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Catching Up With Royal Castles

When our president and founder, Sean, first heard the magic that is Royal Castles, he knew he wanted to work with them. But how does a shipping logistics company fit with a local garage-rock band? How does music mesh with the Freightzy brand? But then it occurred to him—it would be so fun, and so unexpected, to have Royal Castles record the company’s hold music and announcements.


Sean wasn’t sure what the response would be from Royal Castles—made up of bandmates Katrin Sawatzky, AJ Johnson and Jordan Gabriel—but he was happily surprised when they agreed. We caught up with Royal Castles to talk about that decision, as well as how the band came to be, how they describe their sound and what’s on the horizon for these three.


Freightzy: Do you want to start by telling us how you all know each other?


Katrin: Sure! We’ve all been Guelphites for 15 years or so, give or take a couple of years, and we all sort of met each other through the downtown scene. We were all in service at one point or another, and we played in various bands. Jordan and I started playing in a folk band with his sister, Sarah, and her husband, Teo, and the four of us were a quartet called Let’s Just Be Friends. When Sarah and Teo decided to have a baby, they stepped away from music but Jor and I wanted to continue. We knew we wanted to have a different approach this time around, too, so we focused on having fun and making loud, catchy, pop-rock songs and not being precious about it. We started out as a two-piece in 2016-17, and then when we were recording our album in mine and AJ’s home studio—AJ and I are married—AJ was sort of producing and was coming up with amazing baselines, because we didn’t have a bassist. Eventually it was like, “Of course you have to be in the band.” That was in 2018, and we just kind of hit the ground running from there.


Freightzy: 2018! That wasn’t that long ago.


AJ: Yeah, but we’ve been in a pandemic for 12 years, so.


Freightzy: Yeah, how has the pandemic affected your progress?


Jordan: With the most recent album, we had the almost everything recorded and well into mixing pre-pandemic. And then March 13, 2020, hit and everything shut down, so we didn’t want to release an album at that time. No one could go out; we couldn’t play shows. It kinda freaked us out. So we put it on hold and waited and waited and waited. Then about a year passed, and we were still excited about the album and wanted to make something happen. So with no end in sight, we released it.


Katrin: And we’ve only played two or three live shows since then. But they were epic shows. I want to add that it sort of feels like it was a blessing in disguise that we had to hold off on our release schedule because, pre-pandemic, there was just so much music. We were just starting to get momentum, so it would have been hard to compete for people’s listening time. The pandemic sort of forced everyone to support local, dive into new music, explore new avenues. In a way, it feels like we’ve gained some new followers because we had to shift our focus from performing live to other ways of connecting. We put out whole campaigns, videos, for every single, so as the world opens back up, we’re ready.


Freightzy: How would you describe the band’s sound?


AJ: A lot of music can be so tender and dear and overly emotional. But when the amps are cranked and the drums are hitting as loud as Katrin can hit them, you stop and think, “Oh my god, that was awesome!” It brings you back to being a teenager finding music. It’s super fun.


Katrin: I think it’s pretty evident when you look back at the earlier songs, like on the first Royal Castles album, it was sort of a stepping stone from Let’s Just Be Friends. But with this most recent album, we were so intentional and committed to it, and trying to form a kind of sound. We needed that first album to have some exploratory room. With the second album, we brought in musicianship in a more technical way, so it’s kind of interesting to reflect on where we’ve arrived. It’s been a really organic journey to get here.


Jordan: Yeah, I think half of the first album was written during that Let’s Just Be Friends era, and you can tell, and then the other half was written when we knew we were going to do a new thing. It works, but you can tell which songs were written during each time, and the songs on the newer album are that much more cohesive.


Freightzy: You feature a lot of recognizable Guelph and area landmarks in your videos. Can you tell us some of your favourites?


Katrin: I love the video store in “Frickin’ Pretty,” called Far Out Flicks. I grew up going there. It felt in alignment to do the video and photo shoot there, especially since they’ve subsequently closed. I also met both of these guys when I was serving at the Cornerstone, so that is a special place.


AJ: Yes, many hours drinking coffee and beer at Cornerstone.


Katrin: The Jimmy Jazz was also our watering hole, when we were all in the service industry. We played shows there, and there used to be an open mic. We have a lot of good memories there. We also like Baker Street Station, and in terms of food, we like Crafty Ramen and Bollywood Bistro.


Freightzy: So what made you decide to sign on to do Freightzy’s hold music and announcements?


AJ: Our producer (Dustin Seabrook of Still Creates) knew that Freightzy was into supporting local, and he thought it could be something cool to do, too. We have a small studio here, so we just set up a mic and gave it a shot.


Katrin: It wasn’t something we ever thought we’d get asked to do, so it was like, “Yeah, let’s do this.” We knew it was unexpected, and something we probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to do again, so we were excited. I feel like, right now, all the parameters and boundaries of the norm are out the window and I kinda love that.


Freightzy: One last question…where did you band name come from?

Jordan: When we first started out as a two-piece, we had a show booked through a friend of ours. Katrin was up north working at one of the communities she works with [as a capacity development and Indigenous housing specialist], and the internet connections and cell reception weren’t great. But our friend, he needed us to give him a name to use for the show. So I wrote out a list of ten names and sent them to Katrin and we decided to just pick one for the show. We figured we’d reassess if we didn’t like it. One of the options was just ‘Castles,’ which Katrin liked. But about four or five days later, after the name was on the poster and everything, I’m in my car and I hear this song and the band info flashed on the radio and the group is called ‘Castles.’ They’re from the UK and they’re coming over here to tour. So after that, I wondered if we could give it a Guelph link and put the ‘Royal’ in front of it, with Guelph being “the Royal City.” So Royal Castles was a name that got built along the way.


Royal Castles is releasing a German language version of their single “Frickin’ Pretty,” called “Frickin Wünderschon,” on February 17. Fun fact: German is Katrin’s first language.