Features

Shogun: Royal Headache Are ?Over

After months of speculation, Royal Headache singer Shogun (pictured below centre) sets the record straight on the beloved Sydney band – and looks uncertainly to his own musical future. Interview by DOUG WALLEN.


There’s been a lot of waiting – ? and waiting – for Royal Headache to follow up their 2011 [self-titled debut](/releases/2000931), which topped our [Readers Poll](/articles/4393992) that year and launched the Sydney band in a big way overseas. And we followed them [all along the way](/search/?q=royal+headache).

In the past couple years, though, Royal Headache have been unusually quiet. There’s been competing talk that A) the band are finished, and B) they’re finishing their second album. So which is it? According to lead singer Shogun – whose eager, soul-spiked vocals and shirtless live presence were as clear a calling card as the band’s scratchy scrambling of garage and punk – the answer is – both. Royal Headache are done, he told M+N, but they’re finishing the second album. Shogun even mentions touring to launch it, adding to the mixed messages.

The reason for our long, startlingly candid interview isn’t his absent band, though. It’s his debut solo gig this month as part of Vivid LIVE, where he’ll be singing and playing acoustic guitar while accompanied on piano by his friend Gabrielle De Giorgio (who plays in a Queen tribute band). During our revealing and surprising conversation – punctuated by his housemate setting off a firework next to him – Shogun questions his entire relationship with music.

Is there a name for the solo project?
Shogun. [Laughs] Just Shogun. It’s just my songs. I don’t really need it to have bells and whistles. I think music would be better off without that stuff. It’s just me playing my songs that I write in my room.

Is it daunting to think about debuting this intimate project at such a prominent event?
Yeah. Well, I guess it’s up to me whether I’m daunted. From one angle it could be outrageously daunting and maybe I don’t belong. Maybe the whole thing’s gonna be a bit of a nightmare. But I like my tunes, y’know? I’ve got the feeling people will enjoy it.

Will it just be newer stuff, or will you do some Royal Headache stuff?
I might do one or two Royal Headache songs, just to fill it out. But I’m not sure which ones. I’m gonna practise quite a few. I’m playing a short set – I think I’d be more nervous if I was playing for longer. I’m only playing for like 15 to 20 minutes.

Maybe I’ll play more solo shows after this; I’m not too sure. But I think these are some of the better songs I’ve written, so I’d like to share them with people before I get too old to give a fuck. [Laughs]

?They sound like Stone Roses songs. But better.?

So will it just be you singing and your friend playing piano?
I’m playing acoustic guitar. They’re all songs I’ve written to play and sing on acoustic guitar. They sound a bit like Stone Roses songs. But better though.

All the press release really said was that it’s ?a soulful side project.? Does it have that soul thing to your singing that people found in Royal Headache?
No, not really. I was bullied into that. I have no soul. That was an act. [Laughs] No, I’m joking. It’s quieter stuff, so I think it’s a little bit more from my interest in, yeah, stuff like Stone Roses and English pop and mod. I think the influences are a little bit more from that direction.

Without having a full band, are you paying more attention to your singing?
I always pay attention to my singing. And I’ve always played acoustic guitar and showed people my songs. It’s not something that’s entirely new to me, singing and playing an acoustic guitar – I actually really like it. It does have the potential to be really boring, but I don’t think that’s necessary. I think it’s a nice, intimate way of experiencing the delicate nuances of a song when you just hear someone singing on their own like that.

I’m sick of hearing fucking effects on everyone’s voices and instruments. I think everyone’s leaning on them too much and I’m looking forward to just doing the bare bones a little bit.


How far back does the name Shogun go?
When I was 14 I had a slumber party and my friends were teasing me and calling me a shogun. I told them to shut up and they said, ?Shut up shogun.? They said that all night. So it started as a dis but then it became my name. We were watching this Sean Connery movie and I think it had a shogun assassin or some shit in it. I [had] a cleft palate and lip, and I had speaking issues more when I was younger. I had a really heavy emphasis on my ?sh? sound, like a Celine Dion [?My Heart Will Go On?](https://www.youtube.com/watch’v=saalGKY7ifU) sort of – the way she does her ?I see you, I feel you.?

It’s a high school nickname. There’s nothing too special about it. I tried to get rid of it but it stuck. It’s fine. What’s in a name? Nothing. That’s why I just call it Shogun. I don’t give a fuck. Honestly, I think names and trappings and expectations have really destroyed music so actually, when I think about it, I’m really looking forward to getting up somewhere and just playing with my normal name that my friends call me. [Interrupted, then shouting aside*] Fuck off, cunt. You fucking idiot! My fucking ears! Fuck off! [*Talking into the phone again*] My housemate just set off a fucking firework next to me. [*Laughs]

Is that a regular occurrence?
Yeah, more or less. Not that but something of that nature, yeah – I’m fine – my ears are just ringing a bit.


What’s the status of Royal Headache and the second album?
I left. I left the band and the band’s over. I told everyone we [split up] but people act like they still don’t know. I just thought it was really clear that we broke up. But it doesn’t matter; people shouldn’t be obliged to know. But we’re gonna finish the album. It’s coming along fine – it’s nearly done. I’ve done most of the vocal tracking and the instruments were tracked ages ago – over a year ago.

But you’re not gonna play live to launch it?
We’ll do a tour, yeah. I guess we’re sort of obliged to because whoever puts it out, they’ll want to sell records. I don’t know. It was fun – it’s just, all things come to an end. That was not a band that was supposed to be around for very long.

?That whole bloodsucking world – it’s not something I wanted to subject myself to.?

So that was your reason for leaving? That you saw it as a quite finite thing?
No, there were lots of reasons. Being in a band and touring a lot and drinking a lot and losing yourself and y’know – not really having real friends and that whole bloodsucking, revolting world – it’s not something I wanted to subject myself to for too much longer.

Do you think there’s a way to still do the band but avoid that stuff and keep it pure in a way?
No. I don’t know – I really don’t think there’s anything pure about rock ?n? roll. You’d need to be very, very strong-minded, and I am not.

Well, I guess if you’re at least open to doing a tour, people can see you one more time.
Yeah, yeah. That’s fine. If people are still interested. I don’t know. I don’t know if people want to see us any more or if people are interested in music like that any more. I’m not very excited about music today. Y’know, Royal Headache was a response, in a way, to the fact that the musical environment of the time was exciting and there were bands I wanted to play with and people I wanted to play too. And I don’t really feel that way any more – I haven’t really heard a decent Australian release in about three years.

What are some of those bands you wanted to play with?
Straight Arrows, Kitchen’s Floor, Low Life, NOTV [Naked on the Vague].

Straight Arrows have a [new record](/news/4654578) coming out.
That’s true.


Are you happy with how the first album came out?
Yeah. I was really, really disappointed with it at first because I was just being a baby. I actually really wanted it to sound like the early Straight Arrows records. I wanted it to be much noisier. In the spectrum of garage-y punk it’s actually pretty clean. It’s not that murky or swampy. I think in time I grew to be okay with it. I listened to it the other night and it sounded okay. Sometimes I listen to it when I’m stoned just to see what I think. I thought it sounded pretty okay.

I’m glad people liked it. People appear to have enjoyed it and had a good time. People have come up and said to me they really liked the record – maybe it meant something to them – and that’s really nice, to do something that someone sees as meaningful. That’s hard, musically, I think. It’s really, really hard to invest it with any real worth, as opposed to just some kind of ear dildo that’s gonna be forgotten about in 15 minutes.

?We were a pretty dysfunctional band, mostly because of me.?

The space [of years] between the two albums: was that just from touring so much and then you leaving the band?
There’s a number of things. We were a pretty dysfunctional band, mostly because of me. I was drinking a lot and being an asshole, and I was never happy with anything. It was difficult – just difficult to see a point to any of it sometimes. But we were a very dysfunctional band. Sometimes we didn’t communicate properly. There was other shit happening in my life which was terrifying, so that was preoccupying too.

It sounds like a lot of things compounding each other.
Yeah, yeah. It was good though. It was a good time. It was just sort of everything at once.

When you did [the tour with The Black Keys](/news/4456476), what was it like playing venues that big? Did you feel out of place or did you just go for it anyway?
I did feel out of place and I didn’t really go for it. There was nothing to go for, really, if you know what I mean. There was this enormous stage. It was a really tough room to warm up. You’re singing to 10,000 people who wanna hear ?Lonely Boy?. Black Keys fans are never gonna be Royal Headache fans.

You mentioned not liking much new music. Do you listen to a lot of older music right now then?
Yeah, yeah, I do.

What have you been listening to?
Everything, really, up until about the mid-?90s. I guess my favourites would be stuff like Stone Roses, Small Faces – obvious stuff, really. New Order. Mostly UK stuff – I find Americans a bit annoying, musically. Just old obvious crap that any old-fart kind of burnt-out dickhead in his 30s would listen to. Everything from British Invasion to Madchester.


What are you doing in terms of work and outside of music right now?
My parents give me a huge allowance. [Pause] I’m just kidding! I work in a call centre. I’ve worked in the same call centre for nine years. I have a teenager’s job. I have no future at all – anywhere.

Do you think this solo gig is the start of something?
Honestly I have to say I don’t know. I’m really unsure. I wanna do this show and then just see how it feels. See how people respond. I wanna do this show exactly the way I wanna do it, because if I keep doing music from this point on, that’s how I’m gonna do it. I don’t wanna have to bow to current tastes. So if people don’t like me the way I am, I’m not interested in doing it.

So I’m gonna try it. There’s every chance it could be disastrous, but that doesn’t frighten me. It will just be an indicator of which way to go from there on. I’ve already publically embarrassed myself so many times I can’t remember, so it’s not a concern to me.

As long as you’re doing what you want to do. It’s better to fail at that than succeed at something you don’t want to do.
Yeah, fuckin? A. I completely agree. And sometimes Royal Headache – towards the end at least – did feel like me succeeding at something I didn’t wanna succeed at. That was fucked.

+

####Shogun will play at Vivid LIVE’s GoodGod Tin Pan Alley on Friday, May 30 at the Sydney Opera House’s Joan Sutherland Theatre, along with Bart Willoughby, Montero, Donny Ben’t and Penny Penny. Tickets [here](http://www.vividsydney.com/events/goodgod-tin-pan-alley-2).