On this week’s episode of the L.A. Weekly Weekly Podcast, host Brian Calle opens with a question: Is being late genetic?
“Genetic, maybe not, but I think a product of our upbringing? Probably,” answers this week’s guest, Ryan Santiago of L.A.’s own dramatic alt-electro-pop project: Royal & the Serpent. “I also heard that creatives typically try to fit too much – they think they can fit so much in a smaller amount of time, so it makes them late more often. I don’t know if it’s just an excuse, but I’ve heard that.”
A talented, evocative singer and songwriter, Ryan’s project Royal & the Serpent showcases her assertive sound and distinctively girlish yet bluesy voice. Her single “Temperance” first debuted in 2017, with the project then topping the charts in 2020 with the track “Overwhelmed” from her debut EP get a grip finding a solid stand on the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart. Royal & the Serpent‘s third EP IF I DIED WOULD ANYONE CARE was released at the beginning of 2022.
The interview starts with the question we are all asking: Where does the name Royal & the Serpent come from?
“It’s sort of taken its own shape throughout the years,” Ryan says. “It was an idea that I had that didn’t have as much purpose in the beginning as it does now. It’s sort of become like both parts of me. I find that Royal is sort of this sweet, kind, thoughtful, loving [persona that] just wants the best for everybody, wants to make sort of easy listening music and spread the love. And then the Serpent is this dark, spitting, screaming, double bass drum freak of nature that just wants to crawl around the stage naked and pee on people.”
“I’m sorry,” she giggles. “TMI?”
Ryan’s ability to disarm is charming and her quick association is comforting. When listening to her speak, you can’t help but feel like you’re listening to a trusted friend.
“I don’t know if other people resonate with this or it’s just because I’m a Gemini… but I’ve always felt that two polar opposite people are living inside of me and that they’re constantly fighting this battle over who is going to take the show,” she continues. “And so I was able to make this project around the idea that everyone has a good and a bad side, a light and a dark within them. Royal & the Serpent is the idea of bringing those people together and utilizing both of their good attributes in who we show the world.”
Gemini or not, most people can surely understand this internalized duality she speaks of, and find comfort in the representation of the heaven and hell that can bring.
Beyond her refreshingly blunt candor and spirit, what is striking about Ryan is her ability to view her music as an art form that has its own personhood. Going beyond separating art from the artist, she leaves room for a listener’s enjoyment of her music to be led by what they bring to the experience.
“I think there is a beautiful notion to… this getting rid of the separation between me and the people that are consuming the art I’m making, making it about all of us, [not just me],” Ryan explains, praising Yungblud, a chart-topping English artist, for his example of community ownership of art, eschewing worship of the creator themselves.
Referring to Royal & the Serpent as “this project” instead of “me” or “my music,” she gives her creation life of its own, open for interpretation as each listener (or writer) pleases. Doing so also provides her with a barrier between critics and her own self-worth.
“I think that it’s been one of the healthiest things I could do – or try to do – in choosing this as a career path, is to separate Ryan from Royal & the Serpent, because I think there is a danger, for me at least, in my mental health, with becoming only Royal & the Serpent, and losing who I am. I think when you put yourself out there so much and you lay it all out on the table, [haters] can hurt worse. It can be tough, and I think that separating myself from the project keeps me safe in a way.”
It’s not easy to remove ego from expression, however, and at times Ryan admits her desire to impress the peers she holds in such high regard shined through more than her intention of making music for the people. Ryan is honest about where these dueling inspirations come from and how personal feelings and experiences led her down a darker path.
“At the end of the day, I’m not making music or creating art for the small circle of people I have around me. I’m making art for the fans and the people that are consuming it all over the world,” she confides. “I’m ready to make music for all the people that are listening that care, and I’m tired of trying to impress the people that don’t.”
The more she grows as an artist, the more she is able to realize her intentions through song. However, Ryan makes it clear that she isn’t any less proud of the work she’s done, she’s just excited and ready to now release new music that displays a more centered perspective.
“It’s taken a long time to get here and I’m still figuring it all out,” Ryan tells us. “With the turn of the year, I think I had a lot of big goals to change a lot of things because my mental health was just suffering last year. I wanted to make changes, and I wanted to feel better. I think self-reflection is one of the fastest routes to fix the shit that’s going on internally.”
Tune in to this week’s episode of the L.A. Weekly Weekly Podcast to participate in this open and honest conversation with the fascinating, talented and most importantly, relatable, artist behind Royal & the Serpent. Listen on Spotify, Cumulus Los Angeles or wherever you get your podcasts.