It had been six months since my last interview with the guys in Royal Bliss, so I took the opportunity to catch up with Neal Middleton and Dwayne Crawford again after their IL show at The Tree of Joliet.
We talked about their new songs, their new direction and how they and others feel that Royal Bliss have found their sound. They discussed a potential time line for the release of new material and how they plan to bring fans into their world with more videos. They talked about how they have changed their mindset, their new found freedom and the amazing things that have been happening to them recently. Neal also dropped a couple tidbits about their Pre-Thanksgiving Bash at The Depot in Utah. Although it comes as no surprise to me, Neal and Dwayne are also a couple of comedians, but I’ll leave that for you to find on your own.
Listen to the entire interview with Neal and Dwayne below:
Today I’m joined by Neal Middleton and Dwayne Crawford from the band Royal Bliss. Hello guys.
Neal: Hello Teresa.
About 6 months ago, at least, you guys recorded the song Drown With Me with Joel [Pack] at Rigby Road Studios and eventually you released it on iTunes. Since then, you’ve been playing other new songs. What is going on musically in the world of Royal Bliss now?
Neal: Well, I think the word that we keep using is evolution. We went and we wrote songs with Monty Powell, it’s the first record also writing with Memphis [Sean Hennesy], so it’s kind of been, I don’t know, it’s like an evolution where we’re just writing these songs and they’ve been influenced by Memphis and Monty and…
Dwayne: I’d like to say that we’re being ourselves. We’re being the band we want to be instead of being the band that active rock radio wants us to be because active rock’s becoming metal, country’s becoming rock and we’re not a metal band.
Neal: We just focus on writing the best songs and what comes out of us comes out of us. This was the first time writing songs without kind of forcing ourselves to write in a certain manner. Writing with Monty we knew that we were going to have a little bit more of a country vibe out of it, but really what happened was we found, I think, the Royal Bliss sound. Especially with this line up, with these five guys, it fits. It’s a lot more natural for my voice and just the songs in general, they’re a lot more positive, they’re fun and we’re a fun, positive, like to have a good time band. These songs are…
Dwayne: They’re Royal Bliss.
Neal: They’re Royal Bliss.
So without using a genre, what’s a word, you know, you said positive lyrics, things like that, but if you could just pick one word to describe what Royal Bliss is or what you are wanting it to be musically, how would you describe that?
Neal: Bliss. (laughter)
That’s too easy.
Dwayne: We’re calling it Heartland Rock but it’s soulful. It’s us. It’s real music written by real people, not put together to be some, it’s not written to be something it’s not.
So is it just the five of you or did you touch base with Monty again or anybody else?
Neal: For these songs? Well, Drown With Me was all Royal Bliss. Going to Hell’s all Royal Bliss. Young and In Love we wrote with Monty. Living the Dream was kind of a song I had that, I had a song that I had written about just being on tour, waiting for the bus and with him we turned it into a more universal song and we just loved the way it turned out. It’s about being with friends instead and Into the Night was another song that I had that I showed to Monty. It just evolved with him and he’s a hell of a song writer. We had written two other songs with Monty and that was Singing for Our Lives and Fancy Things. So this was the first time we told Monty, “Don’t have any preconceived notion of what we’re writing. Just write and do what you would want to do. Be a part of the process,” him and his wife Anna, who is a phenomenal Jazz musician, and it was cool. We went up to their house in the mountains and just started playing a bunch of music and they just started falling out. Lyrics and changes and it was a neat experience. We had never really done it like that. We always pride ourselves, “Well, we’re only going to write with just these five guys,” or just one of us writes a whole song and this time it was really cool to work with somebody who’s done it for a living their entire life that we’ve been friends with for 16 years and be a part of the process because a lot of bands, especially in country and even rock nowadays, they don’t even have anything to do with the songs that they’re singing. They don’t get to write a single lyric, they’re just given to them. So for us, we’re extremely adamant about being involved in the writing process and we have to because it’s the music that we’re playing. Especially lyrically, I need to be telling stories about my life and songs that I can relate to and writing songs that make people feel good. Bring people together
So are you finished or do you have more studio time coming up at the end of the year?
Dwayne: Oh yeah. A lot more.
Neal: Yep, we’re going back in December and we’ll go back in January and we might dive into some of the classic Royal Bliss songs like Crazy. Redoing Crazy and giving it its time to shine because it’s a phenomenal song and I Was Drunk and Home and Fine Wine and Champagne and looking at songs that we’ve had in the past that fit more in this new direction that we’re going, it’s not even, I don’t even want to call it a new direction, it’s just the direction…
Dwayne: It’s us being us.
Neal: …the road turned.
The fork in the road and you chose the path least taken or however that goes.
Neal: It’s what feels right. It’s just comfortable. It’s funny, all the people that have known us, especially in the industry, are just like, you guys finally found your sound. It just sounds so perfect. It sounds so Royal Bliss and natural and we couldn’t agree more with them. You know we’ve done the hard heavy songs in the past and a lot of the time they were forced out of us. Where it’s just like, alright, we got to write a song that rock radio is going to play and they’re very personal songs, deep but a lot of them are full of angst. You know I got sick of singing songs about how I hate the industry and negative songs like that. Where I love singing I Was Drunk, Bleed My Soul and songs like that. Especially all these new ones. Living the Dream is such a fun song. It’s a sing along song, you know, just thinking about all my friends. All the times that we just get together and hang out and those are the moments when you’re really living the dream.
So have you thought far ahead enough about an actual release or EP, full album, another single on iTunes?
Neal: We have a few ideas.
Neal: Spring. Like right now if we were to make a game plan, right now, sitting here in the back of the bus, it would be, we’re going to release a 6-song EP in either March, April or May, of the six songs that we have done and mastered and ready to go. The songs that we go in December and January and record we’d release another six songs in the Fall. So we’d tour through Spring and the beginning of Summer and then tour in the Fall and release those six songs. But, the world changes and there’s a lot of people in Nashville taking interest in these songs. We’re not against signing a record label deal and doing something with the Nashville community. There’s been a lot of really cool people that we’ve met and the whole time in Rock, sh-t, we didn’t meet freakin’ any of the agencies and managers and people that we’ve met just in a two day period hanging out in Nashville. (laughter) It was almost like coming home. It was really weird and the people just embraced us there.
Dwayne: We had more cool sh-t happen in two days of Nashville than we’ve had in the f–king five years I’ve been [in the band] doing this. (laughter) Just in two days…
So let me ask you this. Since May, would you say more things have been falling into place that you didn’t expect?
Neal: Oh yeah. It’s been really weird. Especially these songs, we re-recorded the ones we had done demos with Monty and they’re actually done and mastered and kind of coming out. We met with radio stations, one of the top radio stations in Nashville, and they were like, “We love this song. We want to get behind this. We want to push it,” and it’s like, okay? Then we met with all these top booking agencies and now, really, that these songs are done, the ball is rolling. We get info every day that this is happening and we got booked on seven different country festivals throughout next summer and now these others start coming in, “Well, would you guys be interested in doing this and doing this,” so yeah, it’s really cool. This whole year has been incredible. From writing with Monty to meeting Brian and Heidi from Boneyard’s [Bloody Blend] to here we’re in this bus too and there’s just been multiple things that have happened and it’s time. We’ve been working extremely hard and all the fans that are out there that have listened to us and believed in us, I think they kind of sense it coming too. They’ve been waiting. It’s like, sh-t, when is this band going to get their break? Because you know, we’ve been at it for 17 years and I feel like we deserve the break. We’ve been doing it passionately, from the heart. Doing it in a honest, soulful way and I’ve changed my personal mentality, I think I said in the last interview, where I want to prove the people right that have always believed in us because when it happens, it’s going to make every single person that’s ever listened to us, that were so passionate about Royal Bliss, feel like they won too and it will be a cool victory for all of us. We’re finally up where we all feel we should be and I think in this direction it’s going to happen and it’s going to happen fast.
Well cool. I wish you guys luck with that. So, even though you would only release an EP, do you think you would ever do another Kickstarter type campaign again?
Neal: I don’t know. I don’t think so.
Or have you moved on and want to get stuff to the people quicker via digital.
Neal: I mean, we’ll do a pre-sale thing. We’ll do that kind of deal and try to set up something basic but doing the whole Kickstarter thing, it was a little stressful doing the Kickstarter thing. I don’t want to keep going back to that kind of deal because even though people are getting something out of it, it still feels like you’re asking for money and even though people would be fine to do it, it just feels weird.
Dwayne: At this point I don’t think it’s really necessary as a form, I mean a lot of people use it to fund the more expensive aspects of being in a band because it is expensive and when you’re self-funded you need that help. Truthfully, we have an EP done. I think the best way to go about it would maybe be a pre-sale campaign like Neal said or hell, just put it out there. Just get it done.
Neal: We definitely want to plan it out right. Unfortunately it takes money to do promotions and radio and everything else.
Dwayne: It takes money to do anything in this industry. (laughter)
Neal: Yeah, right. But we have people behind us that really support us and believe and I think we go more that route and work with either a private investor that wants to do it and really get behind it or I think this time we’re really going to shoot for the labels and try to find a partner.
Dwayne: Whatever situation feels right. Whatever it may be.
Have you guys or do you guys plan to do any more filming in studio because the video you released was kind of cool…
Dwayne: F–K YEAH!
…to see all of that behind the scenes kind of stuff.
Neal: Yeah, we’re going in December. We don’t know quite what we’re going to do there yet, we have different ideas, but…
Dwayne: We never do. (laughter)
Neal: Yeah, there’s a few things up in the air. We want to go in and record some of the classic songs acoustic and invite a bunch of friends in and people in just to come and experience and film the whole thing. You know film the day of set up and doing some songs and then film all the fans in there and friends and singing these songs in that acoustic moment.
Dwayne: We have a really sweet formula that works for us in the studio where we show up, we set up a bunch of gear and we talk for a while and we just jam.
Neal: Then we say, “Let’s see what happens.”
Dwayne: And sh-t just kind of works out that way. I mean Cry Sister, that’s how Cry Sister came about. Neal had some lyric ideas and we started jamming some riffs and pulled the song out of our ass.
Neal: With Drown With Me, we didn’t even have that. We went in with, that was just an idea and same with Going to Hell. That was just an idea that we figured out the week before, a couple days before. We’re like, check this out and then I sit there and try and write the lyrics right before we sing it, and we knock it out and it turns out awesome. I think it kind of happens more naturally that way. It’s real.
So, when I interviewed Sean back in May he said he was having a double neck guitar/banjo made that he was calling Michaelbanjolo.
Do you know if that ever happened?
Neal: It’s in the process. The guy is struggling.
Dwayne: I don’t think he’s heard back as much as he’d like to. I think Michaelbanjolo is still a very realistic dream.
Neal: Somebody will make Michaelbanjolo.
Dwayne: Somebody will create Michaelbanjolo but for the moment, you know, Sean’s a phenomenal guitar player. I think he does everything he needs with one neck.
Well the reason I asked, are there any instruments on any of these newer songs going forward that people might not expect?
Dwayne: There are organs, B3 organs in almost every song and pianos.
Dwayne: Banjo, but honestly, it’s not really far out of the realm, as scary as it sounds to talk about these extra instruments, I mean, f–k, there was organ in I Was Drunk, there was piano in I Was Drunk, there’s…
Neal: Most of our songs have other elements that people don’t think about. Strings.
Dwayne: A lot of people don’t pick those things apart so it’s almost better to not even talk about them (laughter) because don’t know they’re there.
Neal: It’s just added, especially in recording.
Dwayne: There’s a lot that goes into recording a song and making a song and what you hear opposed to what you hear live.
So let’s say the majority of these songs end up with the B3 organ, keys, whatever, would you consider bringing somebody out with you to replicate that live?
Neal: Yep! Actually our show this year at The Depot, that we’re going to be filming as well, we’re bringing out Walker Gibson who has been a friend of Sean’s for a long time, out of California, and he is going to come and be our, what do you call him?
Dwayne: Utility player.
Neal: Yeah, utility player.
Dwayne: You know, the funny thing is, he’s a better bass player than I am, he’s a better guitar player than Sean or Taylor (laughter) and he’s a phenomenal drummer. (laughter)
Neal: He is a really talented dude.
Dwayne: He is one of those guys that you meet and you listen to him play and you’re just like, “F–k you, man,” he just gets it.
Neal: It’s not even fair.
Dwayne: It’s like, it’s math to him and it just clicks. Matt Winegar’s the same way. He’s one of those guys, mathematically it just makes sense in his head and he can look at it and go, oh yeah, I can play accordion or I’ll play the kazoo better than most people play guitar. It’s no big deal.
Neal: He’s [Walker Gibson] going to be playing organ and banjo, some shakers, tambourine, some percussion stuff and doing background vocals.
That was actually a question I was going to ask you, if you had any surprise guests or a secret or anything that you’re going to spring on somebody. Not that I’m asking you specifics.
Neal: We’re going to have a special guest singer on one of the songs too. Yep.
Dwayne: At The Depot.
Right. The pre-Thanksgiving Bash.
Dwayne: Ze Depot.
Neal: Ze Depot. I did our own commercial for that the other day. Did I send it to you guys?
Neal: It’s kind of funny.
How many takes did it take?
Dwayne: Neal is a one taker.
Neal: I said, “Don’t be a Dumas, get your tickets now,” because he wouldn’t let me say dumbass. “Don’t be a dumbass, get your tickets now.” So I said, “Don’t be a Dumas.” He was like, “Alright, that will pass.” (laughter)
That was in a commercial.
Neal: I was like, cool, now I want to invent a guy called Dumas.
Dwayne: I know a guy, Michael Dumas was the tour manager for Fuel.
Neal: Oh. Well, I just want to have a guy that just does dumbass things and he’s not cool and we’ll be like, “Don’t be a Dumas, buy Royal Bliss tickets.”
Dwayne: He wasn’t a dumbass though, he was really great.
Alright, so over the years you guys have thrown out random covers. Are you working on anything new?
Neal: Yep. Yes we are.
Dwayne: (laughter) Yeah. Can’t talk about it though.
Neal: We’re playing it on all of these shows, so yeah.
Dwayne: Except for tonight.
Neal: We didn’t play it tonight. Didn’t have enough time. We’re playing it tomorrow and the rest of the tour.
Neal: But nobody in Utah knows yet. When are you airing this?
As soon as I can get it up.
Dwayne: So we’re just not going to talk about it?
Neal: No, we’re not going to talk about it.
Dwayne: You’ll see it in Rockford.
Neal: It’s a classic song by a classic badass singer that I look up to.
Dwayne: You’re missing my birthday?
Dwayne: This is bullsh-t.
Neal: You messed up.
Dwayne: Interview’s over.
(Dwayne and Neal start making tape rewind noises)
Dwayne: That’s the sound when you press stop on a tape recorder. (laughter)
Okay, so obviously majority of your fans know your history with vehicles.
And I would dare to say…
Dwayne: Don’t you do it.
…the goodbye-ness of…
Neal: The goodbye-ness. I like it.
That’s a word. (laughter)
Neal: Yeah, I like that.
…of the old, has maybe opened the door for all these fabulous things happening to you. It’s like getting rid of that weight and the thing dragging you down and now that it’s gone, all these things are happening.
Dwayne: We’ve done that a couple times in our career.
Neal: I think there’s a lot of things happen. I think we’re finally putting on our big boy pants and taking this serious and being the professionals that we need to be. In all honesty, we’ve been a band that has way too much fun on the road where we love to party and we get down. We spend so much time sleeping off hangovers and everything else and not appreciating what we have and now we have this bus and it’s like, alright, we appreciate it. We clean it all the time. We’re actually taking showers every day, people are trying to work out and I don’t know. Everything that’s been happening, working with Monty, a professional songwriter, that’s been there and done it, it’s just, I don’t know. It’s weird and seeing the van go away and getting rid of a lot of baggage that we’ve had, you know, we’re completely free now. We don’t have any managers, we don’t owe anybody any money in the industry and it’s just us and we’re moving forward. We got a bus and we’ve got these new songs, we’re feeling good about everything, we’re rehearsing and I’m losing weight and I’m trying to take care of myself and I am taking care of myself and it’s just that time and this next year is going to be Royal Bliss’ year.
I see it.
Neal: Yep. It’s going to happen.
I see it. Alright, so now for the most important question. When is Step Rockers part 4 coming out?
Neal: (laughter) Didn’t we film, oh we released that one. So we have one, two and three, now we need four.
Dwayne: So we’ve kind of talked about, and I don’t know that Sean really wants to talk about this, but we’re talking about kind of veering directions and kind of moving over, even though we’re all massive Step Brothers fans, we may linger over into some new series. Just watch for it.
Neal: The most amazing movies only come out with a trilogy so the trilogy may be over and it’s time to start another one.
I can get on board with that.
Neal: It’s all based on Conan the Barbarian. (laughter) Just kidding.
Dwayne: It’s completely up to Sean, honestly, he’s the creative force behind it and he’s the one with the motivation to force everybody to get it done.
Neal: Yeah, I’m going to be doing a couple clips on this trip too. Cooking in the Middle with Neal. I’m going to do that one again.
Dwayne: You haven’t done that since I’ve been in the band.
Neal: Yep, this is a new one, Cooking in the Middle with Neal. We’re going to start doing a lot more things like that.
Dwayne: It’s a new old one.
Neal: It’s a new old one, yeah. I did one but it was like eight minutes long back in the day but this one is going to be new and better.
Dwayne: We should do a video at the pig roast tomorrow.
Neal: You know we should do.
Dwayne: We should. Pig roast.
Neal: We should. We said should a lot, we’re going to. I need to get that damn camera out and start using it. My damn computer is broken and it’s flying to Chicago on Tuesday.
Dwayne: I think there are one or two laptops on this bus.
Neal: Yeah, we need to do it.
Alright cool, well thanks for taking the time and I wish you guys the best.
Royal Bliss have dates through December. See all dates and find VIP options here.