Reviving the Spirit of 60s Garage Rock: An Exclusive Interview with The Royal Hangmen

Blending the past and present in a harmony of garage rock, The Royal Hangmen are a musical force to be reckoned with. Their love for 60s music is evidently intertwined in their sound, yet they skilfully draw on power pop, punk, and other influences to produce a distinctively modern vibe. From their humble beginnings as a garage cover band to now honing their own individual style, their musical journey has been one of continued growth and exploration.

As we enter their vibrant world of music, we learn about their creative process, challenges, and triumphs. From jamming sessions that lead to catchy tunes, to the sheer joy of performing live, and the unexpected impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, The Royal Hangmen offer a candid look into the highs and lows of being a band.

The Royal Hangmen

Your music pays homage to the 60s garage rock while maintaining a contemporary edge. How do you strike a balance between honouring the past and staying relevant in the present?

For sure, our main musical influences come clearly from the ’60s, that’s what brought us together in the first place. But we also like much what happened after the first big bang, when Power Pop, Punk and the 60s garage revival of the 1980s all drew from the same source, but each time with a different approach. When we started the band, we aimed to emulate the original sound and look as much as possible, with a repertoire consisting solely of 60s garage covers. Then, out of nowhere came our first own song “Who’s That Man”. Surprisingly for us, that track (recorded as a demo) brought us some attention from as far as Greece and France. From then on we tried more seriously to find our own style and relied more and more on self-written material. Over the years we progressed as a band, learned to play better and took more care of the songwriting and recording process. New members brought new possibilities and we finally have our own distinctive sound, which has its 60s roots but is also relevant in the here and now.

Can you speak about your creative process? How does the band collaborate to write, record, release, and perform your music?

The first album consisted mostly of songs that I’ve written completely by myself, with two tunes written by other members. Somehow we started a new writing process after that. We usually jam around with some ideas and riffs, always recording these sessions as instrumentals only. Then we look for the best bits and pieces and develop the interesting parts into song structures. When something like a good tune shines through, we work on it over and over again until it has everything it needs to be catchy, attractive and fun to play. The cream on top comes when we record them in the studio, adding more tricky bits, solos, percussion and finally, the vocals shape the song to its definitive form. A crucial role in that process plays our producer Dennis Rux with whom we have recorded our last two albums. He manages to bring out the best performance from us and has always some good ideas to lift some tracks to a higher and better level. We benefit a lot from that collaboration. When it comes to performing live, it’s like an up and down ever since. In the beginning, we had a lot of chances to play but many times we were under-rehearsed and too drunk to play a good show. As the performance got better, we had more places to play and toured in France, Germany, England and Austria. But that whole Covid thing brought the machine to a sudden halt, and the fact that we hadn’t released any new material for years didn’t help either. So we’re trying to build up again, but in our home base Switzerland it’s really difficult to attract club owners to garage rock. This means we will focus more on playing abroad whenever we can. 

You’ve toured extensively and shared stages with bands like The Sonics and The Pretty Things. Can you share some memorable experiences from your tours? Any particularly “weird places” that have left a mark on you?

Yes, many weird places and a lot of strange happenings, as one can imagine. Especially in France, where we did a tour with The Sixty Second Swingers, we had a lot of unique incidents that we can still laugh about. Like in Bordeaux, where they served us Spaghetti for dinner. Spaghetti with nothing else than a piece of butter on top. Ok, we’re used to not having 3-course dinners with candlelight on a regular basis. One of us asked the cook gently if we could maybe have some cheese to put on it. Next thing, the cook completely freaked out and started yelling at us: „Do you guys think you are some sort of bloody rockstars“, and getting really pissed and angry. So we thought it might be better not to ask for more and be happy with the French interpretation of Italian food…lesson learnt. The fondest thing I remember is having a nice chat and photos with Phil May, backstage after the show. He was in a party mood and would have stayed for drinking, but his tour manager declared that he had to go to bed now, immediately, which he did – unfortunately for us. Also very cool was to meet our heroes The Sonics twice, especially the first time when they had their manager Buck Ormsby (from The Wailers) on board. They were all pretty nice guys and seemed to like our show.

Your sound is an eclectic mix of garage rock, soul, R&B, and more. What influences your musical style and how do you manage to layer these diverse genres into a cohesively unique sound?

We weren’t that much eclectic before the new album. Due to the fact that there were no concerts to play for more than two years, we had a lot of time for fooling around in the rehearsal room. I remember that we started with some typical Hangmen garage stuff, but then suddenly we came up with more and more interesting parts that led us to new directions. It was also a good musical challenge to go to new territories like Folk-Rock, Surf or Soul and integrate them into our musical spectrum. When we heard the demos, we were surprised by ourselves by the wide array we had assembled. The decision was, that this has to be the concept of the album: a broad expansion of what we have done so far. We also had the luxury of having more material than we needed for the album. So we could kick out a few ones and that left us with the best material we had so far. Then we just hoped, that this all could fit into one good album that is diverse and varied and still could be filed under “garage”. And I think we’ve done the job.

From your eponymous album to “Hanged, Drawn and Quartered,” and now “Paranoid Nightmares,” how has your music evolved over the years? Can you discuss how you ventured into psychedelic territory and back?

I think we have become a better and tighter unit over the years, musically we use our possibilities as a five-man group with more variety, sometimes with an interplay of three guitars, the harmony vocal stuff is getting more important and the songwriting has improved in many ways. The main reason for these trips into psychedelia was our first bass player Roger. We founded the band together and he was obsessed with that stuff and as we are a democratic band, we tried it out. After he left, we never went in that direction again.

Can you discuss the process and equipment behind your third album? Can you delve into the decision to name the album after the spooky track “Paranoid Nightmare”?

I mentioned before how the songs evolved, but when we finally wanted to record the trouble began: the original plan was to do the album in Hamburg, again in the Yeah Yeah Yeah Studios of producer Dennis Rux where we did “Hanged, Drawn And Quartered” a few years ago. Studio time was fixed and out of nowhere came the news that inside the building, where the studio was located, was an explosion. The studio was mainly intact but access to the building was blocked for a long time. So, Hamburg was not an option anymore. During the pandemic, we finally managed to find a place in Bavaria to record the album in roughly ten days. A few months later we finished the vocals in another studio, which means that we put a lot of work and time into the whole project. As usual, we tried to use as much as possible vintage equipment to get the ’60s vibe, but nowadays you record mostly digitally. At least, we used analogue tapes for mixing and mastering. When the time came to give the album a name, we quickly agreed that it should be named after one of the songs on it. The obvious choice was Paranoid Nightmares, as some of the songs somehow deal with a paranoid thematic. And after all, it sounds pretty good.

Vasco, Foggy Notion Records is your own label, Can you discuss about it?

This time it was really difficult for us to find a label. So it was a natural step to start Foggy Notion and do it our own way. It is meant to be a real label and I plan to release more stuff in the future. The next project is a new 7” by The Royal Flares. But I’m also thinking about doing reissues of records I really love and which are hard to find or very expensive. This may include everything in the range from Garage to Power Pop, Soul or Indie, and beyond.

The cover of “Surf’s Up,” originally by the Flirts, seems an intriguing choice. Can you talk about why you decided to cover this particular song? What drew you to it?

I grew up in the 80’s, so that song was something you came across when going to the disco and listening to the charts on the radio. I own a record shop, and sometimes you just stumble across the old, cheesy stuff. Out of pure nostalgia, I put that record on the turntable and it immediately hit me, that this actually could be a very cool 60’s garage tune with a lot more guitars and some fine Vox organ instead of the synth. My mates agreed. The first thought was, why not choose something unusual, rather than the expectable garage covers? So, that’s what we did, and we are still happy with the result.

Could you tell us more about the inspirations and stories behind tracks like “End Of The Line,” “Walking Barefoot in London”, and “The Devil In Me”?

“End Of The Line” is just another story of a relationship gone wrong. It’s in general easier for me to write about broken relations rather than writing a love song. More based on real events is “Walking Barefoot in London”, which memorises my first trip there, young, crazy and with not much money in my pockets. I did walk around barefoot and it was a real hot summer. Of course, this was a stupid idea so I ended up with shards in my feet somewhere in Notting Hill and it was kind of a bloody mess. For the song, I tried to find a better twist lyrically than just complaining about bloody feet, it’s meant to be more imaginative and mystic. We are living in a world where the rich and super-rich behave more and more like the feudalistic kings and queens of the past. They get richer day by day and still don’t know anything reasonable to do with all their luxury, the greedy bastards. “The Devil in Me” is written from that perspective, one who puts his profit above all and always tries to get the biggest share of the prey.

Outbreak” describes isolation during the pandemic. How has the global situation influenced your music and songwriting process?

The whole pandemic thing had an impact on all of us, it was a really strange time and not being allowed to leave the house was an uncomfortable thing. Suddenly you saw the outside world only through TV and internet screens, social contacts were a danger and some people went completely nuts. For the band itself, it was a time for creative freedom and we could blend out the world around us when playing. We were thrown back to ourselves and worked even harder on the songs from the album.

Now that “Paranoid Nightmares” is out, what’s next for The Royal Hangmen? What can your fans look forward to in the future?

We started already writing new material, but have no idea yet if it’s gonna be a single, EP or an album. The good thing about having your label is, that we can put out everything we want, whenever we feel it is necessary. Until then we try to play as many concerts as possible to spread the word and let the people hear our album. 


Thank you for your interest in The Royal Hangmen and may the FUZZ always be with you!

A huge Thank you to Vasco who gave us the opportunity to chat about The Royal Hangmen! Their unrelenting passion for music, their journey through diverse genres, and their commitment to keeping the spirit of 60s garage rock alive is wonderfully inspiring.

Stay tuned for more music from The Royal Hangmen and keep an ear out for their latest album “Paranoid Nightmares”! With their own record label, Foggy Notion Records, they’re all set to continue pushing boundaries and creating more musical masterpieces. Their journey is a testament to the transformative power of music, and we eagerly look forward to their future ventures. Fuzz on, Hangmen!

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