Royel Otis Are The Inescapable Indie-Rock Sensation Making The Most Of It

22 February 2024 | 10:00 am | Emma Newbury

How did a couple of “young scoundrels”, as they describe themselves, make the world fall in love with them?

Royel Otis

Royel Otis (Credit: Alex Wall)

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When Royel Otis started producing their song Oysters In My Pocket, it wasn’t designed to be a main single. The song was written somewhere between the free crevices in a day and the sunroom of Royel Maddell’s home, recorded in the green-tinted hinterlands of Byron Bay with producer Chris Collins, and slotted into the duo’s sophomore EP Bar & Grill. Written about a life more elaborate than they could afford, the pair would end up manifesting exactly that.

It’s 9am and the two members of Royel Otis, respectively named Royel and Otis [Pavlovic] join me on a video call to chat music. The morning sun is pouring over Pavlovic, while Maddell values the art of concealment and keeps the camera off. They’ve got a day of production and rehearsals ahead of them; home for a bit before the escapades begin again.

The band have been shuffled around what they estimate at eight different places in the past month, including a stint on Los Angeles’ renowned KROQ, and a wild afternoon set at Tasmania’s Party In The Paddock festival. Maddell commented on Party In The Paddock: “It was really good, It was awesome just hanging out. We saw Petey. They’re from the States. It was so sick to watch them and to watch their set and it was just a good time hanging out side-of-stage.”

The list of shows doesn’t stop there, with a whopping 50-plus gigs already penciled into the duo’s calendars, starting with Australia as the springboard, projecting them across the expanses of major music markets North America and the UK. But how did a couple of “young scoundrels”, as they describe themselves, make the world fall in love with them?

While Pavlovic was raised a musical theatre child-wonder and Maddell was playing his way up the ranks of the Sydney punk scene, the two always seemed to have music at the heart of it all. A handful of demos exchanged from one to the other after a pub meet-cute would confirm that heart and form the basis for the titular duo, Royel Otis. The boys reflect on how 2019 was a double edged sword of a year to start out on: “There were pub shows but we were mainly recording because it was COVID, so we couldn’t really go out and play shows,” states Maddell. “We made the most of it though.”

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Although their upcoming Australian tour has just sold out, there were only 20 at the first ever Royel Otis gig, taking place at the Oxford Art Factory’s Gallery Bar when the pandemic was gracious enough to allow us all outside to a half-capacity venue where we couldn't stand, let alone dance. Maddell chuckles, “Yeah we took advantage. Our first sold-out show, at Oxford Art Gallery! To twenty people!”

The end-tail of the pandemic saw the duo’s songwriting reach the light of day with their first EP, Campus. The EP would do the rounds in the Sydney and Central Coast music circles, and become the first of the band’s projects released under record label OURNESS – the same group behind Genesis Owusu’s fame.

It wasn’t until a few years later that the wheels would really start to set in motion. 2022 brought about the second EP Bar & Grill, landing the band their debut on the triple j charts when Oysters In My Pocket reached #178 in the Hottest 200. Thanks to the unexpected success of the hit, Spotify wanted in and picked up the pair for the platform’s esteemed RADAR program, which has molded the careers of the likes of Genesis Owusu and Baker Boy.

2023 would see them jump drastically up the charts into the patriotic Hottest 100, this time placing #76 with Sofa King from the sister album of the same name. The tune would also peak at #43 on the ARIA Charts, leading the duo to a nomination for the Michael Gudinski Breakthrough Artist title at the 2023 ARIA Awards.  Rolling Stone described Sofa King as a “song you need to know”, while NME and The Daily Telegraph described the band as ones to watch.

When it comes to triple j, Royal Otis have a lot to be thankful for. For one, you’re either reading this article because you really like new music, or you heard that Like A Version cover. Midway through January, the duo were lucky enough to be invited into the triple j studio for their first crack at Like A Version – the broadcast’s scheme to have artists create a cover in their own style.

The group discussed their iconic cover of Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Murder On The Dancefloor: “We were trying to decide on songs last year when we first found out we’d be doing it. We were kind of thinking of doing Fred Again, but yeah... That was just a thought,” Pavlovic says.

“It’s funny because we were actually thinking of doing Sophie Ellis-Bextor ages ago. Like I just love that early 2000s kind of pop music,” adds Maddell. “Our manager, she was like, ‘Nah don’t do that one, it's not really relevant...’ and then of course the movie came out.”

Maddell is of course referring to the 2023 film Saltburn, starring Aussie actor Jacob Elordi alongside decorated Irish actor Barry Keoghan as the film’s protagonist. The boys chortle as we joke about the naked dance scene in the film, where Ellis-Bextor’s track features. “He always knows how to play good characters too,” adds Maddell, putting some respect on Keoghan’s name.

The stars seemingly aligned perfectly for the band, and so did the TikTok algorithm. In fact, something about TikTok and anything to do with Saltburn will amass views at this point, but it certainly helps that the nostalgic synths, strummy guitar and punchy drums of Royel Otis’ Like A Version itches the brain of a large portion of Australia's youth just perfectly. Many were also quick to comment online on how Pavlovic’s voice is able to sound so nonchalant, yet hit every note perfectly, along with Maddell’s harmonics that fit the melody like a glove.

Royel Otis well and truly crushed the brief on taking a hit and making it their own. At this very moment, there are nearly 30,000 videos under the audio on TikTok, over two million views on triple j’s YouTube, and over six million streams on Spotify. While the duo are absolutely rapt with the ever-growing reception, they admit they’re not really active on TikTok. They do find it funny, however, seeing all the different ways their audio is getting used.

It feels like the world has reached new heights with all the antics. I ask the boys if it feels intimidating. “Absolutely,” admits Maddell, the more cautious. “Yeah a little bit,” Pavlovic adds simultaneously, perhaps a little more at ease with the limelight given his past music and acting experience. They both agree it’s perplexing, seeing all the different ways the audio is being paired with online.

The duo also talk about their experience with the spotlight overall. Now being on par with some of Australia’s biggest artists, criticism is inevitable. On the subject of memorable events at festivals, Pavlovic brings up one particular incident where they were heckled seemingly out of nowhere, and it stuck with them.

“Some people can be cruel out there... They just make assumptions and they’re just way off, you know? But that’s okay. We’re all in it together,” Maddell says. Although he’s typically the talker in interviews, Maddell is way different in action, citing how pre-performance nerves can lead to intense nausea. He’s adopted to anonymity within the band, often showing as a figure cloaked behind a head of hair, contrasting next to the laidback poeticism that surrounds lead singer Pavlovic. For Maddell, the new red hair dye may have accidentally killed the anonymity: “I’ve been stopped in the street, and this guy just shouted out ‘murder!’ from the car.”

Royel Otis recently swapped the salty air and faint smell of SPF from their time between Byron and Bondi for the crisp and cold wind of London for their newest creation PRATTS & PAIN. The real Pratts & Payne is a pub, situated in South London a brisk walk away from producer Dan Carey (Wet Leg, Foals, Fontaines DC). The little nook on Streatham High Road is where many a night was spent after long spells of recording, a bowl of chips and a Guinness to one side, and sometimes even a few half-complete lyrics on the other.

When asked what the album is about, Pavlovic takes a pause, staring up at the ceiling; Maddell hums behind the camera. It's a big question, and they both admit there’s several intertwined themes: love, fights, being young and a bit stupid. This lack of a consistent theme has seen critics hesitate at putting the album in the five-star range, but in terms of mood, it will be easy to remember exactly where you were when you first hear this project. Think skin mottled with sweat and the aftertaste of an alcohol-inspired kiss on your breath; a beautifully warm sunset as the sun tucks itself away under the dashboard of your first car; a little bit of heartbreak – but Royel Otis promise to help you get through it.

PRATTS & PAIN is out now via OURNESS – head here to grab a copy.