Baltimore might not necessarily be viewed as a musical epicenter when compared to New York City, Nashville and Los Angeles. However, the city, known as Charm City, does have its own burgeoning scene, that includes the likes of Beach House, Tori Amos, Wye Oak and Lower Dens. And now you can Mt. Royal to the list.
No, I’m not talking about the hill top that’s in Montreal. Instead it’s the indie pop five piece composed of singer Katrina Ford, bassist Ed Harris, keyboard player Matt Pierce, guitarist Woody Ranere and Mike Lowry on the drums. Known for being the lead vocalist in Celebration, Ford lends her soulful Florence Welch-meets-Sarah-McLachlan voice to the orchestral melodies that are like an explosion of good sound that you can mellow out to.
Like many other bands, the members of Mt. Royal (at least the men of the group) started off playing together at university. They eventually met Ford through friends and later asked her to join in, which she gladly did as she admits to being a big fan of collaboration. After various jam sessions and just getting a feel for one another, they set out to create a set of songs that turned into their self-titled debut EP, which released on Jan. 27 via Bella Union/PIAS. The collection of six songs includes eerie yet funky “Missing Reward” – the band’s latest single and buzzed about track.
Best Fit had the opportunity Pierce and Ford to chat about the Baltimore music scene, the band’s beginnings and the aspirations they have for 2014.
What are your musical backgrounds?
Matt Pierce: Most of us grew up playing music at a relatively young age. We were all in bands not long after high school and have played in various bands ever since. I do think there are multiple musical foundations and influences within the band. For instance, I was exposed to gospel music at a young age and then new wave in my teens. I think Mike, Ed and possibly Katrina were more into punk rock, hard core as well as soul and R&B. Woody, maybe more rock ‘n roll. This all factors in to our respective backgrounds.
How did the band get together?
MP: Myself, Mike, Ed and Woody had previously played in a band together. We met in . We knew Katrina from mutual friends and from her previous bands. Mike, Ed and I had an instrumental side project at the time and we reached out to Katrina about singing with us back in 2009. That’s when we first started writing together.
Where did the band name come from?
MP: It is a street here in Baltimore. It’s very central to our lives socially and close to where we live. We liked the sound of and familiarity of Mt Royal.
Baltimore City is known for a number of its musical movements like punk and indie. But you guys have more of a soul quality to your sound. What inspired the band to go in that route?
MP: I think individually and in our respective bands we’ve always been a bit outside the lines, left of center, as far as genres like indie and punk go. I definitely think there is a place in the Baltimore scene for something a little different, possibly more soulful. Again, it’s those early influences sort of mixing with the music of our time.
Who are you some of your favorite Baltimore acts?
MP: There are so many good bands from Baltimore… I like Future Islands, Double Dagger was one of my favorite shows ever in Baltimore, Celebration…and I really liked Roomrunner live. That’s just a few of them.
Katrina, you were formerly from Celebration, and was also featured in UNKLE’s “Caged Bird”. How do you feel the dynamics are different in Mt. Royal compared to your other projects?
Katrina Ford: First and importantly, I am currently in Celebration. The celebration continues. I love when I have the opportunity to collaborate with others. Dynamics are a broad term. Every musical project has it’s own unique flavor. The dynamics in Mt. Royal musically manifest first in the way we write music together. For the most part the band brings me sketches. I listen to them in the car or while I do dishes…when I’m alone.
I come back with fragments of melody and some words or images, and then we eventually map them out organically through just playing together. Our time is somewhat limited, we all have very busy schedules. I’m really impressed that a song can usually come together for us pretty quickly. For Celebration, it’s 5 of us, one being my husband . This automatically makes the dynamic different.
Musically first in the way we develop a song and the amount of time we have to craft it, we practice in our home. We’ve been a band for 10 years. It’s very family style, and I’m the momma. Mt. Royal is my extended family – I don’t see them every day, but I love the music they bring to the table.
How does Mt. Royal going about their songwriting process?
MP: Often I will bring an idea to the band and we will hash it out together until everyone is satisfied with their parts. There have also been songs that started from a bass line or a beat and then evolved over time. Katrina usually builds her melodic ideas as we run through the different parts over and over. I believe most of the lyrics are written after the song has been completely arranged.
What’s the premise behind the ‘Missing Reward’ video?
MP: I think we just wanted something that was visually stimulating and focused on Katrina rather than having a narrative. Our friend Laura had this concept that was all about textures, colors…shimmery and shinny… so we ran with her idea. Also there’s something nostalgic about a video with handmade/homemade props and effects that we really liked.
The EP was released on 27 January, but when will be seeing an album from you guys?
Glad you asked! We’ve been working hard on a new album for the past 4 months or so. We’ve got a collection of really good song ideas and I cannot wait to get into a studio and record them. When that will happen and where, we’re not entirely sure right now but we are hoping to make it happen by spring/summer. So hopefully we will have a full length by this autumn.
Aside from getting props in the States, you also have a growing following abroad. How do you feel having that exposure outside of the US?
Generally speaking, I feel that the taste for music in the UK and Europe is a bit more all-inclusive and open to new things. This is based on living over there and touring numerous times with previous bands. So we are very happy to have exposure abroad as well as here in the States. We are eager to play abroad too.
What is your definition of success?
You would probably get a very different answer from each member of the band but personally for me, success is finding a way to do what you want, plain and simple. Whether that’s playing music, working, traveling or lying on a beach every day…if that’s what you want to be doing and you are able to do it, that’s pretty successful.
And now you’ve been signed to Bella Union, which also has a roster of big names like Fleet Foxes and The Flaming Lips. How do feel being signed to a label of this calibre will help progress your careers?
The aim is to be able to make the music that we want and to get it out to as many people as possible. So I think with Bella Union, we’ve got a really a great opportunity. Ultimately though, it will all depend on our music but it certainly feels good to be on a label with such well known bands.
What’s one thing you hope to accomplish as a band in 2014?
I’d really like to make this next record as good as we know it can be. That would be a huge accomplishment. I’d also really love to play some cool festivals both here in the States and in Europe.
What’s next for Mt. Royal?
We are releasing our EP with Bella Union on Jan. 27th, we are playing a couple of shows here in Baltimore and New York and then hopefully we’ll make it over to the UK soon.
The Mt. Royal EP is out now on Bella Union.