INTERVIEW: Royal & The Serpent

Royal & The Serpent is a newcomer of sorts who soundtracked your anxiety in 2020 with a song that captured those very real feelings through an honest and quirky sonical lens. The creative project of Ryan Santiago has been building momentum since 2017, but last year it found a whole new global trajectory once ‘Overwhelmed’ went viral on TikTok. The universally relatable track became an anthem for people who were suffering from severe anxiety during the unexpected global pandemic that turned the world into darkness. 

Finally releasing her debut EP ‘Get A Grip’ in the wake of the viral song, she was able to let go of songs she had been holding onto for years and had been performing at shows with no idea when they were going to ever get released. “Putting that project out felt vey freeing” she explains to “Letting them go just opened up this gateway for me to write in a more present way of who I am now. I’m such a different person and artist now than I was within those songs, and I have new feelings and emotions that I needed to explore”. And the new music is beginning to rollout with an increasingly artistic approach in harnessing that vision. 

Her new single ‘i can’t get high’ is packed with so many interesting production choices with lighter sounds and glitchy distortion fused together with crunching guitars and angsty drums to create exciting new sonical layers. Reflecting on addiction, she acknowledges how nothing helps the constant craving and numbness that occurs. Even when she’s high she still feels depressed which is the whole feeling she’s trying to overcome by taking drugs. It’s a song that is already connecting with listeners and continuing her rapid trajectory in becoming one of the most exciting newcomers of right now. 

I recently chatted to Royal & The Serpent about the visually charged foundations of her new single ‘i can’t get high’, the real life relationship and heartbreak that was captured in the accompanying music video, and discussed the viral success of the breakthrough hit ‘Overwhelmed’. Check it out BELOW;

THOMAS BLEACH: ’i can’t get high’ is a visually charged track about addiction and it’s one that I feel deserves multiple listens to really unpack all of the layers. So can you explain to me the creative process of this track? 

ROYAL & THE SERPENT: It’s been such a long process. I wrote this song many years ago with the same guys that I wrote ‘Overwhelmed’ and the whole ‘Get A Grip’ EP with. It has seen so many evolutions, and seen 6 or 7 different producers. But it finally landed in the hands of myself and Marky Style who has done everything I’ve put out so far. Even when it got into our hands I think it saw like 13 different versions until we got it to where it is now. 

It was an EDM track for a while, and then it somehow made its way over to this dark rock track. There were a lot of days in the studio doing trial and error, cut and paste, and rearranging, but it’s been cool.


TB: Would you say this is one of the songs in your discography to date that took the longest and most iterations to get it to where it is today?

R: This one for sure took the longest. It saw the most forms. I would love to one day release little clips of all the different versions and how many faces it’s seen because before we put it out Marky and I got into the studio and re-listened to them all. We were shocked by how many evolutions it’s seen!

TB: It also sample’s Dua Lipa’s ‘Thinking Bout You’. What was it about that line that triggered your creatively or made you think about it while writing this track? 

R: To be honest with you, I had no idea about her song. It was about 2 years later when the manager of one of the other co-writers reached out and was like “I just heard this Dua song and it sounds exactly like ‘i can’t get high’. We need to do something about this” *laughs*. We were all kinda shocked, and I’m not sure if someone maybe heard it and it was a subconscious thing that happened in the session. But I had no idea, but it’s a funny flex now to have her in the songwriting credits *laughs*. 

TB: The accompanying music video is a short film affair that you co-directed and edited, And it features a montage of a relationship with the drastic highs and lows. How difficult was it finding how to capture these “candid” moments in a scripted environment and creates that intense emotional rollercoaster? 

R: I was really lucky as I got to hire somebody that I was seeing at the time. A lot of what you see is charged by very real emotion. We actually got into a big fight on the way out to the desert, so all of that fighting stuff is super real. 

It worked out perfectly in a weird way. Everything fell apart while making the video, so we got to sort of have this real depiction of heartbreak and heartache on camera. I’m so grateful because I’ve never really acted before, so it didn’t feel like acting. I mean, it was really intense, and more than it would’ve had it been just a normal actor that I didn’t know. But I think you can tell and it shows through while you’re watching it. 

TB: I loved the opening monologue where you say “They say love’s a drug, they’re right. But they forget to mention that the high is never worth what’s at the bottom”. What inspired this monologue and its inclusion in the video? 

R: Sort of everything I was going through. I knew I always wanted to include poetry in this video. I was really inspired by the Rihanna and Calvin Harris video for ‘We Found Love’. It’s one of my favourite music videos of all time, and there is a really beautiful poem at the start of that. So as everything was happening with the guy I was seeing, it was really inspiring me to dig into a different creative place within myself. I actually wrote that poem after the video was shot and I was able to put it in, and it was the truth of my experience at the time. It’s all very true and based on reality. 

TB: Do you write a lot of poetry? Is that how you workshop your songwriting?

R: I started off writing poetry when I was a little girl way before I ever got into songwriting. It’s been years since I wrote poetry because I’m so used to being in sessions everyday and songwriting as my career. So this heartbreak actually inspired me to pick up the pen and paper again and write poetry, and I feel very grateful for that as it’s been years since I’ve wrote without intending it to be a song. 

TB: At the end of the video it pans out to you flipping off the burning car with the voiceover; “they say time heals all wounds, even if they’re right, I’d still say fuck you”. And then it transitions into another voiceover and guitar riff before cutting off. So what are you teasing us exactly…? Is there a part 2?

R: There is another song that will come out very soon, and it will be connected, and the music video will start right there too. I really want to tell you the song title but I don’t know if I’m allowed to yet *laughs*. But I promise there is more coming, and it will all make sense when it comes together. 

TB: One of the main reasons that I’ve really fallen in love with your music are these really visually charged soundscapes you’ve created where you literally don’t know where it’s going to go. Like, in ‘i can’t get high’ you’ve got lighter sounds and glitchy distortion which just elevates everything so much. So what inspires you to really push the boundaries with production and create new worlds and sounds?

R: I think it comes from a place of really wanting to do something different. I remember watching an interview with FINNEAS, and he was talking about how they use everyday sounds in the production for Billie Eilish’s songs. And you wouldn’t really realise or notice, but there’s samples of her drilling her teeth when she’s at the dentist, or a crosswalk beeping from voice notes they’ve recorded. It sort of inspired me to start paying better attention to the things that happen around me in my everyday life, and what naturally inspires me. So I just started picking up my phone more often and voice noting things that sound cool. I always really liked it to make it not just about the music, but about life . 

TB: ’Overwhelmed’ is a song that blew up massively for you, and I think it’s because last year was a turbulent year for a lot of people and they could find solace in the vulnerability and honesty that this song inhabits. But this was written 2 years before the pandemic. So how is your relationship with anxiety now? 

R: It’s very different because a lot of my anxiety was triggered by being in crowds and being out at shows with live music, lights, and people. It was a lot of sensory overload that really inspired and formed the song. It started to get really bad to the point where I’d often have panic attacks in the middle of being at a show and having to leave. And then there was none of that last year. There was no being out in crowds, no bright lights and sounds. I haven’t obviously had to go to show recently yet, but I feel like I’m excited and not scared about it when it does come. 

I really learnt a lot about myself over this time, and sort of overcame my fears with social anxiety. I used to be really scared to go to sessions, but I’m trying really hard to be a yes person and push myself to do things that are a little bit scary because the result is always a positive one. 

TB: This track really found a life of its own on TikTok. So what is one of your favourite or the weirdest TikTok video that you’ve seen to the song?

R: *Laughs* At the beginning there was this guy peeing his pants on camera to the song, so that was definitely the weirdest one. But one of my favourites is definitely Xowiejones. I feel like she kicked it off. She did this really cool robot makeup, where she turned her head and did all of these transitions, and she’s the one who really started the trend for everyone doing TikToks of it. 

TB: I was at a drag show towards the end of last year and one of the queens called Lady Sasscrotch performed ‘Overwhelmed’ and it was so cool to see that song performed in that context. Have you seen many drag queens or performers using this song in a live platform?

R: No, but I would love to see a video of it and see someone performing that song! It’s so hard because there are SO many videos made that it’s hard to see it all. But I will have to go on TikTok and see if I can find it because that’s really cool. 

TB: This song was written 2 years ago, so was it also produced 2 years ago and you’ve been sitting on it since?

R: It was written and originally produced 2 years ago but it wasn’t really finished until right before it came out. We had a demo we were working off and performing, but I remember it coming together quite seamlessly as we began to push it further and further. I was really weirdly inspired by Skrillex with the production breakdown parts, and when we originally sent it to the label everyone was like “no, you can’t put this version out”. And then I performed it at The Troubadour at my last show before the pandemic and my A&R’s were there and were like “that’s it, we have to put this version out”. So it really taught me to trust my gut in a lot of the other decisions I’ve had to make musically with the stuff that’s coming out. 

TB: With the spotlight this song has put on you as an artist, who is an artist on TikTok that you think we should be paying attention to?

R: My friend poutyface has just released a song called ‘NEVER FUCKIN KNOW’. Before she released it she put up a snippet of it on TikTok and it got 1 million views in a couple days, so she’s now just put it out. It’s so so good, and I think everyone should definitely listen to it. 

TB: On the flip side, if you could choose one of your other previously released songs to go viral on TikTok and have a second release life, what one would you choose and why?

R: Probably ‘Salvador Dali’ as it was the first song I wrote with Mary and I just love that song.

TB: You released your debut EP ‘Get A Grip’ last year. Looking back at the journey leading up to that release, what would you say is the biggest thing you’ve learnt about yourself as an artist and your vision that you’ve taken with you into ‘i can’t get high’ and this upcoming new music? 

R: I think I’m learning about myself as an artist every day. It’s an ever-evolving journey. I think putting that project out felt vey freeing because it released songs that I was holding onto for years and were performing all the time but they weren’t out, but they helped me get my deals. So letting them go just opened up this gateway for me to write in a more present way of who I am now. I’m such a different person and artist now than I was within those songs, and I have new feelings and emotions that I needed to explore. 

TB: Lets play a quick game of rapid fire questions. Are you ready?

R: *big breath in*, Yes!

TB: The emoji that best describes my new single ‘i can’t get high’ is…

R: The pill!

TB: The strangest hobby or obsession I’ve had during lockdown has been…

R: Baking and eating Banana bread.

TB: The colour of my toothbrush currently is…

R: Black!

TB: When I think of Australia I think of…

R: Fun, beautiful, sun and you! 

TB: Pineapple on pizza is… 

R: SO good! 

‘i can’t get high’ is out now!