It’s only May, and already this year has been packed with a lot of great metal. I don’t recall a stretch of time where I had this much fresh stuff playing on my iPod, whether I’m at work, in the car, walking the dog, whatever. Times like this, it gets tough to recommend good new sounds to people because there’s too much to tell.
Continuing with that line of thinking, today we bring you a conversation we had with Josh Weaver, guitarist and songwriter for Atlanta’s mighty Royal Thunder, a band that inauspiciously reared its head with a December 2010 self-titled effort on Relapse that, had it not surfaced so late easily would have made my Top 20 that year. It was a riveting, husky, rich dose of sludgy rock that sounded like nothing else on the Relapse roster and really got me excited for the band’s future.
Fast forward to right now, the day after their “CVI” full-length hit stores, and we’re looking at a band that’s quickly coming of age before our eyes. The new album is an astonishing, infectious piece of work, that adds more fuzz, blues fog, and kick-ass sentiment to the mix, and it also is a sure-fire candidate for best-of considerations of 2012. The band – vocalist/bassist Mlny Parsonz, drummer Lee Smith, guitarist Josh Coleman, and Weaver – sound stronger than ever, particularly Parsonz as she absolutely rules this thing with her powerful, sometimes confrontational, always confident vocals. Weaver took time to talk about the album’s creation, Parsonz incredible progression behind the mic, and how the band’s new lineup helped solidify what already was a formidable team.
Meat Mead Metal: OK, let me start with a stupid question: Are you pronouncing the new album title as “106” or “CVI”?
Josh Weaver: You know, I haven’t really even thought about that. It means “106” to me, but I kind of wanted there to be a little mystery behind it. “CVI,” “106,” either way works. (laughs)
MMM: So now that you’ve been able to step back from the album and get a little perspective, how do you feel about it?
JW: Oh, we’re very happy with it, man. I feel like it’s the first record I’ve been on in my life where no corners were cut and we really did everything we wanted to do with the album.
MMM: You had a self-titled album come out in December of 2010. Do you consider that the first full-length, or is it more of an EP?
JW: We look of it as more of an EP. Some people may say it can be looked at as a full-length, but we saw it as an EP. I see (“CVI”) as our debut full-length.
MMM: Soundwise, it’s a real step up from the self-titled EP. You can really hear the maturity of the band and in your playing, and these songs really seem to take on a life of their own. To what do you attribute that?
JW: I think it’s having another year and a half of playing, and playing live all the time. I know for me, I’ve been experimenting with more guitar effects and stuff like that, different pedals. I mean, we just played constantly and it really helped us out as musicians.
MMM: It seems like there’s a real anticipation for the album too. Some songs have been played on various web sites, and there’s a lot of people talking about it. Do you kind of sense that excitement?
JW: Yeah, I do, man, and it’s pretty surreal to me. This is something that I’ve always done, and I’ve always enjoyed playing music, and it’s cool to see people appreciating it. There does seem to be a buzz, and that’s very exciting.
MMM: Talk a little bit about the making of the record and what went into the creative process.
JW: It was a great time. We grew a lot from the recording alone. It was tough. We’d work all day and we’d either come home first or go straight to the studio to keep working on the album. Everyone really put in 110 percent. Our producer/engineer Joey Jones at Aria Recording Studio, he’s such a workhorse and really put in a lot of time and energy too. We basically started off with drums, and we kind of added some scratch bass and guitar tracks, then did the actual bass and guitar tracks, and went on to vocals.
MMM: As far as the songs go, with the exception of “Sleeping Witch” that was on the EP, are these all new songs, or are they things you’ve been playing live for a while?
JW: They were all songs that, for the most part, we’ve been playing for a while. Some of it has been in the back of my head too, like, we never did anything with “Minus,” the song before last on the album. We also never really played “Black Water Vision” either. Jesse (Stuber), our old drummer, had kind of tracked the entire album, and then we decided it was time for him to move on, so we weren’t really able to use a couple of tracks for different reasons. Once we knew Jesse wasn’t going to be in the band, I called Lee Smith, the drummer that we have now, and not long after that came Josh Coleman, our second guitar player. I had the song “Black Water Vision,” and we all put it together in the studio, and it came out great. Other than that, yeah, we’ve been playing these songs for a while.
MMM: Did anything change with the songs once you got into the studio?
JW: Yeah, some little things. Some solos here and there. The vocals, some of it Mel changed up in the studio. They definitely transformed here and there.
MMM: How did adding Lee and Josh to the band affect things?
JW: Well, when we worked on “CVI,” I had recorded a lot of stuff and a lot of overdubs on the guitar. Then Josh left and we called our old friend Lee Smith. Then we got Josh Coleman, who was friends with Lee and who we had known for a long time, on second guitar. Before that, I never would have thought of having a second guitar player. We were in such a transition and were trying a lot of things, and at one point, Mlny was thinking about just singing, and Josh had come over to try to play bass. Mlny ended up wanting to stick with bass and singing, but it made sense to try it out. Since Josh played guitar as well, we decided to try him there. We gave him a copy of the album and he learned the songs so quickly. As a result, a lot of the stuff I wouldn’t have been able to pull off from “CVI” live on my own, he can help with. It’s become like family, man.
MMM: Well, you mentioned Mlny and her vocals on this album. They really soar, and she just sounds super confident with her voice on “CVI.” How do you feel about her performance?
JW: Yeah, I mean, the band started instrumentally, and Mel started playing bass in the band, and we were definitely looking for a singer. I knew she could sing. But even before that, before she even joined the band, she’d hear me playing the songs, and she’s be lying in bed, just chilling and thinking of chord progressions. I think I asked her to try (singing) and so she did, and it’s been great ever since. But slowly she’s grown into such an amazing musician, and I think she’s gotten really confident with her vocals and she’s really pushed herself. At first, she was really shy about even singing in front of anybody, but what she’s done since and what she’s done on this album, she’s come a long way, and she’s so talented.
MMM: Even a song like “Whispering World,” you can really hear the difference. She really shouts out her words, and her performance there really stands out.
JW: Yeah, well she’s done all kinds of stuff. I know when she was younger she started in screaming bands. She’s just going to continue to surprise us.
MMM: We briefly mentioned “Sleeping Witch.” Why did you decide to re-do that song, and how did it slow down so much?
JW: We had been playing it live for so long, and it kind of just became like a different song. It did slow down, and it took on more of a groovy feel to it. It just kind of made sense to put it on (“CVI”), re-do it and revamp it. I still really enjoy playing that song.
MMM: There are a couple of longer songs on there – “Shake and Shift” and “Blue” — that go over the eight-minute mark. Is that the product of the band kind of jamming out these ideas?
JW: Those songs would sort of transform themselves in our practice space. They had a general structure, and then everyone in the band would kind of go in and add their own parts and their own touch. That’s basically how all of our songs come about, and we’ll play them over and over again both in our practice space and live and see where they go.
MMM: Something I find interesting about Royal Thunder is the band really can play with all kind of different bands, from metal to punk to hardcore to whatever. You’re on a metal label with Relapse. Do you consider Royal Thunder a metal band?
JW: No, I don’t consider us a metal band. I mean, I definitely consider “CVI” a heavy record. It’s funny because going into it, I didn’t think “CVI” would end up being a heavy record, but I think a lot of that resulted from me messing around with fuzz pedals and things like that. They’re a great tool for adding a more extreme dynamic to what we’re doing. We go from a clean part to through the roof. But yeah, I don’t think we’re a metal band. I think we’re a rock band.
MMM: How have things been with Relapse, and how did that relationship come about?
JW: Relapse has been amazing, and everyone has been really supportive and bent over backward for us. They’re all such hard workers at Relapse, and I’m just so happy to be a part of it. But yeah, we played a show in Nashville with Javelina, and they were friends with some people at Relapse and told them to check us out. It wasn’t long after that, we got an e-mail from (Relapse) looking for a shirt and a CD, and when I saw it was from Relapse, I was like, “Shit, I’m going to send them, like, five CDs and a bunch of shirts.” (laughs) Then not long after that, they told us they wanted to work with us and have us on the label. It’s been great ever since.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/RoyalThunderMusic
To buy “CVI,” go here: http://www.relapse.com/search_result.php?search_by=all&q=royal+thunder&x=0&y=0
For more on the label, go here: http://www.relapse.com/