “considering it took us a while to write, record and mix the album, maybe we should have paid more attention to what we were reading.”

U Street Music Hall, 1115 U St. NW; Sat., 7 p.m., $20; 202-588-1880. (U Street)
Rudi Greenberg is Express' Weekend Pass editor and comedy columnist.
SECTION: {section=express, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=express, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments
Most Read
Next Story
The historic U Street theater wakes up and rocks out with a new booker and a full roster
Travis Andrews · September 5, 2013