Royal Treatment Plant - Worlds Apart
From preacher’s daughter to rock chanteuse, it’s been an interesting journey for Royal Treatment Plant’s Paula Steel. The globetrotter speaks with 3D’s Steve Tauschke.
The jungles of Papua New Guinea are a long way from London’s grimy rock clubs but Paula Steel knows both worlds intimately.
Australian-born singer Steel – PP to her friends – spent much of her childhood living in PNG’s thickly-forested mountains as her Seventh Day Adventist missionary parents spread the faith among the country’s isolated communities.
“We’d go up to these really remote areas and do the evangelistic thing, singing to these all these villagers and they’re looking at you like you’re a total alien,” says Steel on the phone from her London home. “I’m totally against the whole thing but that’s what my parents did.”
After nine years in various PNG townships including Kabiufa, near Goroko (famous for its organic coffee), Steel returned to Australia to attend a religious primary school in Newcastle. “You know the whole Lindy Chamberlain thing – that’s the school her kids went to.”
After a stint at university, she trotted off to London and “kind of got stuck here”. She toyed around with an acoustic guitar “writing bits here and there” and then began to explore the city’s live scene. “I thought ‘yeah, I can give that a go’,” she says.
Meeting bassist DJ at a bus stop, they bonded, began jamming and before long Steel found herself in a melodic punk band, hardly the preferred vocation of a conservative middle-class girl raised on wholesome folk.
“It’s really opened up this whole door that’s something my parents and my whole family freak about because it’s not part of their world,” says Steel of the unholy trinity that is sex, drugs and rock n roll.
“I’d never been to a rock concert or listened to any music that wasn’t Christian or classical,” she says. “But as part of church we always played instruments, my dad plays guitar and piano and he used to run Christian singing groups. So I was doing things like that but never thought I’d be in a band in a million years. It really was a bit of an accident.”
Filling out the line-up with guitarist Sam, keyboardist Tommy T, drummer Chris, Royal Treatment Plant was born.
“Our first few shows I was so nervous,” laughs Steel. “Every time we’d come off stage I was like ‘I am never doing that again, I can’t believe I’ve just sung that badly in front of all my friends – you loser!’ I had a real struggle building confidence and actually relaxing on stage. But now it’s my favourite thing to do ever.”
Adhering to a DIY ethic – the band members still have day jobs – RTP saved enough cash to record a four-track EP and on the strength of an early demo Carry Me, producer Teo Miller (Blur, Placebo) jumped on board. That initial three-day recording session led to more studio time and suddenly the band had enough material for a full album, Hope Is Not Enough, a post-punk marriage of Babes In Toyland and The Ting Tings.
“We never thought we were going to release this big album,” explains Steel. “It was more like ‘we’ve got some new songs, we really want to get them down’. It was done in little stages here and there and each time it was a case of ‘you’ve got three days, play quickly and don’t make any mistakes’. It was that vibe for the whole album really.
“We’re very much [a] ‘get in and play and get out’ live band and I hope that energy comes through. I think the trickiest thing with an album is to capture the live energy of the songs. Really good producers get it right.”
Mike Chapman got it right. The legendary US-based Australian hitmaker-come-producer, who wrote songs for and recorded Blondie, Suzi Quatro and Racey in the 1970s, stumbled upon RTP on MySpace and expressed interest in working with the quintet.
“He mixed some songs in his studio in LA and emailed them back,” she says. “It was really amazing, he’s got a real dark art and we were like ‘what has he done to it, it just sounds fantastic!’ He’s got a real knack with vocals too and I have to say Deborah Harry’s vocals are something extraordinary.
“I like vocals where it comes at you from the middle of the mix and it’s an instrument with other instruments around it. And he has a real way of making it feel like it’s there but not high up but part of the mix and still cutting through.”
Chapman travelled to Manchester to watch the band perform live, later drinking them under the table with his thirst for martinis. “He’s in his 60s but has enough energy to take over the world!”
Released independently in the UK last year, Hope Is Not Enough has drawn rich praise from BBC1 and rock rag NME but it’s the group’s securing of a major label deal in Australia that has Steel jumping.
“Universal releasing it in the way that they are is really humbling,” she says. “It blows your mind because we’re not a very egotistical band and so for us it’s like ‘wow!’ We’re pretty excited about it coming out in Australia. Some of my friends are actually having babies but I’m putting out an album.
“Writing songs is something I need to do. It’s given me an outlet for stuff that I don’t really know what to do with. Whether that’s a form of therapy I don’t know but it’s taken me into a whole new world that I never ever felt like I would belong in. It’s a world that was always so foreign to me.”
WHO: Royal Treatment Plant
WHAT: Hope Is Not Enough through Blacklight / Universal
WHEN: Friday 8 May