I had the opportunity to travel with Royal Bliss for a couple of shows out West. During that time I interviewed each member of the band separately. The last of my five interviews is with guitarist, Taylor Richards, which took place when we were in Spokane, WA. We discussed the direction of the new songs, his thoughts on having a second guitarist in the band again, and what he feels is Royal Bliss’ greatest strength. We talked about success, the music business in general and discovered he may know the secret formula after all. He shared his thoughts on the impact of running and signing a band to their own label and more. Also, unexpectedly, Taylor turned the tables and asked me a question, which in turn provided even more insight to the band, their songwriting and how their new direction really isn’t all that far from their old direction.
Listen to the entire Taylor Richards interview below:
Today I’m joined by Taylor Richards from the band Royal Bliss.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me.
After 17 years as a rock band, what made you want to sort of change direction, what some might say could be a challenge in direction, and try a new genre?
You know, I don’t know if we really changed direction. I think we’ve always had roots in different elements of musical styles. I think we’ll always be a rock ‘n roll band as far as Royal Bliss is concerned, but I think, as far as a new direction, our main goal is just to write good songs that we enjoy to play and we enjoy to write and I think with the way that modern rock is going, at least in the active rock radio format that we seem to be put in to, or we’ve been in to the past few years, it has gone really, really heavy. To the point of we don’t fit and when we go out on tour, we’re always paired with metal bands. Scream, yell, and we’re not, ever been a metal band. I can name ten other styles of music that we have been, but it’s never been metal. So, I think the new direction, I think we wanted to start writing some happy, upbeat, fun songs that don’t go in, that don’t fit the grain of what’s going on right now. You know music, you never know where it’s gonna go and which direction it’s gonna take ya or whatever, so honestly, we just started writing and kind of wanted to try something new and I’ve always been a fan of writing music that’s outside of maybe your current box. Some of our favorite bands did that. The Beatles. Every single record The Beatles ever did was completely different than their last one. Bands like Radiohead, one album they’re acoustic and they’re rock and the next album it’s all computers and weird sounds and synths, I mean, they can do it, they can get away with it, why can’t it?
Are you nervous over the reaction from fans?
No. I think I’m more nervous from the reaction of the industry people. People that we’ve been friends with through the years, but I also think, sometimes things like that need to happen, you know? I know that we’re probably not the first band that’s been a current, like this genre format sounding band and have it cross to different radio markets, different styles of music, all that stuff. I think the people that are not gonna like it they probably weren’t going to like us if we did something else. I don’t know. I feel like we’re still going to be a rock ‘n roll band, just because we’re maybe played on a different station or wrote a tune they didn’t like, that’s bound to happen regardless.
So the new single, Drown With Me, was the first song you wrote with Sean Hennesy who’s been in the band for almost a year now. How was that process for you, especially having a second guitarist in the band again?
Well, we had written other songs, we just haven’t released any. They weren’t as good as this one, but this one kind of happened and kind of fit with where we want, what’s to come. Kind of a new sound and obviously adding two guitars, it makes it a little more powerful in the live setting, you know, we can add a little bit more melodies and harmonies and such. I felt like having, adding Sean as an official member was fantastic from the music side or the guitar player side, because you know, I was the only guitar player for, I don’t know, a couple of years, three or four years maybe and it’s nice to have someone that knows what they’re doing and he can back you up, you know, if you break a string, “Hey, you want to wing this solo?” or he can add some of those missing elements. You know, we were a two person guitar band for 12 years or something so some of those parts were missed and he kind of brings that back in and it’s been nice.
Alright, so your tour just started and due to a default of another band you guys played an acoustic set, or two acoustic sets back to back, so you’re playing a few new, brand new songs. Did you find writing these songs to be easier or a harder process compared to things you’ve written in the past?
I don’t know, I think they’re about the same. Sometimes songs come, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they come and they’re good, sometimes they come and they’re not that good. I think these ones were, we kind of had a focus, where sometimes we write to just write and that’s why sometimes a lot of our records are like, there’s a fast rocking song and then there’s a slow acoustic song and then there’s kind of all over the place because that’s sometimes where songs come from and I think with the songs we have written now that we’re kind of dabbling and playing live are songs that we kind of had a focus with, we kind of wanted to test the boundaries and see what happens and I think we did that.
So what’s the plan for releasing…
I don’t think we have a plan yet. We wanted to do the summer tours that we’ve got coming up. Kind of test these new songs on people and on our fans and our audiences. See what they think, see how they like them, which is nice to be able to do rather than just write a record, have it come out and hope people like it so we kind go out and test the songs and get a reaction from them. That’s the best way to do it.
Since you have been doing this for a while, has your motivation with writing and performing changed drastically since you first started with Royal Bliss?
I think our writing has gotten better, I mean, I think our performance, I think everything’s gotten better, I mean, I feel like we’re still this new band that just hasn’t quite broke the level of where we can still go. We haven’t quite hit our full stride. We’re still getting better and writing better songs and sometimes it takes a while for that to happen and we’ve kind of built a fan base up through the years by doing that. Yeah, I would just say it’s gotten better. Obviously adding Sean into the mix, we bring in whole new elements of music with all of his talents and it brings out good elements of other people in the band. Like Jake’s playing piano, Neal’s playing more guitar. You know, it’s freed up my guitar playing and kind of brought on a new level of guitar playing for me as well and then obviously with Dwayne, where he’s only been with us for about four or five years, so he’s starting to become more of the songwriter type as we all are so it’s just kind of getting better and better and fine tuning our craft.
So what would you say is Royal Bliss’ greatest strength?
Our greatest strength? Probably Neal’s voice. [laughter] I don’t know, the fact that we’re still here, we’re still doing it, we still enjoy doing it. Neal has lyrics that connect with fans, new, old, past, present, future ones and I think that’s also why we’ve kind of tried to have a little bit of a focus, a new fresh sound for this new record for these new songs. No one’s telling us really what to do so we can do that and get away with it. Obviously if people don’t like it, they don’t like it, but if people do like it then it doesn’t matter. We’re still going to carry on and do what we love to do and I think, you know, obviously when people come to the shows they have their own thing but I think they can just connect to the band and the songs and even the members. Each band member has a very unique personality and it usually comes across pretty good.
Alright, so with the music business drastically different than it used to be, what opportunities and obstacles do you see newer bands having?
Well, making money. I think what happens a lot, which it’s just part of the game, is that a band gets a manager and then a band, maybe if they’re lucky, gets a label and then they get a publicist then they get a booking agent and next thing you know you’re out there playing shows and all your money is going to every other person but you and you either are very successful and that slice of the pie is so big that you’re making money or you’re scraping by and everyone else is making money. I’m not saying they’re making a lot of money but if you’re doing a little circuit tour, you know, House of Blues or clubs or whatever, there’s money to be made and it’s unfortunate that all these other people and these groups and these companies come in and kind of take all that percent, this percent and this percent and this percent and by the end of all the percents being paid out, there’s not much left to split with four band guys, or five members. I think that’s the hardest part, is to have it be a money making job. You really have got to be super lucky or got that undeniable song and sometimes you have an undeniable song and you’re just not lucky. I think that was kind of the case for us. We were signed for one song, Devils & Angels, and Capital Records were, “Oh, this is your song, this is your song,” and they never released it. So I mean, I don’t know. [laughter]
There’s no magic formula, right?
No magic formula and I personally think that Devils & Angels was that song that could be played on, at the time, this was back in ’07, where it totally would have fit perfect with rock radio, pop radio, maybe even some alternative stations, it was just a very simple pop rock song and obviously we released it as a single as independent and that’s when then record label started going, “Nope! No, no, no. Pull that off radio. We want you guys. We want to push it on radio.” We’re like, after negotiation, negotiation, we sign the deal and then the record company gets bought out and then you get caught in all that mess and we’re lucky we made it out alive and it’s too bad all the empty promises never were fulfilled. It’s too bad.
Since I interviewed you guys last year, you’ve signed a band to your label [Air Castle Records], Zodiac Empire. What have you learned from signing a band that you weren’t expecting?
Geeze. I think the fact that signing these guys was kind of an accident, but it’s been an eye opener, I think, for both them and for us. They’re super young, a new band, and coming from my side, I just honestly, I heard the record and was like, this is the best sounding record I’ve ever heard from a local band and the songs were amazing, the recording was done well and I had kind of joked on an email back and forth with the singer, Ransom [Wydner], he’s like, “We’re going to put it out next year,” and I was like, “You should let our record label put it out.” He’s like, “Really? That would be so awesome!” Then all of a sudden he started calling me out on, “Hey, so, send us a contract, we’re interested,” and I was like, “Oh, shit. How do I even get this started?” So we have an attorney and she wrote up a little contract and we based it off of an old contract we had done with an independent label when we first started, so it was a very, very simple deal and I think it benefited both of us. We’re not making money off them by any means. It’s more of just trying to help them learn the ropes and get out there and kind of, it’s funny because they’re an alternative dance band. Dance, indie rock, so they don’t perfectly go well with us but I think we’re going to take them out on a couple of runs and they’ll go over fine. They’re so new that they still have a growing fan base but when people see them live and hear their album they get it. It’s undeniable. I hope for good things for them.
Well cool. Good luck with that. So in your experience, what is the biggest misconception people have about bands that have their own label?
What is the misconception about bands that have their own label? I don’t know if it’s a misconception, I think maybe it’s, unfortunately it’s a business, but it can be a fun business, and a fun venture. Some people open up businesses to sell lawn mowers or something and some people open up a business to sell music which isn’t where the money’s at. We did it because we thought we could help some bands out. It’s not like we’ve been in a band for a year. I’ve been signed, I’ve been not signed, I’ve had management, I’ve not had management. I’ve booked my own tours, I’ve had agents book my own tours, so we’ve got a lot of experience, I think, under our belt. It may not be the most professional but trial by error. You learn from making mistakes and we’ve obviously done all that. I don’t know, maybe just our experience. I don’t think people know all the work that goes into being a band or even being a label. I don’t even know if I consider myself a label. I guess as a group we kind of have something going but we’ll see. We’ve got a couple more bands we’re looking at so who knows. We’ll see what happens.
Well cool. So, with the music industry getting easier for some bands and harder for others, has your definition of success changed?
I would like to know what bands it’s getting easier for.
Pop bands probably.
It was a broad general…
Yeah, I think though, it’s like it’s one of those things that the entertainment industry is so enticing to people because of the fame or the money and the parties and the this or all the extravagant stuff that could come along with that stuff is, there’s not very many of them. Nowadays there’s a very few list of people or groups or bands that are at the top and obviously, there’s hundreds and millions that are all below them that aren’t even close and may never get there but I think that’s what, I mean obviously music is something that moves people and moves the people that play it but there’s other elements to stuff that, of reason why bands or artists want to maybe garner that fame and get that attention and make the money and do all the things that they see other stars doing in the gas stations on the little magazines, but I think it’s changed good and bad. I think music’s a lot more accessible than it was for good and bad reasons. I remember I used to go in the record store and I would have to buy the album to hear the songs or I’d have to wait to hear it on the radio and press record on my tape player, serious. Mix tapes! But I also think, nowadays, YouTube. You want to hear a band, you know Spotify or iTunes, it’s a different form of easily accessible. You can say that it’s cheaper or free or whatever but I feel those are also forms of gaining a fan base to go out and supply those fans. You know, what you can offer to make you money. You’ve got to figure out a way to capitalize on that. Sometimes it’s hard because touring’s not free. You can’t just go out there and make money on tours, you know, like I said, you’ve got an agent, you got a manager, you got a bus payment, you got a van payment, you got a sound guy payment or whatever and all of a sudden at the end of the day you come home and you’re on tour for three months and you made $100 and everyone else made ten grand or more or whatever. We’ve always, unfortunately and fortunately, we’ve always put ourselves first. We’re going to pay ourselves and everyone else is going to come after us [laughter] and that’s bitten us a few times and it’s paid off a few times. I know that we’re not the wealthiest by far but I do know that there’s band out there way bigger than our band that do not get paid as well as we do because there’s so many slices of the pie that are being taken out. They go out and they work their asses off for a year and go home and they’re like, “Whew. I paid my cell phone bill.” They don’t have a house, they don’t have anything to show for all this hard work and that’s too bad but I think those are the kind of things they keep pressing for and the hard work will hopefully pay off.
Well maybe you do know a little bit of a secret formula then. [laughter]
Maybe I do and I just didn’t know it. That could be correct. The formula is pay me. Pay myself and we’ll figure out the rest.
Right. Okay, so I just want to end with a somewhat random question. If you could take any song that’s already been written, with a prominent guitar solo, and you could add your own flare to that solo, what song would it be?
Goll, that’s an interesting question. Add my own flare to it?
Or rewrite it or whatever.
Rewrite it, man, I don’t know. The great solos you don’t want to change anything because that’s why they were the great ones, you know? The top of my head, the song Eruption, from Van Halen, that whole song, I wouldn’t change anything. It’s just a masterpiece of a guitar solo. I think some other solos that come into mind are good old Lynyrd Skynyrd, you know, Free Bird, that thing goes on forever and I wouldn’t change anything. I wouldn’t shorten it, I wouldn’t cut it, I wouldn’t edit it. Honestly, I’d probably like to play Free Bird. I’d like to play the rhythm guitar because it’s three chords and it’s awesome and it speeds up and gets faster and faster and faster and faster and I’ll let someone else go noodle around on the guitar while I just strum a few chords and keep it simple and rock it.
Alright then. Well, that’s all I have so thanks for taking…
Did I do okay?
You did awesome.
But thanks for taking the time to speak with me and best of luck with everything.
I got a question for you. What’s your favorite Royal Bliss song?
Umm, God, that’s umm, I will say, I’ve always wanted to hear live, I’ll Be Around.
One time I had made a comment to Neal about that song and he’s like, “Oh that’s a very dark song,” lyrically, but to be honest, I don’t think there’s really one song that I don’t like.
Oh, that’s a good answer. There are not many songs you like to skip?
I’m one of those people that will listen front to back and repeat. Front to back and repeat. But that’s old school way.
Yeah, no, I’m with ya. Maybe that’s why, I think maybe some of that’s why some of our success has come from that, you’re not the first person that said that, but because our songs are so wide range they can be really hard rock or really soft and meaningful and then really party-esque, or whatever, it kind of is a journey of an album, where even when we send songs to our radio people or our management friends, people in the industry, they don’t know which one’s the best song. There’s obviously bands and albums and artists out there that you know this one song’s the best and all other nine are just [Taylor’s phone started ringing] not good or not even close. This one stands out as by far the best song. Maybe that’s a good thing or bad for us but, hold on. [Taylor briefly stopped the interview to take a call] Sorry.
Alright, so now that I had a second to think because you put me on the spot, I’ll pick Bleed My Soul.
I’ll pick Bleed My Soul.
As your favorite? Really? You want to know what’s funny? That’s like a perfect example of Royal Bliss not doing anything different with our new songs. That song is totally a Royal Bliss song just as Cry Sister, Save Me or [We Did] Nothing Wrong or some of the more rockin’ kind of alternative rock, edgier songs, but Bleed My Soul is a perfect example and Music Man which we’ve kind of been bringing back and this little song we play, RSB, that never really, you know, that’s still Royal Bliss, it’s just a different version of it, you know? I really truly believe we could probably get away with anything. Maybe not hip hop/rap, but maybe if we did it our style, we probably could.
What was the song…
Roll One last night? Yeah, we can get away with it and people love it.
That. Was awesome.
Yeah, so I mean I don’t know, this is also why I feel that, and it’s very hard I think for Neal, because Neal maybe doesn’t know, but in my opinion, I feel like we haven’t changed. We’re not trying something new. We can say we are or if you want to really go there but, no, we just wrote some songs, just like any other song we’ve written. Half of our albums are acoustic slow and have a country tinge or a southern rock tinge so the other half have maybe a hard rock tinge or, like our last record we had keyboards and synths and drum loops all over it. We’d never really done that before and I didn’t hear anything bad about it. So this record might have a banjo and a piano in it or something or something we haven’t done, so why not? If people like it great, if not, I think there’s some people that we’re working with that they’ve been kind of behind us this whole time and they’re just starting to come around and go, “You know, you guys are deserving and great and what’s the barrier that’s keeping you from being that next level?” I don’t know what it is. Music’s that way. It’s risky and you don’t know what people are going to like and the record companies really run the show and radio and big time marketing and promotion so I don’t know if we’re going to tap back into that scenario or stay independent and I don’t really care. As long as we can pay our bills and it’s getting better, which it keeps getting bigger and bigger and better and better. I mean, headlining this place [Palomino Club] in Spokane. I played Spokane for ten years and brought ten people and now I’m headlining and there’s going to be some people here so I don’t know. We’ll see.
Well awesome. Well good luck with everything.
Royal Bliss are on tour. Find all dates here.