SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Aug. 22, 2022 (Gephardt Daily) — Gephardt Daily recently spoke with Neal Middleton, the lead singer of one of Utah’s most popular bands, Royal Bliss. Their new song, “Black Rhino,” was released Thursday, Aug. 18.
The band formed in 1997, when guitarist Chris Harding heard Middleton playing a solo gig at a local pizza parlor.
They released their Capitol Records debut record, “Life In-Between,” in 2009, and have garnered over 100 million streams and 175,000-plus monthly listeners on Spotify; have charted on the Billboard Top 20 and hit #1 in Billboard Heatseekers; toured with the likes of Kid Rock, Chevelle and Lynyrd Skynyrd; and had 10 singles break the top 50 on Active Rock radio.
“A band that prides themselves on their storytelling and ability to deftly blend classic rock with modern rock elements, Royal Bliss is a one-of-a-kind rock band and has the feverish fan following to prove it,” the band’s website says.
Middleton spoke to us from the group’s tour bus on the day they were due to leave on tour in July.
He touched upon the glamorous nature of rock ‘n’ roll.
“We’re leaving on tour today, and I’m a procrastinator, so I have all these things I needed to get done,” he said.
“I got a bunch done the other day, but then, like the day we leave, I’m always like changing the oil in the generator and the engine and the AC’s not working up front. I’m the primary driver as well, and I am not going out in this weather without the AC working, so I have half the bus tore up in the back so I can access the engine.
“I just did a video for people just being like, this is rock ‘n’ roll life nowadays. I mean, it’s blue collar work if you want to make any money at it.”
Middleton also spoke about getting back on the road.
“It’s nice. I mean, it’s tough because we’ve been on tour for basically 22 years, and when 2020 happened, it changed everything for a lot of people around the entire world, especially in our industry.
“You know, we’re road dogs, so we live on the road, that’s how we make a living, and being forced to stay home was scary, because it was like, we just got 156 shows canceled, how are we going to pay our bills, what are we going to do — but we evolved, I guess, to the current state of the world, where we focused on e-commerce and doing live streaming, like things like this, which I had never done before,” he said.
“And it was really nice to be home with my family, and going fishing and camping and realizing all the things I missed out on that I’ve been on the road for so long.
“So to get back out and do it again has been, it’s been different. Back in the day, it’s just what I did for work, but now it’s like, we figured out a way to make money at home, and not have to be gone from my family.
“So it’s like, all these tours have to be totally worth it. Because I know what I’m missing out on at home now, which is my two boys and my wife. So it’s good because I love seeing the country, and I love seeing people, and I love, obviously, making a living — but also, it’s become a lot harder, you know, stuck in a traveling hallway with six other dudes, driving around the country with five dollar, six dollar per gallon diesel fuel.”
Middleton also spoke about songwriting during the pandemic.
“As a songwriter, I write all my lyrics based on my current life and what I’m going through at that moment. So obviously, everything that was going on in the world affected me in a major way while we were writing this record.
“The full album won’t be out until next year, but we wrote it in 2020 — kind of locked ourselves in a studio — and that was just a really crazy year for me personally.
“So it’s a lot of songs about, you know, overcoming struggle and that things are going to be all right, get out and see the world, some more positive songs for my kids, being around my kids, to be like, life’s hard — so it’s just follow your dreams and never give up, don’t focus on the money all the time, ‘cos it’s not what’s most important.
“The lyrics are a lot of that, overcoming struggle. The album’s titled ‘Survival,’ and originally that song was about being a band surviving. And you know, 25 years into this game and making it through the struggle, we’re almost like an endangered species, the kind of rock band that we are.
“There’s a new song called ‘Black Rhino’ that’s our new single, which is based off the black rhino, which is an endangered species.
“But it’s also a song about survival for everybody else out there, where I felt the lyrics went from just being about the band to being about the whole world. The first line is ‘there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and I feel us coming out’ — where it’s like, we’re going to be OK, we’ve just got to unite and not blame everybody else for our problems. You know, don’t blame the other side. Whatever your side may be, we’ve got to come together.”
Middleton also talked about representing the Beehive State as musicians.
“Utah doesn’t get much credit, especially in the rock ‘n’ roll world. I like to try and put some focus on our beautiful state.
“One of our big videos is me riding a Harley around St. George, around the red rocks. We’ve got videos out in the west desert and try and use local artists to film and produce it as well, as much as we possibly can — to support local arts. That’s always been important to us.
“We’re flying some more people out for the video for ‘Black Rhino’ that are coming out ‘cos we want to film here in Utah. They wanted to film in California, but I’m like, we’re going to film in Utah, we’re going to use Utah crew.
“And yeah, it is important to embrace, because it’s been a struggle for us being a band out of Utah, where everybody’s like ‘there’s no rock ‘n’ roll,’ or automatically you get discredited because you’re from Utah.
“You have all the stereotypes that people have for Utahns, and we want to break down those walls and be like, there’s awesome people here, and there’s amazing talent here, as well.
“It is important we represent where we came from, because without Utah we wouldn’t be touring all over the country, we wouldn’t be anywhere. I don’t know what I’d be doing. The local fanbase and the community has really embraced us for the most part and made us who we are today.”
He also spoke more about Royal Bliss’ fanbase.
“We have amazing fans, I think. People that connect to the lyrics, connect to the music, they’re able to see the stories that I tell in their own lives.
“I try to leave them open-ended in a way that you can take the songs and the lyrics and make them yours. That was my favorite music growing up — songs I could connect to that I was like, oh man, he’s singing about me… and so I’ve always wanted to write songs that are that way, that people can make them theirs. It’s our gift to them,” he said.
Middleton said the band used to have a bar, The Royal, in Salt Lake City, but they sold it in January. The site has been taken over by The Break, a Utah-based sports bar.
“It’s not going to be a live-music venue, so to have the hearts broken — the different local musicians and the people that found a home at the Royal — was really tough. That was the hardest part. But for me, it’s kind of a sigh of relief.
“We did it for nine years, and it was awesome. It was always a dream of mine to own a live-music venue and do what other venues weren’t, and I feel like we did,” he said.
He spoke of an incident in 2004, when he fell 35 feet from a balcony in southern California and was told he was never going to walk again.
“It’s hard to even think about, that I went through that,” he said. “They said I wouldn’t live through the night. I had internal bleeding, massive. I had torn my pelvis in half and broke my sacrum in half, which is the lower part of your spine. I broke my shoulder.
“And I was in the ICU for three days, just in the most intense pain I’ve ever been in my life. I wanted to die. And they said I’d never walk again or there was a strong potential that I wouldn’t.
“And I went through one surgery down there [in California]. I didn’t have feeling. I couldn’t feel my legs — I could still move them a little bit, but I couldn’t feel them. And then I got the feeling back in my my left leg. After they did surgery, they put screws and plates and kind of screwed me back together. And I got back to Utah.
“I had heard I could try to start walking, so I was going to try and do a concert. I went to the U and they X-rayed, and all the screws were coming out and everything was messed up.
“I still couldn’t feel my right leg, so they had to go back in and re-do the surgery with double-size screws, or I would’ve been in a wheelchair for a year — and I was like, no, I’m not doing that.
“So I was in a wheelchair for three months. I was supposed to be in for six months. I still don’t have all the feeling in my right leg, but I was able to learn how to walk again.
“We went through some crazy times — we did an album, called ‘After the Chaos,’ that took us a year. I was in a wheelchair when we started that record, and there was definitely some songs on that album about that particular time of my life.
“That was one of those moments that the band thought we were done and I was over with. I wanted to prove to them that it’s not over.
“And my drummer had just found out he was going to be a dad. And none of us had any college background or anything else. It was rock ‘n’ roll or nothing. So, I had to learn to walk again. I gotta get back onstage and make some money for these guys or we’re all in a lot of trouble.
“And the fans came together, and the local music community threw a couple of benefits for me to help pay my bills. It was one of those things, just feeling the love from the fans and the local music community. I never believed I wouldn’t walk again, I never believed anything. I’m like, I’m going to get back onstage and everything’s going to be fine, and I did it.”
Gephardt Daily also asked Middleton about some of the funny pictures of him on Facebook and whether being somewhat of a jokester helps in a band setting. He said:
“It definitely lightens the mood. We’re definitely not serious people — I mean, we’re serious about our music, but also we’ve just got to be ourselves.
“That’s one thing, with Royal Bliss, every person in this band is a completely different character, and you’ve got to keep the mood light and tease each other, like we’re brothers.
“So it’s always teasing and making jokes, and I love to make people laugh. I’m kind of a dork, but instead of going away from that, being like, you’ve got to be the cool rock star, I embraced it. I am what I am, and I think a lot of other people out there would rather see someone who’s real than this mysterious rock guy.”
He added: “Those are my favorite bands out there, where each guy in the band is somebody a fan out there loves, because they are who they are, not just because he plays the bass or the drums, but because of who they are as people.”
Middleton said he’s excited for the band’s new album.
“It’s the first time we were all able to let our expressions, our self-expression really, come out in music. That’s what makes Royal Bliss different, because everybody writes,” he said.
“We get in a room and we just start jamming, and everybody writes their own parts. I’d write the lyrics, and everybody writes their own parts. That’s just how it goes.
“For us, it’s usually just a jam setting, where we’ll go in the room and start rocking out, and someone comes up with a riff and we’re like, oh that’s cool, and Jake (Smith, drummer) will come up with a beat, and I’ll start making up stuff, and we press ‘record’ and we’ll just jam for like three hours.
“Then we go back and listen to what we did and be like, oh that part was awesome and that part was awesome. Or we just continue to work on it, and that’s how we come up with our songs.
“I don’t usually finish the lyrics until the day I record them or a couple of days before. I always wait until the last minute. I don’t know why. It drives my band nuts, but it’s just the way I work.”
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