I had the opportunity to travel with Royal Bliss for a couple shows out West. During that time I interviewed each member of the band separately. The first of my five interviews is with lead singer, Neal Middleton, which took place before the show at 3rd Wheel in Lewiston, Idaho. With the recently released new song, Drown With Me, and the country flavor about it, I was curious on the new sound. We also talked about song writing and the dynamic of the band and what he feels is Royal Bliss’ greatest strength. He talked about success, what dreams he still hopes to fulfill and more.
Listen to the entire Neal Middleton interview below:
Today I’m joined by Neal Middleton from the band Royal Bliss. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.
Yeah. Way to let me do it while I’m in my boxers in my bed. Yeah. This is hot.
Awesome. (laughter) The other night, at the show, I overheard you tell someone, “I want to save rock with country.” Can you elaborate on that?
Well, not necessarily with country. I don’t know, I think rock and roll needs a new flavor and country has definitely used rock and roll for a flavor in their music and I don’t know what it is with rock that radio stations and the powers that be wouldn’t want to add more to the pot because it’s just so much of the same that you hear in active rock radio and by, I think, adding in some fun again. You know, country music is all about a good time, drinking, partying, and that’s what rock and roll is about. Coming up in the 80’s with Motley Crue and everything else. So I don’t know, I think by us kind of sticking our feet in the water of country and kind of testing it out I would hope that it would be amazing. If we could kind of get some of those country fans to take a listen to rock and roll, because a lot of them were rockers at one point and then went over there or a lot of the people at least I talked to, “We’re just not into that screaming or that heavy stuff,” and people that are into heavier are not into country. You have these hardcore listeners on rock radio that call in and blast our song, “Oh, that should be on country,” or “It’s not heavy enough,” or “That’s pussy music,” or whatever the hell, and I hope those radio stations don’t just listen to those ten people that call in all the time and say that crap because there’s a ton of listeners out there that are maybe listening for the first time and go, “Oh, I really like that song,” and it goes back to the crap, not crap, because there’s music for everybody but I think rock radio needs to be a lot more diverse than it is or those ten hardcore fans that call in all the time and blast anything that’s different are going to wake up one day and it’s going to be a Mexican talk radio, or Spanish speaking talk radio on their favorite rock station. But I don’t know. It’s one of those things where I hope we can get some country fans to listen and be a little bit more open to rock. This is just practice I guess, I don’t know. We’re gonna give it a shot. We just like playing music. We’re gonna kind of have a country-flared album and see what happens and if it turns out great and people love it, you know, whatever. Rock and Roll is always our core but it sucks that people have to put it in genres. It would be cool if we could go play some country and then do a rock record and bring a bunch of country fans back to rock and have rock radio be a little bit more open to other genres and not so close-minded.
I had gone to see Blackberry Smoke a couple years ago and I remember their concert t-shirts said, “Too country for rock, too rock for country,” and personally I think they have a great sound so I don’t think you have to be labeled as country or rock. Like you said, if you have good music, you should be open to good music, not a label of music.
Alright, so you’ve always said that you stay true to yourself with the music you make. How excited are you with the direction of the new songs?
I’m super happy because, well for multiple reasons, it fits my voice a lot better, so it’s fun to sing because I’m not stretching so hard or really pushing myself. I can be a lot more dynamic with my voice and I think with that, it also allows me to be a little more personal and show emotion as well in these songs and I really like that a lot of them are positive and upbeat and have a good time. That’s like our songs, I Was Drunk and Fine Wine and Champagne from the past, they’re a lot more, just a positive, make people feel good and I think that’s what the world needs more now of, needs more of these days. Just positive music. It’s a lot of fun and I like new challenges as well so it’s a whole new thing. It’s like a new life. These songs, wrapping my brain around it, just writing this kind of style, like Memphis [Hennesy] has been a huge influence on that too, and sitting down with Monty Powell, a top song writer in Nashville. He’s written a ton of number one hits and writing with him is knowledge and I love that. It’s exciting to learn a whole new genre almost and also not have boundaries. You know, rock radio is so, when we were with a label and managers, “Oh no, you gotta do it this way and it’s got to sound like this,” and I think what we’re doing now, we can try new things. We’re not limited.
You mentioned Sean Hennesy who’s been with the band almost a year now. Was the transition into writing with him an easy one?
Yeah! I think it was easy for him too, where finally, he was with a band that he’s a part of and we value his opinion, we’re very much a democracy in the band pretty much where everybody has an opinion, everybody has a vote, and he’d never really been in a situation like that. The way we write, I think is a little unique too, where we just start jamming and things happen and our Drown With Me song, we came up with an idea, I didn’t even have any lyrics, I wrote them in the studio, and it’s very organic and he fits right in to that organic recipe.
Well good. So now, you and Jake and Taylor are all originals from back, 17 years ago, so with Sean and Dwayne being both the newest members what’s been the biggest impact that they’ve both contributed?
Dwayne’s energy, you know, on and off the stage, Dwayne is a force. He’s really a very organized individual. We all have our different talents and we needed that guy that’s on the technical terms and wants everything to be perfect in sound and everything like that, even though it’s annoying as hell a lot of the times (laughs) we all understand he’s just trying to make sure it’s the best for everybody and that’s fun to watch. It’s fun to watch that passion that he has for the band and working forward and we’d never really had a bass player that was all about it, involved in everything and booking shows and all that and his stage presence, he just wants to be better and better so it pushes everybody, where it’s just like, we gotta work hard. Especially with him bouncing all over the place, the energy on stage, I think that raised our overall live show energy quite a bit. We’re like, “This little guy is jumping all over the damn place, we need to step it up.” Then Sean, you know, Taylor’s never really worked with a guitarist of that caliber before so I think it helps push him to even be a better guitarist too and also gives him a lot more freedom to play other things because he knows Sean can handle it and they can bounce solos off of each other. Music wise with Sean it’s just, he’s inspiring. Like Dwayne, all of us now are inspired by each other and the talents we’ve crafted and honed over the 25 years of playing music. Then off stage, Sean’s a breath of fresh air. He’s always a pretty positive guy, very creative, just an artistic force is what he is, not only in the music realm but video and all the little quirky things he does he’s just, he’s like a muse almost, at that point he wants me to be a lot more, it forces me to be a lot more creative too and [he’s] open, he’s not judgmental or anything when it comes to ideas. He’s just like, “Shit! Let’s do it,” He’s not going to shoot anything down.
Well, that’s good. The tour just started and you’ve been playing a couple of the new songs. The next time you actually sit down to write, do you have anything that is kind of in the works or will it be from scratch?
Yeah, there’s probably six songs out there that we’ve worked on a little bit that are worth working on more. We’re hoping June, I think our plan is in June we’ll get in the studio for a couple weeks and re-record some songs from old Royal Bliss records even, like I Was Drunk and Fine Wine and Champagne, and kind of see what we can do with the new line up because I really think that Royal Bliss is the strongest it’s ever been at this point. With the best line up and where our head is at it’s been a really good year. We’ll probably write a couple more too. We have a couple we’ve written and haven’t recorded so there will be some brand new jams for sure coming, probably, I’m hoping by Fall but we’ll see, we might push it over until next year.
Any chance that you’d release a single?
Yeah, we’re going to release Drown With Me, is basically the single, I don’t know if we’re going to push it super hard at radio…
But like on iTunes or…
Oh yeah. It’s gonna come out, I’d say, next month. So we’ll have it out on iTunes. Like the video came out, then we were gonna release the single this week too but we’re kind of holding off, it will probably be four or five weeks it will be out, that’s the plan.
What is your favorite part about crafting a new song? The actual process or the reaction from fans?
Well, the actual process and sometimes I’ll get discouraged at the beginning of the process but then as we work through it it’s really fun to see it come to life, especially in the studio where you know you have a good song and you work with a producer that kind of helps bring it out of you and everybody is open to trying new ideas and coming up with new riffs and words and harmonies and background vocals and all these things, at that moment, it’s like that tingle, like, “Aww, this coming together. This is going to be awesome.” The reward is when you do play it for people and they love it. Like Drown With Me, has been really well received as well as this other new song, Into the Night, where every time we play it you’ve got people screaming at the little breaks in the song. That’s one of those songs that I was nervous to play for Royal Bliss fans but they’ve been super receptive, especially the girls. It’s a whole package of writing something, loving it and then it’s kind of like having a kid that you’re proud of and you get to watch him grow up pretty much over a day. It’s like, “Oh, you’re just a cute little baby, I like you, but we’ll see what you grow up to be,” then as everything comes together, they grow up to be such a beautiful young song.
So, would you say the expectation to create music is a big motivator or is it kind of scary?
You know, to create that song that people could relate to or…
Yeah, I mean, I’d be lying if I didn’t say, when we’re writing sometimes I definitely have in mind my wife and a few other people, I’m like wondering if they’ll like it and we have diehard fans and I think people have always counted on us to come up with good stuff and release quality records and quality songs and take the time to craft those songs and put our heart and soul into everything we do so you always get worried that you’re not going to be able to come up with that tune or there’s that fright of I’m going to go through writer’s block or something like that and not be able to come up with lyrics people like or be forced to write some other way but, the expectation of it…
Interrupted by Taylor: That was the worst shower ever.
Taylor: It was freezing cold then way too hot then warm then it would go in these little cycles.
Neal: (laughs) Ahh, bummer.
Neal: Expectation of writing songs, and yeah, you have to be writing. You have to stay relevant. You have to come out with new stuff nowadays so there is a pressure there where we’ve been sitting for too long and have to come up with something new to give everybody. Like this Drown With Me was an accident. We kind of came up with an idea and we’re like, “Well, let’s just work on that song when we would go into the studio for the day and we’ll see what happens,” that’s one of those that came together over a 24-hour period. Which was really happy, really good that that happened because we had something new to give out to people and people love it and the video was just a bonus. (Taylor comes back into the room) What was I going to say right there?
Taylor: (whispers) Sorry.
Neal: You just totally ruined it Taylor. It was something deep. It was going to be the coolest thing I ever said. This year has just been kind of, we’ve never had it before, where things just are falling in place and just happening and it’s really weird, I don’t want to jinx it, but I don’t know. You always say, “Maybe this is the year,” but I think this is definitely the year where there’s gonna be a lot of new people looking at Royal Bliss and we’re gonna make some waves. I’m excited.
Well, awesome. So, what would you say is Royal Bliss’ greatest strength?
Greatest strength? I think it’s our chemistry. We’ve been together 17 years, me, Taylor and Jake at least, and Dwayne has been with us like five years, he’s not going anywhere, and Sean just joining in, the way those two kind of joined the band was really perfect timing. So I think our greatest strength is us. We work together well. When we’re all together on the same field we’re working together, it’s hard to stop us, with everybody’s individual talents and everybody’s got strengths that just make one complete machine and the machine is very durable. We’re like an old school diesel that will never break down. We’re able to get through adversity and bumps in the road and we work on that together. We have our hard times and we realize when we need to give each other space and when we need a break, I don’t know, us is our best strength. We all, and where we are right now, the five of us, you can’t take one of those pieces out because it would just change this amazing thing that is rolling right now.
Well cool. With the music industry getting easier for some bands and harder for others, has your definition of success changed over the years?
Oh yeah. For sure. In the past, you wanted to sell a million records, and you had those goals, so your goals just change. Some of mine, I was hoping to do a platinum record but that will never happen, because people, you just don’t buy music anymore. But for me, I’ve always had little dreams. My next dream would be to tour the world. We’re getting a new tour bus. Finally a Prevost that we can tour around the country and do that for at least 12 months and it’s amazing that that is there and we get to do it. That’s hard to believe it’s happening. But success nowadays I think is being able to do it for a living. If you can pay your bills at home and pay your mortgage and put food on the table for your kids, if you decide to have a family, and you can support them, then you’re a success. I think it’s like that with anything in life. Whatever job you want to do. Even being a doctor is hard. You gotta go through school for 20 freakin’ years or something and then build your clientele, that doesn’t mean that you are going to be successful or make a bunch of money but if you can make a living and you enjoy saving people’s lives, then you can make a living and enjoy improving people’s lives with music and you’re getting to do what you love that’s success in my book. When I was younger it was more like, “Aww, I want a beach house and be a millionaire and blah, blah, blah,” where it doesn’t matter anymore. As long as I can continue to do this and be happy then, I’m there. That was actually hard for me to come to grips with too. I’m such a big dreamer and achieving certain goals has always been important to me. But now, like the Prevost thing, even if I never get to do that, that just kind of came up. So it’s like, “Sweet! That’s off my list,” and now I can focus on the world. That would be the end of everything I’ve wanted to do, for the most part. Travel the world playing music, tour in style, and of course, if we could get a raise that would be sweet. (laughs) because I wouldn’t mind having a retirement. I don’t know how long I can keep these pipes running into my 80’s.
Well, if you take care of yourself. You may find that you will be.
That’s the big if.
Alright, my last question is a little kind of random. If you could take all the Royal Bliss songs as they are now and put them in a different genre of music, except for rock or country, what would you pick?
(Pauses to think)
They would magically transform to sound the way they should in a different genre. Which one would you pick?
Umm, oh man. That’s a toss-up. It would be between super heavy metal or folk.
Yeah. I like folk bands, like the stomp folk music, it’s a lot of the stuff I listen to, like I said, it makes me feel happy. Two different, completely different things but, those are the two things I think about sometimes. I just want to write a super heavy, just roaring double kick pedal insane metal song but then I also want to write, the original version of Home is a very stompy folky one that I did by myself. I like those records with some crazy effects on my vocals and sound like freakin’ My Morning Jacket or some shit. Who knows, someday I might give that a shot. (laughs)
When you’re 80 and you’re doing a solo album. (laughs)
(laughs) Yep. I’ll have to do a folk, singing super low.
Well, that’s all I have. Thanks again for speaking with me and best of luck with everything.
Thank you and thank you for coming out and hanging out with us. It’s fun having you around.
Well, thanks. I’ve had a good time.
Thanks for not making me get up. (laughs)
Royal Bliss are currently on tour. Find all dates here.
Watch the video for Drown With Me: