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Questions with “The Royal They”

Julie Bender | Thursday, February 12, 2004

Here on campus, music usually doesn’t take center stage. When you’re competing with a nationally recognized football team and a basketball team that just beat fifth-ranked Connecticut, it’s no wonder why. A look beneath the surface layer of buff and bronzed athletes, however, reveals an oft-overlooked area of Notre Dame talent. Although athletic prowess may not be their forté, there is a self-described “hefty and awkward” group of guys who can hold their own when it comes to guitars and drums. The band, The Royal They, consists of four members from Fisher and Alumni Halls: Drew Baumgartner on guitar, Bucket Cullen on bass, Phil Hewett on drums, and Nick “Husky” Williams, the token sex idol in the group and occasional lead vocalist. Scene Music Critic Julie Bender recently got to sit down with these guys to shed some light on the mysterious campus music scene:

Q. Your band has an interesting name, The Royal They. How did you guys decide upon this name for the group?Bucket: It was a long process. It doesn’t actually mean anything, but it took months to decide on a name. A bunch of ideas were thrown around – Optimus Prime Time, Push for Green – that sounded to political.Husky: The Royal They was the name nobody hated. (laughs) The name I would have picked, though, is still St. Nick and the Baby Shakers.

Q. As far as musicians go, the Beatles were self-taught, and Moby is classically trained. Where on the spectrum do you guys fall with your musical backgrounds?Bucket: I’ve been playing bass for a couple years now. I took a few lessons to get started, but now I mostly just play what I hear on CDs.Drew: When I was starting out on guitar I took lessons, but now I’ve started to give lessons to other people.Phil: (Counting on his fingers) I’ve been drumming for 12 years – started taking lessons when I was in 4th grade. Husky: Well, I’m classically trained in opera singing (laughs). Nah, I sang in choirs in high school, just amateur things like that. I would like to point out, however, the rest of these guys are incredible on their instruments – enormously talented.

Q. How would you describe the type of music you play?Bucket: I would describe it like a good mixed tape – you know, songs that are recognizable, but not overplayed.Husky: Yeah, it’s a lot of classic rock stuff mixed with songs recognizable from our middle school days.

Q. Do you write your own music at all? If so, how would you describe those songs?Bucket: We’ve got a handful of originals and more on the way. It’s got a different sound to it, but it’s enjoyable.Husky: It’s eclectic, to say the least. I’d even say there are some blues overtones in it.

Q. Who are your musical influences?Bucket: My big three are Primus, Bela Fleck, and the Red Hot Chili PeppersDrew: Dickey Betts and David GilmorePhil: Carter Beauford of DMB, Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Tony Williams from Miles Davis’ band. That guy invented fusion – he’s awesome.Husky: Mine would be Ella Fitzgerald, Britney Spears and X-tina.

Q. So, what music are you guys listening to now? What’s on your turntable?Phil: Red Hot Chili Peppers, the new Incubus, and the new Perfect Circle with Danny Carey on drums.Bucket: I’ve been listening to a lot of Van Morrison lately.Husky: Nick Drake, The Junior Varsity Drew: Bread (momentary silence, then whole group laughs.)

Q. You’re playing at Legends tonight, but where else have you played gigs before?Bucket: Mostly off-campus parties and stuff like that. Drew: We played at Stepan Center for the Relay For Life.Phil: Also, last semester we did a show at Legends playing with ND Professor Don Savoie. It was a cool experience. He’s a great musician.

Q. What do you think of the Notre Dame music scene?Drew: Pretty bad. Personally, I saw people more interested in music and more talented in high school than here. What I like to say about Notre Dame is that “people don’t know what they like, they like what they know.”Bucket: It’s not as big of a scene as some other schools but there are some groups doing some pretty cool stuff here.Husky: It’s tough, because the nature of the school isn’t conducive to bands. It’s tough scheduling and finding time to practice. You do find some good campus bands, though, like Sudsberry Shore. They’re really good.

Q. Are you guys serious about the future of the band? Do you think you’ll stay together for the long haul?Bucket: Well, we haven’t even been together for a year yet…Drew: Yeah, our equipment was locked in a closet for a few months there.Bucket: We have discussed possibly putting together a demo tape and seeing what the response would be. We’re open about it.Husky: I’m graduating this year, but I’ll be living in South Bend or Chicago, so I’ll still be in the area to keep playing with these guys. This summer we may try to get together for Summerfest in Milwaukee. Three of us will be around here, but unfortunately Phil will be back in Arizona. (Smiling) We can replace him pretty easily though.Phil: Hey!

Q. If you guys made it big and became rich and famous, what would be the first thing you’d do?Bucket: (instantaneously) Kick Sting’s [butt].Husky: And buy a Wendy’s frosty machine. (everyone nods in agreement)

Q. Just for kicks, what are your thoughts on the Superbowl half-time show? Planned or accident?Bucket: Well, you know, I called my buddy JT up on the phone. He was hesitant with the details, but he confided that it was definitely planned. Husky: (straightens up, clears throat) I’m pretty tight with CBS, and I know from my sources that it was planned. (a cell phone rings … Husky gets a sheepish expression) ‘Hi Mom … I’ve got to call you back, I’m in an interview right now …’

The Royal They play tonight at 10 p.m. at Legends. Come show your support for a real, live Notre Dame band. (And no, you cannot pet them.)