Running on rugged individualism, Steve and The Royal Motel has released their resonating first single, “I Dream of Sunshine,” on October 14th.
Steve and The Royal Motel – which is pioneered by songwriter Steve Caruso – is an Americana-meets-classic-rock project based in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, and formed during the thick of the pandemic in 2020.
Caruso is no stranger to the music industry or being in bands. He picked up a six-string at 16-years-old, and wrote songs and gigged obsessively for a handful of years. As it often does, life caught up with him, so he made plans to settle down and get a “more stable job.” But 20 years later when the pandemic hit, he shook off the cobwebs, rediscovered his love of music-making, and got back in the saddle.
The new single, “I Dream of Sunshine,” touches on the darkness and coldness we all endure in its many forms, and our hunger for sunshine, whether that’s literal or figurative. Lyrically it listens a bit dark but with hope, and melodically it’s upbeat and catchy with an almost Joe Cocker-like classic pop-rock feel. The vintage late-60s vibe is in full swing on this track, and presents intrigue for what Steve has in the works next.
We got the chance to chat with Caruso to learn more about the new project, the new single, and much more.
In your bio you state you’ve “jumped ships and switched horses more times than you can count.” Can you elaborate more on what that means?
Somewhere in my house I have an envelope with about 15 business cards in it. Each with my name on it and a different title. My average time at a job is about 1.5 years. Some were as short as 6 months. One lasted almost 3 years. Before that I dropped out of college twice. Nothing sticks. I get bored. I get tired of the politics and I hit the bricks. There have only been two constants in my adult life: songwriting and my wife. My ‘career’ is a messy bit of business.
I guess ‘more times than I can count’ is a bit of hyperbole. I’ve switched horses about 15 times.
In what ways have these jobs and experiences helped or inspired your songwriting? Or hasn’t it?
Some of my songs are directly about the jobs I’ve done. My work includes travel. I have been driving the part of the world I live in for years, and that time alone in the seat of a car has been, if lonely, inspiring. Some songs are about places or people I’ve met along the way. Driving gives me time for reflection and allows my imagination to run.
I see you stopped making music 20 years ago and got back into it again during the pandemic. Was it strictly reborn out of lockdown? Could you discuss what specifically motivated you to write and record again?
I’ve been writing songs continually. It’s a flow that I can’t seem to stop. They live as fragments in voice memos on my phone until I can work them out later. For years I made poorly produced demos and kept them locked away on my hard drive.
What was born out of lockdown was a burning desire to perform again. The last few years I’ve been jumping from one sales job to another. I’m good at it because I like to be on stage. During the pandemic, I lost my job. It was then I realized that I wasn’t satisfied. I kept making lists of what I wanted, where I wanted to be, how I wanted to live. Selling widgets to industrial clients was nowhere on the list.
I went into the studio and recorded six songs. Four brand new and two a bit older. At that point the goal was just to get them made. The motivation was a desire to be myself. To come out to the world as who I am.
What is Sudbury, Ontario like? What’s the music scene like there specifically?
Sudbury is small. The music scene is a microcosm of living in a small city. Everyone knows everyone.
When you’re from someplace small it can be hard to talk about it. The music scene here is like one of my siblings. I can say shitty things about it to other people from here, but if you’re from somewhere big I get defensive of the parts I love. We’re small town people here. We look out for each other in the face of criticism from outside, but we love sticking it to each other later.
What about this band – Steve and The Royal Motel – is different from the bands you have been in previously?
I cooked up the idea of being a ‘band’ as part of the project. On the record there’s a band. Jeanette Dowling, Matt Foy, Pepper Adams and Danny Laj. But, I’m “Royal Motel”. The project name came way before I went into the studio with those folks.
I needed a way to separate Steve Caruso, father of two and somewhat upstanding member of the community, from the music project. It’s a mental hack. When Royal Motel comes to your city, it will be with a band. The motel needs staff to be open to the public. 😉
You had your new single, “I Dream of Sunshine,” come out October 14th. What’s the inspiration and influence behind it?
The new single came out of left field one very dark night in February. I think February is the saddest month. I had set up a laptop and microphone in a quiet corner of our family home, and when the kids went to sleep, I would go there and pour myself into creating melodies and lyrics. As with so many songs with sad lyrics, it kinda came out as a happy sounding. The original demo was much slower, and everything I sang during that time was at a whisper so as not to wake anyone up.
What about this song made you choose it to be the debut single from Steve & The Royal Motel?
It’s about winter. It’s October now. It’s dark early here and the nights are getting cold. I dream of sunshine everytime I wake up and it’s still dark. I dream of it some more when I get home from work and it’s dark already. Sunshine is a mood enhancer. The lack of it can really bring you down.
What are you hoping that fans take away from this song?
I know when I listen to a song I often don’t catch much of the lyrics the first time through. I’m hoping people like the melody and that the arrangement speaks to them. The lyrics are a bit sad but hopeful, which is what winter is all about for me. It’s dark. Things are hard. But even in February the days are getting longer. Everyday it’s getting better. Spring will be here soon enough.
Who are some of your own music influences? Did any artists in particular inspire the sound of your new single?
I love J.J. Cale, Neil Young and Leon Redbone. At that time, I was listening to a lot of Bobby Charles. His self-titled album was a big inspiration. Not sure if it comes through in the music at all. I also love a bit more traditional music. Elizabeth Cotton, Doc Watson and Mississippi John Hurt. I listen to a lot of Jazz and funk as well but this project has a more Americana feel. Maybe the next project will be a bit funkier.
What else might the fall have in store for you, and what might fans expect going forward?
We’ve got a tour in the works. No details to share right now, but I’m excited to get out on the road to share these songs. I’ve got three more singles on deck and an EP to follow. I’ve also written a bunch of songs over the last while and I’m looking forward to taking them into the studio. Beyond that, hunting season is coming up and I’ve got lots of cross country skiing to do this winter.