Battle Royal: When Royal and the Serpent, the musical project of Jersey-raised, L.A.-based artist Ryan Santiago, was preparing to release its new track “One Nation Underdogs,” it hadn’t occurred to Royal that the empowering LGBTQ+ anthem would be dropping just as Pride Month was kicking off. Talk about a happy accident!
But sheesh, as state after state goes out of its way to pass draconian, medieval laws aimed at stripping rights away from gay and trans people under the bogus guise of “protecting the children” (as if there’s any line connecting gay and trans people with pedophiles), this is the song that Pride 2023 needs. It’s a call to arms, a statement of intent, and it’s fucking powerful.
“At the beginning of the song, I rewrote the pledge of allegiance,” Royal says. “It’s basically a pledge to the LGBTQ+ community and there were a lot of people that didn’t like that, had a lot to say about that, and thought that I was disrespecting our country. I started getting some death threats. It got a little scary, and I just had to turn the app off for a few days. Get back grounded and realize it doesn’t fucking matter. These people are just typing shit on their keyboards. No one’s gonna come after me. I’m doing a good thing, so they can suck it!”
Indeed, they can suck it till their homophobic brains cave in. The last time we caught Royal and the Serpent live was a stellar headline show at the Troubadour, just after she’d gotten off tour with a newly pop-punk Demi Lovato. Since then, she’s been writing a lot of music and preparing for a headline show with Fall Out Boy. All of the writing has led to the first in a series of releases called Rat Trap I: The Blueprint. That’s where you can find “One Nation Underdogs” and another song called “Astroturf.” Royal’s plan is to drop one of these two-song releases every month for at least the rest of 2023.
“I just have so much music and I was originally really wanting to put an album out, but I was feeling like I had too much and I wanted to give people more,” she says. “I didn’t want to make it this really big build-up to just one explosion. I wanted to give people little mini stories to build the whole world. So we’re doing two songs at a time because I think that I personally prefer that. I think it’s nice to give people a little bit more backstory and content. It makes it a lot more fun.”
The first one, Royal says, was really important to her. She wanted to introduce the concept with strong content. As well as “One Nation Underdogs,” “Astroturf” is a tune about feeling that the grass is always greener on the other side. The next drop will come at the end of June, and so on. Despite this two-at-a-time approach, Royal still believes that there’s a place for full-length albums in the streaming world.
“I don’t think albums will ever be done because I don’t think artists will ever be done with making albums,” she says. “It’s a dream of mine to make one – I haven’t done it yet. I’d love to do it the old fashioned way – hole up on a mountain somewhere with a few people, stay there for a month and write the whole project from start to finish. It’s not really that conducive for that, the way that music is streamed and comes out these days, but I think that there’s nothing like it. Singles are great, double singles are great and EPs are great. But even as a listener, there’s nothing like sitting down and listening to an album front to back. It’s a journey that you can’t really replicate otherwise.”
Royal would, she says, compile these two-track releases into some sort of an album release, perhaps with bonus tracks, further down the line. It’ll be interesting to hear that progression, however we’re presented with it. Royal is a forward-thinking artist with a sound that evolves as she grows as a human.
“I think my music and my lyricism just kind of follow my growth as a human being,” she says. “Which I feel like is also appreciated by the people that are listening, because I think I like to tell the truth in my journey and I feel like that’s what resonates with people a lot.”
Having toured with Demi Lovato, and as she’s about to tour with Fall Out Boy, it’s evident that Royal and the Serpent could perform on a bill with just about anyone from the pop and alternative realms.
“I do think that I can chameleon into a lot of different spaces,” she says. “I’m finding even more lately that I fit less into the hard rock scene than I thought I did, and I’m leaning more towards wanting to head back in a pop direction. I’ve played a lot of these really heavy festivals and stuff, and I’m like, I don’t know if I fully fit in here as much as these other people do.”
She certainly fits in in Los Angeles, having moved here from Jersey when she was 18. Both regions, she says, have impacted her art a lot.
“I did a lot of musical theater when I was in Jersey, which is also common there because there’s Broadway obviously in New York,” she says. “There’s a lot more of that. I know New York has a music scene as well, but my music journey didn’t really start professionally until I was in my 20s.”
It’s going to be a big year then. A huge tour, and lots of new music. And merch.
“I just dropped a bunch of merch for Rat Trap I, and 100% of the proceeds for anything containing the pledge on the merch is going to the Trevor Project, so we’ve been trying to get a lot of money donated to them, especially for Pride month,” Royal says. “So just keep an eye on the stuff that’s happening. We’re trying to do our best to give back as much as we can.”
And that’s something to be proud of.
Battle Royal: Royal and the Serpent’s Rat Trap I: The Blueprint is out now. The show with Fall Out Boy takes place at BMO Stadium on July 2 and July 3.
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