It’s hardly a secret that rock stars are often treated like royalty; however, it is the uncommonly confident—some might say arrogant—rock musician who would actually assume the identity of a royal character. However, this is precisely what Jason Hill and the rest of his bandmates have done in naming their group Louis XIV, after the notoriously decadent monarch who enjoyed the longest reign in European history. Some might say the self-anointment is a tad premature given that Louis XIV is scarcely known outside of its hometown of San Diego.
However, one would be forgiven for believing Hill has already arrived at his presumed destiny—at least based the strength of tonight’s evidence. The frontman and principal songwriter of Louis XIV has led us on an hour-long trek around the Mandalay Bay Casino & Resort, where only several hours before he and the rest of his band opened a sold-out show for Vegas’s hometown heroes, the Killers. As we snaked our way around roulette tables and slot machines, Hill was accosted by scores of women, most of them surprisingly young and quick to lavish praise on his songs. This treatment might be typical for bands with national profiles and a couple of widely distributed albums to their credit, but Hill has managed to cast his royal spell with one self-released concept album and a handful of EPs. “I’ve been writing [songs] since I was 11 years old,” says Hill between groups of well-wishers. “I’m just surprised this has happened as fast as it has. I’ve never gotten reactions like this.”
Louis XIV has managed to cultivate this audience with an unusual mix of academic and sexual precociousness. Their first album was a concept record about a boy who wakes up believing himself to be the seventeenth-century French king. Once Hill and his songwriting partner Brian Karscig hatched the concept, it was decided that more appropriate and historically-accurate surroundings would be necessary. So the band packed up and headed for France—Versailles to be precise, where they recorded in a magazine warehouse that at one time served as a holding station for French porn. Indeed, they appear to have accomplished their ambitious task. Louis XIV gets the historical details right—the gilded hall of mirrors, the Chapel Royal, the name of his bride (Maria Theresa)—even as it rocks with an imperial swagger. It also stands in sharp contrast to the Blue and Pink EPs that followed, which explicitly dissect much more familiar politics. “With the EPs, we decided we wanted to make songs about sex,” says Hill matter-of-factly. “It’s a kind of running dialogue between a man and a woman.”
But why name his band after this particular royal figure—a king probably best known for his near comical opulence? “I can’t tell you why we chose Louis XIV,” confesses Hill after much prodding regarding the genesis of the concept. “I can say that it was a pretty spur of the moment decision. We wrote the song ‘Louis XIV’ and it sort of went from there.” While the choice may have involved a bit of serendipity, Hill has nonetheless followed through on the concept with almost pathological conviction. From the moment he stepped onstage at the House of Blues, he looked every inch the absolute monarch, dressed in a short-cut double-breasted coat and sporting a dramatic mullet that was only several inches shy, in both height and length, of matching Louis XIV’s coiffure. Regal arrogance was not only reflected in the attire, but also in Hill’s on-stage demeanor, as he lunged forward with the microphone stand pressed to his hips, one arm folded behind his back, and vigorously thrust his index finger into the air, announcing, in Hives-esque fashion, how good he believed his band to be.
However, Hill hasn’t always been possessed by the spirits of long-dead royalty. Prior to his recent incarnation as Louis XIV, Hill fronted Convoy, a band that received some national recognition following their debut, Black Licorice, which was released on Hybrid Recordings, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records. Hill was largely responsible for the material on the album, but he is startlingly quick to disparage it. “I didn’t like the way it came out,” he snaps. “The production was all wrong.” Hill claims he was so dissatisfied with the outcome of the album that he named it Black Licorice because “although everyone likes candy, black licorice is the one candy no one wants.” The experience with that album not only soured him on Convoy (“the band is finished”), but also on producers in general. “I can’t imagine handing off our songs to anyone else now. It was really important to us [when we signed] that we have complete control. I refuse to be associated with anything that I’m not proud of anymore.” Ironically, it was Atlantic that eventually offered Hill and the rest of Louis XIV the best package, allowing them to keep their Pineapple imprint and produce their own records. “Atlantic is a big label and honestly, I don’t think the people I’m dealing with now were even aware of Convoy [when we signed].”
Their ignorance is probably just as well considering how little the two bands have in common. Where Convoy worshipped the golden era of the LP, displaying a singular fixation on T-Rex, the Stones, and Beach Boys as if rock ‘n’ roll’s history terminated in the ‘70s, Louis XIV finds Hill and his cohorts still mining history but through more contemporary lenses. Some of the more modern inflections are especially apparent tonight in Hill’s raw, Jack White-indebted soloing on “It’s the Girl That Makes Him Sad” and “Louis XIV.” However, Louis XIV, in case it wasn’t already quite obvious, have a taste for the absurd that few of their contemporaries can lay claim to, save for maybe tonight’s headliners, the Killers. It’s what allows Hill to get away with salacious lines like: “Milkshake, milkshake, I love to feel your sweat / We don’t have to go to the pool if you want me to make you wet.”
Following the release of the Illegal Tender EP on January 25, their third since the first self-released album, Louis XIV will put out their first major label offering, which Hill claims will mostly draw on songs from the recent, sexually-charged EPs rather than those from the Versailles-recorded album. That means that the historical theme will be largely abandoned, perhaps in favor of one of a decidedly more carnal nature. Yet Hill has always envisioned Louis XIV as a broader musical platform even if he is unsure precisely how the band will define itself as it moves forward. However, for now, Hill would rather not get ahead of himself, especially when the present offers so many welcome distractions. He gives us a faint wave and staggers off toward the commotion of the poker tables, coquettish concert-goers lagging several paces behind. The Sun King himself would surely approve.