Time tends to come at you quickly when there’s a lot to get done, and in Sergio Medina’s case, there certain has been. When Substream speaks to Medina, there are eleven days to go until his new band Royal Coda will release their debut self-titled album; he also works for Blue Swan Records and coordinated all of the details for the album’s release. “Is it already next Friday?,” he says with a laugh when the date was mentioned.
Medina has certainly been ready for the record to come out, and was sure to mention that a speedy roll-out for the record was intentional. “I have had that record in my back pocket since last July,” he explains, though it’s been a long process to get it to its current finished state. Last June, he found himself in a creative rut; ready to dive back in to music and make something new happen, he spent “about a month” flying back and forth between Las Vegas and New York, recording instrumentals for what was initially a solo record at VuDu Studios in Port Jefferson, NY.
When he was first putting songs together, Medina recorded using drum skeletons from former Stolas drummer Carlos Silva, as well as tracks another friend had sent. “I would take those home on my computer and kinda cut them up and make them a little different and then write a song,” he explains; the plan was to have Joseph Arrington – his long time bandmate in Sianvar and “one of my favorite drummers of all time… we really respect each other as musicians and we feed off each other really well” – come in and make the parts his own.
In October, after he’d finished tracking instruments, it was time for Medina to return to the studio to record vocals: without a vocalist in place, he stepped behind the mic, though it wasn’t easy to get started. “I kept having this hesitation,” he confesses, “I didn’t wanna record my own voice – I had never done it before, and I was just being really stubborn, but I was like, ‘Alright, if no one else is gonna do it, I gotta do it.'”
Different ideas were bounced around – Carlo Marquez of Stolas also recorded vocals for a song – but when Medina heard the first mixes of the record with his vocals on it, he decided he didn’t want to release the record as it was. “I’m sitting there listening to the mixes sometime in December with my vocals on it, and I’m hating it, I’m kinda having a panic attack cuz I’m really really nitpicky about my voice – I decide I don’t want to release it, and that left me with two choices. I either get someone else to sing on it, um, or I just don’t put it out and I take a loss.”
Sometimes, a moment of panic can drive you to think on your feet, and make decisions to move quickly: wanting to find a way to put the record out, Medina reached out to Kurt Travis (formerly of A Lot Like Birds and Dance Gavin Dance) about recording vocals. He then talked with VuDu Studios owner (and the producer / mixer of the record) Mike Watts about having Travis come in to record vocals, and reached out to Blue Swan Records’ owner Will Swan about putting it out on the label; not 24 hours after Medina had first panicked, flights were booked to finish the record with Travis.
Yet Royal Coda’s lineup still wasn’t complete. Travis and Arrington had both played in A Lot Like Birds; not wanting to step on toes, Medina’s initial plan was just to make the record, without turning it in to a full band or touring on it. As he and Travis brainstormed and began writing before flying out to New York, they soon agreed that they had to tour on the record and play the songs live. Still not sure if Arrington would be on board to join the full band, Medina met up with him for breakfast where he brought it up: “So I went and had breakfast with him, I asked him if he wanted to be a part of it – and if not, that I could find someone else to play the drums and we could move forward that way – and he said he wanted to do it, so that was really cool and we got really excited about that and we moved forward with that.”
This was only back in January; Medina acknowledges that the record “seems really fresh to a lot of people because we kind of announced it that way… The whole speedy rollout just comes from the fact that I’ve had so many different versions of the record.” Eager to release a record he’d had in his pocket for so long, and wanting to make things “more instantly gratifying for people”, Medina chose to go with a one month roll-out for the release of Royal Coda, sharing new songs once a week and the record after four weeks. Of course, the release process for the record was an art as much as it was a science and he acknowledges that “there’s no right way to do things.”
For an artist, the need to create is as real as the need to breathe. And when that need isn’t fulfilled, an artist can be left flailing. For the past several years, Stolas had been the focus of Medina’s musical efforts; last summer, bassist RJ Reynolds left the group and things started to slow down. “It didn’t feel like there was much going on with the band, and that was kind of stressing me out cuz I really like playing music and I want to have something to tour and I want to be out there and I want to just be doing music,” he admits. He was playing in Sianvar, though Sianvar “is just a side project for everybody”, as the members are all in different bands that take the primary focus of their attention (guitarist Will Swan is in Dance Gavin Dance and vocalist Donny Melero is in Hail The Sun); he’d yet to join Eidola. Not having a clear direction in music lead him to feeling anxious: “I need to keep myself occupied – cuz this is what I want to do for the rest of my life, I just want to play music and do that.”
“Royal Coda, I’m hoping, will take most of my attention,” Medina says after revealing that Stolas is about to come to an end, leaving him with free time and creative energy in need of an outlet. He and Travis “talk a lot about touring” and he’s been “itching” for a band that he can call his main project again. After putting so much time working on it, “Royal Coda feels like it’s moving in that direction, which feels really good.”
As he’s figuring things out, Medina has been writing regularly; currently he has “eight or nine songs just sitting in this Dropbox folder that I have”, recorded at a demo station he has at home. “I’ll write something and then my issue is that I don’t know where to throw any of these songs, and so I have this collection of songs that it’s not clear what they’ll become,” he confesses. “I’m just kinda keeping myself brushed up and making sure that I’m constantly challenging myself when it comes to writing songs, but at the moment it’s not clear where each one of the songs will end up.” Royal Coda came together out of necessity: he “just needed to be writing”, and soon enough, “it snowballed in to this one project after fumbling around for many months.” There’s enthusiasm in Medina’s voice as he talks about the freedom he feels from writing without a destination in mind, but he’s realistic in his admission that “It’s not clear to me, right now, if I’m gonna be successful at doing this.” Juggling multiple projects can be tough, though he concedes, “I don’t know if this method will work out for a long-term, hopefully successful music career, but I’m hoping it does.”
The conversation turns back to Medina’s previous comment about wanting to play music for the rest of his life. He’s been playing music for a long time: he played violin in the middle school orchestra and took guitar lessons once a week after school, though it wasn’t clear right away that music would be his career path. While he’d end up going to college after high school graduation, the classes weren’t motivating and professors didn’t care about their jobs; he left after a semester to go on tour. The process of figuring things out “is still ongoing, but at least I feel like I have kind of a clear direction – but it’s really hard!”
Making a living in music is hard, and Medina is comfortable in his admission that it’s always going to be a challenging path: “It might get a little easier, if your music happens to scale a bit more popular and catches on more and more people are at your shows – in that sense it’s easier, but there’s always new challenges, for sure.” He reflects, “The system is like that, and I don’t think it’ll ever change – it flattens people out that aren’t cut out for it. And it’s not just music, it’s anything creative or anything that’s very difficult – like it’s very difficult to be a successful business owner, which in some ways or another – someone could look at being a band as that, cuz that’s what a band is, it’s a business, and you have a product and what not…” His voice trails off, and there’s a clear change in tone when the word “business” comes up in relation to music: “It feels icky to attribute that to music.” He agrees that “anything worth doing is gonna be really hard, and the people that aren’t cut out for it will get flattened out, and they’ll move on to some other aspect of their life that they will thrive in – but all that being said, it is really hard and I think we just get better at dealing with how [hard] it is.”
Later this month, Royal Coda will play their first shows at Family Vacation Music Festival in Sacramento, CA on May 19, and Chain Reaction in Anaheim, CA on May 20. Medina, Travis, and Arrington will be joined on stage by Mason Chakos (of the now-disbanded group Oranges, who were also on Blue Swan Records) on bass and Aric Garcia (of Hail The Sun) on second guitar. They have a full-US headlining tour in the works for the fall, though the support acts have yet to be confirmed. As for what fans can expect at these first two shows, Medina laughed as he wondered aloud, “I don’t know! I really don’t know yet – I’m gonna find out myself first.”
Not knowing what’s in store is an exciting possibility. “It’s really cool – I like kinda flying by the seat of my pants, as Joe would say – cuz I like when art and creative endeavors are kind of spontaneous and hit you from a different angle than you thought you were going at it from.” While it’s impossible to know what exactly the future holds, Medina is ready to work hard to take Royal Coda as far as they can go: “… if things start really snowballing and it becomes apparent that we need to be putting more and more time in to it, I know that it has the chance to grow into something bigger than it currently is – and that’s what we’re doing now, we’re trying to make it grow as big as we can, but we’ll see; I’m not sure.” He’s open to adding a permanent second guitar player or bassist to the group, though no decisions have been made yet. “We’ll see; it’s hard to say right now. But all those things I’m open to and all those things I’d be interested to see how they would pan out.”
Royal Coda is out now on Blue Swan Records. The record is available on MerchNow, BandCamp, Spotify, and iTunes. Tickets to the Chain Reaction show on May 20 are available here. For more information, keep up with the band on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.