Merchant Royal makes a name with its own sound
The house lights dim and four 20-somethings take the stage.
Suddenly, the soulful voice of Christina Manteris, the syncopated beats of Jake Gloschat and the rock-blues riffs of guitarist Ryan Arnold and bassist Kevin Schultz fill the room.
Within minutes, people are dancing to sounds that easily could be heard in a club in New Orleans or a bar in Memphis.
The Merchant Royal is a band that obviously loves to play together.
The musicians hope to move from playing gigs at places such as Kilby Court and The Woodshed to playing for larger audiences at Craft Lake City, or from opening for national touring acts at The State Room to getting out on their own small tour, in the near future.
By the end of summer, they want to have laid down several tracks to create their first album.
"We practice performing as much as we can because being onstage is a lot different from playing here," said Schultz, 23, as the band gathered in its dedicated practice space in a red brick building just south of Pioneer Park.
There, the walls are artfully decorated with dozens of record album covers, with artists ranging from Gillian Welch to Henry Mancini to Rage Against the Machine. Big red and green floral print rugs cover the bare concrete floors, and long, tie-dyed sheets drape across the ceiling.
That tight space packed with a drum set, guitars, amplifiers and microphones has given birth to dozens of songs.
All the members bring their talents to the process, but "no one has a big ego," Arnold, 24, said.
Schultz stands in front of a large whiteboard filled with upcoming gigs, playlists and chords for new songs. Manteris and Arnold bat around suggestions about the song order for an upcoming gig.
"I don't know, what do you think, Jake?" Manteris, 29, asks drummer Gloschat, 21, as he adjusts a cymbal on his new kit.
They discuss how many slow songs to put together and how many songs they'll need to play before they can expect the audience to have had enough time to loosen up with a few drinks and start dancing.
A similar songwriting process takes place, where Manteris crafts some lyrics, Schultz creates a musical scaffolding and Gloschat and Arnold fill it out. It's a process that leaves them energized and bonded rather than drained and contentious.
"We crowdsource a song among us, basically," Schultz said.
The cooperation among the four is astounding, and it's easy to forget that most of the band members weren't even allowed in bars just a few years ago.
Their sound only reinforces the startling nature of that realization.
It's a sound that's been influenced by the band members' childhoods a time when they listened to their parents' recordings of artists such as Eric Clapton, Janis Joplin, the Doors, Crosby, Stills and Nash and The Rolling Stones.
Of course, newer bands have had their influence, too.
Singer Manteris excitedly discusses attending a recent Alabama Shakes concert.
"[Lead singer Brittany Howard] is amazing. I was thinking, 'I want to be like you' when I was at her show. She could just carry a crowd through this amazing story," Manteris said.
Her mom listened to a lot of Patsy Cline while Manteris grew up in Las Vegas.
"I wanted to be her, but I had this high voice of a little girl," she said.
Manteris, 29, now has an inviting, compelling voice that is equally suited to rock anthem or blues ballad.
She and Arnold had been playing together, and about a year ago found bassist Schultz. In October, Schultz asked Gloschat to join.
"We couldn't be a rock band without drums," Schultz said.
They came up with their name after a British ship that sank with more than a billion dollars' worth of gold and silver on it, making it one of the most valuable shipwrecks of all time after Schultz looked around for historical or notable events.
The name stuck, and the easy collaboration and driven dedication made the band stick, too.
Members practice as much as they can, coming together anywhere from five to 20 hours a week, depending on their work and school schedules.
"This isn't just a hobby or something for us to do in our spare time," Schultz said. "This is a serious, big venture for us. This is what we want to do for the rest of our lives."
The Merchant Royal performs
Want to catch a live show? Check the band out at the Green Pig Pub,31 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City, Thursday, June 13, at 9:30 p.m.