Interview: Royal Thunder

Royal Thunder opens for Baroness at Ace of Cups on Wednesday night. The Facebook event page says doors open at 8, with Royal Thunder going on at 8:30. Tickets are $15 at the door.

On heavy rotation in my ears the past few weeks has been an advance copy of Royal Thunder’s CVI which Relapse Records will be releasing in all sorts of different formats (sorry, no cassettes) on May 22. In simple terms, the Atlanta band sounds like Ann Wilson of Heart fronting Led Sabbath – Royal Thunder obviously influenced by the early stoner rock bands of the ’70s.

Already making a wave in Atlanta and the south – where heavy music is thriving – Royal Thunder’s been invited to join Baroness on a few dates in the next week including a Columbus show at Ace of Cups on Wednesday night, giving the four-piece an opportunity to try new material out in front of metal-loving crowds.

Singer/bassist Mlny Parsonz was kind enough to answer questions via email and she responded within an hour of receiving them which makes for the quickest response I’ve ever received when conducting interviews this way.

I have 3 kids and I won’t answer the question, “Which is your favorite?” because each one brings joy to my life in a different way. BUT … I’m asking you to pick – If Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin both announced reunion tours running the entire summer of 2012 and somebody owed your booking agent a huge favor and gave you the option of opening one of these tours, which one would you pick and why?

When I was in high school, some friends and I piled into a van and drove to PA to see the Black Sabbath reunion tour with Pantera in the late ‘90s. So we pull into PA and turn on the local rock station only to hear the DJ say “The Sabbath show is canceled due to Ozzy having voice issues”. Being a HUGE Sabbath fan, I was surprised at how much I hated them at that moment. We went to a hockey game instead; I walked away a Pittsburgh Penguins fan(!) and finished off the night drinking booze, and sulking while we watched “What Dreams May Come”. Our tickets were good for the reschedule in ATL, so we eventually did get to see ‘em and needless to say it ruled.

Saw Page and Plant in the late ‘90s as well! They were doing some homoerotic tour together and I enjoyed every bit of that sexy display while smoking PCP.

All this to say, what was the better show? Sabbath. Who would I wanna tour with? Zeppelin. Sabbath. Zeppelin. Sabbath. Well fuck, what came first, the chicken or the egg? That’s how I feel about this question. Ha. Legends man, LEGENDS!!

You’ve toured with some heavy bands while your music is a little more classic ‘70s metal sounding. While I’m sure people have swarmed to you after these shows singing your praises, I’m wondering if you’ve ever received any criticism either while you’re performing, afterwards at the merch table, or in concert reviews about not being “heavy” enough?

Haha. Criticism. Dude, I am so open to the opinions of others. We all have a voice, use it! Have I heard good? Yes. Have I heard bad? Yes. Do I care what strangers think of me? No. I have my close friends and what they think of me…. I consider. I am open to their criticism, because they do it with my best interest in mind and vice versa. I strive to surround myself with positive people. I don’t have time for the whiney complaints about how we aren’t this and that….or we are this and that. Opinions! Whatever they may be … I wake up, do what I do. I am true to myself and my music. Not everyone will like us, I can sleep at night knowing that. We don’t strive to sound/be like anything. This is ALL HEART, what we do. It’s unique to who we are as individuals. I’m happy. And I believe in what I’m doing, what we are all doing! Not enough? Well I say, “Fuck it!” We are still going to be Royal Thunder at the end of the night. I ain’t mad. Ha. We have soooo much support. We have met so many incredible fans and bands and music industry/scene folk, and that’s what we focus on.

Now, I’m not at all implying that you’re NOT heavy enough to compete with bands that you may have played with, but it’s a different style of heavy – it’s not as fast or as “punch you in the face” heavy. And, of course, you have something that most of those bands don’t – a female singer (and one that sings rather than screams!)- which really brings a different dynamic to the sound. Ideally, would you rather be playing with bands that are your friends or bands that you think are close in sound to what you do (and maybe the answer is “our friends ARE in bands that we think we are peers with”)?

I’ve never take it personally whether or not someone thinks we are heavy/ metal enough. I can see where you’re coming from.

I have answered this type of question before, and I answer it the same every time, because it’s the only way I feel about this question. I wanna play with anyone who is making great music. We are not a competitive band. Never have been. Never will be. What’s the point? I don’t feed into all that outshining one another/stealing the show, I’m better than you, blah blah blah, bullshit. There’s work to be done! Play your ass off! Have a good time! Feel it! Love it! If you’re doing that, let’s tour/play a show together!

Metal and hard rock is something that crosses generations, and effects and influences kids from all walks of life. But what do you think it is about the south that consistently inspires kids to pick up guitars, turn the amps up to 11, and play with the force of a barreling freight train?

Yeah, I’ve been here for a while, but I am originally from Jersey. So … the southern thing, in my opinion, is in the blood. It’s in the way you grow up. The people who surround you. The south has a lotta love and a whole lotta hate to go right along with it. Shit, they don’t call ATL “hate city” for nothin’! Ha. In the heavy music scene, I think a lot of folks go way back. They aren’t new to the scene, per se. So. maybe it’s all the years of playing and living the 9-5 lifestyle simultaneously. And all you really wanna do is play music. Maybe it’s the no alcohol sales on Sunday (recently modified). I can’t say. I feel like I have seen bands try to do what I’ve seen done for years in ATL/ the south. No disrespect, but you can tell it’s not being done by a southerner. It just has a feeling, almost like how you feel when you listen to an old-like, Otis Redding song on a broke down asshole record player. Or as some would say… Maybe it’s in the sweet tea and the gravy?

It seems like you’ve got a pretty healthy music scene. Have you put any thought into moving to another city?

Moving? Nah.

At this point – with a label deal and touring – it’s probably not a big deal. I live in Columbus, Ohio and we don’t have a ton of bands “make it” but it’s a pretty fertile scene due to the fact that it’s home to Ohio State University so there is never a shortage of bands starting out or clubs to play at. The reason many bands don’t make it is Columbus is a pretty comfortable city to live in – relatively cheap rent, a lot to do (despite the fact that if you drive 30 – 45 minutes in any direction you’ll wind up in a cornfield), etc, not a lot of motivation to move to NYC or Chicago or Austin or wherever and get gobbled up. How would you describe Atlanta as it relates to the influence it had on Royal Thunder, the support (or lack of) you’ve been given, the “scene” (if there is one), etc? Is it a good city or do you make do?

First off, you gotta work your ass off. We got nothin’ for free, and we wouldn’t change that for anything. I believe you should work your ass off for everything in life that you want. Always have. Free—- easy. Boring. We played on weeknights, forever! We took what we could get. We cut our teeth for years in ATL, playing at dive bars, getting no response from clubs/bands. (Which, now I see, clubs and bands get BUSY, and they can’t always come through, they are bombarded with emails and requests. It happens. Plus, who the fuck is Royal Thunder?! Ha.) So, just working hard and pushing through it all. The music scene here in a quick summary is – you name it, we prolly got it!

We got tons of support starting out from Lenny’s (RIP), the Drunken Unicorn, the Star Bar along with the support of the bands in the metal scene. We all have a lot of love for one another in the metal scene. It’s a great city. I love ATL and we are honored to have ATL fans. They are very supportive and consistent. And their love is real for the bands they like.

Kids don’t typically discover music on their own – usually a kid will either be influenced by an older sibling’s music tastes, will want to fit into a peer group at school and start listening to a band because their friends listen to a band, or, in the “lucky kid” scenario, will have a parent who has a pretty great music collection that they let their kids borrow from. How did you go from being a kid who flipped on the radio and sang along with whatever was popular to becoming a real music “fan”?

I never followed any trends. Intentionally. I’m not trying to sound coooool, trust me. Ha. I remember discovering bands and secretly listening to them. And if I did play something for someone, I didn’t like to disclose what it was that we were listening to. My logic as a child, “don’t ask”. Just how I was. Maybe it’s a middle child thing. Ha. I grew up playing piano, guitar, and dancing, dancing, dancing. My mother was always listening to some Tina Turner, George Michael, Rod Stewart or Prince. She says she learned a lot of English that way! She’s from Spain. My dad was a closet rock n roller, trying to raise a family. It was around. I loved it. It is such a huge part of who I am, music. So, I’ve always felt like a fan of music. I was really obsessive about bands as a teenager. Hanging on every interview and album … It was my own little world. I never really shared it with anyone until I was like 14.

Seeing as how we’re in the digital age and most music is consumed on iPods or other MP3-playing devices, how much effort do you put into CD/vinyl (not sure if CVI is coming out on vinyl) artwork and packaging?

I’m not old, but I’m old school. Don’t even have an iPod. Ha. I still listen to my tapes and I love CDs and vinyl! We don’t cut corners on anything. Fucking album is beautiful and it will be on vinyl! Double vinyl. May 22. We put great effort into making it what we wanted it to be. We care about that shit. So excited to get it into hands and iPods alike!

You don’t have to answer this question if you don’t want to, but what type of substances do the band members use when writing and recording?

I will speak for myself only…I always and only ever PLAY MUSIC sober.

The reason I ask is that, to me, the stereotype of the heavy bands that are coming out of the south right now is that they are all HEAVY drinkers. To me, your music sounds more like the kind that might be written by people who might do a little smoking. If you were to recommend that somebody listen to your music under the influence, what should they be taking or drinking?

Stereotypes- eh, whatever. If it’s your thing, go for it! Get fucked up and enjoy some RT! Or don’t! I can only recommend, doing it your way and I hope you dig it. I am not being vague in an effort to protect my reputation, but what I do while listening to music? Let’s just say, if you know me, you know me, and so you would know.

Unless you’ve got some special magic skills and powers, looking into a crystal ball isn’t something you can do. But, have you given any sort of thought into what comes after Royal Thunder, whether it be next year or 20 years from now? Do you hope to make a living at playing rock n’ roll for as long as you can or is it one of those, “Let’s give it a try for a few years and see what happens and then decide whether or not it’s in our best interest to continue”?

I have always been a musician. I have always loved music. I have tried to stop being in bands/ playing music in the past. It didn’t work for me. I have a great need to release my energy into playing and singing. I feel like my soul is fading away when I’m not doing music. It makes me feel alive. It completes me. It is my greatest escape, my form of expression. I want nothing more than to be doing this is 20 years, if I live that long! Haha. Royal Thunder is where I’m at now. I have no plans. I’m not a planner. I’d much rather just do this thing, and if it dies, it dies. If it lives, so be it. I will be there. Will I ever give up on music? Fuck. No. If it ain’t this, I’m sure as fuck going to keep going. I am very much in this moment with RT, and I’m not looking backwards or forwards, I’m here where I want to be. I have my partner and my two friends doing this with me. We are in this together. All four of us. And we are fuckloads of grateful for all the good things that have come our way. I wouldn’t want to be in any other band with anyone else other than these 3 amazing dudes. Fo reals.

We’ve gone all this way without really talking about the SONGS on CVI. I was going to say right off the bat that I tend to gravitate to the longer tracks on the CD but then I realized that you didn’t exactly write very many “radio-friendly” (ie – under 3 minutes) tracks. That being said, my favorite one-two punch on CVI is “Whispering World” going into “Shake and Shift”. I’m a big fan of the non-Ozzy/Dio years of Sabbath (not sure if you’re familiar with the Tony Martin-era in the ‘90s) but the guitars in “Shake and Shift” remind me of something I would have heard on one of those CDs. I’m also digging the slowcore sounds of “Sleeping Witch” (at least before it gets into, once again, some Sabbath heaviness) and the haunting closer, “Black Water Vision”. Dumb question, I know, but are you happy with the way everything turned out? Did you have to make tough decisions about which songs to include and which ones didn’t make the cut? How important was the sequence of the tracks and how did you determine which order to put them in?

A few songs didn’t make the album. They weren’t meant to be on CVI. They have a place and a time to emerge. We thought long and hard on the sequence of the songs. Joey Jones (Aria Studios), producer/engineer on CVI, did our EP and then this full length.

(listen to Royal Thunder’s EP)

The entire process of recording, was hard work but so smooth at the same time. Joey is a close friend and shares our respect for the integrity and hard work that we put into each song, be it choosing songs for the album or tracking the songs. We respect Joey’s sense of pride that he takes in his work. He never once took the easy way out and neither did we. We all pushed through this album together. And with great sacrifice, We made it!!!

I like to ask this question – and don’t feel bad if you don’t have an answer – but do you know anything about the Columbus music scene? Familiar with any past or present bands?

Dude, honestly, no. But I’m sure Ohio can teach me.