I’ve always been fascinated how a person, or in this case, a band, can take random music notes and turn them into chords and melodies, choruses and verses, and eventually with the addition of lyrics, a song. After listening to the new Royal Bliss album and realizing each member had various levels of involvement in creating this amazing piece of work, I really wanted to pick their brains to find out how it all came about.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Neal Middleton, Taylor Richards, Jake Smith and Dwayne Crawford prior to their show at Freakster’s Roadhouse in Pontiac, IL, which took place a few days after the official release, to discuss the making of Chasing the Sun. During our hour long conversation, they shared thoughts on many things including their experience with funding the new album via Kickstarter, how writing and recording this album compared to their previous releases and details of their various external collaborations. Neal shared his pizza analogy in regard to song writing and talked about how writing and singing music is a huge form of therapy. They also explained why starting their own record label was important and what they hope everyone discovers about the band after listening to this album. After hearing them explain all the various parts that went into creating these songs, I appreciate the art of making music even more.
Listen to the entire Royal Bliss interview below:
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UnsungMelody: Today I’m joined by the band Royal Bliss. If you could each go around, say your name and what you play and one quirky thing about yourself.
Hi. My name is Jake Smith, I play drums and I love 80’s music. Is that weird?
I’m Taylor Richards and I play guitar and one thing quirky about me, geeze…
Jake: Maybe we should say something…
Neal: A quirky thing about the others.
Taylor: I got no tattoos.
Neal: And he has an intense obsession with Googling pictures of beagles on his phone.
Taylor: That would not be me, but it’s alright, I don’t.
Neal: Of his beagle, I guess. My name’s Neal Middleton, I’m the singer and I’m a huge fan of Walt Disney classics like Little Mermaid and Aladdin and I know all the songs in Little Mermaid. That’s kind of quirky for a rocker.
Jake: Quirky gay. (laughter) I said I love 80’s music.
I’m Dwayne Crawford, I play bass and I have extreme OCD. It drives everyone in the band nuts. (laughter)
UM: Okay so your new album, Chasing the Sun, was just released on February 18. This time around, you guys reached out to fans via Kickstarter for funding. Considering the overwhelming response you received in meeting and exceeding that goal, how was your overall experience and would you recommend it for other bands?
Taylor: Good answer. (laughter)
Neal: We were nervous to do it in the first place. I think more nervous not to reach our goal and to fail in that aspect but you know the fans, the fact that they came through so, I mean, above and beyond, I mean it’s just one of those things that tells us that we’re on the right path and we’re doing what we should be doing and the fans still believe in us and want us to keep going. And as far as other bands, I would recommend doing it that way because for one, it’s basically just they’re advance purchasing your record and other things they see of value from you and it’s almost like what a record label would do where you’re getting money but you already have that money to be able to produce it and then you don’t have to owe anybody back. Then the way we did it, we kind of got the fans involved and created a special, like a secret group on Facebook that we just included the Kickstarter’s and then we have a website that we’re doing where we’re going to start doing videos and actually ask questions of the fans and have them do tasks, like different things, like calling radio stations, almost like a street team to help us promote. I mean the fans, the Kickstarter’s are the one that picked our album cover, so that was one of the first things we had them do. So it’s been a fun experience I think for both them and us and we’re getting good feedback from it.
Taylor: Just to add to that, I’d say, as far as other bands doing Kickstarter, just do some research. You learn a lot of things that you should and should not do and some bands, I’ve seen people sell a $10 package that comes with a CD, a T-shirt, a hat, a poster, I’m like, that cost you $15. Why did you just sell that for $10? You just lost money by giving this package. You’re not getting anything from that.
Neal: Yeah, you gotta do it strategically.
Taylor: So you know, make sure you do your research and kind of know what you’re doing before you dive in.
UM: Alright, so Chasing the Sun is your eighth release which seems kind of crazy, but considering how long you guys have been around.
Taylor: I would say it’s more of an official fourth, really.
Jake: I’d say official fourth.
Neal: Official fourth, but yeah.
Taylor: The previous four were more of, little band demos that just happened to be…
Neal: Local releases.
UM: But still, a release is a release.
Neal: Yeah, that’s true, true.
UM: So how would you compare this to the previous?
Neal: Someone else want to answer?
Taylor: To Waiting Out The Storm previous?
UM: Any of them, just overall.
Taylor: I guess I would just say that it was nice being able to record this one kind of at our own will, you know, at our own pace with the guy that we wanted to record with at home, Matt Winegar. It was our first time recording with Dwayne so that was new for us and probably him. I think it was also different because I think everyone in the band brought something different and new to the table that we’d never had before. With Jake bringing in songs, Dwayne brining in songs and so forth and it was the first record we did as a four piece. We’d always been a five piece with all of the records we’ve done before. So maybe that was a new thing for me but, I think overall, I think we’re all satisfied and it came out, I think everyone seems to be okay on the final mixes and such. I think we kind of maybe went a little bit further than we went with the sounds and instrumentation and stuff that went into the making of the record, the songwriting and such. So yeah, I think it’s our best one yet and I’m very proud of it. So far it’s been getting good reviews and people have been digging it.
UM: Awesome. So what does Chasing the Sun mean and is sun a metaphor?
Neal: Well, it’s kind of a continuation of the other four major releases. Where, After the Chaos we were going though a really crazy time and we survived through it so it was like after the chaos. We’re kind of breaking out into our own to kind of be in Life In-Between which was the next record which was kind of like, we were signing to a major label and it was our first major label release and it was that life in-between of being a local band or being a major label band and also like with personal struggles, you know, in my life was life in-between, I almost died probably six times, so I’ve been in that kind of limbo of life in-between, you know, life and death. Then we got out of that and there was more chaos. So we were in this storm, which was Waiting Out The Storm, where we lost our bass player, we lost our guitarist, we got Dwayne, and it was this storm of just, it was our first release without Capital Records and without a major label.
Taylor: Which is, to chime in, sorry, I think is one of the hardest things to do is to go from a major label that has all of the promotion and all this expectation and to all of a sudden now doing it on your own because you don’t have all that and people are expecting, you know, you’re a major label style record or a lot of backing and a lot of promotion, a lot of marketing and when you don’t have that, it can crush you. You know, so sorry to cut you off.
Neal: So that, we were in a storm, but we knew that we were going to be patient with it and we fought through it and now we kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel and the sun is shining through and we’re chasing it. We still believe in ourselves and we believe in our music and we believe in our evolution as musicians and songwriters and it’s just like chasing your dreams, but the metaphor is Chasing the Sun instead. We fought through the storms and all the chaos and life in-between and now it’s our time in the sun.
UM: You know it’s interesting how you described the titles because I never knew that. So again, it puts something into perspective. It’s like, oh, that clicks.
Neal: Yeah, it’s kind of like…
Jake: It happens on accident every record we do. (laughter)
UM: Well did you know guys know ahead of time, “Oh this is what we want to call it” or did that come later?
Dwayne: We went through a hundred different titles. We have a constant text message thread and we’re constantly texting each other song titles, one liners from songs, I think it took us a week to find the title for this record.
Neal: Well, most of the time we find the lyric, it’s a lyric in one of the songs so we take it out and it’s like, “Oh, that’s a really cool line” and it kind of, whenever it’s relevant to whatever situation and where we’re at in life and they all fit perfect. Waiting Out The Storm was the first line in Catch You and Life In-Between in is in Save Me and Chasing the Sun is in Cry Sister. So those titles, they fit perfect.
UM: Now Jake, you created the design for album cover, right?
UM: What was your inspiration and was it a tie in with the title? Is it left up to everyone’s own interpretation?
Jake: We were initially going with somebody else who was designing it, so where ever he left off, I kind of continued on, basically.
Taylor: We actually posted that album cover on our Kickstarter to be voted upon.
Jake: It was kind of something I was always thinking about once we got the title.
UM: Is there some other meaning, or is it just…
Jake: Mmm, not really.
Taylor: I was going to say, from what I gather, whether you did it on purpose, it kind of reminds me of Salt Lake or the Salt Flats or Utah…
Jake: Yeah, that’s true
Taylor: …where the desert and the mountains, how the sun can be, I mean it can be a cold snowy day but the sun can be poking through the clouds or, and obviously chasing the sun with, I like how he put the footsteps. Someone made a comment, “Are they coming or are they going?” You can’t really tell and there’s just some elements in there that kind of can make people think about, you know, the skeleton. “Is that from the past? Is that you or did someone die not making it to their destination?” or there’s lots of things you can kind of sum up in your head.
Jake: I just put that shit in there to mind-fuck people. (laughter)
Taylor: Pretty much.
UM: I have to say, the clouds and the sun it’s very striking and the more you look at it, it’s almost like it’s real, like you’re actually looking and seeing that, not it’s just album artwork. So I bet that’s going to look awesome on the vinyl.
Neal: Yes. It will look great.
Jake: We’re excited about that.
UM: So if I remember correctly, Dwayne joined the band 3 or 4 years ago…
Dwayne: 3-1/2 years ago, right in the middle.
UM: ..and I believe most of Waiting Out the Storm was already either written or recorded.
Dwayne: All of it. (laughter)
UM: So now that he’s in the band, did you have a different approach and for you [Dwayne] how important was it to create music with these guys?
Dwayne: For me it was exciting just because I’ve been playing, the music eventually started feeling like mine because I added my own little spin on bass lines and whatnot, me and Tommy are two completely different players, but it was just exciting to be able to make something of my own with these guys. I mean, hell, 2-1/2 years of playing other music, you can connect with it, but after a while, you want to work on something so it was exciting for me to be able to give as much input and it was an awesome process.
Taylor: What was the first question of that?
UM: Did you guys approach writing differently?
Jake: It kind of just depends on who’s involved, when you get four different people trying to come together, four different cooks in the kitchen, it can be pretty complicated sometimes. But this record wasn’t at all. We all kind of came together. It’s always been easy writing with Dwayne.
Neal: it was different in the aspect of a lot of the times before, on a lot of the other records, we’d go in and someone would have a riff and just start rocking out and I’d just make up lyrics and that’s how the songs were written and a lot of this record, where people had pretty much all the music written and then presented it to us, like Dwayne had Impossible and Alive to See riffs and Jake had It Haunts Me and these songs that were pretty much already put together and usually before we’d all just get together and jam but it was cool because everybody was really, it wasn’t, “Hey this is my song and it’s going to be like this,” it was everybody taking everybody’s input and let them make their parts their own, so that was cool.
Taylor: Yeah, and also on top of that, I think, one of the cool things that I’m glad we ended up using was, Neal was doing these songs with these hip-hop dudes in Salt Lake and Salt Lake doesn’t have much of a hip-hop scene, I don’t know, maybe, but it was kind of one of those things where the rappers’ always like, “Hey, we need a chorus, we need a hook,” and Neal would come in, you know, throw down these lines or whatever and Neal would come and be like, “I did this song and some of them were just like, the song never really, whatever the hip-hop guy did with it, but I remember listening and like, “Oh my gosh that’s an amazing chorus or verse” or whatever, “is that something we can Royal Bliss out?”, you know, like turn it into something of our own. We’ve gotten to know the guys he was writing with and they’re super good guys and I think it’s only benefited, or both of us, but that was really cool, we kind of used a totally different outside element to bring into what we do as a band.
Neal: I did two with, his name is Kis.B, Kisi Fonua, and then one with Joel Pack, who is another, which is Drink My Stupid Away, who is another local artist in Salt Lake that I just would go in, we’d jam out and write these songs and it was cool that the band allowed the songs to make it on the record too and they put their own element into it, they kind of got their own life whenever these guys put their flow into the songs.
UM: Alright so now either individually, or as a group, when you are writing, do you bounce ideas off of people outside of your group, writing group, or do you wait and complete it and then say, “Hey, what do you think of this?”
Taylor: I think both.
Dwayne: I think it really just depends.
Neal and Taylor: Yeah.
Neal: I think for the most part it’s just, like on this record we kind of just went for it and the only person that we really got advice from was Matt Winegar and then Welcome we wrote with the guys from Candlebox, the first song, they came over and we were just rocking out with them and we got their advice on some of the songs too, the other ones we were working on. For the most part it was, we accidently did this record. We’d go in and record three or four songs and then go in another month later and do a couple more and then before we knew it we had ten good songs that we all loved and it was just like, “Man, this is a cool record.” As far as asking questions, Matt Winegar, as our producer, he’s the one that got it kind of whittled down because we had a bunch of other songs too but we focused on these ten.
UM: Now Neal, did you write most of the lyrics or was it collaborative?
UM: Yeah. Alright, so for me, the most personal sounding song is one that by the title alone you would think it’s some get crazy, party song…
Neal: Drinking song.
UM: Yeah, and of course it’s Drink My Stupid Away. Can you give a little insight to that song if you don’t mind?
Neal: Well, the funny thing is, the line that came up, I was with Joel and we went out back and usually we smoke a little before we come in and start writing and we had smoked a little…
Taylor: Smoke a little weed, not crack.
Neal: A little marijuana. Yeah, not anything else.
Taylor: Might want to clarify every once in a while.
Jake: That sounds way better. (Laughter)
Neal: So we got a little stoned, or a whole lot of stoned and I remember coming in and he was just like, “Oh my gosh. I need some beers. I gotta drink my stupid away.” and I’m like, “I love that line.” Like that was really cool but, and then thinking it might have been a song like that, you know, trying to drink your high away and be like, oh it’s silly but a lot of times, well every time when I write, I kind of zone out and whatever comes in my head just kind of comes out and so it was one of those things where I think we were getting ready to go back on the road and it’s another one of those songs where it’s tough to tear yourself between your family and rocking, your love of Rock ‘n Roll, your love of playing music live so that’s where that line in there is “if I could break myself in two, one for them and one for you” that’s my favorite line in that song because it’s true. I don’t know what’s right. Is it right for me to follow my dreams and keep doing Rock ‘n Roll and making the fans happy, I mean, I love it too. Or is it right for me to stay at home and get a normal job and spend time with my kids and all that stuff. So that’s extremely personal song for me, for sure. I remember listening to it a couple times, it’s the By & By, like By & By is one of my favorite songs and that’s another one of those where it’s deep, where I’ll lay in a bath tub and cry and listen to it. (laughter)
UM: To be honest, when I actually, you know, headphones on, listening to the lyrics, it hurt, you know what I mean?
UM: To me I was like, wow. Because between that song, Dreamer and Home, like to me, it’s almost like, “Wow, is that something that you want to tell people?”
Neal: It’s extremely personal.
UM: Do you ever feel super vulnerable? You’re like, “Oh this song is so awesome I want to share it but…”
Neal: Yeah. I mean, my lyrics have always been extremely honest, I think, where I’m honest with the fans and it’s also like a therapy. It’s definitely thoughts that need to get out of my head. It’s nice to be able to get up on stage every night and let them out, you know, where the audience is my personal therapist. But it is extremely personal, like Impossible is another one of those songs where “tiny paper moons covered in photographs tied to a string around your heart for everyone to see,” that’s basically a line that’s saying, putting my emotions out there and I’m talking about missing my family. I’m talking about, that I hurt while I’m on the road and it’s a difficult decision, but, it’s my life.
UM: Alright, so for each of you, and we’ll start with Jake, what’s your favorite song and why?
Jake: Duh, the one I wrote. (laughter)
Jake: I mean, that’s hard. I like that one, because I feel like, and I think we were talking about this last night, that since we all share this same life, that he [Neal] nails it for all of us.
Dwayne: Define that one because we just talked about two.
Jake: Oh, Drink My Stupid, sorry. That’s definitely the one I like most right now.
Taylor: Umm, gosh, I don’t know. I don’t have any kids, but I guess if I did they’d be songs. (laughter) I don’t know if I can pick a favorite but…
UM: Okay, favorite right now.
Taylor: You know, I guess I can go with maybe one I was more so involved with, but I think Welcome, the first song on the record, it’s like that dumb, awesome rock. I mean it doesn’t really, it just rocks. I love opening with it, because one, it’s easy to play but it just, I don’t know, it just kind of ignites that fire and you can kind of see it out in the crowd and the band, it’s an energetic song for us to play and we get to move around and it just rocks and it was actually an honor to be able to write that song with Kevin and Adam from Candlebox, that was really kind of a cool thing for me. So I guess I’d choose that one.
Neal: Drink My Stupid is my favorite one on the record and it’s fun to play too but it’s another one, it’s hard to play as well.
UM: Because of the emotion?
Neal: Yeah, because whenever I connect to it too much, then, I’ve caught myself on stage crying before. It’s not very Rock and Roll.
UM: But it’s real.
Neal: Yeah, but it’s real. It is real, but a fun one to play live, I love It Haunts Me, which is the one that Jake did. It Haunts Me, I don’t know, it’s just one of those cool driving songs…
UM: That intro, love it.
Neal: …and I’m able to do pretty much my entire range of vocals on that song where I start off low then get higher full voice to high scream at the end where I really kind of get to show off what I can pull off in one song. So as far as playing live, It Haunts Me, it’s my favorite.
Dwayne: I think my favorite song, just as a whole, is Drink My Stupid, just because we, like everyone said, we can all relate to it. When I first heard that song, it fucking, it struck a chord. It definitely hits home. As far as playing live, I’m probably going to have to go with the same song. I fucking love playing that song. It’s great. I don’t know, I think you and Joel did a killer job on that song.
Neal: Thanks man.
UM: Well cool. Alright, so Taylor, there’s some pretty awesome guitar riffs and solos on this album, especially Alive to See, that would be my favorite solo.
UM: Where did your inspiration come from?
Taylor: For that specific solo or…?
UM: In general, the whole album.
Taylor: Gosh, I don’t know.
UM: Like, do things hit you at 2 o’clock in the morning or do you physically sit down and say…
Taylor: No, it’s kind of a combination that when we’re in the studio with Matt Winegar, he is such the amazing musician that you kind of have to bring your best A game or you get made fun of (laughter) and I’ve had enough years of recording and knowing him as a friend and working with other bands with him or whatever, we kind of have this nice little camaraderie I guess of working together and know what each other, and what we both like but…
Neal: It was also the fact that it was Taylor’s first record by himself. We didn’t have another guitarist, where he was really kind of open to do whatever he wanted.
Taylor: I guess that would be a whole other thing too. I mean, I love Chris, he had a totally different view of playing guitar which he would come up with riffs that, in a good way and a bad way, I would never come up with those but I could play them way better. So there were moments, he would come up with a riff and he struggled playing it because it was maybe complicated or whatever and I would grasp it maybe more easier but I don’t want to say it held me back but I kind of had to have a, maybe it did held me back a little bit (laughter), I guess. I also kind of had to revert back to that simplicity of what he could do or else we couldn’t do it together. There’s songs on this record where I know, if he was still in this band, I don’t know if he would still be able to do some of that stuff. Not saying I’m that amazing because there’s stuff that obviously is not that complicated but I think that was probably something pretty cool for me that I just got to do my thing. I would say for me, probably one of my favorite parts is the Turn Me On middle solo thing just because it kind of escalates to the peak…
Neal: Yeah it’s fun. That’s a cool little…
Taylor: I kind of guess I forget about Alive to See. It’s got some interesting stuff going on in there. I always try to play it, I don’t think I can play the same solo twice. I could probably get pretty close, but I’ve never been that kind of, that’s the melody and the notes that I’m going for. I mean, I think the only one that is that is the Devils and Angels solo which is just like, that’s kind of got that same thing. Other than that, most solos are just off the cusp.
Dwayne: I think from my perspective, watching Taylor write solos for this record is really interesting. He plays, like he said, he plays a different thing every time and he would literally just sit there and record part after part and just find something that worked. He’d play a part 30, 40 times until he was like, “That’s it.” (laughter)
Taylor: Sometimes it was a take and sometimes it was 100 takes. That’s true.
Dwayne: It’s awesome though. It’s cool to watch because none of them sucked, but they just weren’t “the part” and then he’d get there and it was like, “Boom, that’s it” and you just knew and that’s what stuck.
Neal: Taylor’s not a super technical guitar player, you know where, he plays with emotion which is what makes him, in my eyes, just an amazing guitarist. He lets it pour out of him and every solo and every night it’s different, you know, even like when I’m singing lyrics, when Jake’s jamming on the drums, you’ll feel a different vibe each night and I think that’s one of the things that makes us unique where it’s not so technical and the same shit every night. There’s not, you know, 50 other guitars being played through tracks in the background, it’s Taylor being Taylor and at that night he wants to shred it this way, sometimes he fucks it up and it’s a total flub… (laughter)
Taylor: Did you hear last night? (laughter)
Neal: That’s what makes it awesome, you know?
Jake: That’s the way live music should be.
Taylor: The second to last chord of Crazy, or whatever, I just duffed that chord and what’s his name from Wornstar…
Dwayne: It was awesome.
Taylor: …like the loudest laugh, giggle, (laughter) like “HA HA HA!” and I was like, “OOPS! You caught me.” It was pretty funny.
Neal: Well that’s what’s cool. I like that shit. There should be mistakes in Rock ‘n Roll when it’s raw and real.
UM: Alright, so you guys have been talking about your outside writing or collaborating, do you guys look for that to involve people in your process on your journey, or does it help stimulate your own creative.
Neal: I just like writing, personally. I’ll go and write with anybody at any moment. I’ll have random friends that come over and just be like, “Hey come over and have a jam sesh.” Again, the way I write lyrics, it just comes out. I don’t sit and write them down it’s just whatever mood I’m in or whatever I’m going through in life just kind of pours out. So it’s like again, therapy as far as writing for me and if we end up writing an awesome song that makes it on the record then it’s cool to be able to take them along on the journey and showcase, especially the local talent from Salt Lake City, ‘cause there’s a lot of good talent, so it’s cool to be able to be like, “Yeah, we wrote this with these guys and check them out” hopefully it will help them. Like Spencer Nielsen is another guy who he came up with the riff on the verse of Cry Sister and I don’t know that we’d have that song without Spencer being involved in the jam sesh, one three hour venting session that we all were just rocking out for three hours. There’s probably 15 songs on that recording but we just pressed record and kept playing random shit, but for me I just like writing music. It’s fun. How about you guys?
Taylor: I think those jam sessions sometimes there, it’s like, maybe to describe it a little bit better, we’d go into the studio and literally like there were amps and drums or whatever and people would just come and jam and seriously 2-3 hours, we’d record it all, there was no set, just someone come up with a riff and just go and it might morph into something else or it goes to the peak of, or it goes to an ending point where it’s like, alright we’ve exhausted that idea and then someone has a drum beat and a whole new idea sparks. Totally different and not even close to the same subject and then like I remember Neal and I, we’d go and listen back to the recordings and he’s like, “Dude, this line is so awesome,” I was like, “This riff is so awesome,” we’re mathematically putting our jam session together to create or form some song and it ended up being Cry Sister. But it’s kind of one of those things where that was kind of cool to just listen back and put together a song that literally came out of three hours.
Jake: Or some of the days it was just all crap, and it was like the hardest thing in the world to write a song…
Neal: Yeah, where it just doesn’t happen.
Jake: …like we’d never done it before and everyone was on a different page and hated each other and then we’d come back the next day and write a song in five minutes.
Taylor: Yep. Sometimes it takes hours, sometimes it takes 3 minutes.
UM: That actually leads to a question I have in a minute but, so what was the longest song that it took to write and what was the shortest?
Jake: Didn’t Welcome take a while?
Taylor: I feel like…sorry, go ahead.
Dwayne: I was just going to say, I feel like Impossible was pretty quick because I brought all the music for that to Neal and Neal had the chorus right then. We actually recorded…
Neal: I was singing in the bus.
Dwayne: …in the bus. We put my laptop in Ty’s bunk while we were driving and closed the curtain. Neal stuck his head in there and sang into the microphone [of the computer] because we didn’t have a microphone on the bus and I’ve actually still got the original recording with the background, you can actually hear almost the bus hum louder than Neal singing, but his part, it’s the exact same and it was a pretty quick song.
Neal: I think the longest song, that took, was probably Cry Sister because it was parts where it was, we went in, literally for like 3-4 hours and just jammed one day after like, in the middle of a 3-day binger, for me, when I was drinking my ass off. I remember we played in Mesquite and came home. I was also working on the club in SaltLake and my wife was so mad at me because I didn’t come home. So I went into the studio, still drunk from the two days prior and continued partying and we jammed for 3-4 hours and remember taking the recording and then I took the recording on a road trip to Vegas and listened through everything and while I was driving I was taking notes of the different time on the record of when it was because there were no tracks. It was just all…
Taylor: (laughter) Like, “One hour and 47 minutes and 10 seconds was the shit!”
Neal: Then there’s, “This line right here and then there’s this part” and I remember…
Jake: Yep, I remember that.
Neal: I had them all written down for Taylor and I’m all, “This time, this time,” then brought Taylor over and kind of went through, so be like, “This part would be a perfect verse and we need a chorus and I say this line at fucking 2 hours and 52 minutes that would be a perfect line for this chorus…”
Taylor: I still have that notebook that I have all my time stuff written in.
Neal: …so it kind of, put it together and then showed the band and then it evolved even more so that song actually took the longest to write.
Dwayne: It was kind of a reggae song when we went into the studio and I didn’t want to record it. I hated it. I thought it was terrible.
Jake: Same thing with Dreamer too. That was a totally different style. That one took a while to turn around too.
Dwayne: It was bad and when we started writing it, the parts were there it was just the vibe was just awful.
Dwayne: We really wanted to change it and me and Jake kind of morphed the verse that Spencer had written into more of the rock vibe that you actually hear and then Taylor wrote, in my opinion, one of the coolest chorus riffs ever. I love that riff and then, I don’t know, I love it now.
Taylor: I guess my only two cents, maybe not as far as songwriting goes but in the studio, I thought the song, or the songs that took the longest were Home, because we did not know if we wanted it to be a stripped down acoustic song or a big rock anthem or in the middle or neither…
Neal: We changed the format of that one a lot.
Dwayne: We tried all of the above.
Taylor: We’ve got mixes of Neal on the guitar. We’ve got mixes of, versions of big band electric guitars, solos, and then we have kind of an in-between, like a, I don’t even know, like an alternative indie folk mix or something like that. All of us were like, we didn’t know what the right direction for that song was…
Jake: But we knew it was a great song. We knew it had to go on the album.
Taylor: We knew it was a great song, just how do we approach the instrumentation that goes around the great song. And I think the other one for me was Dreamer, just because again, it’s a great song but we have all these elements of instruments, that synthesizer, like, do we have that in there, do we not? It’s kind of a key component but does it get old after two minutes and by the end of the song you’re like, “Get rid of that annoying sound” or there were so many guitars that we scrapped. I got to the point where I was like, “I don’t even want a guitar on this song. I don’t even care. This is a synthesizer song.” because you hear it so much that, and then after you get a mix of it and you hear it and you’re like, “God, I don’t even know if I like that. Do I like it?”
Neal: I always think of a song as a pizza. Like a good song is, you know you love pizza…
Taylor: I never heard this one.
Neal: You know it’s going to be a really good pizza because you love pizza. (laughter) You have all of these ingredients that you have to work with and you’ll add some pepperoni or add some artichoke hearts, then the artichoke hearts are too strong or whatever, so it’s just like taking, you know maybe the artichoke hearts might be a guitar riff, it’s like it’s really cool and I kind of like it…
Taylor: But you need less of it.
Neal: …but you need less of it. Different toppings and ingredients that you got to put in that you know it’s going to be an awesome pizza, but, so you make a bunch of pizzas until it’s like, that’s the right pizza and then you have a good song. (laughter)
Taylor: Or a good pizza. (laughter)
Neal: Or a good pizza.
UM: I have to say, because I always have to kind of throw in my own two cents, Home, obviously I don’t know what the other recordings sound like but I think its sounds perfect. Dreamer, I love the heavy synthesizer in there, because it’s almost like it’s so weird…
Neal: Yeah, it’s different.
UM: …but it’s different so it stands out.
Taylor: That was kinda why we ended up, I remember there was another guy from a local band, I can’t even remember, anyway, long story short, he was there and was like, “If you’re gonna have,” and I remember his saying it, “If you’re gonna have the synthesizer in there, highlight it.” It’s really bad ass and you don’t want to bury it because then everyone’s like what is that going on in the background? Highlight it like it’s a strong,” you know, and I was like, “There you go Matt. There’s our answer. Turn that shit up loud.”
Jake: I was the one that said that…
Taylor: Were you there that day?
Jake: I’ve always felt that if you’re going to do something weird, do it really weird. Don’t just kind of make it a fucked up guitar sound or like, go crazy.
Jake: That’s cool.
UM: Alright, so you’re talking about all the different elements of creating these songs and a lot of them have that big rock anthem sound. Your lyrics are amazing, personally speaking. I mean, from start to finish the entire record is awesome…
Neal. Good. Thank you.
UM: …and you guys know I would not just be saying that. I mean, between catchy riffs, or catchy choruses, melodies that stick in your head, did you guys set out to make this big sounding record, or did it just…
Neal: It just kind of happened, really. We always, we never set out to be mediocre. We always want to have it to be the best it can possibly be and we’re all pretty critical of, especially our individual instruments and then the songs as a whole too, and I think Matt Winegar is one that really brought it to that power and letting him just go to town was the first time, we worked with him on the past four records, but this is the first one that he had all control to do whatever the hell he wanted. So I think a lot of the power that comes on the album is directly from Matt Winegar. As far as, I’ve heard people be like, “This is probably one of your most commercial albums yet” and for us we didn’t have a label, we didn’t have a manager and we didn’t have anybody telling us what to write it was just, we were putting the best songs that we had, which is what we always try to do, and not worry about if it’s going to fit some format or not, we just write songs that we love and that mean a lot to us and Matt I think took those songs that we wrote and really brought them to life.
Taylor: I think actually on that, I do remember when we were finishing Cry Sister and we decided that was the first single because it fit Active Rock. I don’t know if it’s our best song on the record but regardless, it just fit. We sent some songs out to people and they were like, “That’s your song, you have to go Active Rock radio.” and it has turned out to be great for us. But it was one of those things, this was the first time ever that we put out a song at radio and then we set a release date, I think our release date was April something.
Taylor: It was kind of based off our Kickstarter, we’re like we’ll get everything to people by April and that gives us plenty of time, no rush and it was the first time ever that we got a couple phone calls, “You cannot put this record out in April, it needs to be February. January.”
Neal: Yeah, you need to put this out right now.
Taylor: We’re like “What? We’ve never had a record be moved up.” It’s always back…
Neal: Push it back.
Taylor: …and back. And we’re like, something’s working. So that was kind of interesting.
UM: It’s a damn catchy chorus. I can’t tell you how many nights, or mornings I woke up and the first thing that popped into my head was the chorus.
Neal: Cry Sister.
UM: So it can’t just be me that it’s getting stuck in my head. I think, I’m not sick of hearing it on the radio, I will say that.
Neal That’s good.
UM: So I think you guys picked a winner.
Taylor: Yeah, thank you, it’s doing great.
Neal: Yeah, it’s been good for us for sure.
UM: Do you feel this is your best work or is it still to come?
Neal: Well, I mean we always hope the next record is the best record. We always try to make the next album the best album that we’ve ever done. I don’t know that we will ever do something that we don’t believe is that.
Taylor: Yeah, the last record was the best record we had ever done up to that point. (laughter)
Neal: So I think, of course we want to hope that we will continue to evolve as musicians and songwriters and hopefully do another kick ass record and another one after that and another one after that.
Taylor: Yeah, there’s nothing worse than recording a record that’s worse than your last one. (laughter) “Yeah, no, I don’t think this one’s better than any one we’ve done, it’s probably worse.”
Dwayne: There are bands out there that do it.
Neal: Yeah we know that happens but I think a lot of the reason for that happening is labels pushing them to do another album before they’re ready to.
Taylor: Yeah, gotta do it, gotta do it, gotta do it. “We need one song. Okay, next.”
Neal: The fact that we’re our own label, we don’t answer to anybody. So it’s like if we don’t want to do a record for 10 years, we don’t have to. Then if we don’t feel like we have to have another good record for 10 years, then maybe this is the last Royal Bliss record, who knows.
UM: It better not be.
Neal: (laughter) Alright.
UM: So what was the biggest challenge making the record and what was the most fun?
Dwayne: I think finding the time to go in, I mean we tried to, I don’t know, with touring I feel like it’s difficult, we tried to make it a pretty relaxed environment, a pretty relaxed situation, but there were definitely times that we just didn’t have time. We were like, “We need to go in and we need to finish this,” but…
Jake: Yeah, it was almost harder since we were home because when you’re home you kind of have to…
Neal: Lots of distractions
Jake: …to take care of families and stuff.
Taylor: You come off the road and you don’t want to, you get home on Sunday night and you’ve been gone from your family or whatever for two, three weeks, months, whatever, and you come home and you’re like, “Okay, now we’re loading into the studio Monday morning and we’re going to be there from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. every single day for another three weeks.” just doesn’t work.
Neal: But I think our girls, our families understood that this time and our main reason for going like we did in Portland for Life In-Between, and we did Nashville for this last one because, and for me personally, I really wanted to push that because I knew of all the distractions and it’s tough because, “Oh I have to go to so and so’s b-day party, or the wife’s mad at me and needs me to come home,” which is understandable or whatever, but whenever you’re out in Nashville for six weeks and you’re just there with the guys, you’re focused on music and you’re getting the music done, but, so this time was like, “Alright, we’re going to record at home and you gotta give us the freedom, you know, we’ll be there when you wake up, which is ten times better that us having to get out of here and go spend six weeks away from you,” and so I think they were a lot more supportive. And that was probably, I think, the best part of beyond the easiest was, you got to go home and we didn’t have to spend so much money on hotel rooms and…
Dwayne: Half the time I lived in Atlanta. So I went to Neal’s home for the first part of writing so…
Neal: Yeah, Dwayne was staying at my house…
Dwayne: …I think that might actually be the most difficult thing for me was, everyone else was home and I wasn’t, so, but that’s a totally different story.
Neal: I mean that’s what was difficult for you on that one, so, I mean it was…
Jake: Well it was difficult for us too. (laughter)
Dwayne: Especially Neal. (laughter)
UM: You had an extra child, right?
Neal: Yeah, he was easy though. He’s easy.
UM: Alright so for me personally, these last two albums, I feel that you have really grown with your writing and your sound. With each album cycle, do you find that you learn something new about yourself and do you feel that you’ve grown as musicians?
Jake: I feel like, I think this is the best record we’ve, I know it’s the best record we’ve ever done.
Taylor: Yeah, definitely grown as musicians. Like we said earlier, we had two guitar players, now we have one. We didn’t have Dwayne Crawford, now we have a Dwayne Crawford. So I mean, and he brings his musicianship that makes us bring up ours as well, you know and vice versa.
Neal: I know, me as a, I think as a vocalist, I think I got more comfortable, I think I tried to push it too hard on the last record as far as singing goes and to be able to pull off a lot of those songs live was difficult and to do that on tour, so this one I kind of had in mind I didn’t want to push, I didn’t feel like, I toned it back a bit and tried to stay more in my range of comfort. So I definitely learned that. Then also it’s really the first time, besides a couple songs with Monty Powell that we wrote that were, it was cool going out and actually showing the band music, but going out and writing with other musicians, because I’ve written with these guys a million times and for me to write with other people and see how they write, I gained a lot of knowledge just by writing with others. So I think I’m going to continue to do that and like I said, I just love writing songs. So yeah, I’ve definitely grown as a vocalist and as a songwriter, or I’d like to think. It would suck if I didn’t. (laughter)
Jake: I don’t think we’d keep doing it if we weren’t still growing.
Neal: It’s one thing we always said as a band, that as long as we keep climbing, no matter how, what the grade is, as long as we’re not going the other direction, we’re going to keep doing it and that’s why we’re still here 17 years after the fact.
Taylor: I think we’re at 16.
Neal: 16 years?
Taylor: I just approved it in the bio.
Neal: Oh yeah, 16 years.
Dwayne: I think for me, this being the first record I’ve written with these guys, I’ve recorded with other bands and I’ve written with other bands and…
Jake: He didn’t know shit until he got with us. (laughter)
Dwayne: Yeah, I was retarded. I feel like these guys have definitely pushed me harder. I mean, this is the first four piece situation I’ve been in so writing directly with Taylor and filling gaps, I mean, I feel like my job is to play enough to fill some spaces but to not over play and I feel like it’s made me a better musician for sure.
Neal: I think that’s the cool thing about this band that everybody’s a star in this band, in my opinion, where…
Taylor: I’m a star!
Neal: Everybody’s awesome and we’re comfortable with each other and we gel and there’s not one person that outshines the rest, so it’s like, we got great chemistry and I think there’s a high form of respect there, even though our personal, you know, we’re a little different, you know, just to talk to as individuals, so there’s that struggle of being able to communicate, which I mean I think everybody has, like the communication issues trying to figure out how or what Taylor’s trying to say and try to understand it and be like, “Okay, I get what he’s saying” and understand what Jake, because we’re four different individuals, so always the communication barrier that you gotta learn how to work with each other, but I think we figured that out.
Taylor: At the music level, you know, is maybe a little more on the same plane.
Neal: Yeah, the music level. It’s still you know, even just describing music and trying to get your point across so the other person understands it, but I think we did a good job and we learned about each other, even every freakin’ day, which is also a bad thing because we know how to push each others buttons and we do it on purpose sometimes.
UM: So what do you hope people discover about Royal Bliss after listening to the album?
Neal: Our huge packages.
Jake: That we’re their favorite band ever. (laughter)
Neal: We were their favorite band that they didn’t know about.
Taylor: Something that Judy England said was, and I remember talking to Neal about it too, there’s a reference in Dreamer that goes back to Devils and Angels and on a small scale I guess it’s cool to have people go, “Wow, is that a reference to this?” and it is, but at the same time if you don’t know us, you wouldn’t know that so if you get into us off this record, and you’re like, “What does that mean?” and next thing you know, you buy another record and then all of a sudden there’s like little things that start clicking, like even just the album titles that start to play.
Neal: There’s a story there for sure.
Taylor: Yeah, so I think that’s kind of cool on this record.
Neal: And I think every record that we’ve written, especially the past four, I think they’re all really good albums and I think there’s a song on each record that will end up being somebody’s favorite. So that’s the thing, I hope they find this record and I hope this record is the one that sparks everybody to be like, “Alright, who the hell is this band? They’ve been around 16 years.” and want to go back and find out catalog and buy those other records and then become new old fans. You know what I’m sayin’? So I hope, I just hope they discover Royal Bliss with this record.
UM: Alright so you kind of touched on this earlier, but Cry Sister was in Top 40 at radio, right, for Active Rock.
Neal: Yeah, at 31 for two months.
UM: You’re not on a label. So, tell me how and why Air Castle Records came about and how important it is to you guys in 2014 and potentially other bands.
Neal: Well I think, for me personally, I always wanted to kind of be our own record label and do everything on our own even though it’s a lot of damn work. You know there’s definitely days where it’s just like, I want to be a singer and I just want to write music and do that but there’s days where it’s like, we’ve learned so much about the industry and how it functions and how it works that there is a lot of knowledge that we could use to benefit other musicians and I think with the, we know how to do everything, pretty much at this level.
Taylor: Yeah, I’ve had conversations with old managers and friends and that are like, “How do you even know this stuff? How, where did you find that out?” I was like, through experience and through calling and making a phone call, sending an email…
Neal: Asking questions.
Taylor: “How did you get your song there?” Well, I sent emails and emails and emails until someone responded and said, “This is how you do it,” and to do that isn’t a phone call, it’s fill out weeks worth of paperwork, find out you did it wrong. Refax it in, scan it, scanner doesn’t work, go buy printer ink, you know what I mean, or whatever. As far as the label side goes, I think that we just learned, the more we put into other people hands, the less it gets done.
Neal: And the less Royal Bliss it is.
Taylor: Yeah, and the less we all make. Someone’s getting a cut and at the end of the day, we’re like, there went all this money for something that we could have done or whatever. We just figured out that, I mean, yeah we’re not, you know, major label money or backing, but we have the connections, which major labels, you know, a lot of those things are all about connections and we know that we’re not going to shelf our own record or put all this hard work and have it just go, (laughter) have it go down the drain because someone goes, “Yeah, I don’t think we want to put it out,” and that’s happened to us. We forced our Capital Records Life In-Between to come out. Like, absolutely forced. They got bought out, they were just like, whatever, you guys, we can go on without you obviously and we were like, “That is not an option,” and we pushed and pushed, pushed, pushed, pushed, pushed, pushed, pushed, finally, like literally, I had had less notice, we had less notice that our record was coming out on that release than any album I’ve ever done in my entire life. We had less than 30 days notice, “By the way,” in mid-December, the worst time to let someone know you’re record’s coming out because everyone is shopping for Christmas, they don’t care about in two weeks after. We had, I think we had about three weeks, like right before Christmas, “Yeah, it’s coming out January 13.” We’re like, “Well that’s great news but you’re telling me my biggest release of my life is due, is coming out in three weeks notice? Thanks! Glad you got all your ducks in a row.”
Neal: It will be fun if we can actually start signing bands, which we’re planning on. It will be fun to test out really how much we’ve learned and how much we can help a band out and it does just come down to the knowledge of people and bands just don’t know. They don’t know all the ins and outs of the industry and they don’t know that they can do a lot of it on their own. We don’t want to rape any bands, we’re not going to do the deals other managers and labels do that end up screwing bands and taking all their songs for the rest of their life. Where it’s like we understand both sides of it. Where we’ve learned about the industry and we’re also musicians that pour our hearts and souls into our music and spend the time away from the family so we totally get that side of it. It’s not going to be like, “Oh yeah, we’re going to take all this, and we’re going to take all this and even though you’ve guys have been around for 10-15 years and sacrificed this and sacrificed that, we’re still going to take all this money.” Hopefully we’ll be able to make a little bit of money and maybe change the industry a little bit too by doing it a different way.
UM: Cool. So you released a video for Cry Sister and I believe it was the same director as Crazy, right?
Neal: Yep, Chris Le.
UM: Yep. Do you guys plan to do another video? Are you going to focus on the next single? Like what’s your…
Neal: We need to do a lot more videos. I kind of wrote a script for Dreamer that I hope that we can use and start filming, but there’s a couple other ideas, I would love if we could do a video for every song on this album. Nowadays you don’t have to spend a ton of money to be able to do it. I’d really like to do just a live video, that shows kind of the back, you know, like us doing this interview right now, someone filming something like that or Jake getting ready right before he goes on stage. One of my favorite videos that we have is Devils and Angels video and it’s just live footage of us playing in front of crowds and the fans and the audience and those are my favorite videos. You kind of see the inner workings of the band over a song, you know like Home, I think would be a really good song to do that to. But yeah, we definitely need more videos.
UM: So for the Kickstarter packages you guys are offering four bonus songs. Have you decided what those are?
Taylor: Kind of.
Jake: Sort of, yeah.
Dwayne: Sort of.
UM: Can you share?
Neal: (laughter) Well, we have options it just depends on, I don’t know, we have options. But we might, when we go back home we might sneak back in the studio and record some more stuff because we kind of like to, to start recording songs when we’re at home and then we end up with one or two that are good, start releasing them just on iTunes and be like, “Hey, we have this new track coming out.” and just start doing that every 6 weeks to two months. I think that would be really cool and there’s a lot of B-sides and stuff that we could use as bonus tracks and maybe even a few live versions and covers songs. There’s a ton of stuff that we never released, we’re just trying to figure what the right ones to release would be.
UM: Now are there extra songs from this recording process and will those ever…
Taylor: There were like two songs that we didn’t really finish, but they weren’t finished. (laughter)
Taylor: We didn’t finish writing them…
Dwayne: There were like four or five songs that had parts but they need to be reworked.
Taylor: Yeah, yeah. They just didn’t quite, I shouldn’t say they weren’t as good, where they were in the songwriting aspect…
Dwayne: They weren’t mature.
Taylor: Yeah, they hadn’t matured.
Neal: They were unfinished pizzas.
Taylor: They weren’t where the rest of the Chasing the Sun songs were.
Neal: We didn’t really put them in the oven.
Taylor: We kind of said, “You know what? We don’t need to waste our time trying to make these ones be the ones when we already have the ones,” and when we have time to come back and maybe dive into them or maybe do a new song, we’ll suss out that situation.
UM: Alright, so you’re currently touring through March. Do you know what your plans are the rest of the year?
Dwayne: Tour, tour, tour.
Neal: Tour. Tour as much as possible and play in front of as many people as possible and gain as many fans and hopefully, if we can possibly get over to another country, we’d really like to make it to Australia this year. I know there’s some fans down there that are really pushing to make that happen. Australia or UK or anywhere overseas, I mean, it’s always been a dream of ours to be able to travel the world and play music and if we can make money at it too, that would be great but even if we broke even and toured overseas I’d be stoked, or lost a couple thousand dollars.
Taylor: Let’s just start breaking even.
Neal: Yep. (laughter) So I think it would be really cool. Yeah, and like I said if we can get in and record songs we’d like to start releasing a song a month, maybe in the Fall and start doing more of that just to see how it works and because we can.
UM: I think it would be pretty cool.
Neal: Yeah, I think so too. I think it helps you stay relevant when you’re constantly giving your fans something. It’s like, “Oh Royal Bliss has a new song coming out.” and you have something to talk about too and it’d be even smarter if we did a video with it, but we’ll see if that happens.
UM: Well Shinedown did that with their covers. They filmed it as they were singing it but it was a cover. So you could do the same thing
Taylor: Was that the little acoustic thing?
UM: Mmhmm. Yeah, so you could do the same thing, record it, video it and then release it.
Neal: Beyonce style.
UM: Alright, so here at Unsung Melody we like to end with a random question. So for each of you, if you could travel back in time, what advice would you give your 16 year old self? Dwayne…”
Neal: Holy shit.
Dwayne: Oh man…uhh.
Neal: Oh God. (laughter)
(silence while thinking)
Neai: (laughter) That’s a really hard question (laughter)
Taylor: Don’t…what? (laighter)
Dwayne: Yeah. (laughter) Oh man.
Jake: A very long list, but at the same time maybe none of it.
Neal: Yeah, that’s the thing, that’s what I’m going through.
Jake: That’s my answer.
UM: No advice? (Jake nodded)
Taylor: I probably would say…save your money and stay in school. (laughter)
Neal: Really? Aww, that’s sad. (laughter)
Taylor: That doesn’t mean you can’t still play Rock ‘n Roll, I’m just saying, in general.
Dwayne: Taylor Schwartz over there.
Neal: I really like Jake’s answer. I’ve had a hell of a life and there’s been some really hard times and hard things to go through but man, I wouldn’t take it away for anything. It’s been a, why not live a life that you can write a movie about, you know?
Jake: The smallest thing could put you in a totally different situation, so it’s hard.
Neal: I may say bang more chicks, but that’s about it. (laughter)
Dwayne: I wouldn’t put that in there. (laughter) Umm, gah, I don’t know…I’m kind of with Jake on that. The smallest thing could change. I mean, when you look back and you think about every decision you’ve made that lead you to the place that you’re at, hell, there are decisions I almost made differently that would affect my position where I’m at today. I don’t know. I’ll keep it simple and maybe just say, practice, practice, practice.
Neal: I’d say probably try eating sushi earlier than you did because I really like sushi.
Jake: Yeah. Hell yeah.
Neal: That would be something small that I don’t think would affect anything.
Taylor: Maybe you’d be a professional sous chef right now.
Neal: Yeah, I could have fell in love with sushi at a young age and become a chef.
Taylor: Live in Japan.
Neal: That’s right. That’s right I could have.
Taylor: How about you? [question is directed at me]
Neal: Yeah, what would you tell your 16 year old self?
Taylor: Now it’s our turn.
Dwayne: Yeah see, it’s tough, huh?
UM: No, I’m trying to not to use a swear word. But, there’s a line from a Metallica song that’s, “Fuck it all and no regrets.” I wish I would have started doing that earlier than my 30’s because right now, you only get one life, so if you want to do it, do it. Well, obviously within your means, and all that, but live life, take, you know, experiences, and just do it. You know, and people may look at me and be like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe” whatever, but you know what? It’s my life and I’m not hurting anyone.
Taylor: That was the best answer.
Neal: And you never know when it’s gonna end, you never know when it’s gonna end…
Neal: …so live it up and experience everything.
Dwayne: Can you pretend that was my answer? (laughter)
Neal: I’ve pretty much already lived that way so, I’m thinking it was about at 16 where I kind of said, fuck it, or 15 I think it was, when I said, fuck it and kind of lived and I kind of quit sports and was just like screw it.
Taylor: Yeah, I was probably about 18.
Neal: Started banging chicks and, and that was awesome. (laughter)
Dwayne: And that was great.
UM: So on that note (laughter) I just want to say thank you for taking all this time and letting me pick your brains about this amazing album and I wish you guys nothing but the best.
Neal: Thank you.
Taylor, Dwayne, Jake: Thank you.
Neal: Thank you for always being an awesome support to us, we appreciate it, and for all your amazing photos too.
UM: Well, thank you.
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