An Interview with Neal Middleton.
by Al Brzostowski
photo by Tricia Starr - TStarr Photography
Looking at a 20 Year Anniversary celebration, Royal Bliss, with Neal Middleton, Lead Vocals, Taylor Richards, Guitars, Jake Smith on Drums, Sean “Memphis” Hennesy - Guitars, Vocals, and Brian Hennesy on bass, has been making their mark the past 20 years. From Salt Lake City, Utah, Royal Bliss’ music speaks to the hearts of the common man.
Their recent song, “Devil With Angel Eyes”, with the accompanying music video on YouTube, is a gritty, hard driven southern rock song, that punches you in the throat with Neal’s deep and raspy voice.
Recently, I had a chance to talk “shop” with Neal at their acoustic show at Sidlelines in Janesville. And as always, a great story to tell.
MI: You have a new cut called “Devil With Angel Eyes” out now, with the accompanying music video. What can we expect next?
NM: Beyond the single, we’re writing a bunch of new songs, going into the studio at the end of May, end of June. Basically bouncing from studio to studio while we’re on tour around the country. Laying down these new songs and hopefully release a single from time to time, and then when we feel like we have 10-15 songs, we’ll make it a CD or album at that point. For now, it’s just writing, writing and writing and then releasing what we can.
MI: Any new endorsements?
NM: Boneyard’s Bloody Blend has always been a good supporter of ours and sponsor. I mean, we have a few small sponsors, especially in Salt Lake that helped us out, like Apex Dental, Even Stevens and the local Budweiser has been there for us. And Sennheiser Audio and DDrums have been amazing.DDrum has always supported new and upcoming bands and actually give a shit about them.
MI: RB’s tour is underway for 2018, including locally, BRATFEST. How has it been going?
NM: YEA!! It’s been great.All the shows with this new song coming out, I think we got 24 stations already, which is crazy, I really didn’t expect that to happen. So, we’re getting some more shows lined up with these new radio stations playing the new song. BRATFEST is one of our favorite shows of the year, it’s a free concert so everyone can have a good time. We’re playing with Saving Abel and Black Stone Cherry. We love playing with those guys. We’re also playing with Shaman’s Harvest soon. We’re just happy to be on the road again.
MI: Dwayne departed in Sept. 2017. Was it a gradual thing, or unexpected? What changed?
NM: Yeah, for the most part it was mutual. I mean, it was just time. It just wasn’t working out anymore. And we all knew it. So it was just time. We got rid of the tour bus around the same time, let Dwayne go. This band has done it a couple of times, where we needed to regroup and refocus. I think we were losing focus towards the end of last year. All last year was kind of a tough year. It just wasn’t Royal Bliss. It didn’t feel like Royal Bliss anymore. So, we needed to wipe the slate clean, and get back to the basics. Just to love music again, and having a good time, getting rid of the BS. Not saying Dwayne was, but there was some heaviness there. So we lighten the load. It’s just five guys loving and playing music. And that’s what it’s all about.
MI: Brian Hennesy, Memphis brother, took over the slot on bass. How’s the transition going?
NM: Yeah, Brian’s awesome. He’s a phenomenal player, solid. Easy going.
MI: What are your influences?
NM: Aw man, it’s so diverse. Memphis and Brian have a pretty eclectic background as far as music goes, and bands they like.They’re very technical and they’re musician musicians, where they love the playing and the technicality of the playing. Me, I listen to vocals and stories, and things like that. I love Pearl Jam. I grew up when they were still number one. They throw down one hell of a live show. I’m all over listening wise. Folk, to some hip-hop to country, metal to rock. I’m always looking for new music too. We keep our music diverse. People always say, “You gotta pick a lane”, and for us, it’s always Royal Bliss.No matter what kind of genre. We never want to lump our music into one category. That’s why our music goes from “When I Was Drunk’, to “Cry Sister” to “Monster”. You gotta evolve. You can’t get scared to do anything new. You can’t get stuck doing the same thing. Be versatile.
MI: What new music are you guys listening to?
NM: Well, there’s a dude named Anders Osborne. He’s awesome. Awesome songs. He’s a lyric guy.He’s got this song called, “Mind of a Junkie”, not that I’m a junkie, (Laughs), but…I can relate with his lyrics..Luckily, I found him randomly. And another band,Glorious Sons, out of Canada, awesome band. They’re kinda like us, all over the place. They have some really good rock songs, maybe fall into the alternative category a bit. I’m excited that I found a new band that I can go through more than two songs that I like. It’s like make it through eight songs, and I feel “Yes that’s it.” Any band can have one or two good songs.
MI: Looking at 20 years, tell us more.
NM: Yea….(laughs)…Yes, 20 years…that was our first show on April 18th, 1998, that’s what we based that anniversary show on. It’s actually been longer than that. We actually started our first practice in December of 1997.
MI: What inspired “All for me Grog”? Or was it a continuation of “I was drunk”?
NM: No…(Laughs).. No, My parents lived in Chicago, and the would travel into Wisconsin. Some port, up here, somewhere. I can’t remember where they’d go. But I remember, they’d mail me back, because I stayed in Utah, when they moved out here. They mailed me back this CD called, “Saturday Night at Sea”. And it was all old sailor songs from whatever era. All for Me Grog was on there. I was 18 or 19 I think. I used to love that song. We’ve been playing it in the band, I’ve been singing it forever. The band started playing it, and doing it every St. Patrick’s Day for the past 15 years. The video for it was so much fun filming. It was a song we’d do once a year, and it was a last minute decision in the studio. We had like 5 hours to kill, and we were done with everything. We couldn’t start with a brand new song of ours. So it was like, “Let’s throw down All for Me Grog”. Did it real quick. It was awesome. It was like two weeks before St. Patrick’s Day. The radio stations picked it up. I was amazed.
MI: Give us the best “I was drunk” scenario that happened to you.
NM: Oh, Crap! My best I was drunk scenario?!? The biggest one that I think puts things into perspective, was, we played out in Nevada, at a motorcycle jamboree. We were playing with Y&T, and I was hanging out with those guys on their trailer that they had there. We were just partying and drinking and drinking, and I don’t remember much after that. I remember I woke up the next day, it was Father’s Day, and I woke up in jail, with my nose like stitched, it was like my face was stitched back together. I was so confused. I finally saw it in the mirror, and trying to pull what was on my nose. I really had no idea what the hell I had done. I guess I got beat up by like 4 cops. I had to have cat scans. I guess I started or got into a fight, not with the cops, but, they stopped me. It was like, “Hi honey, it happened again”. That was probably my worst there’s tons of others.that are a lot better, but that one sticks in my mind.
MI: What’s your most ” rock star” moment you’ve ever had?
NM: I think the time that I felt like a rock star, and the band did something cool, was we were signed to Capitol Records. We showed up in L.A., and we went to the iconic building, the round one in L.A. We walked into that building because we were recording that day, in Frank Sinatra’s old studio. We got in there, and they had Royal Bliss posters all over the place. Royal Bliss was playing throughout the building. It was pretty awesome. They took us to the top, they gave us a tour looking over the roof. They told us stories about Jim Morrison writing about the Hollywood bungalows, and pointed them out. Telling us all these cool stories. I got hold Frank Sinatra’s original Telefunken microphone. They took me in this vault, and pulled out this box that said, ‘FRANK” on it. That’s all it said. They said, ‘You can hold it”, I was amazed. I wanted to lick it. (Laughs). That was a true a true rock star moment for sure.
MI: Strangest place ever played?
NM: One cool one, was in Texas, Odessa, like an old, rodeo grounds. Dos Amigos. It’s all these old dudes that kinda run it. They were all walking around with like six shooters. That’s was security. Full on guns. Like a bunch of Sam Elliots. Like the mustache, everything. No joke. You didn’t screw around with those boys. That one was weird. But we definitely played stranger spots. I did play a 60th high school reunion with Taylor Richards. It was in Merona, Utah. It was all these, you know, there wasn’t a lot of people left, being a 60 year reunion. We played in this old, retirement community. So that one was interesting.
MI: What’s a big obstacle that the band has encountered?
NM: The industry. It’s constantly changing, so we try to keep up. Stay relevant. And timing. Timing is the hardest thing for us. It’s always feeling like we’re just 5 minutes behind. And also trusting people in the industry, to not screw you over. They want you to sell your soul, sign over everything to them. You can still make it, but you’re still making the same money that you were making before, for the most part. At least for a little while. A lot of times, less. It’s timing and trust.
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