Music is one of the most commanding and influential forms of love. In every metropolitan area, love comes in a myriad of forms. For the Chicago band, Royce, bittersweet love has prevailed throughout the many years. They have a love for Chicago. They have a love for each other. Most of all, they have a tough love for music. Do not confuse Royce with Detroit emcee, Royce Da 5'9”. The Chicago band, Royce is actually a complete group that creates more than just hip-hop music. Jamie Clemmons handles the vocals and guitars. Conor Klaus keeps the rhythm with the drums. Two of the members inhabit one human body. Justus Roe (bass player) is also known as DJ White Lightning, creator of the beats.
Signed to the hip-hop label Galapagos 4, Royce offers more than “hip-hop” music. Although they create thick grooves and rhythms for emcees, their influences of European disco and indie rock shine through their music. “Subtleties Of The Game” (released on Galapagos 4) was Royce's debut album. Although a majority of the album consisted of instrumentals, Jamie did provide his melodic vocals along with the emcee, Qwel. Recently, Royce released their 2006 sophomore album, “Tuff Love” on Galapagos 4. Their musical maturity is undeniable due to the various themes and styles. Vocally, more Galapagos 4 emcees contribute to the album. Mestizo & Offwhyte rhyme on “Ebbs and Flows”. Robust adds a verse on the song, “Girls on Bikes” (an ode to women who ride their bicycles). Dreas is featured on “Ocean Summer Mist”. The album's most brilliant track, “City Heat” features Qwel and Meaty Ogre on the microphone.
Royce is one of those rare, real indie bands. They are not constricted to an image or a fleeting trend. They are not a get rich quick scheme or an activist slogan on a t-shirt. They are not a gimmicky rock/hip-hop band. Instead, Royce consists of simply middle-class musicians from Chicago, who create thick grooves with some hip-hop and dance music.
MVRemix: What goes on?
Justus Roe / DJ White Lightning: Last night, we opened for Kool Keith. I'm hurting right now, but it was really cool to hang out with him for the brief time we did. He was touring the new Dr. Octagon CD. He was real cool. He's a freak, man. What goes on? I'm working actually. If I told you where I was working, you wouldn't believe me. I've got the best city job in Chicago. I'm sitting in a trailer, in a park, in air conditioning.
MVRemix: You're a park ranger?
Justus Roe: Nah, I work for the city of Chicago, for this program. I sit in a trailer all day for the summer. I pass out government lunches to kids. That's how I can afford to do Royce.
MVRemix: The new Royce album, 'Tuff Love' was just released. Tell us about it.
Justus Roe: Basically, we did an album before that called 'Subtleties Of The Game'. That was our little debut. It was kind of awkward because we are on Galapagos 4, which is a label with mainly hip-hop and we're a live band. We were tough in the waters. It did pretty well. We got a good response. We toured that a little bit and we were just playing shows with all of the Galapagos 4 people. We thought we should do an album together and started to collaborate with the people there. We were getting out little electro-psychedelic pop thing in and combining them with the beats. We were getting into this new hip-hop pop, I guess.
MVRemix: How was this album different from your debut album?
Justus Roe: There were a couple of songs done in Portuguese and Italian. On this album, our songs are in English. On this one, we have four or five duos from Galapagos 4. They either contribute beats or rhyming. I actually got Qwel to sing instead of rap. That was pretty cool. That was different.
MVRemix: What was the recording process like for the new album? How was it different from other times?
Jamie: 'Tuff Love' was the first album we recorded at the Gentriphied Studio, which in itself, was a big change for us. The concept of the album also went through a number of changes, leaving behind some of the more light-hearted songs that were recorded in favor of a more somber, even dark feel that I still feel represents the experience of growing up in Chicago accurately. A lot of heart and soul went into making 'Tuff Love', making it reflect our youth, heartbreak through a full flavored sonic experience.
MVRemix: I love the song, 'Vladimir'.
Justus Roe: Yeah, it's our ode to European discotheque.
MVRemix: The song actually reminds me of Trisomie 21. Did you ever hear of them?
Justus Roe: Oh, yeah. I think so.
MVRemix: What inspired the song, 'Vladimir'?
Justus Roe: For doing live shows, that was one of the easiest pre-set sounds on Micro Chord. It just sounded like every bad disco in Europe that we went to. We wanted to tweak it to make it good and add live Chicago house style disco music over it.
MVRemix: What is the meaning behind the title, 'Tuff Love'?
Justus Roe: 'Tuff Love' is that neighborhood mentality. There's a history. People were harsh on you but that was because they were someone you love. We all grew up in Chicago. It's kind of like reminiscing of growing up in Chicago, but also the longer perspective of how the city is going, and how most of the country is going. The gentrification! America, the superpower is taking over the world. Things that you thought would be forever are wiped out. Me and the lead singer grew up in this one neighborhood. Both of our families got financially forced out of it. The rent and taxes and all of that sh*t. We kept on moving further and further away from, at the time, was a beautiful environment to grow up in. We kept on thinking, 'Why is that gone? Why aren't we living on the block we grew up on with the families we grew up around?' Now, we drive past the streets and there are these million dollar mansions. You can't even touch it. There's a lot to do with that. That's just a middle class blanket. Think of that on a grander scale in Chicago with people who have no control over how their lives are dictated by the city. That's the tough love, the toughness dictated by the neighborhood. That situation and that pressure.
MVRemix: Do you think that the middle class is dissolving?
Justus Roe: I don't know. I don't think it is dissolving, but it is definitely reached a point where we have to choose a side. You either have to be working in the financial industry to live in Chicago or you will be further out. There was this big flight to Chicago and it is re-landing now. All of these people are coming back into the city, pushing the local yokels out.
MVRemix: What's the meaning behind the name, DJ White Lighting?
Jamie: It's Native American. It means, he who gives alligators back rubs.
Justus Roe: DJ-ing many house parties growing up, I would go from hip-hop into funk into disco into house and at the peak of the house portion. When the entire party would be in the zone, I would drastically blend in classic rock hits as in Steely Dan, or the Cars or Fleetwood Mac. Hence forth, I was dubbed White Lightning. It may have also been my affinity for big bear malt liquor. Who knows?