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Pink Royal takes groovy pop into another orbit

Pink Royal: Josh Dorrell (from left), Nick Carswell, Dylan Guthrie, Steven LaCour, Alex Hartmann
Pink Royal: Josh Dorrell (from left), Nick Carswell, Dylan Guthrie, Steven LaCour, Alex Hartmann

You can call Pink Royal a pop band; its five members won’t take offense.

“It’s pop, but it’s not Top 40 pop,” said Dylan Guthrie, Pink Royal’s lead singer. “We’ve created a term for our music: experimental groove pop. We try to make our music accessible but artful.”

That’s an apt description of the music that fills “Taps,” the full-length album Pink Royal released in April. It’s a collection of soulful pop songs with shifting time signatures and thoughtful chord progressions that sustain their cheery melodies and steady grooves. Much of it is embroidered in colorful guitar filigrees or keyboard lines.

Pink Royal didn’t arrive at this sound quickly. The band formed years ago in Lawrence, a loose collective of KU students who jammed at places like the Jazzhaus, where they were regulars at Speakeasy Sundays. The inaugural lineup lost a few members, including its drummer. That’s when Alex Hartmann stepped in.

“I was friends with the bassist back then, John (Killeen),” he said. “He and I studied abroad one summer. When we got back, he said he’d been playing with this band, and they didn’t really have a lot going right then, but I should play with them. They’d been playing with this drummer, Henry Burling, a great cat, but he was moving back to the U.K.”

After other departures and new arrivals, the band settled into a steady lineup about three years ago: Hartmann, Guthrie, guitarist Steven LaCour, guitarist Josh Dorrell and bassist/keyboardist Nick Carswell, who also fronts his own band, Carswell and Hope.

Each brings a different perspective on music, which is why their songs are typically multifaceted.

“I’m pretty traditionally taught,” Hartmann said. “As I got older, I focused more on blues and funk, which is a reflection of how I was taught. If your teacher has you working on blues charts or jazz scores, that’s going to be your influence. So I ran with that.”

“I’m really into soul music,” Guthrie said. “My biggest inspirations are Stevie Wonder and James Brown. I’m really into Lake Street Dive, too. Steven is very into theory. He listened to a lot of prog-rock, so you hear some of those time signatures. Steve and I are into jazz, too, so that gets into our sound.

“You’d be pressed to find a chord progression that is straight 1-3-5 structure. Almost all have a seventh or ninth chord or some interesting element to keep the song engaging but also listenable. There’s always a light, poppy feel and, if you’re interested, you can dance around or move to it.”

“We are so diverse,” Hartmann said, “Steven played in an instrumental prog-math band called Catharsis of a Mute. Insanely mathy, like Coheed and Cambria. Very highly technical. I’m the complete opposite. Dylan is kind of more similar to me. He really gets his kicks off soul.

“You definitely hear all that in our music. Very technical guitar lines. There’s lots of math going on. We’re definitely not scared to play around with time signatures or integrated rhythms, which is something most pop bands don’t do all that often.”

That sound has been embellished by the recent addition of Zak Pischnotte, a doctoral student in saxophone at KU.

“We brought him in to lay down some sax, and he joined the band after that,” Guthrie said.

“Taps” was recorded with producer Jim Barnes, a sound engineer and drummer for the band Hembree. It was one step toward giving the band the attention and commitment everyone agreed it needed.

“In 2014, we decided that we wanted to take our roles as musicians and performers a lot more seriously,” Guthrie said. “So we took a bunch of tunes we’d recorded on GarageBand and went into the studio with Jim Barnes, a great producer.”

More than half the songs on “Taps” were written by LaCour and the original version of the band, the rest with the new lineup. Guthrie writes the lyrics; the rest of the music is a collaboration.

“Steven comes up with the basic, harmonic structure, then we organically jam, whether it’s me and Steven or the full band,” Guthrie said. “We’ll come up with a melody and the hook and refine it as we go.”

Saturday night, at its show at the Riot Room, Pink Royal will unveil a new song, one that takes the band in yet another direction.

“It’s definitely different,” Guthrie said. “It has a Motown sound, more Motown soul.”

“We’re different from a lot of pop bands,” Hartmann said. “Dylan doesn’t have your standard pop voice. He croons, which isn’t something you expect from an indie-pop act. That’s what I love about this band. We can hit on so many cylinders.”

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain


Pink Royal performs Saturday night at the Riot Room, 4048 Broadway. Reptar, Breathers and RLT are also on the bill. Showtime is 8:30 p.m. Admission is $12.