In late 2015, Walker & Royce were at a crossroads. Having earned the acclaim of labels like Crosstown Rebels and Pets Recordings, they were, by most people’s standards, successful. Yet there was a problem: they were stagnant. The project wasn’t growing at a sustainable rate.
Gavin Royce, one half of the house duo, recalls asking himself: “Are we at the high point of this? Do I need to go back and get another job?” The situation was worsened by increasing pressure from friends and family: “All these people were like ‘look, we love you, we’re here to support you, but what are you doing?’”
And then they caught the attention of Barclay Crenshaw (a.k.a Claude Vonstroke), who signed them to his underground imprint, Dirtybird — and those unsure thoughts faded away.
It all started when Justin Martin began playing out the duo’s music in 2015. Before they knew it, Walker & Royce found themselves on the lineup for the inaugural Dirtybird Campout. “We’re not even still sure how we got booked,” Sam Walker says. “Barclay didn’t even really know us.”
The pair’s Campout appearance eventually paved the way for their official induction into the Dirtybird family in 2016 with their debut EP for the label, Boy. One year later, Gavin Royce and Sam Walker have found themselves riding high on an unprecedented wave of success for their collaborative house music project, Walker & Royce. From the pervasive popularity of their quirky dance floor bomb “Take Me To Your Leader,” to their recent headlining set at Dirtybird Campout, they’ve had the kind of serendipitous second wind in their career that most artists yearn for but never receive.
The momentum is epitomized by the fact that the pair are currently gearing up for their first full-length album for Dirtybird, Self Help. It’s a bit of a departure (or rather an expansion) from the duo’s patented brand of wonky club material. While the LP is undoubtedly full of Walker & Royce’s signature off-kilter dance floor flair, the larger focus has clearly been shifted from eccentric sound design to songwriting.
“We wanted to write music that was more accessible and less niche,” Walker says. “It’s more of a challenge to write songs — to write things that have more of a shelf life.”
Accordingly, the album is dominated by vocal-driven compositions. The track list, for instance, features everyone from Chicago legend Green Velvet to Australian rap upstart Sophie Grophy. The music itself weaves through everything from bumping tech house, to deeper hip hop-influenced jams. “We were able to branch out a little bit more.” Royce says. “It expanded the boundaries for us.”
The album’s diversity is perhaps best exemplified by the closing track, “Need Ya,” which Billboard Dance is exclusively premiering today (Oct. 18). Featuring vocals from Forrest, the lush, 909-infused tune is about as vibrant as you’ll hear from the duo. “We’re almost going for an Animal Collective kind of vibe with it,” Walker says. “It’s like indie techno,” Royce adds.
The closing track ultimately caps off what is an important milestone for the pair. More than just a cleverly rendered 10-track album on Dirtybird, Self Help is an affirmation of the duo’s own personal triumph. While the title of the album offers a friendly jab at the prevalence of self-help culture in 2017, it also serves as a reflection of Walker & Royce’s own artistic journey.
“We’ve been working on this project for 6 years or so,” Walker says. “It’s taken a while with us. You just have to keep going. You have to believe that you’re doing the right thing and keep pushing forward.”
Walker & Royce’s Self Help album is due out on Dirtybird on Oct. 20 and can be pre-ordered here.