Royal Ruckus started with three high school kids in 1998 in Bakersfield, California. While initially the whole thing was a bit of a joke, when people responded well to their quirky humor and unconventional style of hip-hop, they decided to take it more seriously. Several people have been members of Royal Ruckus, but Michael Walker and Jamey Bennett have been the two constants.
By 2006 or so, Mike and Jamey were living in Nashville, had released a number of projects, got picked up (and dropped off) by Flicker Records, and had played across the U.S. from coast to coast, as well as Hawaii. Somehow Mexico and Ukraine even got involved. Since then, they’ve had a few releases, but together, until now, have not released all new material since 2002.
Recently, work began in earnest by Mike and Jamey on an all new Ruckus record that would highlight an older, more mature Royal Ruckus, lyrically, musically, and personally. Simultaneous with this work, Jamey was working on a “solo” project under the name Chunjay of Royal Ruckus. As is their habit, Mike was involved in this one a bit, too, and it became clear that these two records belonged together as a single project. The Summer of the Cicadas double LP is the fruit of this effort.
Royal Ruckus has shared the stage or recorded with Phantom Planet, Eligh of Living Legends, Kid Static, Pigeon John, Pillar, Superchic[k], Jeremiah Dirt, Shadow of the Locust, KJ-52, Plus One, Future Shock, The Rappin’ Duke, Pigeon John, LA Symphony, John Reuben, Spoken Nerd, Newsong, Tait, Todd Agnew, The Swift, KRUM, DJ Sean P, Mars ILL, DeepSpace5, GRITS, Redcloud, Joy Electric, Starflyer 59, Violet Burning, Sackcloth Fashion, Burlap to Cashmere, Shaded Red, Fold Zandura, Craig’s Brother, and others.
Mike and Jamey long ago left Nashville; Mike currently resides in Austin, Texas, and Jamey in South Florida. Most of the record was recorded in Texas, with the assistance of Krum and DJ Sean P.
Jamey has been variously known as Chunjay, Cleva MC, Sooperman, Afanasy, Athanasios, JustJamey, and other such names. Mike has been known as Flatline, MPWalker, Mr. Blonde, and other names we won’t mention at this point. Why do rappers complicate things, so?
- Microphone (5/1998) – LP
- Love Us Or Leave Us (4/1999) – LP
- Oldies Hits for 2000!! (1999) – Flatline beat project, LP
- The Happy Bug! (1999) – Chunjay solo project, EP
- Sweatin’ to the Oldies (2000) – Best of with rarities, replacing previous releases, LP (multi-media disc)
- Not What You Expect (1/2000) – EP
- Pocket Lint & Spare Change (2001) – EP
- Royal Ruckus and the Wonderful, Wonderful World of Chocolate (2002) – Best of with some new material, replacing all previous releases except Pocket Lint, LP (multi-media disc)
- Self-Titled (11/2002) – Flicker Records, LP
- Break-Ups & Break-Downs (4/2003) – Chunjay solo project, limited release LP
- Pocket Lint & Spare Change—Deluxe Edition (8/2008) – Extended edition of previous release, with some new material, LP
- Rumors of Our Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated (3/2011) – LP
- Seventeen Candles (11/2015) – Rarities and demos, LP
- Lonely Christmas (12/2016) – EP
- The Summer of the Cicadas (2/2017) – Double LP
Mike and Jamey Interview Each Other (Sort of…)
Jamey (6/11/16): Hello, Michael. Let’s start the interview. How dare you?
Mike (6/14/16): Well, after hardly any thought or deliberation I thought it best to go with my gut and do all the dares. Usually I settle for “truth” but the timing was just right.
Jamey (6/15/16): Good, but you have to ask me a question back. Otherwise I’m just interviewing you!
Jamey (6/21/16): I’ve been waiting for a question for six days! Admittedly, that was your birthday, but I worked on my birthday!
Mike (6/22/16): restart:
> Hello, Michael. Let’s start the interview. How dare you?
Well, after hardly any thought or deliberation I thought it best to go with my gut and do all the dares. Usually I settle for “truth” but the timing was just right. Such as with our new album. The timing is right. It’s been 5 years since Rumors of Our Demise and we’re both in a position to pump out more music after all we’ve been through since that release.
So speaking of Rumors, what would you say is the thread that is tying this new album with the last one?
Jamey (6/26/16): That’s a really great question, Mike. And we have both done a lot of living, both painful and amazing in the five years since that release. Wooooo boy. I agree man, the time is right.
For one thing, Rumors was our first attempt at really making a thematic-type project, but since many of those songs were already written, the theme was maybe not as clear. In this case, we pretty much wrote the record from scratch in the last year and a half (with the exception of a few songs originating with you, but we chose songs that fit the story).
Rumors was the first time we every really seriously dealt with the topic of death and our own individual mortality. I mean, Rumors has us dead in coffins on the cover. That’s a big leap for a group that used to rap about chickens and whether or not to wear shampoo at the zoo. How metal is that?
We also dealt with the death of relationships in Rumors. I think The Summer of the Cicadas double album is the next logical progression of Ruckus from Rumors to now. This same theme runs throughout the album, honing in on life and death, joy and sorrow, fresh relationship and dead relationship.
Oh, and on Rumors I think we broke new ground musically, and Summer is going to blow that out of the water.
So speaking of music…why are you the way you are? I mean, why are you?
Jamey (7/20/16): So speaking of music…why are you the way you are? I mean, why are you? 🙂
Jamey (7/24/16) (interviewer): So, Jamey, Mike is not responding to your interview questions. So I’ll interview you for a minute.
Jamey: That dingus! I thought he was a hunk.
Jamey (interviewer): It’s okay. He has kids, and apparently all you do is work on this album and your other job. I’m not even sure you sleep.
Jamey: I don’t really.
Jamey (interviewer): So how’d you get the idea for The Summer of the Cicadas?
Jamey: That’s a great question, Jamey. A couple years ago I was driving around Miami visiting clients and listening to NPR’s All Songs Considered. They were featuring several tracks from bands that hadn’t released anything in a while, and one of the hosts joked that it was a “musical cicada summer” or something and that all these bands came out and made a ruckus at the same time after such a long time of being dormant. Dormant. Make a major ruckus. Fall back to earth. I knew it was the perfect metaphor for the long absence and sudden emergence of Royal Ruckus we were planning. On top of that, we had been discussing delving into heavier topics, discussing failed relationships, that sort of thing. Once I threw it out to Mike, he was absolutely down for it. It took us a couple years to flesh out exactly how it was going to go, and some of the finalities only took shape a few months ago.
Jamey (interviewer): So how does the metaphor apply to the album?
Jamey: Well, we used it as an underlying principle when writing each song, and particularly as it relates to the brevity of life and relationships. We actually didn’t start with a narrative, we started with the metaphor as a guiding theme. Over time, however, it became clear that if we put the songs in a particular order, we could tell a story. That was when I started referring to the lead character of the story as “Jimmy Cicada,” and his love interest as “Sally Cicada.” It’s kinda like Eminem’s character Rabbit in 8Mile—Rabbit is Eminem, and it’s fairly autobiographical, but many components have been embellished or obscured. By putting these various songs in the order we did, we tell a heart-breaking love story, that is true, but not exactly.
Jamey (interviewer): And what’s up with Rebirth: The Lone Gunmen? Cicadas don’t have no dramn guns.
Jamey: True. And part of the reason that title is there is because it was meant initially to be a different album and a different metaphor. I was going to put out a solo album. The metaphor for that is meant to capture the tension in life between being an individual and living in community and relationship with others. To capture that tension, I wanted to load the solo record with a ton of guest spots, so that it would be both solo and community.
But back to the subject matter and of writing two albums at the same time? Yeah, kinda the same sorts of things were on my mind. And the more I wrote for that one, the more I felt like the Ruckus album was Act I and the solo album was Act II, essentially the aftermath of the first act.
Jamey (interviewer): So how personal is this project?
Jamey: Oh, man, deeply personal. And some songs hit closer to home than others. People who know us are likely to read all sorts of things into the albums, based on our life histories, play guessing games about what situations are being discussed. But to do that is sort of to miss the point. This isn’t Taylor Swift; no need to pin the tabloid tail on the song. There are many situations that inspired these songs. Some of them are my experiences coming out of Mike’s mouth, or Mike’s experiences coming out of mine.
Jamey (interviewer): This is far too self-indulgent. It’s time to look back over at Mike. Mike, if you don’t want to answer why you are the way that you are, maybe you can comment on my above self-indulgence.
Jamey (8/18/16): Forwards to Mike again…
Jamey (8/22/16): Hi, Mike! Are you quitting the interview?
Jamey sends a number of text messages to Mike, all ignored. Time passes. Mike agrees to do an interview with PurpleBars.com. That is to be accepted as the completion of this interview.
Purple Bars (1/24/17): Tell us about yourself and your music.
Jamey: We are a rap duo originally out of Bakersfield, California, and various life situations have placed Flatline in Austin, Texas, and I’m in South Florida. We tend to be positive and fun, and rap a lot about girls.
Mike: We have a subtle twisted sense of humor that isn’t always picked up on first listen to our music. Musical and lyrical references abound. We wear our hearts and our ears on our sleeves, so to speak.
Purple Bars: How would you describe your sound?
Mike: A blend of modern electro pop with 90’s boom-bap beats has been the driving influence in our sound for our most recent releases. I’m influenced from a wide range of musical inspiration that I really enjoy incorporating into our projects. Lyrically we range from getting nostalgic about the what-was-and-could-have-been, to crafting ridiculous premises occasionally filled with inside jokes and references.
Jamey: Yeah, that’s right. We actually started as a joke. I was the “rap guy” (though I’m inspired by all sorts of music) and Flatline was not a rap guy, so he brings something unique to the table. We end up with a very cross-genre sound. On the second half of the new double-LP, you get more of the classic boom-bap influence, and a lot of rock-ish distortion guitar. On the first half you get a lot more electro-pop. It’s a fun, fresh mix.
Purple Bars: Talk about the experience making your new album.
Jamey: Our latest project is a double LP entitled The Summer of the Cicadas, and is dropping February 3, 2017. It was a true labor of love for us. Originally intended to be two separate records: a Royal Ruckus project and my solo project, over time it became clear that the two belonged together as one. On top of that, Flatline is on like 6 or 7 songs on the solo project, so it really makes a lot of sense putting them together.
We had fun working with old and new friends on the new album. We called in a lot of favors from old friends, out of love for relationships we developed in the past. It was truly a joy to work with all these folks, most of whom worked from afar, from east to west.
Mike: Technology is helping make this world a little smaller in terms of the ability to collaborate and create with others. What was once novel over a decade ago is now commonplace in modern recording. This double album is a testament to our vision and hard work to put out the best material we have to date and we were able to do it together, apart, and with friends from across the country. Truly a modern piece of art.
Purple Bars: What are you currently working on? Any new projects? Shows?
Mike: As a group we are working on the possibility of performing a handful of live shows for 2017 in support of our new album. Independently, we both are always striving to keep up our creative output. I plan on releasing a small batch of music over the next year with my MPWalker solo project as well as writing and performing with some local jazz/rock musicians in Austin, TX.
Jamey: Yeah, I’m cooking up both solo and group shows. Pretty much everywhere I go, I’m going to be pushing it as Royal Ruckus, not as a solo act. This is the year of Royal Ruckus. I’ve been writing new songs, and have already recorded a collaboration song with me and our pal Spoken Nerd. But my focus right now is this double LP, and until that has run its course, everything else is under wraps.
Purple Bars: What has been your biggest highlight in your music career thus far?
Jamey: We had a few years living in Nashville and being signed to a record label there. It opened a lot of doors for us, and we made a lot of friendships with some really great folks in the industry. That, and doing songs with some of us our musical heroes, like Pigeon John, Eligh of Living Legends, and 80’s rap icon, The Rappin’ Duke.
Mike: There are times I have taken the opportunities afforded to me for granted, but I am very honored to have been able to receive the support from my family and friends to produce and perform the kind of music that has been brewing up inside me. Although I have played great shows in front of large crowds and opened up for many big acts, I have found the creation and completion of this project to be the biggest highlight of my career so far. I feel like the best is still yet to come.
Jamey: I’m glad you said that, Dude. Out of all the things we’ve done, this new record is the thing I am most proud. It’s funny, we always said that this next record was “the best to come,” and yet, like you, I’m pretty excited to see what is next, too.
Purple Bars: Name your ideal collaboration: mainstream or independent artist(s).
Mike: I would love to do work with some of the artists I’m influenced by, especially Animal Collective, Grimes, and Tame Impala. Things could get real weird but still stay really poppy.
Jamey: Oh man, if we’re dreaming out of the box, I’d love to do a rap song with Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest and Adrock from Beastie Boys, with Flatline and DJ Muggs co-producing the beat. Bananas. That would be bananas. That said, the new album features a song called “Lost Boys” that I did with Eligh of Living Legends and Cookbook of LA Symphony. That was a pretty amazing accomplishment. Such a dope song.
Purple Bars: Name something random that people do not know about you.
Jamey: I used to drive a convertible Chrysler LeBaron, which was painted as one big Royal Ruckus graffiti mural. I used to pick my nose and store the winnings underneath the front seat. I would tell people in my car that I was cultivating a booger farm.
Mike: Chunjay’s story is 100% true and still makes me queasy hearing about it. My story is less random and more of a guilty pleasure; Jamey and I are big taco fanatics. I have family in the taco business here in Austin, too. Despite the taco snobbery, I occasionally sneak out to Taco Bell late at night for their $1 menu. I usually pay for it with my body the next day, however.
Jamey: Shhhhhhh… (Me too.)
Purple Bars: What’s one thing you have learned or discovered while being in the music scene/industry?
Mike: “If it sounds good, it is good,” a quote attributed to Duke Ellington; I keep this in mind when reminding myself that it’s not about having the most expensive, most up-to-date gadgets and studio hardware and software. I’m able to use the tools and instruments that I have available to me to their full extent and produce the kind of sound that I’m aiming for, and it sounds good, then I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing, and I find great freedom in that.
Jamey: It takes hard work, the music industry. I don’t care how many people you have on your team, you won’t get any farther than you’re willing to go busting your own ass. Taylor Swift is probably one of the hardest working musicians in the world, or at least was until she got enough money to pay people to give her some slack, and even then she’s probably up there. If you want it, you go get it, and do whatever it takes to get there through hard work and building relationships. An artist’s growth and success (or failure) is 80% on his shoulders.
Purple Bars: What can we expect from you in the future?
Jamey: You know, it’s hard to say exactly what the future holds, but I am going to take this Cicada project as far as I can. This is our most ambitious project ever, and the best music we’ve ever put together as a group. I want to get this music into as many ears as possible, and share the joys and the sorrows of our tunes.
Mike: In addition to support for the new album, I have a five-track EP I plan on releasing as MPWalker sometime in 2017 and will likely start performing live with a group of avant garde jazz artists here in Austin this year as well.
Purple Bars: Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Jamey: You can check us out on Facebook and Instagram at @royalruckusofficial, and on Twitter and Soundcloud at @royalruckus. Our website SummerOfTheCicadas.com is a one-stop hub for all things related to our new project, media interviews, live shows, and picking up copies of the CD, if you’re a collector. The website has all our lyrics, and super cool info about the artwork behind the project.
Mike: Eat your veggies.