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Interview: Royel Otis

2 May 2024

Photo by Georges Antoni

The days of young, relatively unknown bands coming out of nowhere and having immediate success is more the exception than the norm these days which makes Sydney, Australia’s Royel Otis’s nearly overnight success something to behold. Previously casual acquaintances, Royel Maddell (guitars) and Otis Pavlovic (vocals) decided to start working together in 2019 and after emerging from some forced timeout in 2020, released the first of 3 EPs in October 2021. Additional EPs followed each successive year leading up to the release of the duo’s first full length, Pratts & Pain, in February of this year.

With a palatable indie-pop, guitar-rock sound, Royel Otis has taken advantage of platforms like YouTube, Spotify and Bandcamp to gain a following and both satellite and (the remaining) terrestrial alt-rock radio stations have taken a liking to the band’s sound. The streaming numbers are through the roof and while that can be accomplished due to placement on Spotify playlists and the like, it doesn’t always translate into ticket sales. For Royel Otis, however, selling out 200 – 500-cap venues in the U.S. this spring has resulted in a second leg taking place later this year at venues double and triple the size of the clubs the band is currently playing. With so much momentum, there’s little doubt those shows will sell out as well.

Before we get to the conversation I had with Pavlovic, it’s worth noting that Royel Otis’s recent appearance on Triple J’s “Like a Version” series – where artists perform covers of acts that have been an influence – has resulted in millions of YouTube views for both the band’s version of Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s “Murder on the Dance Floor” (3.9 million views) and The Cranberries’ “Linger” (4.2 million views). Impressive numbers for a duo who has only been writing and releasing music for 5 years.

I did some Googling and saw that you’ve done some modeling and acting. But, I read an older interview where you said that music is really the thing you’ve always been interested in. Has that been the main dream since you were a kid?

OTIS: I’m very much rewarded by playing music. It’s something I’ve always been passionate about. I enjoy it. The other stuff, I didn’t love doing that as much as I enjoy music.

Is acting something you’d like to pursue more down the road?

OTIS: I don’t think so, at least not at the moment, but you never know. I don’t get really excited about acting.

Did you guys really decide to start the band when you met in a bar?

OTIS: That is a true story. We had some mutual friends and would hang out occasionally, but we weren’t super close. He worked at a bar near my house and after maybe the fifth time we hung out, I showed him my demo. I knew he played guitar. He listened to that. And then maybe two months later, we started recording stuff together.

This was in 2019. Do you think that the lockdown in 2020 gave the two of you time to figure out what your sound was going to be rather than having to rush things?

OTIS: Kinda. I feel like it put a little bit of a halt on things just because of live shows and stuff. We were still writing music, because we started just before the pandemic, but I feel like it put a bit of a halt on things. It’s probably good to just refine and to record stuff and write music.

Would you have done stuff quicker had the pandemic not happened?

OTIS: I feel like we would have done things a bit quicker, but also try to take our time. We did do one show during the pandemic and it had all the rules where everyone had to sit down. You had to be one meter apart and all that. After that, we didn’t do a show for a while.

Pratts & Pain was named after a bar that was near the studio?

OTIS: We recorded the album with Dan Carey and there was a pub just down the road called Pratts and Payne. We’d mostly just write lyrics there when we were recording. We’d go sit in the pub and have a Guinness and throw ideas at each other. When it came time to name the album, we just figured we’d just call it Pratts & Pain. One time when we were there, they ran out of Guinness cause we were drinking so much!

You released a number of singles leading up to the full length. Was that all to appease the algorithm?

OTIS: Exactly. I was like, “Let’s just release them all at once” and our manager was like, “No, that’s not the way to do it. You’ve got to release one song then slowly work your way into it.” I think people’s attention span is a bit shorter these days. I also feel like EPs are a lot more common these days compared to back in the day when people would release albums.

Are the songs on the album ones that have been building up over time or did you start writing them when you knew you were going to make a full length?

OTIS: They’re all quite kind of fresh songs. They were mostly written between the time that we released the last EP and the time we recorded. There was probably ideas that we had from the past but also quite fairly new stuff.

Are you always writing songs? Do you have enough songs for another EP right now or were you focused on writing just for the album and then going on tour and eventually getting back to writing?

OTIS: We almost have a second album ready to go. It’s not really our choice, but we work closely with our label because it’s a small independent label and Andrew, who owns it, likes keeping us busy. The more songs we have, the better.

Do you like working at that pace?

OTIS: I do feel like sometimes you can get rushed into things that you’ll look back and be like, “That probably wasn’t the best stuff.” But, I also think it’s good to not get caught in the cycle of being too precious about it as well. It’s just keeping the ball rolling.

Do you look at bands like King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard and Guided By Voice who release like eight albums a year and think they’re crazy or is that something you aspire to?

OTIS: Dude, that’s crazy. I feel like we couldn’t do that.

I have to assume there’s major upsides and positive stuff that go along with having a single like “Oysters in my Pocket.” Is there a downside to having a hit early in your career?

OTIS: I don’t think so. I think it probably helped us out to hit.

Does that ever like scare you to think that maybe this might be your one and only shot or are you not concerned about that?

OTIS: I don’t know. When we recorded the song, I didn’t even think it would be a hit. It was almost like we weren’t even certain we’d release it. I didn’t think people would like it as much as they have, but it was Andrew who said, “This should be a single.” And I think people just came to really like it.

Do you know how “Oysters in my Pocket” blew up? Did you have radio support?

OTIS: Our main station in Australia is Triple J and they didn’t add it. I think they’ve spun it a few times. I think it got put into a playlist on Spotify. It’s probably just an instant song. It’s a straight-away kind of song, it’s short and simple.

That’s what I like about your songs. They are all mostly short and simple. It’s not like all the songs sound the same but you’ve got a certain formula. There are two that stand out to me as not being in the standard formula – “Molly” and “Velvet”. I think they are nice breaks in the record to offer a slightly different sound. Is there a reason those songs are bit outside the formula?

OTIS: I’ve always been about not trying to write singles. My favorite songs are songs that you listen to over a period of time. I like having songs that are different and not just having an album full of the same thing. “Velvet” is a funny song, it’s real rocky and we haven’t really released anything that rocky before. “Molly” is the opposite of that, real slow.

Do you have more songs in either of those styles?

OTIS: The newer stuff we’ve been recording, there’s a lot more acoustic and slow stuff and more stripped back songs which I enjoy. It’s more based around the songs, not how many instruments you can add.

You mentioned Triple J. Do people in Australia still listen the radio regularly and discover stuff that way or is it like everywhere else in the world where everyone is streaming music?

OTIS: I think young kids in Australia listen to Triple J. I think maybe adults as well. There definitely is a pool of people that listen to Triple J. I feel like in America there’s a few radio stations, but in Australia it’s only really Triple J.

Do you think the internet has broken down geographic barriers where it’s easier to discover smaller, lesser-known local bands regardless of where you live? I think back to when I was in my early 20s, before the internet, and there is no way I’d ever hear about an Australian band unless they were signed to a label.

OTIS: I definitely feel like all that stuff has helped. Everything’s so accessible now in a good way and in a bad way. You need to have such a presence on social media, like TikTok and all that stuff. I feel like back in the 90s, it was just about the music. There’s stuff that comes with having access to the internet which is kind of annoying at time but it’s definitely a lot easier for artists to put this stuff out there and for people to hear it.

You’ve dealt with some visa problems in the past and had to cancel a U.S. tour. Is it difficult to leave Australia to play shows?

OTIS: It depends on where we’re going. Touring is so weird. I enjoy it, but I do miss home. I’m probably more of a homebody. I can put up with touring but I do enjoy coming home.

What I’ve seen on your Instagram account is that it doesn’t seem like you’ve ever had a Tuesday night late show where you’ve played in front of 5 people. It seems like from the start of Royel Otis playing out, you’ve always played in front of decent sized crowds.

OTIS: We definitely had a few rough gigs. We played at a chicken wing/beer place in the Central Coast and there was no one there. I think Roy’s brother and his friend came down but that was it. There’s definitely a few where we played to not heaps of people.

Because you really started the band during Covid, even though you had a few rough shows to start, you went from that to playing big stages with bands like alt-J. You climbed the ladder pretty quick.

OTIS: It does feel like that. It happens in stages, it is a climb. It doesn’t feel like a jump but when you look back, you’re like, “Things have changed a little bit since we started out.”

Do you have any idea what to expect in terms of audiences when you play the U.S.? I know you had to cancel shows last year but were those shows selling well?

OTIS: I feel like we stream best in America. It’ll be interesting to see how people react to it in a live setting.

Do you do well in Australia?

OTIS: I feel like Australia is a little step ahead of the UK and American stuff. They’re almost in similar wavelengths to the sizes of the audiences we’re playing to. We’ve played more shows here, so we’ve got more happening but I they’re almost on the same length in UK.

Is it hard for bands from Australia to make it out of Australia to play shows?

OTIS: There’s definitely a curse in Australia where Triple J gets really around you and you get big here and then you go overseas and there’s not the same thing happening. We’ve made an effort to move around. We don’t want to be stuck to Australia. I was talking to a band the other day and they’re quite big in Australia. They’re saying they just went overseas to Europe and the UK and they’re playing in 250-cap rooms and then in Australia they’re playing to 6,000 people.

On Spotify, there’s two remixes. One is from Jono Ma and the other is from Lazy Eyes. As minimal as my Australian band knowledge is, I bought the Lazy Eyes album and reviewed it in Big Takeover magazine, and I’ve seen Jaguar Ma live. I was pleasantly surprised to recognize the names of the people who remixed your song. How do remixes come about? Do you approach these guys and ask if they want to do something with one of your songs? Or does the label reach out?

Royel Otis · Oysters In My Pocket (The Lazy Eyes Remix)

OTIS: I went to school with three of the boys from the Lazy Eyes, but I don’t know how that came about, maybe through management. I think the Jono one came about through management, but we knew him before. He’s done some work with Genesis Owusu.

Do you give them the basic tracks and then they do what they want with them?

OTIS: Yeah. Then they put their own spin on it. They’re weird remixes. Jono did an almost techno-like remix for “Without You.”

Royel Otis · Without U (Jono Ma RIP LSP Remix)

Thematically, in the past, your songs have dealt a lot with relationships.

OTIS: The first EP had a lot of that. Most of the songs were centered around relationships. And then the second EP, we decided to completely change it and write about random stuff, like food. They all have their own meanings in their own way.

*Is there a song or lyric that is very specific that you’ll look back on and be like, “I was sitting at this place and doing this thing when this song was written.”

OTIS: As I think about some of the songs, I think about sitting in the pub with Roy and throwing ideas out at each other. That’s how most of the lyrics came to life.

The band is a combination of your and Roy’s names. Are there other people in the band?

OTIS: Roy and I write the music and then there’s two other guys that play live with us. So, it’s a four piece with Jules and Tim.

Are they the touring members or do you take out whoever is available to take the time to go on tour?

OTIS: They’re permanent although we might have to find someone if Jules can’t get his visa. But, they’ve been playing with us from the start.

You’ve already done so much in your short career, from playing festivals to playing arenas with alt-J. What are some things that you still have on your bucket list?

OTIS: Touring America will be awesome. I’m looking forward to checking out all the more rural places. That’s definitely on the bucket list. I think if we played Glastonbury, that’d be pretty fun. There are some venues in Australia which I think would be cool to do our own headline gigs at like the Riverstage in Brisbane which is a really beautiful outdoor venue. If we could play that, that would be sick.


2024 Tour Dates

MAY 2 – Theatre of Living Arts – Philadelphia, PA
MAY 3 – Howard Theatre – Washington, DC
MAY 4 – Lincoln Theatre – Raleigh, NC
MAY 5 – Shaky Knees Festival – Atlanta, GA
MAY 8 – Mohawk – Austin, TX
MAY 9 – Rubber Gloves – Denton, TX
MAY 11 – Meow Wolf Denver – Denver, CO
MAY 12 – Kilby Block Party 2024 – Salt Lake City, UT
MAY 15 – The Rebel Lounge – Phoenix, AZ
MAY 16 – The Fonda Theatre – Los Angeles, CA
MAY 17 – Cesar Chavez Plaza – Sacramento, CA
MAY 18 – Rickshaw Stop – San Francisco, CA
MAY 20 – Aladdin Theater – Portland, OR
MAY 21 – The Pearl – Vancouver, BC
MAY 22 – Neptune Theatre – Seattle, WA
MAY 24 – BottleRock Napa Valley – Napa, CA
MAY 26 – Boston Calling – Boston, MA
MAY 30 – JUN 1 – Immergut Festival – Neustrelitz, Germany
MAY 31 – JUN 2 – Maifeld Derby – Mannheim, Germany
JUN 1 – Primavera Sound – Barcelona, Sant Adrià de Besòs
JUN 2 – Primavera A La Ciutat – Barcelona, Spain
JUN 6 – NOS Primavera Sound Festival – Porto, Porto District
JUN 8 – Best Kept Secret – Hilvarenbeek, Netherlands
JUN 12 – Rock For People – Hradec Kralove, Czechia
JUN 13 – JUN 15 – Sideways Festival – Helsinki, Finland
JUN 23 – Beyond The Pale – Wicklow, Ireland
JUN 28 – Lincoln Castle – Lincoln, UK
JUN 29 – Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod – Llangollen, UK
JUN 30 – Southampton Summer Sessions – Southampton, UK
JUL 4 – Mojotic Festival – Genoa, Italy
JUL 5 – JUL 7 – Midi Festival – Hyères, France
JUL 6 – Beautiful Decay Festival – Luxembourg, Luxembourg
JUL 9 – O2 Academy Bournemouth – Bournemouth , UK
JUL 10 – O2 Academy Oxford – Oxford, UK
JUL 11 – Foundry – Sheffield, England
JUL 12 – Arts Club – Liverpool, United Kingdom
JUL 12 – JUL 14 – TRNSMT – Glasgow, UK
JUL 17 – JUL 21 – Electric Castle – Cluj-Napoca, CJ
AUG 1 – AUG 3 – Appletree Garden Festival – Diepholz, Germany
AUG 1 – AUG 4 – Kendal Calling – Kendal, UK
AUG 2 – AUG 4 – Suikerrock Festival – Tienen, Belgium
AUG 7 – AUG 11 – Boardmasters Festival – Newquay, UK
AUG 8 – AUG 11 – Ypsigrock Festival – Castelbuono, Italy
AUG 16 – Openair Gampel – Gampel-Bratsch, Switzerland
AUG 22 – AUG 25 – Lost Village Festival – Norton Disney, UK
AUG 23 – AUG 25 – Camper Calling – Warwick, UK
AUG 23 – AUG 25 – Victorious Festival – Portsmouth, UK
SEP 7 – SEP 8 – Sudden Little Thrills Festival – Pittsburgh, PA
SEP 9 – Newport Music Hall – Columbus, OH
SEP 11 – Essex – Rochester, NY
SEP 12 – The Concert Hall – Toronto, ON
SEP 13 – The Majestic Theatre – Detroit, MI
SEP 14 – The Sylvee – Madison, WI
SEP 15 – First Avenue – Minneapolis, MN
SEP 17 – Metro – Chicago, IL
SEP 18 – Metro – Chicago, IL
SEP 19 – Canopy Club – Urbana, IL
SEP 21 – Bourbon & Beyond – Louisville, KY
SEP 24 – Union Transfer – Philadelphia, PA
SEP 25 – Brooklyn Steel – Brooklyn, NY
SEP 27 – 9:30 Club – Washington, D.C.
SEP 30 – Variety Playhouse – Atlanta, GA
OCT 1 – Brooklyn Bowl Nashville – Nashville, TN
OCT 8 – Ogden Theatre – Denver, CO
OCT 9 – Granada Theater – Lawrence, KS
OCT 14 – The Bellwether – Los Angeles, CA
OCT 15 – The Bellwether – Los Angeles, CA
OCT 20 – McMenamins Crystal Ballroom – Portland, OR
OCT 21 – Neptune Theatre – Seattle, WA
OCT 22 – Commodore Ballroom – Vancouver, BC
OCT 29 – Parkteatret – Oslo, Norway
OCT 31 – Debaser – Stockholm, Stockholm County
NOV 1 – Pustervik – Gothenburg, Sweden
NOV 2 – Loppen – Copenhagen, DK
NOV 3 – Knust – Hamburg, Germany
NOV 5 – Lido – Berlin, Germany
NOV 7 – Hybrydy – Warsaw, Poland
NOV 8 – Flex – Vienna, Austria
NOV 11 – Strom – Munich, Bavaria
NOV 12 – Santeria Toscana 31 – Milan, Lombardy
NOV 13 – Plaza – Zürich, Switzerland
NOV 15 – WiZink Center – Madrid, Spain
NOV 16 – Sala Apollo – Barcelona, Spain
NOV 18 – La Lune des Pirates – Amiens, France
NOV 19 – Trix – Antwerp, Belgium
NOV 20 – Le Trabendo – Paris, France
NOV 22 – Gebäude 9 – Cologne, NRW
NOV 23 – Doornroosje – Nijmegen, Netherlands
NOV 24 – Paradiso – Amsterdam, Netherlands
NOV 26 – Trinity Centre – Bristol, England
NOV 27 – Electric Ballroom – London, United Kingdom
NOV 28 – O2 Academy Birmingham – Birmingham, UK
NOV 29 – SWG3 TV Studio – Glasgow, UK
NOV 30 – Riverside Newcastle – Newcastle upon Tyne, England
DEC 1 – Stylus – Leeds, England
DEC 3 – New Century Hall – Manchester, UK
DEC 4 – The Academy – Dublin, Ireland


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