What happened to Royal City?

Or perhaps, why should you care who Royal City was?

I figure the last couple posts I’ve done on music and Christianity might give the impression that I’m some sort of traditionalist when it comes to music in the church. I’m really not, it’s just that there’s so much that’s terribly, terribly wrong with how the church in North America does modern music.

Anyway, here’s another pick, this time it’s Toronto indie rock circa 2004. If you can track it down I highly recommend Little Heart’s Ease by Royal City. It was released on the now-defunct Three-Gut record label. This would prove to be the last release by Royal City as frontman Aaron Riches “got married, went back to school, and seemed to lose all interest in making music” as I (heart) music puts it.

So what happened to this little Toronto band and why am I using them as a sort of guide to making better Christian art? Since neither the band nor the record label are around any more, I sort of have to piece it together from a lot of googling and the like. You can hear a sample of their alt-country-tinged music at the CBC Radio 3 archives, but that’s about it online. They’ve all but disappeared from the internet. Think back to 2004 though, this was the moment when Canadian indie rock was about to explode. Think Broken Social Scene, Metric, The Stars, The Arcade Fire, Feist et cetera. Royal City certainly could have rode that wave too, Feist played guitar for them briefly right before they broke up, and Arcade Fire opened for them – in other words, they had the connections. So what happened? Whilst being an indie-rock front man it seems that Aaron Riches had experienced some kind of acceptance of Christianity.

The net result was an album chock full of Christian themes and images that avoids the usual pitfalls of Christian rock. Little Heart’s Ease managed to be direct in its images, lots about the crucifixion and resurrection there and not the usual vagueness. It’s not triumphalism, it’s not vocative commands for the audience. This is an album that is more talking to God than about God.

So when Aaron Riches left indie rock what did he do? Well instead of writing some kind of tell-all autobiography or starting yet another para-church ministry (the usual thing that converted muscians/celebrities tend to do), Riches is quietly working away at his PhD at the Centre of Theology and Philosophy at Nottingham University. The most recent thing I could find about him on the internet was that he presented a paper and was on a panel at some conference at Baylor last year.