Busy birds Walker & Royce touch down to talk the release of their debut album ‘Self Help,’ abandoning samples, and bringing hip hop vocals to house music [Interview]
Six-years ago, birds of a feather Samuel Walker and Gavin Royce perched atop an egg of an idea. The Brooklyn-based duo’s musical nest hadn’t, however, been empty — Walker & Royce had been releasing music since 2011, when their track, “Future Lately” caught the attention of Damian Lazarus. The ‘yolk’ of this theoretical egg would center around the duo’s desire to develop a debut album, and years later, Walker & Royce’s musical incubation has culminated in a fully fledged product that is currently sending feathers aflutter: Self Help, the Dirtybird signees’ eleven-track debut album, officially released on October 20.
Claude VonStroke’s ‘tech funk’ undertaking, Dirtybird Records has proven itself to be no stranger to the public spotlight. The underground imprint witnessed a consecutive triumph in 2013 and 2014, taking home the title of “Underground Label of the Year” both years at the International Dance Music Awards. The Dirtybird collective likewise emerged as the triumphant entity in Mixmag’s recent ‘Label Of The Decade’ deliberation, where the label was identified as the most impactful imprint between the years of 2007-2017. VonStroke notably founded the label in 2005.
The collective’s continual industry influence is irrefutable, as is the brand’s expansion, what with the West coast label having newly announced the inaugural East Coast edition of its annual flagship West Coast Campout event.
As the flock of Dirtybird fans worldwide continues to grow, Walker & Royce find themselves responsible for some of this growth. A breakout hit originating from Self Help’s track list, the intergalactic tune, “Take Me To Your Leader” quickly became a house set staple upon its July release, appealing to veteran house music listeners and ears less accustomed to the genre alike. “We wanted to write music that was more accessible and less niche,” Walker says of the shared vision behind Self Help.
Walker & Royce’s determination to craft an album non-limiting in aesthetic has since shown itself to be a fruitful initiative. The album’s stellar sonic groove surfaces as one that invites all dance music fans to check their preconceptions of house music at the door in order to get down on the dance floor.
Dancing Astronaut flew in Walker & Royce’s direction to discuss the album’s release, the progress of the duo’s international “Self Help Tour,” and not to be neglected, the pair’s own preferred ‘self help’mediums prior to Walker & Royce’s ‘Dirtybird Players’ performance in Washington, DC.
First of all, congratulations on the debut album!
So how has the [Self Help] tour been going so far? You’re right in the thick of things right now.
We’re right smack in the middle of it, it’s really good. We’ve done clubs before, but it’s our first time doing a headlining tour, so it’s cool to be out every weekend. It’s a nice way to present our album.
Have there been any favorite moments so far while on this tour for the debut album, any revelatory moments being that this is your first headlining tour?
Walker:The campout was amazing [West Coast Campout]. We have a lot more to go, until January almost. Royce: Well Christmas kind of ends and then we go to Australia as part of it [the tour]. Walker:I mean, Vancouver went off, Vancouver was amazing. We also have Holy Ship! that we’re doing, that’s coming up. The main thing for all these gigs is we’ve been doing this for a long time, but now’s the one time, the first time I feel we’ve been able to go in and be ourselves 100%, and people are into it, we’ve got people there that are into it rather than feeling their way through like “who are these people?” We can just be ourselves. It’s great, I feel a lot more adventurous now. Royce: It’s good for us to get out every weekend, it’s kind of strengthening our ability. We’ve had abilities as DJs, but now the amount of DJing we’re doing is elevating our sets, it’s becoming second nature, it’s letting us experiment a little more, doing little things that we’ve always kind of said “oh we should do that,” or things we’ve done once or twice, but now we’re doing that a little more regularly.
A debut album is a major foundational work that offers a fuller look at an artist’s sound. Can you speak more to the vision of this debut album?
Royce: We knew we wanted it to work as an album more than just an EP, I think that was really important to us so that it didn’t come off as “here’s ten-tracks that sound really good in the club.” We wanted to have not maybe a story but a feel, we wanted it to really flow and be something that you listen to at home, not just in club situations. We also didn’t want it to be sample based—we got our own vocals, our own original stuff, that was the main thing. Walker: There’s almost always some kind of vocal element in our music, and instead of sampling everything, we wanted to just get singers and write whole songs. And some of them [the songs] are more house tracks while some of them are not, some of them are more ‘poppy.’ I feel like we did what we wanted to do. We wanted to make some tracks that would be full vocal tracks and others that would be a little more different, like the first and last tracks on the album.
What was the song on the album that you most enjoyed producing?
Walker: It changes every week! There’s favorite in terms of easiest, fun.
So what then was your favorite song to produce in terms of personality, the one most reflective of your evolving sound? You did switch it up not too long ago.
Walker:Take Me to Your Leader is probably the best because it’s so vast, like sometimes a song takes awhile because you struggle with it, but this song took two or three days. Royce:For me it’s the Sophiegrophy song, “My Own Thang.” It’s just this whole hip hop vocal. That normally sounds a little corny in house music, but I knew if we did it right that it would be really good. I didn’t think it was going to work and I kind of was almost like okay we’re just going to sample a little bit of it, and we ended up being able to use the full thing. I think it’s one of the standout tracks on the album. Walker: We knew we wanted to make her look good, she gave us great stuff Royce:It’s hard to use that kind of stuff on house music, it doesn’t really fit [house music] with hip hop vocals. A lot of people just sample a hip hop vocal and it’s not really hip hop but this was like she wrote this song, it’s not sampled it’s her song, she wrote it for us, and we wanted to treat it well.
Your set at the West Coast Campout emerged as one of the fan favorites from the weekend, and you notably played much of the new album there. From an artist’s perspective, what is it like to play at a Campout event?
Royce: It was amazing, this is the third campout we’ve done. The first one we played at 12:00 PM on a Saturday, there weren’t that many people. The second one we had a 5:30 PM set time which was on the first day and it was great, and this time we were right before Justin Martin on Saturday night and it was a little bit of pressure. This set felt more like a concert than anything we’ve ever done because it was really like presenting the album, it was the first time that we played almost all of the album tracks in the set, and we also had Dances With White Girls performing three songs with us so it had a little bit of a concert vibe, which was cool.
Can you disclose whether or not you will be at Dirtybird Campout East?
We can neither confirm nor deny.
It was worth a valiant effort to try to find out!
Royce: I see what you’re doing!
Whether or not we’ll see you at Campout East, can you share any details regarding any additional new music that might be coming out this year?
Royce: We have a remix of “La La Land” by Green Velvet that is supposed to be coming out before the end of the year. We told everybody it is, I really hope it does, you never know with these things, sometimes they get moved. We don’t have a release date for it yet, but it’s supposed to be coming out. In any case, that’s something to look forward to.
You’ve noted in a previous interview that the title ‘Self Help’ is a parody that satirizes the saturation of self-help books available for purchase. Outside of music, what’s your go to “self help” medium?
Walker: For me it’s walking. Royce: I love walking. And I don’t do it everyday but I also meditate in the morning. I get up and I have this meditation app that’s like “breathe,” and I just sit there for ten minutes and it clears my head, it really does work. I should do it everyday, but I don’t do it everyday. The big thing for me about walking is that I really hate running.
I love the fact that you’re a duo and you guys basically gave the same answer, I guess you must be rubbing off on each other.
Royce: The other part of the “self help” thing too is it’s a parody joke and that’s our sense of humor, it’s a very New York sense of humor I think. It’s just honest, like we’re laughing at ourselves. It’s also like to do this, you really have to believe in yourself, it has multiple layers of meaning which is why we thought it was a really good name for this album.