April 4, 2014 Interview – Neal Middleton of Royal Bliss
Sometimes, we want something so bad that no obstacle is too large to overcome. For Salt Lake City, UT, the rock band Royal Bliss, while hitting every bump in the road possible, quitting simply was never in the cards. Over the course of their seventeen year career, the band has taken a working class approach to music, hitting the pavement touring tirelessly building a following one fan at a time. Previously signed to Capitol Records, the band has learned a lot over the years, founding their own Air Castle Records and the releasing of their eighth album, Chasing the Sun , in 2014. Sticking together through thick and thin has developed a character and bond between Royal Bliss, and many are calling their newest material the best to date. Recently, we sat down with lead vocalist Neal Middleton about the strokes of bad luck which hit the band, overcoming adversity, pure love for rock-n-roll, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Royal Bliss has been working hard now for almost 2 decades. In that time, you have managed to release eight full-length albums. What has been the driving force behind the band’s dedication all these years?
Neal Middleton – I think it’s a combination really, of the love of music, the love of playing music, and the fans. I mean, we could love music all day long and have it be the best thing in the world, which is true, but without the fans we would be nothing. There would be no reason to continue doing it the way we do it, we would just be playing music at home. I would say our driving force is a combination of the both. If we didn’t love music we would have quit a long time ago because it’s been a difficult road, it’s definitely not easy the way we do it and the fans make it all worth while. They keep us on our toes and won’t let us quit, which is awesome!
CrypticRock.com – That is great that you take inspiration like that from your fans. The band has had its share of bad luck over the years. One of the most pronounced was when you had an accident in which doctors told you you’d probably never walk again. You obviously proved them wrong, as you are walking today. How did you approach that life changing possibility and have the strength to overcome the odds?
Neal Middleton – There were a bunch of different factors in that. The few key ones were, I remember when I was in ICU pretty much dying, my body broken in half, and I talked to the guys in the band and found out Jake was going to be a father. That was one of the main driving points for me because we didn’t have anything else to fall back on. There was nothing, we didn’t have college degrees, we didn’t have any other jobs, so for me it was like, oh crap, he’s going to bring this kid into the world and I don’t think Jake even had a high school diploma at that point. So that was a huge driving force for me to say, I’ll get back up, I’ll figure it out one way or another. Another key factor was the fans, they came through again. They did benefit shows for me and picked me up onstage in my wheel chair, that shit was intense. So it was like, the fans rose up and said “You’re going to be all right” and I was able to get back up onstage 3 months after that accident. With a cane and just jumping on one leg, but the fans all showed up and rose with their support. Then the band believed that I could do it too, stuck by me, and I think it made us stronger than we had ever been.
CrypticRock.com – It’s really inspiring that you overcame such a daunting diagnoses. Now, in 2012 you actually auditioned for The Voice. What inspired you to take part in the television show?
Neal Middleton – Well, we were at a point where we really didn’t know what we were going to do or what was going to go down. We had an album done, but we didn’t have any plans. We have kind of always done really well and then we would plateau, and we were kind of in that plateau. I had heard good things about the show but I hadn’t really watched it. I watched a couple episodes and it seemed to be about music, about the artists, and people who had been in my position and the bands position, where we’d been signed before and our life was music. So I said, alright this show seems legit, actually letting people who had been signed to major labels before be a part of it. So I decided to do it just to see what would happens and maybe it would help shed some light and bring more people to Royal Bliss. Then, they didn’t even say anything about Royal Bliss or the fact that I had a band. It was really weird and because the first season was such a success, the second season became much more political and a lot more BS was involved. It was good because I met a lot of awesome people and a lot of awesome talent. The fact that they showed me enough respect to where I made it to actually made it to do the blind audition, because there were around 47,000 other people who didn’t even make it that far. So the fact that they let a rocker be there was still pretty cool, but I don’t think I would do another show like that ever again.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like a learning experience, nonetheless. Through all the issues you have remained together playing rock-n-roll and with that each album the band’s sound has progressed. With that said, your latest album Chasing The Sun is really a great piece of work. Tell me what the writing and recording process was like for this new album?
Neal Middleton – It was really relaxed and it was almost like an accidental record. For the most part we recorded everything in Salt Lake City with Matt Winegar who has been involved in the past 4 records that we had done. We would just get together in a little studio I have in the back of my house, we would do pre-production, and try writing a bunch of stuff. We wrote with the Candlebox guys, my buddy Spencer Nielsen, my other buddy Joel Pack, and actually wrote with a couple of hip hop guys in Salt Lake City. We were not really looking to write Royal Bliss songs, but it just ended up that way where I would show up and the band would say, hey look at this song we just wrote. It was just kind of a collaboration of all of us and Jake wrote all the music on one song, Dwayne wrote all the music on another song. We were just all really working together for the first time. We always have worked together, but there was never really any focus, it was just let’s write great music. For album we would go in and record 3 songs for a couple weeks, then we would go in a month later and record a couple more songs, and then record a couple more songs. Before we knew it we had ten really good songs and it was a total accident, but we said why don’t we just release these ten songs because they are really damn good! It was all us, there was no manager and no label. There was no one telling us what to write, how to write, or what kind of direction we needed to go in. It was just us writing for the fun of it and I think that is why the record came out so good, it is just pure Royal Bliss.
CrypticRock.com – That sounds like a really healthy environment to create and record music. Being that you have recorded an extensive list of albums, I imagine each album possess qualities of what was going on in the band’s life at that time. This album seems extremely positive and full of powerful songs. Is it safe to say Royal Bliss is in a good place right now as a band?
Neal Middleton – I think so. We have our on own record label, doing everything on our own 100% independent. We are doing really well, everyone is really liking the record and we have all these sold out shows this year. We have been through so much, hence the name of the album Chasing The Sun. We feel like we are out of the storm, it is our time to shine, just keep chasing that dream, and all of us think it is the best album we have done. So yes, we are definitely in a good place, the money is finally coming to us and not anyone else.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like everything is going real well and the band has hit a positive stride. To compound everything, you guys now have your own label called Air Castle Records, as you mentioned. How does it feel to have that artistic freedom to do what you wish with your music on your own label?
Neal Middleton – It was risky, because we had listened to so many different opinions in the past that have been in the industry, managers and labels and all this shit, and people from radio that had their opinions on how to do things. We have kind of always gone against that ground to a point, but we kind of got caught in the middle where we started to think well, maybe we should do things like this or maybe we should start writing like that. With this record it didn’t even matter. You almost have to function like a small business now a days. Do it for yourself ,and if your fans love it that’s all that matters. If your fans are going to love it, they are going to spread the word, and other people are going to love it too. We don’t have to be the biggest band in the world and if we do blow up, get a hit song, and everybody loves it, hell yeah then that is awesome. It is one of those things where we just took a risk with this and it’s just us and our opinions. When the Kickstarter campaign came up we kind of relied on the fans to fund it, and then when it was released we just hoped they loved it was much as we did. It was that tense moment where you send it to the hardcore fans saying, what do you think? Then they came back and say that it is fucking awesome, it’ was a big weight off your shoulders. It was nerve racking, but we took the risk and came out with a pretty good record. At least we enjoy it!
CrypticRock.com – It definitely did work out for the best and the fans certainly are enjoying it. What are some of your personal musical influences?
Neal Middleton – I love Pearl Jam and Disney movies. As a kid I loved Disney movies and the songs. My mom was always big into music and my dad too, but my mom was more into singing. She actually gave me my first guitar that she had when she was pregnant with me. I would say anything that moves me. I mean, that Adele record, , 21 (2011), was a really good record so that was inspiring, some really good song writing. I am inspired by people who can write really good music and perform it well.
CrypticRock.com – It’s good to have a broad range of music tastes and just respect good song writing. When did you know that music was what you wanted to do for a career for the rest of your life?
Neal Middleton – Pretty much the night I jammed with the guys in Royal Bliss. I mean I always wanted to, I loved playing music, and I loved playing solo. I was going to college, so I could have either become a DJ or be involved in the entertainment industry and still be able to play music. I always wanted to be a singer, I love to sing, but I just did not know it was going to be a profession until I met these guys. I was playing solo at pizza parlors around Salt Lake City, they came to watched me play, because they were losing their singer, and they said, “Wow you are awesome! We would love to have you sing for us!” So I went over to their house after I played the pizza parlor and we jammed in the basement, wrote like 3 or 4 song, and the chemistry was just amazing. I dropped out of college the next day and said that is it, I’m going to be a rock star!
CrypticRock.com – That is a pretty interesting story and it’s obvious you followed your true calling in life. My last question for you is regarding films. Crypticrock.com is a rock/metal and horror news site so we like to focus on all genres. Are you a fan of horror films and, if so, what are some of your favorite horror films?
Neal Middleton – I like the creepy ones, like The Changeling (1980). I like ones with ghosts that could really be true, you know where there is a true story behind it. As far as gore goes, I like zombie movies. Did you know we are in that zombie movie called Zombie Hunter (2013)?
CrypticRock.com – No, I was not aware of that. CrypticRock will have to check that one out.
Neal Middleton – We actually have two songs in that movie, it came out like 4-6 months ago. It was a big thing, Wal-mart had it (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – That is a pretty cool opportunity to be featured in a film like that. How did you get approached with that opportunity?
Neal Middleton – The guy who shot our “Crazy” video and our “Cry Sister” video Chris Le, he edited Zombie Hunter and he said to us, “Hey can we use your music? I’ll do a couple more music videos for you” and we were like shit yeah, It was really cool. He was really blatant with the use of our music, the main star in the movie is driving the car and the name Royal Bliss scrolls across the CD player, it was pretty awesome! It is kind of a cheesy zombie flick, but it’s cool, people like it, you will have to check it out.Interview conducted by Amber Main