BEHIND THE SONG: Royal Tusk fears Shadow of Love

Royal Tusk GigCity EdmontonOne of the reasons there are so many heartbreak songs is that heartbreak songs are usually written by musicians, and musicians are often on the road, which is a difficult place from which to maintain a committed relationship. So: heartbreak songs.

The public may get a skewed outlook on love from this sort of material, but they can’t get enough of it. Like thousands of heartbreak songs in history, and the heartbreak song being examined today: Royal Tusk’s Shadow of Love, the truly stand-out rock single from the Edmonton band’s debut EP, Mountain, released last year. Write what you know.

“The concept is most definitely based in reality,” says lead singer Daniel Carriere, who wrote the song almost two years ago with bassist Sandy MacKinnon in his living room. “I’m fascinated with the collateral damage of a relationship gone wrong.”

Royal Tusk GigCity EdmontonAsked for specifics, he goes on, “Probably every relationship I’ve ever been in. It really isn’t a specific case. It’s just the fact I’ve been touring in a band since I was 17 years old and I’m 30 now, and the one thing you learn about being a touring musician and trying to maintain healthy relationships back home is that it can be tough. It’s hard to have a normal life. All your priorities are out of sync. Everything is a little jilted.”

Out came Shadow of Love, a tale of romantic baggage of the past casting a “shadow” on the present. The song starts with a catchy four-chord pattern in a bouncy pop groove that sets the scene on a man who’d just done “what I said I’d never do.” While the heinous deed is never specified in the lyrics, it’s clear he did the unthinkable: he told his new girlfriend the truth about his past relationships. The man feels conflicted about this, on one hand saying he should’ve listened to his friends when they told him to lie, and his mom who said he should tell the truth. Either way, he’s screwed. The man laments, “I’m done like the dinner that I never made for you.” Maybe that was his first mistake. Dinner first, talk later.

Moving on, we roll our way from the song’s deceptively light verse to a heavier riff-laden B-section, as our protagonist throws it back at her, “But how about you?” before launching into the catchy gang vocal chorus, “No matter what you said, no matter how you said, it never meant much anyhow, ‘cause I’m the one you love, and I know how it was to give a love that gets around.” In short, will you cheat on me, too? The road, as we know, is full of temptations. It doesn’t bode well for the couple as the song veers hard left into a clever modulation and the key line, “Even I the dark I’m scared of my shadow of love” before a killer guitar hook and another key change brings us back home to the verse.

Great song. Production is pro, performance is flawless, the hooks are solid, it’s radio-friendly without trying too hard, and melodically it’s just offbeat enough to grab your attention, but not too weird to turn off the radio-listening masses. Given the harmonic elegance in the chord changes, it’s no surprise that Carriere is an alumnus of MacEwan University’s music program, though he was also touring at the time with his old punk rock band Ten Second Epic, which was recently shelved to make way for Royal Tusk.

Carriere doesn’t quote radio chart numbers, but he says Shadow of Love did well across Canada, and the band is now gearing up to record their full-length album in Toronto in November – but you can still hear that tune on the radio. That’s a good sign it’s not just a fluke. There are a number of examples of indie hits being picked up and rereleased by major labels to even greater success a year or two later: Foster the People and Sam Roberts, to name two. There is no reason to think it won’t happen with Royal Tusk.

Their fans love it, too. The song occupies a place of honour in their set – at the end of the show, “So people will stick around and wait for the tune,” Carriere says, spoken like a man with a hit on his hands. These songs can take on a life of their own, becoming a member of the band, a demanding diva, an albatross around one’s neck they’ll never get rid of. And if Royal Tusk is to go down in history as a one-hit wonder after their first try – no shame in that – this is a pretty good one.

Carriere says with a laugh, “I don’t think it was that big a hit. We literally just started. We don’t have a record out. We have one EP, and that’s the lead single on it. Who knows what the future holds? But I feel like we’re just revving up to something really great.”