David Lawrie is The Royal Ritual, an Englishman living in the U.S., taught music from a young age, now involved in the goth/industrial scenes as a composer and producer. He kindly spoke to us about his project, the new album, film making and what inspires him.
Welcome David Lawrie to the darkside of the rabbit hole that is Onyx. The Royal Ritual is a new project for you. What inspired you to go on this solo journey?
The last time I had performed in an industrial outfit was with my friend Chris Coreline in 2008-2009 – when we played a string of shows, starting with the inFest Festival of 2008. It was so much fun. Since that point I have been mainly writing for documentaries, doing audio post production for film, and producing EPs/albums for various independent artists under my birth name.
Fast forward to Coldwaves 2018, where I was in the audience with Dustin Schultz who, the night before, had performed with ohGr. It made me remember how much I wanted to get back into the fold. I mentioned this to Dustin, and we started working together in 2019. With the pandemic looming, it became more of a solo project in early 2020. Ultimately Dustin contributed significantly to two songs on the debut album, but without the initial collaboration with him, I don’t think I would have pushed forwards with the project.
As the lockdown clamped down harder on us all, I continued to work on the album. The name “The Royal Ritual” came to me on a cross country road-trip, in December 2020.
I would like to talk about the two singles you have so far released. “Pews In a Pandemic” is an observation of how commercial religion can be both controlling and coersive of their flocks, then married with the music that is harsher in sound. Can you say what roused you to write this and influenced the choice in sound?
Firstly I don’t want to be insulting with anything I write. Whilst it is probably very obvious that I am fundamentally anti religion, I do not hold hostility towards the majority of religious people. It is no secret that I am atheist (and as close to “a-deist” as can be), but I also understand that a belief in a higher power brings comfort to a great many people, and I wouldn’t want to take the comfort of belief away from so many.
Where this breaks down, at least for me, is in the boldness of a select “holy” few who not only claim that they have a direct communication with a deity, but they can disseminate a deistic message to a congregation – a move that, to me, is a parallel with divine dictatorship.
In the decade I have spent in America, I have really seen how bizarre things can become when religion makes good business, and the social fallout from that is a topic of great inspiration in my writing.
As for the overall sound, this was not the first song I wrote for the album, and as such, it was arranged to fit in with the already fairly solid palette of the other songs that had been written.
“Empires” is the second single and a comment that many English hark back to the ‘good old days’ when the British had a huge colonial empire which was at it’s peak during the Victorian era, with the British Raj in India, the jewel in the crown. Your song writing takes on a more classical quality and evocative of something exotic, maybe even forbidden, referring to the the line ‘when I was a little girl and you were a little boy’. How did this piece come about?
I do hope that the irony and sarcasm in this song is obvious. I also hope that my exclusion of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in the proclamation of “England” and not “Britain” is not dismissed as ignorance on my part.
I wouldn’t want it to be said that I am not proud to be English, because I do love the country. Whilst its history is turbulent, it is a history from which there are many lessons to be learned. I genuinely hope that as we move forward, these lessons will inform positive change.
Me being the “little girl” in this scenario harks back to mockery in the playground, where physical weakness and displays of emotion were “girlish” traits, whereas physical strength and the “stiff upper lip” were “boyish” traits. I’m very glad we are gradually evolving past this nonsense.
The video for “Empires” is simple and yet beautifully directed by HARUKO. How was the experience making this video?
I try to separate out my different creative outlets, and HARUKO is my visual artwork pseudonym. I have been fascinated by filmmaking for many years, and in 2013, purely out of necessity, I made my first videos with just me, a camera, and some lights for the music released under my birth name. I learned a great deal very quickly, and since then I have continued to add to my equipment and skillset. That enabled me to do the first two videos for The Royal Ritual completely isolated from other people (I had some help carrying lights deep into the forest for my cover of Phildel’s “Glide Dog”).
For “Empires” I wanted to work with actors to tell a story, and I knew that I needed to put the cinematography in the hands of my good friend, and long-standing filmmaker colleague, David Diley of Scarlet View Media. He and I have worked on films for many years, with me taking care of audio post production in many of his projects. His expertise, along with his knowledge of my general vision, meant that I could focus on the direction and project management of the “Empires” video – trusting that it was being captured to a very high standard.
I have directed videos for other artists in the past, but this was the first time using actors. A full production, if you will. I am very proud of the outcome!
As an Englishman in the U.S., do you think being away from the U.K. gives you more perspective and also a different view while in the States? Kind of a stranger in two worlds so to speak.
I have always felt like an outsider, so I am used to that feeling of being a “stranger” – I think most people who work in the arts probably feel it too!
What I have found about splitting my time between the two countries is that it has opened my eyes to layers of odd logic on both sides of the pond, and it has also left me much more humble and less opinionated about subjects on which I am not well versed, as well as being more interested in learning.
Whilst I know that my transatlantic travel leaves a large carbon footprint (which I try to offset with the food I eat, minimising the waste I create etc.), I do feel that travel is key to us all understanding each other. Until you see the “other side” for yourself, you never really know how it compares to your own situation – and I think that being able to compare makes you not only more grateful for what you do have, but also more compassionate towards other people in worse positions. Experience, not hearsay, is key to progress.
You are a sound engineer and you do musical scores for documentaries etc. Could you tell us about these and how it has influenced how you have approached creating music with Royal Ritual?
Working in audio post production/sound design for film came about almost accidentally, even though in hindsight it makes perfect sense. Using found sounds as percussive (and even melodic) elements of my music has been something I have done since studying my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. Field recording is one of my favourite pastimes.
When David Diley asked me to work on the audio for his film “Of Shark And Man” in 2012 (the film was released a few years later), it was a really exciting challenge. He told me that the main character of the film was not the sharks, nor the interviewees, but rather the water itself. Creating an almost musical sound for the water was a very rewarding exploration – almost the reverse of what I had been doing to create elements of my own music.
David Diley also asked me to compose the opening theme for the film, which helped me to develop my own way of mapping out a piece of music to visual cues.
With regards to The Royal Ritual, every single song was written with a very strong visual in mind, using techniques I have developed in both my musical and audio post production worlds.
What can we expect from the full length album MARTYRS?
“Pews In A Pandemic” and “Empires” paint the musical extremes for the album. There is a lot of darkness, but also (I hope) a lot of light in there. As much as I focused on creating sound design elements for the musical side of things, I also spent a long time working on the lyrics – something I hope translates and resonates well with people. Words have always been important to me, so I made sure to take my time with the words on the album.
As I mentioned before, the album has something of a sonic “palette,” so whilst the songs have a lot of variety in their songwriting, I think their arrangements are tied together by a general “sound” (for want of a better term).
I am so glad that the singles seem to have been well received so far, but I feel like they make more sense in context with the rest of the album. I pieced it together with two sides of a record in mind, and I am very much looking forward to holding and spinning the vinyl myself!
What music first set your soul on fire when you were young and who do you enjoy or still fans that fire?
That question is always going to open Pandora’s Box, as far as I’m concerned, so I will try to keep it short.
The influences that jump to mind right now are Erik Satie, Pink Floyd, Arvo Pärt, Tool, Henryk Gorecki, Aphex Twin, Philip Glass, Björk, David Sylvian, Nine Inch Nails, Tears For Fears, Nitin Sawhney (and I could go on and on…)
The most perfect piece of music to me, however, is “High Hopes” by Pink Floyd. There is a long story behind that choice, but I am certain that it was that song which served as the catalyst for me truly wondering about how modern music was put together.
Thank you for your time and we can’t wait for the album MARTYRS.
It has been a pleasure – thank you!