Behind the Music: Royce Hall

Royce Hall stands in front of a wall made of glass blocks.

Ethan talked to Royce Hall, a genre-bending Afro-futuristic/Black Liberation Soul/Funk/Hip-Hop music recording artist, multi-instrumentalist, arranger, composer, MC , vocalist, and actor based in Atlanta, GA (dang, impressive!). We’re inspired by how enmeshed in music they are since birth, and their expansive artistic pursuits. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. All photos courtesy of Phallyn Stimage.

Ethan: What begot your deep interest in songwriting as a creative practice?

Royce: The inception of my deep interest in songwriting was truly organic and a part of my childhood. The ways music made me feel created a gravitation towards sound. I didn’t quite understand every phrase that I heard but I knew the emotion it conjured. Anita Baker, Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke, Michael Jackson and Junior Walker and The Allstars were a few of the first artists to evoke creative interest in me. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Temptations, Alabama and The Oakridge Boys. All of these artists began their impact on me around the age of 2 or 3. My mom still plays music regularly. She introduced me to all of these artists. At age 3, she placed me in piano lessons. Immediately, my instructor saw my light as well. Connecting with an instrument, besides the recorder and a couple of other instruments in elementary chorus, gave me a different type of voice. The largest shift for me that wove the entire journey was when TLC released their first album. My best friends and I were huge fans and figured that the easiest way to meet them was to become famous rappers. This was the catalyst that brought me to formulating songs. We were in elementary school but somehow our brains processed the format of a song. Before we knew it, we were performing our songs in talent shows. Fast-forward, to a few years ago, I submitted some of my songs for consideration for their upcoming album. To actually sit in the studio with members of the group I admired, though we’d met in years past, and play MY songs –it was truly a full-circle moment to be invited for such. As a child and adult, I want to create songs that give my listeners that “feeling” that only a great song can.

E: Tell us about what it was like to grow up in a musical family? What skills did you learn as a kid that you’ve been able to use as an adult artist?

R: Growing up, music was constantly played in our household. My mom sings and sang around the house as I was growing up. My youngest aunt sings. My father plays several music instruments but as for my household, my mom constantly encouraged and introduced me to great music. This was and is a great influence on my skill set. Being vulnerable, transparent, aware of my feelings, and hungry to learn more and study my craft are skills that I embraced as a kid that I’ve been able to use as an adult. They all assist me with expressing myself.

E: What would an ideal day look like for you in Atlanta? 

R: An ideal day for me in Atlanta would consist of filming on a major network production or film as a starring, co-starring or recurring character; enjoying great food and beautiful, warm weather; recording a song wherein I truly love the outcome; collaborating with artists I love; and spending time relaxing with my partner.

E: Where do you like to create music? Tell us about the ideal environment where you feel most motivated to create?

R: I like to create music in a free-flowing space. This can be my bedroom while freestyling to a track, in the bathroom or in the car. Lyrics seem to come to me organically during these moments. The ideal environment for me to create is somewhere comfortable, with my shoes off and open space.

E: How do you get into a state of “flow” when you are creating?

R: In order for me to get into the state of flow when creating, I simply sing or rap whatever comes to mind, while the track is playing. If I do not have a particular track, I do the same thing however I either have a track produced for it specifically or find one in my possession that fits what I’ve created. Lyrics and melodies flow to me at random times and my mind is more often than not in a space of creativity.

E: What is the place of the creator in this new, modern and technologically oriented world of short attention spans, clickbait, and streaming services? You do many different things—sing, MC, write, etc…

R: The place of the creator in this world is still as it was prior to—at least to me. The only difference being is creating ways to maximize my art—creating multiple ways to reach people. Also, finding my niche, developing and expanding it, and knowing my audience keeps me connected to the people but also my art. I definitely utilize the streaming platforms and such but I don’t ever want to align my art and gifts with a gimmick. It’s so easy to do so. I want my audience to connect with me and vice versa. In this new world, I’ve learned to stay true to my core but also know who I’m creating for and why. Otherwise, it can become discouraging.

E: If you could imagine something that the songwriting world, the modern songwriter, really needs, what would it be?

Something that the modern songwriter needs is authenticity in expression.

E: How have you found collaborating to be during this lockdown?

R: I’ve spent a lot of time expanding my brand for my books, resting, filming and recording—being an open-minded creative. This time allows me to be available to the process that previously may have been interrupted by other tasks. I have been able to reach individuals that, prior to the pandemic, were seemingly impossible to connect with. I have recorded some music in the studio, including my current single, and some audio-visual content, but I also took time to receive inspirational, divine guidance for how to fully materialize ideas. So, I’m quite excited about what I will release soon.

E: What legacy do you hope to leave from your music?

R: The legacy that I hope to leave from my music is one of soulful inspiration, heartfelt songs, songs that liberate people, songs that connect them to love and enlightenment, songs that amplify and affirm intersectionality, songs that influence positive dialogue, songs that are timeless and classic, songs that deliver relatable messages. A legacy of timeless love and liberation.

In this new world, I’ve learned to stay true to my core but also know who I’m creating for and why.

You can follow Royce and all the incredible work they do on their

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By Ethan Clift

Ethan is Co-founder and CEO of Tonic Audio. His favorite things to do are sew quilts, make art, make music, and his morning ritual of waking with Evie June, feeding the animals, coffee + a jaunt to the dog park with the pocket-sized yorkies). His favorite tool is a Nintendo Wii controller Allison hacked for him to use to control a synth during live performances.