With the release of their 2012 self-titled debut, Sydney’s Royal Headache became one of Australia’s best loved bands and for many, a sign that maybe the tide was turning and there was still hope for rock and roll that was visceral and defied you not to raise your fist in the air.
Then, nothing. On the recorded front, we didn’t hear from the band until the release of their 2015 sophomore effort, High, and in the interim fans braved reports that the band was over, with frontman Shogun leaving for several months between 2013-2014.
So what happened with one of Australia’s most promising bands? “I don’t know, life got kind of bad and I was doing these songs and I didn’t feel like I was emotionally able to commit anymore,” Shogun now tells Billboard in a new interview.
“I felt like I was dialing it in and really was at a point where I would have rather just gone and played some really noisy, aggressive hardcore. It just seemed like it was all getting a little bit too cute, you know what I mean?”
“I can’t fully remember why I left, but there was a lot of shit raining from the sky and I just felt like I wanted to get out.” Shogun admits that the sudden attention the band garnered had led him to feel as though Royal Headache were being pigeonholed.
“I was also getting stressed out by the shows and maybe by the attention because we had gone from being a punk band to a mid-level band in Australia and I started to feel a little bit pigeonholed and I wanted to quit and do this really noisy, weird, depressive sort of music,” he says.
“And I did write some of that stuff, but of course it never saw the light of day, because I need the guys in Royal Headache sometimes. They’re a bit less erratic than I am and I need them to help me get my shit together.”
“My life always goes a little bit awry when I’m away from Royal Headache. I think I have to realize, for better or worse, they’re like these weird sort of guardian angels… every other band I did had too many people like me. That was the problem!”
It’s unsurprising, considering just how much the frontman puts into the band’s live shows. “I do really commit myself to it,” he explains. “I feel like it’s totally terrifying, being a little bit of an awkward person, standing up in front of all these discerning music fans.”“I think, to be an Australian male and to be seen with any kind of vulnerability is punk.”
“Having been a person that’s generally at odds with social worth. People wonder why I get so involved; there’s no other way. It’s like being in a fight. It’s a very bracing experience and you have to go for it until everyone’s dead and you are too.”
An indifferent crowd doesn’t matter, either. “That just makes me push even harder,” says Shogun, “because I can tell that it’s losing vitality and I can use an unresponsive crowd as a sign that I need to give them more.”
“I stopped watching YouTube videos of Royal Headache about two years ago — if I watch them, I’m just going to quit. It’s so terrifying seeing myself possessed by whatever that rage is… it’s totally bizarre and disturbing, so I don’t. In fact, I don’t look at any press or videos anymore.”
Shogun admits that the person we see on stage fronting Royal Headache is someone different to who he is in daily life, or “maybe it’s a part of myself that I wish I could express in all avenues of life but I feel like it’s not appropriate. It probably isn’t!”
Remarking on Royal Headache’s distinctly un-punk lyrics, Shogun explains, “For me, it felt punk, in a way, to talk about that — I think open-heartedness is punk, especially in Australian culture, which is quite sterile and stifled and cold.”
“I think, to be an Australian male and to be seen with any kind of vulnerability is punk, because that’s typically not encouraged in Australian men. It’s generally seen as disgusting,” he adds, also touching on his day job outside of Royal Headache.
“It’s [a call centre] for TV ratings,” Shogun explains. “Just imagine the most humiliating teenager’s job and then imagine yourself as a 34-year-old doing that job. You’re just making these shitty calls every day to see that people’s TV-rating equipment is working and booking technicians to fix it and stuff.”
“I’ve been there forever. I’m a little work-phobic, let’s face it, so I find something that I can do that doesn’t torment the hell out of me and then I just stay there forever and ever until the company goes bust. I’m not the aspirational type! It’s pretty good. I can write songs at work and stuff.”
“[The rest of the guys in the band] have pretty okay jobs. One is a town planner for Sydney City Council and the other one is like a graphic designer and the other one is just like an admin kind of guy. They’re more grown-up than me.”
Looking to the future, Shogun says Royal Headache are “probably” going to release an EP and then “another record”, of which he says, “It’s going really well. Some [songs] are a bit slow, some are a lot slower.”