This is where it all began. This is where the Amazing Royal Crowns were anointed the best of Beantown by alterna-rock's WBCN just two years ago. Today, the modest punkabilly outfit from Rhode Island has returned to the Cambridge nightclub with a new philosophy, a new album, a new tour and a new name -- thanks in no small part to a West Coast outfit with powerful lawyers and a weak sense of camaraderie.
Last year was not a banner one for the Crowns. Their string of bad luck began in August when, in the midst of a national tour, the Los Angeles swing outfit Royal Crown Revue (and their lawyers) forced the band to drop their middle name, thereby eliminating any potential confusion between the two acts. The Amazing Crowns quickly learned how expensive a five-letter word can be.
"Money, money, money," vocalist Jason "King" Kendall says regarding the logistics and economics of a name change. "I couldn't believe how much money we were out. And the fans were rabid. It was hilarious, really."
Behind their courteous, graceful demeanor, Kendall and bassist Jack "the Swinger" Hanlon do harbor a slick and twisted appetite for revenge. In classic go-screw-yourself fashion, the Amazing Crowns have named their forthcoming sophomore album Royal. They have also penned a catchy new punk-tinged song with a "Royal to the loyal we stay" sing-along refrain.
"Hey, they gave us the pen, we're just going to write with it," Kendall says about his Royal nemesis.
Despite these anecdotal jeers, a caustic band rivalry is not Royal's only inspiration. The album's attitude draws partially from the thoroughly frustrating experience of recording an album in two months with no money and no time to spare. "We had to borrow the money to do the album," Kendall says. "We didn't take any advances from [label] Velvel because Velvel had gone under at that point. So we never got any money because we never submitted our budget to them. We are below working class."
From a musical perspective, Royal is not so easy to pinpoint. The Amazing Crowns' teenage punk years become evident in "Mr. Fix It," a Devo-meets-Clash song ripe with sexual innuendo. Their telltale Nineties rockabilly sound pervades "Perfect Sin," a toe-tapping, jiving number about hedonism and the fear of commitment. "Greasy" plays just like it sounds -- raunchy and cool. And then there's "Flippin' Coins," an anomaly featuring tropical rhythms interlaced with country & western sensibilities and a new, mellower Kendall on vocals.
"I've been taking lessons from this amazing vocal trainer who works with Steven Tyler. He taught me to open up so I can do smooth songs like 'Flippin' Coins,' which I never could do before," he says. "If I was in a band that did songs like that all night every night, it would be great -- I wouldn't have to change clothes after a set, I wouldn't be bleeding. We could actually play a two-hour set."
Even so, the Crowns likely will play a half-hour set during their stint on this summer's Vans Warped Tour, which features artists like Ice-T, Eminem, Sevendust, Pennywise and the Dropkick Murphys. Anxious to return to their Chevy touring van, the Amazing Crowns don't know what to expect this summer. Their album won't arrive in stores until August at the earliest, and pop culture barometers suggest that rockabilly is poised to take over where the swing phenomenon left off.
"If rockabilly becomes the next big thing, we could be totally swept under the rug or we could become the poster children of rockabilly. You never know," Kendall says. "Hell, it's just rock and roll. It's not meant to change the world."
ANNI LAYNE(July 7, 1999)