Royal City always said they were a “little band,” singing broken love songs about mud in the corner. Despite this, they made their distinctive mark in the underground alt-folk music scene during their too-brief tenure.
The band was formed in 1999 in Guelph, Ontario, but soon made Toronto their home. The original line-up included Aaron Riches (guitar, vocals, banjo, harmonica), Jim Guthrie (guitar), Simon Osborne (bass), Nathan Lawr (drums) and Evan Gordon (guitar). Evan left the band in 2000, and Lonnie James replaced Nathan on drums in 2003.
Royal City married old-timey melodies and raw, idiosyncratic wordplay with a penchant for finding beauty in off-kilter chord progressions, ambitious arrangements and rollicking rhythms. They could be cryptic, earnest, spooky, funny, quiet, loud—in the same song, it was a potent brew.
In five years, the band made three records (2000’s At Rush Hour the Cars, 2001’s Alone at the Microphone, 2004’s Little Heart’s Ease); helped to co-found their record label, Three Gut Records; received a Juno Award nomination (Canada’s equivalent of the Grammys); toured across Canada and in the U.S., the UK and Europe; saw their records released worldwide by Rough Trade; and collaborated with friends including James Ogilvie, Leslie Feist, Sufjan Stevens, Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy), Bob Wiseman, Jonny James and Edwyn Collins.
Without realizing it at the time, Royal City played their last show in London, England in July 2004. Currently there are no plans to reconvene. Royal City 1999–2004 is a posthumous collection of B-sides, rarities and unreleased tracks spanning the band’s entire recorded output. It will be Royal City’s final release.