Five-piece rock band Royal Bliss stepped out of the garage and onto the stage while most folks their age were headed to the dorms. Based in Salt Lake City, they crafted their sound, spinning and weaving influences along the way, and just put out their ninth release in June, an EP titled The Truth.
From recording disasters to broken relationships and lawsuits to injuries, Royal Bliss’ 18 years as a group has seen its fair share of ups and downs. But that’s what makes for great rock music, right? They even got signed to major Capital Records, only to return to independence and distribute their music with TuneCore.
The Truth was co-written by veteran Nashville producers Monty Powell and Anna Wilson, signifying a new direction for Royal Bliss as they embrace a more country sound. Guitarist Taylor Richards was kind enough to re-hash some memories and talk about the new record below:
You guys got together as teens. Explain how it feels almost 20 years later to still be writing, performing, and building momentum as a band.
Taylor Richards: Well it still feels great to create new music. Three of us have been together since the beginning, and now we have two new members that have added some spark and musicianship that we did not have when we started.
We still jam, we still argue about a riff or a lyric, but it’s always a great feeling when you are in a creative environment. This newfound country genre twist has garnered some great new momentum that looks to be very exciting. The Nashville scene has embraced this new thing, and here we are — almost 20 years into being a band, it’ like the feeling of just getting started. We are loving it! All the new songs are some of the best we’ve ever written. We are very proud of this little EP.
How would you break down the fusion of rock and country in terms of the music you were influenced by and grew up playing/writing?
I grew up listening to my parents’ music — Beatles, Beach Boys, John Denver, Kenny Rodgers, Elvis and such– but when I actually started getting into guitar at age 13, I was heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and CREAM. Royal Bliss’ music has always been an evolution of some sort. We started out a [with] a Pearl Jam meets Sublime kind of vibe. We always had acoustic songwriter elements with the folky stuff, and through the years we even had some hip hop, funky rock, hard rock and reggae sound as well.
I think what is making our current music sound so different than what is going on in the country world is that we are coming in from the outside. We aren’t a cookie cutter product of Nashville. We are just seasoned musicians and songwriters that have been honing our craft for many years and just now getting a little notice from the industry in a genre we never thought we’d be in.
Has it been interesting to see the ‘pop country’ phenomenon that has swept the United States over the past decade?
Pop music that finds its way into a sub-genre is always going to sell and catch on. I am a sucker for a well-crafted catchy pop song. With the [pop-country] explosion it’s been interesting to see the reception country music has gotten with this. Bigger crowds. Better sales. More stars. It’s great! Some of the stuff I’m not a fan of, but if it’s well done I’m easily converted and become a fan.
Being from a place like Salt Lake City, what was it like trying to break into your music scene in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s as a country rock band?
When we started, we were in high school and we had lots of friends. We had a band. And all our friends would come out to these little shows. Through the college years the SLC music scene was actually thriving. I personally knew four or five bands that had gotten major record deals, only to fall apart or break up.
They never lasted. Maybe that’s why we have been successful. We are still plugging away. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been quite the ride!
You’ve equated to being in a band for eight to ten years out of high school as your version of college. How important is keeping the chemistry alive for so long?
I think it’s kind of true. People go to college to educate themselves on a career. Same with musicians. We go out on tour, we write and record, and we learn through trial and error. This can take years to understand and learn in a constantly changing business.
There is no school, no book that educates you on how to be a band on the road: How to write songs with said band. How to read contracts, or book shows. How to tour and not kill each other. Some aren’t cut out for that kind of lifestyle, and some think it’s a glorious life of riches and fame. But really it’s not.
It’s about all of the opposite. Smelly vans, playing in front of nobody, missing birthdays, holidays, weddings, and relationships are hard to keep.
Money is always tight. So if you can find a group of musicians that have musical chemistry and can get along with each other outside of music, you might have something. That’s the hardest part: keeping a band together.
Going from indie to major back to indie, tell us about your experience releasing music utilizing platforms like Kickstarter and TuneCore.
The greatest feeling is getting a major label record deal. They promise you everything that you can imagine. And when they don’t follow through, or they shelf your record, it is the absolute worst feeling in the world.
All your hard work — gone. They don’t care that you poured your heart and soul into making that record. Thankfully we never got a record shelved! Being independent is great and all, but it has certain limits.
When the record company comes along they have the power to take things to another level. Promotion, marketing, radio…they can take you all the way to the top if you’re lucky.
When you go back from the major label deal to independence, you lose all this momentum and power that the major label gave you. How do you compete with the big dogs now?
Well, we toured a lot. We gained fans the old fashioned way. Made friends at radio stations, venues and in bands across the country to help move us along. And it kind of worked. We used every bit of our major label connections to help us through the independent side of things that we didn’t have before we had a deal.
We utilized kickstarter to help generate some money for radio and marketing and promotion. Our fans got behind us, and we almost doubled our goal. It was a huge success. [Services] like TuneCore helped make it easy for us to get our music uploaded into the digital world and helped us understand the new music business model that we hadn’t ever dealt with. The back end is great, too.
Tell us more about The Truth – what kind of themes and topics are you guys covering?
I don’t think there is a general topic for the album, but like all our albums it’s about life. What we are currently going through. Songs that connect with us and that the listener can hopefully connect with as well. But we have to feel it first. If it doesn’t make us feel anything, than we usually move on.
The song “The Truth” is about finding someone in your life that keeps you going or keeps you grounded while you get caught up in the craziness of life. (Especially life on the road.)
“We’re All Livin’ The Dream” is about the working man getting to celebrate with his friends on the weekend. Or from our angle, working the 9-5 during the week so we can play on the weekends and live our dream!
“Going to Hell” is a funny topic. We are from Utah, and most people would think we play devil music and I’m sure they think we’re going to hell. But really it’s just about making decisions and it sure seems that whatever decision we make, we’re probably all going to hell. (laughs)
Upon dropping a new release after almost two decades since getting together, what kind reflection takes place? Or is it simply ‘On to the next one!’?
Ya know, I’m not really sure? We have been doing this for so long, that in one sense it is a little “on to the next one”. But I think for this one, we have taken our songwriting to a whole new level.
Also the fact that the industry is calling our new EP a country record, it makes things very exciting. It’s like we are a brand new band again. I’m excited for the things to come.
What other plans does the band have for the rest of 2016?
Tour. Write. Record. Repeat. (laughs) We are on all of the Live Nation country festivals this summer, and we just signed an agreement with William Morris agency. We have a few things in the works that I cant announce just yet, so ya’ll will have to stay tuned.