Last summer, indie pop band Royal Teeth released a video for “Never Gonna Quit” starring local musician Valerie Sassyfras as a plucky, spikey-haired dynamo, packing her accordion into a maroon tour van and hitting the road.
If the video seemed like it was trying to replicate the viral success of a video of Sassyfras aired on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” (of Sassyfras performing at a local children’s festival), that was serendipitous timing. Royal Teeth frontman Gary Larsen had reached out to Sassyfras before that event.
Almost a year later, the album “Hard Luck,” which opens with “Never Gonna Quit,” is being released this week on Round Hill Music. Though the song is about celebrating irrepressible optimism, it almost sounded like a denial for a band that was redefining itself.
Formed by three musicians from Lafayette and singer Nora Patterson of Baton Rouge, the band found early success in 2012 with the breezy, upbeat single “Wild,” which drew fans and was used in multiple commercials. Royal Teeth ended up changing labels for reasons unrelated to the band, Larsen says. Though its first full-length album “Glow” was successful, the band chose to buy out its own three-album contract. For a brief time, it was signed to Elektra Records.
In 2016, Royal Teeth released the six-song EP “Amateurs” on its current label, Round Hill. The songs were different but not totally unlike the upbeat “Wild.” The band headed into the studio with plans for a new full-length album, but it didn’t go well.
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“We went to Nashville to record an album, but we made it hard on ourselves,” Larsen says. “We didn’t know what we wanted. We brought three producers and had all these songwriting sessions. At the end of it, we were like, ‘What is this?’ That’s not a question you want to ask yourself at that point.”
The band also adjusted to changes. Larsen and Patterson live in New Orleans. Josh Hefner and Thomas Onebane moved to Nashville, Tennessee. But when Larsen set up a studio inside his shotgun home on Spruce Street, he freed himself of the stress of being on the clock in a big studio, and he started generating song ideas from simple parts. Using guitars, keyboards and Logic Pro software, he started from scratch on what would become “Hard Luck.” The band members worked on songs individually and shared them electronically. Larsen says he hatched ideas for roughly 60 songs and the album took shape. The idea for “Never Gonna Quit” was an early song.
“I actually started working on that while beatboxing into my phone while driving to Lafayette,” Larsen says.
That became a song the members finished remotely. The process helped amplify the band’s electronic influences, with more prominent keyboards and synthesizers than past recordings. Larsen and Patterson trade vocals throughout, and Larsen likes the album’s punchy, more hip-hop-friendly sound. He says Onebane, who was interested in electronic music before joining Royal Teeth, brought more of that to “Hard Luck.”
The band originally had more of a folk-influenced sound.
“If you took the electronic stuff out and stripped down ‘Rivalry,’ there’s a country song under there,” Larsen says. “There’s some slide guitar in it.”
Though the lyrics sound like a love song, it’s about being drawn to music, Larsen says.
“It’s about looking in the mirror,” he says. “The love is being a musician. I was like, after doing this for eight or nine years, do I let it go and move on with my life?”
Since setting up his home studio, Larsen has been able to work on music every day in a relaxed environment.
“The music business can take the fun out of it,” he says. “We thought, ‘Let’s make it fun again.’”
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