Interview with ROYAL ORPHAN

Royal Orphan (2018)

I was quite excited to check out the debut release by ROYAL ORPHAN. These newcomers managed to satisfy my thirst for some high class, inspired Power/Progressive Metal. Did I say newcomers? Well ok, the ROYAL ORPHAN project is new, but the two people behind it, have already spent quite a few years in music. And there are lots of things to be shared about this glorious past and of course the most glorious present and future under the ROYAL ORPHAN moniker. We tracked down vocalist, guitarist and bassist Brendan Kelly and we had a very interesting conversation about one of the most amazing Power/Prog Metal projects that New York has to offer today: ROYAL ORPHAN.

Hello guys! Thanks a lot for your valuable time you will spend to answer our boring questions. We were very excited with the ROYAL ORPHAN EP and we want to learn more.

Oh thank YOU Chris. Glad you guys over there enjoy it! Fire away.

Well it seems that ROYAL ORPHAN story is quite old. It simply had different names. STORMENTOR from 1988 to 1993, SANITY IN ASHES from 1995 to 1998 (as and DESTROYING THE EVIDENCE from 2000 to 2005. Is there anything worth checking from those projects? Any releases? any more info. It seems that every time we got the classic basis featuring Joey Migs on drums and Bendan Kelly on vocals, guitars, bass. Right or wrong?

Yep that’s about right it’s been myself and Joey whom I’ve known since 89 when we started high school together. We were in music class together and the teacher was a nun. He brought in KING DIAMOND for the class to listen to. And the rest is history ha ha ha.

STORMENTOR was our high school band; we had mullets and white high tops and KREATOR shirts. The bass player was Dan Kelleher who I’ve known since we were 5 years old in pre-school believe it or not. He’s going to be joining ROYAL ORPHAN for live shows in 2019. We almost made a demo but it fell apart when we all started college.

SANITY IN ASHES made two demos, one of them had six songs the second one had four. The first of those demos, again was just Joey on drums and myself. I have a digital copy from the cassette that I may consider releasing after the fact. It’s actually from 1995/96. It was like a cross between thrash and power metal, released at a time when neither was in great favor. Even the metal bands who are “back to their roots” now were walking away from metal back then.

DESTROYING THE EVIDENCE is almost the same band as ROYAL ORPHAN with much of the same material. We did a four song demo which is a lot of the same songs with different lyrics. That was the real turning point when I decided to streamline the material and consider adding real hooks and go just as heavy on vocal melody as I did with riffs and guitar parts. So ROYAL ORPHAN is really what I feel to be the definitive representation of what this lifetime of writing should be. I’m not 100% sure yet if I want to release the old stuff, not sure if I’d want anyone to hear it.

ROYAL ORPHAN – Royal Orphan

Why all these name changes? Was there some kind of musical direction change as well?

I suppose they represent different stages of where we were at that time. Like I said, a lot of the stuff you’ll hear from ROYAL ORPHAN, there’s riffs and ideas that go back to 1989 they’ve just been updated.

In the STORMENTOR days we were full speed ahead rip your face off thrash. SANITY IN ASHES we had more of a HELLOWEEN/SAVATAGE influence but the lyrics were less “witches and warlords and castles and swords” and more social, psychological topics so people could better relate. DESTROYING THE EVIDENCE we were really digging TOOL and some alternative but didn’t want to go full on in that direction so we balanced the sound with some more psychedelic, kind of “trippy” sections. I was taking a lot of old thrash riffs and applying them to real songwriting with hooks that came across more cohesive and memorable. And that was the real turning point.

2017, brought up a new project. ROYAL ORPHAN. So how did everything begin?

I graduated nursing school, became gainfully employed, got married, bought a house, had three kids, and decided to say “fuck it” and start playing metal again! Ha ha ha… I had played in a cover band called STAINLESS LEATHER with some friends and we did bars around Long Island and it just became a real blast playing heavy metal again. My chops got better than ever; we worked really hard to emulate everything almost to the note. We did lots of ANTHRAX, SLAYER, IRON MAIDEN, JUDAS PRIEST. We did entire WASP shows with fake blood and our singer had the saw blades. For a time, before we got a frontman I was singing and playing lead guitar too and we were doing challenging stuff. I was singing DIO and QUEENSRYCHE and playing MEGADETH leads note for note. I trained hard, quit alcohol and quit cigarettes and really got into kickass performing shape.

STAINLESS LEATHER folded after a while, and I decided to focus on my original music and apply this new found ability so I called on my man Joey Migz like the Blues Brothers “hey Elwood let’s get the band back together.” I wanted one last shot at throwing my stuff out there and just seeing what would happen in the internet age. Completely self-financed, down to the duplication/manufacturing of the CDs. I just thought while I’m applying myself to the intensity of a career in healthcare and parenting 3 kids and making a mortgage, what the hell just go for it. I just wanted to record my best stuff and put it out there and see what would happen. Oh boy I didn’t count on shipping to Greece, Germany, the UK, Netherlands every week, doing interviews etc. We just wanted this to be a studio project but now it’s really taking on a life of its own.

Royal Orphan

Who came up with the new name, what does it mean?

I came up with it, and I googled it first to see if anyone had it and apparently it’s the name of a book and also a song by the band SCALE THE SUMMIT, which I didn’t know until I looked it up. I wanted a name that referenced two different things I wanted to get away from the sound and idea of “DESTROYING THE EVIDENCE” which had that three-word phrase name that was so popular in the early 2000s. I wanted the classic two word “adjective+noun” that described something.

“ROYAL ORPHAN” speaks to a dichotomy, like a two opposite ends of the human experience which is prevalent in the lyrics. It reminds me of Phil Lynott in a lot of ways. He was both of them. I’m considering making the “ROYAL ORPHAN” an actual character to be the subject of conceptual themes in the future of our lyrics and music. Sort of like how the “Voivod” was a character. A character that people can relate to; someone who had the odds stacked against them, maybe got fucked over by society or whatever, never really found where they fit in and went through hell but eventually wound up on top.

If I had to, I’d say we’re heavy metal for people who know a thing or two about music.

Can you give us some info about your excellent same titled debut EP. First of all when did you start to work on the songs included in there?

As for the material itself, some of these riffs date back to when we were kids but they’ve been convoluted and re-written over time. It’s really hard to say. Lemmy from Motorhead once said that your first album is always the best because you’ve had your whole life to write it. This EP proves him 100% correct. It’s the greatest hits of my life.

Which was the first song that you have completed as ROYAL ORPHAN?

Completed? Hmmm, maybe “Lost in Time”. Written about 15 years ago and hasn’t changed much since the original. I just added a guitar solo section. But the oldest actual idea on this recording is the drum rhythm pattern in Fondest Wish that matched the original bass line when it was called “Visions of Life” back in the STORMENTOR days circa 1991. Written by Dan Kelleher.

Where did you record the material of the EP, how long did it take you to complete it?

I started recording the basic tracks at my good friend Bill Kelly’s house (no relation) which I call Crazy Cat studios. A wild stray cat got in somehow and it went psycho. It was pretty vicious, he had to call a professional animal control company to have it removed. Pretty crazy stuff, it’s always something. So he wound up moving (not because of the cat) and I finished the tracks, the vocals, mixing and mastering at Beneath The Sun studios in Hicksville Long Island where my cover band Notch 45 was rehearsing at the time. It was produced by Mick James who did a great job. He has a recording project in his own right, like a ROB ZOMBIE/ALICE COOPER horror character kind of thing.

We started recording in March of 2016 and finished in February of 2017. It was released in May of 2018 on digipak CD and on iTunes and Bandcamp. Sounds crazy right? Two years to complete six songs? Had a LOT of setbacks and logistical nightmares coupled with work/family/personal stuff. But I think the results are worth it. The next one will be a full length and WON’T take as long!

In your own words how would you describe the music of ROYAL ORPHAN?

We have a slogan; “Welcome to the Future of the Old School.” I could list 25 bands who influence my writing and playing but the focus is on originality and the number one priority is what I call the lost art of songwriting. Metal has been fused with classical music, jazz, rap, Scandinavian folk, even country. I’m bringing in the singer-songwriter-storyteller influence. Like Paul Simon goes metal and I’m not trying to be funny.

I’m 45 and I’ve lived quite a life and I don’t think metal is done and dead by a damn sight. I think there’s other places it can be taken and there’s more things to be said. Musically I just consider pushing the envelope of the classic metal sound. Staying true to the art form but always trying to put my own spin without genre-hopping. If I had to, I’d say we’re heavy metal for people who know a thing or two about music.

You have chosen to release the EP yourselves. Under what criteria have you chosen to go that way? Have you tried to get in touch with a record label prior to this decision? What are the advantages and / or disadvantages of a private release?

Just circumstance really. I could never consider being signed to a label. I’m gonna push this thing on my own as far as I can until the right offer comes along. I never considered a label, it never even crossed my mind. I guess the advantage is that there’s no deadlines, no contracts, I can work at my own pace. But considering how long this recording took, maybe it’s not such a good thing. Maybe I do need someone cracking a whip over my head saying “finish the album dammit!”

Should we mention ROYAL ORPHAN as a studio project?

Well that’s how it initially started. We’re able to play if need be and the right opportunity comes along. Say Wacken Festival or Prog Power Atlanta GA and I’m on a plane. But like I said, family obligations etc; there’s no jumping in a van and doing a month or two months on the coast.

Do you plan to complete a full line and perhaps give some live shows in the future?

Yes for now we’re a trio, which I think is rare. Like I said earlier Dan Kelleher will be joining us on bass for the live shows. We’re booked in April to open for Airforce on the opening night of their US tour which starts in our hometown of Long Island NY. They’re a great band; their drummer is Doug Sampson who was the drummer in IRON MAIDEN just before they signed to EMI. I heard they have a crowd that follows them that consists of the British soccer pub-brawl maniacs you’d expect. That should be fun! As for the lineup, I would maybe consider a second guitarist but, that would take a considerable amount of breaking in.

Have you started to prepare your next steps already, or is it too early for plans?

Not planning, but once we can sell more copies we can consider recording the full length album, hopefully better production, better packaging, a vinyl release too. Fix all the mistakes I learned releasing the current EP.

What kind of feedback are you getting for the EP so far? Fans? Press?

I gotta tell you, it’s WAY better than what I had expected. The press has been great, many blogs have picked it up. The best ever was Deaf Forever, one of the biggest metal magazines in Germany that gave us an 8.5 out of 10. The writer, Michael Kohsiek had the quote of the year; “this is music for people who don’t know Spotify.”

The Big Apple (New York) has always been the home of some great Metal bands. However can we speak about a “Metal Scene” nowadays? Give us some light. I guess that in a big place like this there would be many bands on many metal genres going their way in parallels. Any kind of connection between them or even on the similar genres? Or not? And have in mind that I always expect the answer “no Metal at all here dude”. any cool bands from New York you want to share with us?

There’s a band out there called KILLCODE who’s making the rounds and they’re getting exposure. They’re probably one of the bigger local bands. BLACK ANVIL is a black metal band that once featured my buddy Gary Bennett who was in the hardcore band Kill Your Idols. They were signed to Relapse Records, awesome band if you like that stuff; they were original, they had some real psychedelic parts in their songs.

Spreading some light to NY Metal bands from the 80s that you may remember and we may do not know, would be also cool!

Funny you should mention; earlier I had mentioned the metal cover band STAINLESS LEATHER I was in. Our bass player was James Maloney from TOXIC SHOCK. They were a thrash band in the vein of EXODUS/SACRED REICH, they were heavy on the club circuit in the late 80s/early 90s. I don’t know if they ever put an album out but they did do a tour of the Midwest USA with Nuclear Assault. Long Island also had some local metal bands from the early days like SORROW, WINTER, MAELSTROM, EXALT who was from Queens, they were great friends of mine.

What are the influences on ROYAL ORPHAN music. I mean bands that have influenced you. It sound a little weird to me, when you told me that you have never listened to HEIR APPARENT ha ha.

No I swear I never listened to them until people started comparing us to them. Then I went on YouTube and looked them up and the first thing I see is a crown on the cover I’m like oh my God, this is just great. From what I heard they’re a great band. But I don’t think I ever even knew anyone who listened to them. I’m sure I sound like Mr. BATHORY guy “oh no I never listened to Venom” ha ha ha.

As for my influences, I listen to so much music, I studied classical music in college for about 4 years before I studied nursing, so that influence is there. You can hear some nylon string classical guitar on the track “Lost in Time”. My writing influences are Iron Maiden above all who are my favorite, JUDAS PRIEST, BLACK SABBATH, MERCYFUL FATE, Chuck Schuldiner, everything he did. I’m also big on 70s stuff like THIN LIZZY, UFO, BLUE OYSTER CULT. I love the diversity and dynamics of those bands. They could do it all but still pull it off without sounding awkward and all over the place. Savatage, Voivod; those bands I consider a huge direct influence because I put Criss Oliva and Piggy in the same class of guitarist even though they’re totally different styles. They both use the WHOLE guitar. They write riffs that have a wide attack all over the neck.

My favorite lead guitarists are Gary Moore, Michael Schenker, Alex Skolnick, Ross the Boss, Tipton/Downing, Murray/Smith, Buck Dharma, Dickey Betts. I’ve also been digging MANILLA ROAD too. It pisses me off I didn’t get to see them before Mark the Shark died. They played in Brooklyn a few years back and I missed them. He really had it all. Played, sang, had an epic writing style. I really look up to him.

Which is your favorite ROYAL ORPHAN composition?

Maybe “Fondest Wish” because it originated from something written by Dan Kelleher. It has more meaning that it was written by myself and a lifelong friend. It has this epic, dynamic feel, a real catchy chorus, lyrics that mean something and make sense. The chord progression is like nothing else, it’s really unusual and exotic but it carries the verse really well. It could be the archetype of things to come.

Ok that was it guys! Close it the way you like! Thanks.

I would like to say thank you to the fans and heavy metal press all over Europe and the USA who have given new life to these songs and actually made us a thing. I hope I can continue to crank out music that rocks your world, wherever your world may be! STAY TUNED!