Walker & Royce dig deeper, discuss the art of the album, & Dirtybird Campout preceding upcoming album ‘Self Help’ [Interview]
“Birds of a feather flock together” — so goes the proverbial phrase for those whose indistinguishable interests, ideas, and characteristics converge.
In the pantheon of propelling tech and bass house to unforeseen heights lies the nest of a rather zany flock of birds. The Dirtybird nest — overseen by the venerable Claude VonStroke — hosts all kinds of crudeness, lewdness, depth, and darkness. For those unfamiliar, it helps to think of this crew as an eccentric ostentation of peacocks, really, over a stark flock of birds. The label cultivates a truly idiosyncratic array of artistry, whose ethos is exemplified in its artist’s stylistic differences. Indeed, Dirtybird soars in its artist’s abilities to create outside of the box material, seize a moment, a feeling, or fill a room with insatiably booty-clapping tunes.
Exemplifying the Dirtybird ethos is none other than the rising Brooklyn-based tech house duo Walker & Royce, comprised of Samuel Walker and Gavin Royce.
“I think what works is that our sound fits in with Dirtybird, but it’s not what people think of when they think of Dirtybird. I think that’s what Dirtybird and Claude VonStroke likes about us,” Sam Walker articulates of the duo’s unique output.
Together, the two operate like a well-oiled machine: relaxed and respectful in each other’s presence, interrupting one another when they speak only to double down on a point, get a laugh, or finish one’s sentence. It’s safe to say they’re most definitely birds of a feather.
Naturally, Gavin Royce continues on Walker’s sonic comment:
“We do try to bring in a little bit of disco, or a little bit of techno, or a little bit of other things from time to time so it’s not just straight up bass house. And a lot of times the breakdowns are these little things which happen to come together accidentally so a lot of this stuff is accidentally put together…. Happy Accidents. “
Happy accidents are something the two know quite well.
Walker & Royce got started in the DJ circuit in 2011, gaining attention for their unique track structure from a vast array of talent. With a bit of luck and a lot of hard work, the outfit has bridged the sonic gap in tech house in-between outwardness on the dance-floor and inner contemplation at home. Their tunes additionally explore an altruistic and diversely passionate style of production known by few others, manifested through penning songs through a creative process normally utilized by vocalists.
Among their very first of releases as an entity was when Crosstown Rebels’ boss Damian Lazarus noticed their remix of SAARID’s “Future Lately,” on Nervous Records. The two were then recruited to the famed label with their EP You’re Not Welcome, and with that, launched into the dance music spotlight.
Around this time, the boys also went on to release a track on OFF Recordings that went on to become the house anthem “Connected.” The song was played in heavy rotation and even went on to become a mainstay in Solomun‘s performances. Thinking back on the sonic differences between their early releases, it’s easy to see that Walker & Royce was setting the stage for their diverse range of sounds that would follow. Their debut EP on Moda Black entitled Sister, released in 2014, was even picked up by tastemaker Pete Tong as his Essential New Tune, in turn becoming a staple festival track. Walker & Royce’s remix of Baunz’ “Out the Window” on Pets Recordings garnered support from many of the biggest artists in electronic music, further building off the success of Sister.
The duo have since found themselves in Claude VonStroke’s seminal Dirtybird Records’ nest, with a series of multiple releases under their belt. Tracks like “Boy,” “Hit Dem Draws,” and more, have continued to cement their standing as a strong force within the next generation of tech house greats. While the two admit they’re too close to their music to see it, their unconventional take exemplifies exactly what a subgenre that can at times sound all-too-similar needs. Walker & Royce’s output consistently surprises their fans as they come into their own sonically, but such is what they’ve come to know and love about the two. Fans are ensured that their creative process is cyclical.
Recent times have seen the two have buckled down forging an brand new body of work, a debut album, that is for both the dance-floor and home listening. “We want artists to challenge themselves to do a body of work like this, and I feel like it made us write music that’s a little bit different than what we usually do,” advised Royce.
Self Help is thus a career-defining moment for the two. The immensely clever project is sure to lure in listeners with its club-ready grooves, only to leave them in the numbers of sly contemplation. Take even just the project’s lead singles for example: “Take Me To Your Leader,” featuring Dances With White Girls, dominated the festival circuits late this summer. Meanwhile, a Green Velvet-assisted “Rub Anotha Dub” featuring Green Velvet is also on its way to anthemhood.
On Self Help, Walker & Royce invite music aficionados of all genres to get lost in the flowing constructs of their imagination while they search for the constantly evolving remedy of what it means to help one’s self and others in an ever-evolving musical world that’s always in need of some companionship.
“Our goal was to have people that aren’t just dance music fans listen to this album. Dirtybird has such a huge fanbase and they’re so amazing, but we wanted to push them a little bit to listen to some different music and we also wanted to bring people in who didn’t necessarily listen to Dirtybird music in to listen to ours….” – Royce
Dancing Astronaut got together with Walker & Royce prior to the two embarking on their Self Help tour to discuss the new work, the art of the album, its place in an industry driven by singles and EPs, happy accidents, and of course— the Dirtybird Campout.
Read our full interview with Walker & Royce below.
Congratulations, first, to you two on your latest single, the earworm-inducing “Rub Anotha Dub, ”which has admittedly been stuck in my head since its early September release. What was the process like passing along your unconventional track structure to Green Velvet?
[Walker] It was kind of like making a recipe without all of the ingredients, and then to finish it later. We sent him [Green Velvet] a bed, he sang over it, and we totally reworked it. It was one of the last tracks we finished for the album and of course, it was a lot of pressure. We didn’t want to let him down, to be honest.
He’s got to be a tech house hero of yours.
[Royce] Yeah. But with Curtis, or Velvet, it was a little hard for us to get him off the celebrity, DJ thing. I mean I grew up listening to him. He had a track in 1991 that I grew up listening to, or like when I went to the Junior High Dance. I used to breakdance to him. He’s somebody we’ve looked up to forever. Before we even started making music.
Had you thought of reaching out to anyone else for the track?
He [Green Velvet] was definitely the first person we reached out to for the album and he was definitely the last guy to turn in a vocal for the album.
What was the collaboration process like?
At first he was really into doing the collab but then things come up and it really looked like it wasn’t going to happen. But we played a festival with him in Mexico and Sam had gone back with him to the hotel after the gig and I had hung out with him for a bit and he said, “Look I really want to get on the album.” I said, “I’m going to text you three times a day until you send us a vocal.” He said, “ok do it.” And I did and we had a vocal a week later. It was a lifelong dream to collab with him, a career-long dream I guess you could say.
I noticed on the cover of the single as well as the forthcoming Self Help there’s a peace sign, a yin-yang, as well as an Om from the teachings of Hinduism— and that the two of you despite what some may gather from your track titles— have long incorporated elements of introspection into your music. Is this cover an outward testament to those beliefs in any way?
[Walker] The yin-yang perfectly encompasses our relationship. Gavin and I have this very complementary relationship where all the things I suck at he’s good at and vice versa. We need each other and fill in all the gaps that the other person is missing. As for some of the other things and coming from being DJs, our idea with production was to write music we thought was missing. This is our Self Help, we’re writing the music that we can’t find. No one’s writing this music so we’re going to have to write it ourselves. I go back to when progressive house got really stale and I was still into it but I felt like I ran out of records to buy. Of course, though, it’s a little bit open to interpretation.
How personal is this concept of self help for you two?
[Royce] It means a few different things. Its both us laughing at the idea of self help, but also as we’re getting older it’s also us embracing it. I mean I do yoga now. Years ago things we kind of laughed at we’re into now. It’s also very much an, ‘if you want something done right you gotta do it yourself, you gotta believe in yourself kind of thing.’ In this line of work, you have a lot of people who are like what are you doing with your life and you definitely have got to believe in yourself to get where you want.
[Walker] You have to push through it. Especially if everyone’s telling you it’s wrong, because at the end of the day only you know what’s right.
Sort of a testament to your own career.
[Royce] Yeah definitely
[Walker] The one thing I want to qualify though is that we don’t want to take credit for everything that’s happened. We’ve had a ton of support but at the same time, there has to be something to support, right? Really things have only taken a good turn in the past year or two. We’ve had some successes but nothing’s really caught on. During that whole time when we were ready to give up and throw in the towel before these opportunities started happening, I feel like it was especially important at that point that we believed in ourselves. We felt so isolated. There were people that liked what we did but it didn’t seem to be taking off.
[Royce] We had friends and family members hinting at throwing in the towel and definitely us thinking we should throw in the towel and we pushed through ourselves. It means a lot of different things and of course, the artist interpreted self help. We didn’t demand that any specific symbols be on there, but he incorporated it all in its own right.
Did you have an audience in mind when you were first working on the record?
[Royce] The album is definitely a dance album but it’s us taking a step towards expanding our fan base. Trying to reach different people. We’re not trying to make pop music but we’ere trying to have more vocals and we didn’t want this album to be just club banging tracks, or just like a 10 track EP. We wanted this to be a body of work that worked from beginning to end as something that people listen to in full and at home not just at dance clubs.
Keeping in mind that more and more tech house artists are becoming well known—Dirtybird‘s garnering more fans by the day—and the tunes are reaching more audiences than ever before, how are you two as Walker & Royce maintaining your unique essence as a duo, specifically on the new record?
[Walker] I think what works is that our sound fits in with Dirtybird, but it’s not what people think of when they think of Dirtybird. I think that’s what Dirtybird and Claude VonStroke likes about us.
[Royce] We do try to bring in a little bit of disco, or a little bit of techno, or a little bit of other things from time to time so it’s not just straight up bass house. And a lot of times the breakdowns are these little things which happen to come together accidentally so a lot of this stuff is accidentally put together. Happy accidents. You talk to any producer and they’ll know.
There’s so much beauty in that…Happy accidents.
[Walker] Exactly. Yeah. Even on a side note the last couple weeks I’ve been looking through Beatport trying to find music to round out our set. A lot of our set, especially the shorter sets of ours, we play mostly our own material. So we want to branch out from that and it’s tough to find stuff that fits in with what we’re writing. We’ve got a lot of friends and other producers that occasionally give us tracks and we like them a lot but in general, I feel like this weird disconnect with the stuff that I’m hearing. And I don’t know if that means that there’s sort of a weakness or an opportunity in the scene but I feel like that’s where we fit in…
I think of older tracks of yours like “Sister” on Moda Black or “A Perfect Sound” with Louisahhh that saw out your rise to where you are now and the full attention of Dirtybird. Those early tracks feel much more sonically open, even on your Justin Martin’s “Feels” reworking the tunes feel more instrumental, more indie if you will. You’ve appealed to such a wide spectrum of artists in dance music and your music has stylistically evolved so much. What type of sonic space are you aiming to occupy in your new music?
[Royce] Since this is an album we wanted it to be different. We talked even years ago about it.
[Walker] One of the guys I used to work with Dennis DeSantis said, “I don’t make music. I make machines that create happy accidents for me to make music with.” And so with that in mind, the writing process is not always direct for us. You have to just let yourself write what’s going to happen and if it turns out really well then great. We’re trying to create these moments. We want to create moments on the floor. That’s a guiding principle for us. We’re trying to create a setup and then a moment but how to do that is always shifting. We go in with an idea like here’s the vibe we’re trying to do and when we finally hit it we’re like ok save the project now from here we have to finish it.
And when did you first begin working on Self Help?
[Royce] January. We had one track done when we started.
[Walker] We had some unfinished material that wound up becoming some of the tracks on the album. Once people sang on them. Some of the songs came from the same project although they’re wildly different, where the writing process forks. So yeah the whole thing took about eight months.
Papa Claude [VonStroke] played a role in the record, which has definitely got to be a treat, how specifically was he involved?
[Walker] We would send the music almost straight away to him.
[Royce] It was his idea that we did it. I think us as artists if you’d asked us ten months ago, if we were ready to write an album, I would have said no.
[Royce] I would have been like yeah maybe another year. But he was the one that pushed for it and was like no I want you to do this and we were kind of like well I don’t know let’s think about it. He definitely was the one that pushed for it and as we talk about self help he was somebody that believed in us. So that was a huge confidence boost for us.
Did he A&R the album?
[Royce] Yeah. He’d tell us if this was good or if something needed to change. We thought about maybe collabing with him but if you notice on the album all the vocalists are features. That was kind of the line we drew early on. Instead of doing just a bunch of collabs we wanted this album to just be features.
[Walker] On that note too, the album gave us a bit of clout to pull in some really good vocalists. If you’re just doing an EP if you talk to someone that’s a really good singer maybe they won’t want to be interested, but because it was an album we got to tap into that. A lot of these things wouldn’t have happened without the album’s gravity.
But you two were the ones who chose the respective vocalists?
[Walker] Green Velvet definitely, and Dances Gavin goes way back with.
[Royce] We had actually meant to do something together for awhile and he actually was the first person to get vocals back to us.
[Walker] He turned them around in like two days.
[Royce] If you notice there’s two songs with him on the album.
[Royce] He actually wrote another song on the album. It’s his lyrics that we had somebody re-sing. So he really had three songs on the album.
[Walker] That guy is writing machine. If you give him enough beats, beds or demos he wants to get you like ten different songs in a day. “Take Me To Your Leader,” he only did one time through. He did it the first time through. We thought about having him do it again and he said no. *Laughs* He literally sang it that one time through and never sang it again. His voice is so good and it didn’t any reworking or re-singing. Everything was clearly intelligible through the speakers in a club.
What’s the name of the track he wrote?
[Walker] “Pass That” with JPatt on the vocals for it. Dances came up with the concept and JPatt is a really good friend of both of ours and also Dances.’JPatt’s in The Knocks who’re Brooklyn homies of ours. We had talked about collaborating with The Knocks for the album and it didn’t end up happening so I had JPatt sing that song and he was cool to do it.
Collaboration with The Knocks would have been incredible and I’m sure JPatt’s is alone, but that’s a nice direction.
[Royce] There’s a few collabs that didn’t happen that I think are gonna happen in the future. There’s a lot of stuff that’s coming out of this album. We have a couple songs that didn’t get finished the way we wanted that we’re gonna put on some other stuff and we have a couple of collabs that we wanted to make happen before that we’ll make happen here in the future.
[Royce] Yeah yeah a little exciting cause it’s like ok we didn’t get in the studio with those guys but we can still make it happen anyway because everyone wants to do it so that’s kind of cool.
How’s it been working with the entire Dirtybird Crew more recently? They’ve got to be like a family at this point.
[Walker] That’s exactly what it is. It feels right for us. It’s the one home where we fit in really well, we’re friends with everybody, and it really does feel like a family, as cliche as that can be. We’ve been involved in other labels and they just didn’t feel right like this one does. I definitely don’t think that we’re like the typical kind of Dirtybird artists but I think that’s also what makes it better.
Family Reunion, Dirtybird Campout coming up right in the middle of your Self Help Tour. What’s cookin’?
[Royce] We’re kind of debuting the album! We just confirmed, and you can announce this, that Dances With White Girls is “hosting” the set. Not MCing the entire time but he’s gonna perform a couple of the songs live during the set which is going to be really cool. He’s more than welcome to talk whenever he wants we told him during the set. *Laughs* I don’t think it’ll be too much though I don’t think he’ll be like “ok everybody put your hands in your air the whole time. But I think Campout is great because we’re a couple of guys in our thirties and festivals are fun but I can’t stand to be at a festival longer than a few hours even if it’s even a day. *Laughs* I’m old, there’s too much noise. What I love about the Dirtybird Campout is that there are all these other things to do to keep you kind of fresh. You don’t have to be in front of a speaker the entire time. People don’t have to be hammered, intoxicated the entire time. We’re going Thursday, so the night before, and staying until Monday. I’m excited as anything about it. I think it’s going to be fun. It’s the only festival I’ll do that for and I know maybe I’m biased but they create an environment that’s unreal. It’s different.
Anything special planned? To attain as intimate of a performance as you can, sort of akin to the festival ethos… removing the wall from artist and attendee.
[Walker] We’re doing a couple things. We have a couple events lined up, a meet and greet and there’s definitely going to be specific self help stuff lined up at the campout. As for our set, we want to touch everything. I want to get in there and make custom edits of everything. There are a couple tracks that aren’t the same bpm as everything else so maybe what we’ll do is sort of bring them up and make them a bit more energetic so everything works in between.
Old and new tunes?
[Walker] Well and that’s the other thing, you had mentioned “Sister” earlier and we hadn’t been playing that one in awhile so I want to go in there and throw in special edits of older tracks like that. Some of the older tracks are so far out from what we’re doing right now and not connected. But definitely, the stuff that started this whole thing like some of the Pets material we want to do something special, something memorable, and something where you can’t just go out and buy [it] yourself. The album’s out on October 20th so people won’t have the album by then.
Speaking more generally about the Self Help tour, what are some of the things you’re hoping to emanate?
[Royce] A couple of stops on the tour we have some extended sets so we’re hoping to really flex our DJ skills on the tour. We’ve headlined a lot of clubs are parties but this is also the first time we’re doing an actual tour. Getting into this, we were DJs first, and so for me the longer we have to play the better. I’m really looking forward to be able to play these parties and digging a little deeper. Not just playing the obvious tracks. Definitely showcase the album but also a lot of the music that we’re into, where we’ve come from. I love DJing so much so I’m excited for that.
What track, if you had to pick right now, that’s not your own would you have to throw in your circuit?
[Walker] That Justin Jay Time song. *Uuuuhh in unison* We both love it. We want to do a remix of it. I don’t know if that’s going to happen with all the other modifications of other tracks we want to do before the tour starts but hopefully, we can do something with it.
Looking at the album now in hindsight do you plan to do another down the road?
[Walker] Definitely. I almost prefer the album. In the immediate future we’ll probably put out some EPs and we have remixes that are set to drop but the album process is great. You sort of knuckle down and create a whole bunch of content. You create a lot of material for yourself to rework like we were just talking about. These album tracks can turn into other remixes which we can delve back into. Rework the vocal into a totally different remix and now we’ve got two tracks where one may really work on the dancefloor and the other’s different. It’ll just be a constant cycle. Maybe taking a breather once in awhile but not much…
Anything else you want to share about Self Help, the record or the tour?
[Royce] I have a goal of getting people to listen to Self Help from start to finish. The thing that made us most nervous about doing this is we definitely do not live in an album world. Everything is singles and EPs and I think that was a big risk that we had to decide to take. Like we were talking about earlier if you had asked me ten months ago if we were ready to write an album I would have said no because I don’t think we live in a world that album’s really exist anymore. When I was younger it was all about the album, and it’s really hard to get people to listen to things now that are more than a standout track so I’m hoping people listen to it start to finish because we’ve arranged it and the tracks in a way that make sense, at least to us. I also hope that the album does come back…
[Royce] We want artists to challenge themselves to do a body of work like this, and I feel like it made us write music that’s a little bit different than what we usually do. Like you said before, I think the material now has a different sound than what we’d done before and we didn’t necessarily purposely do that, we wanted to make this album about more vocals, but I think that forced us into a corner we’re releasing a bunch of tracks all at once and it kind of changes things. Our goal was to have people that aren’t just dance music fans listen to this album. Dirtybird has such a huge fanbase and they’re so amazing, but we wanted to push them a little bit to listen to some different music and we also wanted to bring people in who didn’t necessarily listen to Dirtybird music in to listen to ours.
Walker & Royce’s debut album Self Help is out Oct. 20 on Dirtybird. Find them on tour here.
Photos courtesy of Walker & Royce.