Walker & Royce mesh together organs, hip-hop and house music on their new album 'Self Help'
Rising house music stars Walker & Royce could be found at the Dirtybird Campout music festival in early October behind a rustic self-help booth, seeking to give “advice” to any nearby “customers.” The setting recalled Lucy’s infamous psychiatry booth in the Peanuts comic strip, as the pair rarely dished out useful guidance.
It’s just as well. If their fans want to hear sincere introspection from Sam Walker and Gavin Royce, they’d do better to seek out meaning from Self Help, the duo’s highly anticipated new album released via Dirtybird Records on October 20.
Self Help is a wide-reaching expansion of Walker & Royce’s quirky, cosmic dancefloor material, signaling a desire to expand their reach beyond the underground club scene.
To accomplish that goal, they leaned on the creativity of a variety of collaborating artists spanning the spectrum of hip-hop and dance music. Rappers OnCue and Sophiegrophy give their respective tracks a shot of rap influence, and Walker & Royce skillfully morph the production to blend their talents within a funk-house construct.
But the contributor who clearly exhibits the most chemistry with Walker & Royce is Dances With White Girls, a longtime friend of the group and a fellow Brooklyn-based DJ who provides vocals on two of the album’s standout tracks and wrote a third. He has a turn as a hopeless romantic on “Love & Marriage,” which depicts the epitome of Dirtybird’s off-kilter brand of house -- joyful, filled with unpredictable sonic tangents and kind of silly.
Dances, as he’s called by friends, also starred in the wacky, intergalactic video for “Take Me to Your Leader,” the album’s lead single that lit up the West Coast festival circuit this summer.
“It was easy to write the rest of the track because the vocal [from Dances] was so cool,” Royce said between self-help sessions at Campout. “The main thing I was really happy about was that it wasn’t like anything we’d done before. It was different, like a little rock and roll-ish kind of sound.”
“Take Me to Your Leader” relies on an instrument not often used in dance music for its three infectious chords -- the organ. Walker & Royce also mixed in the sounds of church choirs on Self Help tracks “Why Tho” and “Sunday.”
“Our plan to use those sounds was mainly to evoke this epic feel, the way a church does -- but in a very specific way,” Walker said. “Choirs and organs are often used in religious music because their sound evokes a feeling of immensity, which is what we were tapping into.”
Walker and Royce might have felt uncomfortable pushing the boundaries of their sound without the support of Claude VonStroke, an iconic producer/DJ and the founder of Dirtybird Records -- recently dubbed Mixmag’s Label of the Decade. In fact, Walker & Royce might not be releasing music at all.
It was VonStroke who gave the project a second wind by folding them into the Dirtybird family last year, right as Walker and Royce were contemplating moving on after a few years of moderate yet unprofitable success.
“We were getting a lot of play from DJs and respect from other producers, but it wasn’t translating into a lot of gigs or money,” Walker said. “If someone had asked us if we’d been ready to make an album, we might’ve told you no. But [VonStroke] pushed us forward, and now we have one that we’re really excited about.”
You can buy Self Help here, and it is also available to stream on Spotify and Soundcloud.