The Amazing Royal Crowns
An interview with Jason “King” Kendall
by Scott Hefflon
So tell me about your “new” 14-song album on Velvel.
When we signed to Velvel, they wanted us to put some new songs on this record. We have a whole new albums-worth of songs, but they wanted to re-release this one with a few extra songs on there. We were like, no way, because we didn’t want to betray the people that’ve already bought the album. So they’re just putting out a remastered version of the same album. Nothing else different. Some different packaging, but the cover’s still the same, so as not to cause confusion. So it’s the same album with wider distribution through BMG.
You have a new album written?
Oh yeah. I think we’re going to jump in the studio and record a single really quick. We need to get something out. When I listen to that record, it’s like we’re a totally different band now. Well, not different, but we’re much tighter now.
How old, actually, is this album?
We recorded late in 1996.
You must be sick of “Do the Devil” by now.
Yeah, but I’m glad people are into it. We have a lot of stuff we can’t wait to get on record so people can hear it.
When are you looking at releasing it?
I’d like to get it out in the Fall. A whole new album. We had a talk with the Velvel people because we write short songs. It’s the way we are. We’re big fans of the three-minute gems. If it can’t be said in three minutes, then don’t say it.
Everything else is merely repeating and restating the point that’s already been made.
Exactly. We don’t like to bore people.
How long has The Amazing Royal Crowns been together?
Four years. It’s been hard, of course, and we’re still payin’ dues. We just got off the Cramps tour, probably on of the hardest tours we’ve ever done.
Was is that?
Lots and lots and lots of long drives, like ten hour drives, between gigs. But the crowds were the best. I don’t know why, but we did so well on that tour.
You and the Cramps is kinda like the Dropkicks and The Business.
That’s exactly what it was. It’s funny ’cause just before the Dropkicks left for that tour, we had a gig together, and we were talkin’. I was like, “You’re going out with your idols and we’re going out with ours.” They were like, “Yeah man, we’ll see you on the other end.” We hugged and left on our dream tours.
Have you done any shows with Brian Setzer (ex-Stray Cats, natch)?
We did a couple gigs together, but we’ve never done any tours with him.
Are you behind the Vegas thing he’s been doing for the last few years?
The thing is, we’re a much more grassroots kinda punk rock. I can appreciate the whole Vegas thing of him and the Royal Crown Revue and all those bands, but I also think… well, that it’s a low ceiling room, ya know? It’s not our thing.
I’ve seen you guys a few times, and you always start the show all respectable-like – well-dressed and dapper – but slowly you sweat your way out of your clothes until you’re stripped down to t-shirts.
That’s what we’re all about – blood, sweat, and grease. We just have way too much energy to be that proper.
What do you think about the new Reverend Horton Heat album?
I mean, I guess you’ve got to grow. What’s that, his fifth album? The first songs seemed pretty spaghetti Westernish to me, which was pretty cool, but the rest were just pop – poppy-punky stuff. I still don’t know where it’s coming from.
The Gospel Sounds… is my favorite.
That one’s great. Smoke ‘Em if Ya Got ‘Em, the one before that, came out as a ten-inch, and before that there was the “Psychobilly Freakout” single. When Horton Heat first started playing around, I was sooo into it. I saw them so many times. He’s definitely an influence.
Were you guys playing rockabilly before that whole thing came around?
Yeah, I got into the psychobilly thing in Germany in ’85. When I got back to the states, I was in various bands here and there, but I met our guitarist, Johnny (“The Colonel” Maguire), and he has always been into rockabilly. I’ve always been into punk rock, with a little bit of psychobilly thrown in. And then Jack (“The Swinger” Hanlon), our bassist, also comes from the punk rock side, but was getting into rockabilly. Johnny turned both us onto more and more rockabilly, and we took it from there. We combined them. When we first started, we didn’t really know what it was going to sound like. We tried to do traditional rockabilly, but we couldn’t do it, we just didn’t have it in us.
There’s too much punk rock in ya.
Exactly. It shows through. And now it’s grown into this.
It’s nice ’cause you created your own hybrid, mostly because there wasn’t much else around, instead of drawing inspiration from what was already one step removed.
That’s what we’re all about: the roots.
What are some references?
Johnny Burnett, Joe Clay, going way back like Howlin’ Wolf, whether it be Delta blues or early, early rockabilly, whatever. Greasy R&B from the ’50s, Freddy and the Hitchhikers… There’re many amazing, crazy names from back then.
And those guys were a lot more punk rock then, than a lot of “punk rock” bands are now.
Totally. When those bands came out, people didn’t know how to handle them. Rockabilly was punk rock. That energy, the mixture of hillbilly and blues, and country, gospel…
In your audience, do you see dusty redneck killbillies fuckin’ shit up next to college alterna-dandies in their starched shirts and bolos?
We definitely get a cross-section in our audience. I don’t think we get as many kids that’re into the trendy aspect of it, ya know, the dressin’ up and all that.
They also don’t gravitate to the front of the stage like the crazy fuckers.
And we love those guys, man. I’d like to think we attract the people that’re really into it, and not those that are following the whole “swing thing,” ya know? We have nothing to do with that.
A whole movement (revival, actually) based on Squirrel Nut Zippers. Well, and now The Royal Crown Revue. Do you get confused with them a lot?
Confused? No. But I’ll tell you, those guys do not like us. They’ve threatened to sue us so many times. That’s why we added “The Amazing” to our name. We didn’t want to be confused with them, and thank God we don’t play the same style of music.
How long have you been “The Amazing…”?
About two years. So we rarely get confused anymore. But one of our first tours ever, the kind where you sleep in the van on the side of the road, we played with Youth Brigade at a skate park in California. And the Stern brothers formed Royal Crown Revue. They told us to watch out. When we got back to the East Coast, we played one of the dates on the Warped Tour, and Royal Crown Revue played as well. And that’s when, as you may’ve heard, one of the guys came up to Johnny after the set, and I mean,right after the set, and said, “Yeah, we gotta talk. We’re gonna sue you guys. You guys gotta stop using the name.” And Johnny’s like, “Can I take my fuckin’ guitar off before you guys sue me?”
Oh, so you mean “watch out” as in legally, not as in startin’ shit…
Oh, right. No, I don’t think those guys would start shit with us. I mean, we’re not a threat to them at all. We don’t even play their style of music. I couldn’t bear to put that many covers on an album.
Ouch. Say, I seem to recall a cover in your set at the ’97 WBCN Rumble (which you won) last year.
We do three covers. One cover is on the album, an obscure song called “Wrecking Machine,” by Los Marauders out of Iowa City. The only other covers we do,live that is, are “American Nightmare” by The Misfits, and “Bloodstains” by Agent Orange. Good sing-along songs.
I love your cover of “American Nightmare.” You have a lot of fun singing Danzig, don’t you?
Oh, I love it. On the original “American Nightmare,” he is Elvis back from the grave. But I’m really more of a screamer.
And you’ve got that “yip” thing going on.
Yeah, sometimes I pull a yip out.
What else can you call a yip? I mean, it’s a yip…
It’s the rockabilly hiccup.
Do you occasionally find yourself slipping one of those in casual conversation?
Um, no. Nooooo!
How about “A’yup” – ever let one of those slip by?
That’s Maine talkin’. H’yup, they got that whole… (Man, I’m not even gonna try to transcribe that.)
I love the lingo, the jargon, the, um…
What you said. You pegged it. When you go out on tour, do you totally get into the way people from different areas talk?
Totally. And they always get a kick outta Jack, ’cause Jack’s got such a Massachusetts accent. We were in Boulder last week and jack was like, “Hey, I gotta hit the ce-ean.” And they’re like, “The what?” “The ce-e-e-an, m-e-e-an. Where’s the c-e-e-an?” “Oh, the bathroom. Over there.” Classic.
I haven’t asked you shit about post-Rumble events. Like getting signed, all the tours…
It’s really kind of a constant blur. We’ve been touring like mad. Let’s see, there was the Bosstones tour (50 dates), then a Pietasters tour for a month and a half, then our own tour for a month, then The Cramps tour for a month and a half. It’s been one massive tour. We did something here in Providence called the Providence Payback, and we had five bands a night for $5. Two nights we did that. It was at The Met.
The Strand’s gone, right?
Yeah, I come back from a tour and The Strand’s gone.
That’s like losing the Rat here in Boston.
Actually, the equivalent to us was Babyhead. But that’s gone, too.
Shit. This place is going to be a ghost town before long.
I know. Things have to pop up. As long as all-age shows don’t stop happening. That’s such an important thing.
So The Met is kinda the new home? Kinda like The Linwood has become mine?
Yeah. But I wish there were more choices.
With so few venues, it’s really hard, really competitive, trying to get a show. We’re missing out on national tours that just completely miss both Boston and Providence.
Exactly. And there are so many good local bands that need a place to play. Like The Double Nothings. It’d be a real shame if they didn’t make it out of this area. And how do you do it? You play a lot. That’s what we did. Isn’t The Middle East pulling in the shows?
They’re only one club. They only bring in as much as one club can (with two and a half stages, admittedly). But this is a fuckin’city, and we’re supposed to have variety.
Here, all we have is Lupo’s, really, for a big room.
How’d you hook up with Velvel?
They started comin’ to a lot of gigs. We started getting a lot of label interest after all these tours. Even before the Rumble. We were biding our time. The thing we like about Velvel is that they’re willing to work with us. They know that we have a certain aesthetic we want to uphold. The fact that they agreed to re-release the album without putting new tracks on was a big deal to us. Most labels would want something new. We didn’t want our audience to think we were trying to force them buy the record again. The people that’ve come see us over the years are the most important thing to us.
I realize, by my own Bostonian arrogant nature, I’ve always considered you a Boston band.
No. We’re from Providence.
Does that rub you the wrong way?
No. Not at all. We’re a Providence band, that’s all.
Do people make that mistake?
Yeah. A lot. We get a lot of shit about that in our hometown. It says Providence, Rhode Island, right on our stickers, but people are gonna call you what they wanna call you. As long as they call you, it doesn’t really matter much… Boston’s adopted us, and we love it. Boston’s just a bigger city, what can you do? Lots of amazing bands have come out of there. But we’re from Providence. We started here, and this is where we live. I’m actually calling from In Your Ear (on Thayer Street, in Providence) right now. I used to work here.
Great. So Velvel does call you a Providence band, so they’re not trying to package you off…
No, Velvel’s been really good. But when we first got there, one person had us do a photo shoot and wanted us to wear make-up. But that’s not at all what we are. But was cleared up pretty quick. The person just didn’t understand that we have a certain grassroots way we like to do things. Now they’re working with us.
Don’t you have a new drummer?
Yeah, Judd Williams. He’s not on the album, but he’s from Boston and he’s been in the band for three months. That was 70 gigs ago, by the way. Isn’t that ridiculous? We’ve been writing new stuff with Judd, and we’re just really excited to get some new stuff out there.
You have a video for “Do the Devil,” don’t you? How old is that?
It’s almost a year old, but it really hasn’t been shown all that much. So, to some people, it’s still completely new.
Are you going to do another video for this album?
Maybe, what the hell? “Do the Devil” came out really great. It has The Women of Sodom (R.I.P.) doing Betty Page stuff. I showed it to Lux Interior (of The Cramps) and he loved it.
Tell me a Lux story.
The last day of the tour, we bought them a big cake. It was so surreal, man, hangin’ out with The Cramps eating cake.
Was it on The Cramps tour that you got really sick?
Yeah. That was the most rewarding tour we’ve ever done, but it was also the hardest tour we’ve ever done. Toward the end of it, I got sick, and the whole touring party got sick. The flu was going around, and when you travel together, you all pass it along. A couple dates, I was so feverish I passed out after I got off the stage. In Columbus, I passed out on the floor of the dressing room. I don’t remember the set, even though I’m told it was good. I was so out of it. They shuttled me out to the van that night and put me up in the loft. I put three sweaters on over my t-shirt, and then wrapped myself up in a sleeping bag. I was delirious and fell asleep. I broke my fever that night. I sweated through the t-shirt, through the three sweaters, and soaked the sleeping bag. There were literally pools of sweat in the loft, it was disgusting. When I woke up, it was about four or five in the morning and it didn’t look like there was anyone else in the van. But it was tipped up, there were flashing lights in the back window, and I thought we’d been abducted. I was all fucked up, but I could tell we were moving. Backwards. And Judd, who was on the bench seat, whispered, “Shhh. We’re being towed. We broke down again.” This is like the fourth time we’d broken down. “We’re being towed to Indiana from Columbus, and we’re hiding in here ’cause there’s too many of us and we’d have to find another way to get there. So shhh, go back to sleep.” So I leaned back in my amazing pool of sweat, and waited for the nightmare to end. It was hellish.