Broke Royals
Broke Royals; Credit: Aaro Keipi

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When Broke Royals set out to name their third album, released earlier this year, they were thinking back to their pre-pandemic days of constant touring and endless live shows. For a while, the band were playing a plethora of “local support gigs” where they would open for touring bands without their own opening acts. So they decided that’s the perfect name for the album (and the closing track). It harkens back to a time when the now-five-member band was exhausted and electric performers. But today, it’s also the ideal title for a record made entirely within the D.C. community.

Released on July 15, 2022, Local Support was produced by fellow D.C. musician Bartees Strange, recorded in Capitol Hill’s Ivakota studio, and released by Byrdland Records, a new label from the team behind Songbyrd Music House and the record store of the same name, Byrdland Records. 

“It’s so cool,” says drummer Colin Cross. “We got to create this project together as a band, but also branching out into the scene so much with Bartees and Ben Green at Ivakota, and Joe [Lapan] and Alisha [Edmonson] at Songbyrd. It’s kind of a dream and it’s exactly what we’d hoped this record would be.”

Formed in 2014 at the College of William & Mary by Cross and singer and guitarist Philip Basnight, the band wanted something new, more raw, for their third album. Saint Luxury, released in 2019, was praised by the Washington Post as “pristine pop rock,” and Basnight recalls the group meticulousness in perfecting its sound. This time they wanted to capture some of the grittiness of their live shows.

But then COVID hit, stay home orders were announced, and everything—especially touring—came to an abrupt stop. “We couldn’t play anymore,” Basnight tells City Paper. “The opportunity to play together just became more special and more rare and was something that we started to appreciate a little bit more because we weren’t on the road all the time.”

For all of 2020, due to living situations, not only was touring off the table, but the band didn’t see one another in person (except for Basnight and keyboardist Rebecca Silverstein, who were married last year; Silverstein, however, didn’t join Broke Royals until after Local Support was released). With everything upended, Broke Royals decided to challenge themselves. Every week, for 20 weeks, Basnight would send out the beginning of a song idea with vocals and guitar or piano. Cross, alone in his apartment, added drums before sending the track to Ben Wilson for guitar, who then sent the song to bassist Taimir Gore. When he was done, Gore would pass the track to the band’s sound guy who would mix the song before sharing it with the band via livestream. “We would listen to it live for the first time as a band and none of us had heard any of the stuff that the people after us had done,” says Cross. “We had a live reaction of listening to a fully finished song. It was very cool, very fun.” They called this series Alone Together.

Cross describes it as a reverse writing process from how the band previously wrote songs. Typically tracks began as a group and then each member would add their own flair. “In this process we all added our pieces and then got together to figure it out,” says Cross. “And then we recorded it live. We tracked it all, even a lot of Phil’s vocal takes were live from playing as a full band.”

Calling the pandemic a “reset,” Basnight says the process also helped him, as the band’s founder, loosen his grip. “When you start an idea you get really precious about it,” he says, “but we found that we’re kinda open to new ideas when they come more fully cooked….The pandemic was a reset we didn’t ask for, but it ended up being helpful in a lot of ways.”

Like many bands across the spectrum of fame, touring isn’t top of mind right now. After five years on the road, and a pandemic, the band has fresh eyes and is seriously asking: Is this the best way for us to use our time? “We just want to take things one thing at a time,” says Basnight. He’s happy to see the conversation happening, considering the current discourse on touring. “It is helpful for people to see it’s a real money commitment. The time commitment is obvious, but like, not only are you not making a bunch of money, but even major bands are in the hole.”

For now, Broke Royals is excited to be a part of the city’s talented and tight-knit music community. (Basnight notes that Strange has been getting national media attention and jokes that maybe he’ll be to D.C.’s music scene what the Strokes were to New York’s scene 20 years ago.) Tonight, Oct. 28, the group will finally play their album release show at, of course, Songbyrd. Cinema Hearts, another local band whose recent album was also produced by Strange, open.

Broke Royals album release party starts at 7 p.m. on Oct. 28 at Songbyrd. songbyrddc.com. $25.75.