Face the face
Not every band in Ventura County fits neatly into the time-honored mold of the feel-good, the singer-songwriter or the punk rocker. Although it may take digging that rivals the exhumation of King Tut, finding bands that break that mold is a rewarding process. Royal Faces, founded in the waning days of 2009, sprang from two bands that folded in on one another: Uphill Battle and I Was a Lover Delorean Was a Dealer. Guitarist Casey Shropshire, percussionist/vocalist Christopher Bykowski, sax/keyboardist Dario Salvazza and bassist Chase Willis mix post-rock and jazz with post-modern touches and unusual instrumentation. Machetes, for instance. Keening and barreling onward like a grittier, more abstract Arcade Fire, Royal Faces inhabits the same sonic space as Liars, Nick Cave or Echo and the Bunnymen. The effect is a certain uniqueness on which one cannot completely put one’s finger. The sound produced by Royal Faces is one in which the dynamic is such that every instrument can be listened to and enjoyed on its own merits, either individually or together. The sum of the parts is, in this case greater than the whole. All great bands have this quality. Van Halen, Joy Division, Alcatraz — they all have it; and Royal Faces is currently in the process of touching greatness with its exotic, otherworldly arrangements of pop music as delivered by rants and crowd pleasing.
Bykowski’s machetes, used as percussion instruments alongside three saw blades, combine balls-out spectacle with the clear sonic quality of a bell when the metal is struck. He also uses a gas can, and plays percussion standing up — all with his hands, all while singing at the same time. The band also plans to add violin or accordion, flying in the face of Rock Band logic that says everyone wants to play guitar — imagine a world so small. You might think that the overall sound produced by a machete-oriented drum-kit is one of intangibility. Machetes are relatively thin pieces of metal, and yet Bykowski strikes them with such urgency that they make you stand up and take notice, beyond the fact that they are actually machetes.
Kings of the scene
Bykowski laments the fact that the scene for Royal Faces’ music in Ventura is almost nil. Reception to its first live action at Sans Souci this past summer was positive. “It’s just a matter of getting a venue started where people can expect what kind of music to be there every day of the week,” he rightly explains. With visions of the famed Hacienda in Manchester, England or New York City’s Mudd Club in mind, Royal Faces forges ahead. “The two best venues that have ever existed in Ventura in my 10 years here are gone: Nicholby’s and The Livery. I would say Billy O’s is the best place now, and it could be very awesome with a little makeover and a stage. For us, it’s the bands we share the stage with. If we’re playing music with bands that play good music, then that’s all that matters.” Crafting a unique, individual sound in a desolate cultural wasteland is a double-edged machete: if you do it, where do you play it? And if you play it, will that do it? This presents an interesting proposition: can one unusual, fascinating band ignite a cultural revolution in a scene that, for decades, has thrived on the safe the accessible, and the nice?