[Photo by Lindsey Ruth]

Royal & The Serpent on her new Happiness Is An Inside Job EP and an empowering bond with Demi Lovato

Royal & The Serpent has been finding her way out of the darkness. And alongside that journey comes Happiness Is An Inside Job, a sharp-toothed grin of an EP that continues the mental health journey of Ryan Santiago and her excavation of all that lies within.

Read more: 5 things we learned from HOLY FVCK, Demi Lovato’s raucous return to rock

Among the brash beats, raging guitars and furious drums, Royal & The Serpent’s dichotomy between embracing life and exploring its twisted darkness rages on. Building up over a collection of EPs over the last couple of years, 2022 has found her reaching new heights and, more importantly, positivity. From featuring on Sleeping With SirensComplete Collapse to touring with Demi Lovato (and also appearing on HOLY FVCK) — along with the bringing to life of her mindset in the form of music video chapters for Happiness‘ five tracks — it seems everything is coming up Royal.

How are you feeling now that your positive step is out in the world?

It’s been really cool. I’m really proud of this music, and I feel like everything’s going well. I’m just excited about everything that’s going on right now. 

Now that it’s all pulled together, how do you feel the whole concept has come to life?

I think the goal with the project, in general, was largely about my mental state, and I really wanted to get a hold of my own happiness — and I think that it worked, [and] I’m happier than I’ve ever been. It was a test to see if our words and our thoughts really were as powerful as I’ve heard that they can be, and it turns out that they are.

How has embracing positivity played out for you?

Compared to some of the music that I’ve put out before, which is largely about not being in a great mental state and not looking to change that, I think this whole project was really about trying to get there. Getting to sing this music every night comparatively to maybe some of the music that’s more about depression has helped my mental state so immensely, and I just feel better than I have in a really long time.

It seems like it’s easier to capture people’s imaginations with visuals. How do you set about that?

I’ve always just loved film. I love music as well, but I think if I wasn’t making music, I’d probably be making movies in some capacity. That’s why I love being an artist because I get to sing, I get to dance, I get to make little mini-movies, I get to be onstage. There are so many different parts of being a musical act. I grew up in dance and theater and making home videos of my friends, and all of these things made me who I am today. Now I get to do all of them on a professional large scale, which is so cool.

For the elaborate video-chapter rollout, what was your mood board?

The original thought and idea were to make them all one long video, but it was posing to be a little bit more difficult than we thought it was going to be. So we decided to just go with the transitions instead. But the idea was to play on the fourth wall element, and we wanted it to feel like not only were you a part of each of these rooms — which are each of these different places in my mind — but you’re also seeing what it’s like for me to be the artist that’s playing these characters. So you’re breaking the fourth wall, and you’re coming with me to each room. You’re seeing me getting my makeup fixed, [and] you’re seeing the fast-paced nature of it all because I think that also has so much to do with my mental state and my happiness and the overall theme of the project.

How do you differentiate between the artist and the character?

I’m both, and I like that I get to be both. It definitely can be difficult, and Ryan can get lost in it sometimes, but Ryan is still at the end of the day the person that makes the art, and I think it comes back to the observer and the mind. It’s all a part of the same equation. It’s just a matter of how aware you can be and your perspective on it.

With that, what do you see your output building up to?

Each project so far has built upon the last one. I’ve always just really wanted to show my journey in the hopes that maybe I can help other people that are experiencing anything similar. And I think that they’ve all shown growth. For a long time, I’ve reminded people that it’s OK to feel whatever they’re feeling, and it’s OK to be sad. It’s OK to be hurt. But I also wanted to show people that it’s possible to grow and that it’s possible to get better, and that you can take your power back and you are in charge of your life. I hope that people feel that way as well when they listen to this project.

What have been some empowering moments for you?

There’s been so many. Getting to work with Demi has been one of the biggest blessings of my life. I think getting to become close to someone that not only I looked up to so much growing up as a kid, but that I’ve seen so much of their life and their struggles, of the things that they’ve gone through in the public eye, and then getting to know them on a deeper level, and getting to create with them and be a part of the world that they’ve created has been… It’s honestly hard to believe and hard to wrap my head around, but so empowering to be around such a strong figure. It’s been incredible.

What do you attribute that connection to?

I can’t imagine really what they’ve been through. I know we all know so much of what they’ve been through just because there’s been so much that we’ve learned throughout their whole career, but I think on a much smaller scale, I’ve experienced a lot of similar things. We’ve bonded over being there for each other as someone to lean on and someone to talk to. There’s a lot of people that don’t really care about you and don’t care about your well-being in this world — this industry — and from day one, we both sensed that we cared about each other, and that is hard to come by. It’s really special, and I’m really grateful for it.

You recently played the nostalgia-soaked When We Were Young Festival, too. How was that as a new artist? 

It was interesting. I wish I did some sort of cool cover for the fans or something like that. But at the same time, there were so many people there and so many young people that knew my music and that came to my stage to see me. It’s also just crazy that I got to see some of these bands perform that I’m feeling nostalgic about.

What was the empowering music you listened to when you were younger?

There was so much I loved. All the emo music and stuff at the time, but I think the biggest thing that I cared about the most was Paramore. Obviously, [Hayley Williams] being a female frontwoman in a scene, especially at that time, was a lot more difficult I think than it is today, and she just fucking rocked it and is still thriving. She’s so special. I want to be just like her when I grow up.

How does it feel having these life-affirming moments in a year when you’ve released an EP that’s a move into a brighter outlook?

Oh, wild. I’m looking around at my life, and I keep reminding myself to say thank you over and over again because I think the more that we can appreciate, the more that it multiplies. It all feels really surreal. A lot of it feels like I can’t believe it’s happening, and I think sometimes the thoughts will come in like it’s all gonna fall away. We can be our own worst enemies at times. So I just keep reminding myself to say thank you because it all feels really good and really crazy. 

And how do you feel about the future?

I’m really excited that I’m in a good headspace because I think that life’s possibilities seem a lot more endless when you can see a future, as opposed to not being able to see what today or tomorrow holds. So I think personally I’m excited because I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it all feels exciting. Sonically, I’m really excited. So much of my music has been about mental health, and I really want to dive into something a little bit different with whatever comes next. I’d love to start talking about love because I think it’s something that I haven’t really done yet, and that excites me.