Sunday, April 26, 2009

Update: Royal Bliss on the Road

Video Interview:


A few weeks ago, Royal Bliss was interviewed by Linda East Brady for the Standard-Examiner. Here it is, in entirety.

Few people fall three stories and live to tell about it.

Neal Middleton, frontman and powerhouse vocalist of Salt Lake City-based Royal Bliss, not only lived to tell about it, he lived to rock about it.

Middleton admits to being intoxicated when he took that terrible tumble off a balcony, a fall that tore his pelvis in two and caused numerous other grievous injuries.

"It was horrible, devastating," said Middleton. "We kind of said our goodbyes the night it happened, because they were telling my girlfriend I might not make it through the night, and if I did pull through, I would be paralyzed."

Middleton was still defying those odds, even as he spoke on his cell phone for this interview, strolling briskly around a Modesto, Calif., tour stop.

The band returns to Utah from a triumphant stretch of road time in support of its latest release, "Life In-Between," including a show Saturday at Teazers in Ogden.

"It is awesome to be coming home to Utah," Middleton said. "We always wanted to stay in Utah. We love it and we are proud of being from there.

"Everyone tried to talk us into going to L.A. or New York, but no, we did not want to leave our fans and friends. The whole state, it's like they signed on with us. They are just really proud of us, and we are proud of them, and (of) being from them. We feel they made it along with us, so to come back and see them is amazing."

Meet cute

Middleton first met guitarist Chris Harding in Salt Lake City in the mid-'90s.

"We ran into each other at some store's Slurpee machine. He was telling me how some dude had punched his sister and all that, and I was like, 'Let's go take care of this dude!' " Middleton laughed. "I had no idea who he was, but we went to this house to get that dude."

The two kept crossing paths through school events and mutual friends. Finally came the fateful night when Harding happened to hear Middleton performing solo acoustic at Gepetto's Pizza.

At the time, Middleton was attending Salt Lake City Community College, three semesters in with a 4.0 grade-average average in communications. Harding, Taylor Richards (lead guitar) and Jake Smith (drums) already had a band going.

"They liked what they heard," Middleton said. "I went to their house when I finished. We wrote things that night, and the next day, I dropped out of school. I told Chris, 'I want to be a rock star.' I took the opportunity when it came up. But it took a little longer than I expected."

The band played locally and regionally for the next few years, building a fan base and selling more than 8,000 of its self-made demo CDs.

"I spent all my money building a studio in Chris' backyard, and we got serious about it."

After the fall

By 2004, the band had drawn the attention of several major labels. Then came Middleton's fall from a balcony in Southern California, which was only the start of troubled times.

"I was still in ICU and the drummer called and said his ex-girlfriend was pregnant, and then all these other things happened. Our manager, it turned out, he was taking money, and we didn't want to work with him. And then he sued us, and that got really messy.

"And then Chris put a ski through his face and sliced it in half, had to have his jaw wired shut while we were in the studio. Then Taylor broke his leg, and Jake rolled his car five times after leaving the studio one night. This was all within six months."

But the band stuck together, and moved forward, in large part because Middleton was determined to make it happen. The band released the aptly named indie full-length "After the Chaos II," and Middleton got back on his feet.

"I almost felt like it was my fault," Middleton said of the hard times. "I started everything. And our only form of income was the band. No one had finished college, no fallback plan. I told them, 'I am going to get back up there, I am! Please, you guys, just trust me.' And it was so hard, but a few months later, I booked a show,

and went up there with my cane, hopping around on one leg. Everyone at that point was, 'OK, he's back.' ... That horrible experience made us a better band, a tighter unit -- and gave us some pretty good lyrics, too."

Write all day

Middleton is the band's main lyricist.

"I can write all day long. I absolutely love it. I have walked up to the guy on the street corner begging for change, and I'll just start singing with him."

Middleton's songwriting and powerful baritone attracted national attention. The Control Group, an independent label out of Seattle, picked up "After the Chaos II." It received significant airplay, and was at one point No. 1 by a long shot at the Graywhale chain.

The band was signed by Capitol Music Group in 2007. "Life In-Between" was released in 2008, with sharp, personal lyrics, crunchy rock licks and Middleton's stronger-than-ever vocals.

"I've never really taken any vocal lessons, but I am always wanting to get better. I am always writing new songs and trying new things with my vocal range. I want to be the best singer I can possibly be, and never be satisfied with where I am at."

Middleton admits not always taking care of his voice or himself.

"The last tour I did, before Halloween, I actually ended up with a hematoma on my vocal chords -- really scary. I had to be still for about a month. Now I finally am doing good warm-ups before shows. Used to, it was 'Give me a glass of something good, and I am ready to go.'

"But I am more cognizant now of how my vocals feel and do warm-ups in the morning, warm-ups in the evening, and before the show -- no yelling and going crazy and then partying after. And this is my ninth day in a row, with afternoon shows, and evening shows."

Wrestling demons

Middleton sings about the demons he wrestles with in such songs as "Save Me" and "Angels and Devils."

"I am down to my last crutch, which is drinking," Middleton admitted. "Many of these songs on this album were in a sense asking for help. 'Save Me' came out of a night with a half-gallon of moonshine. I won't go into the sordid details, but the fact is, it gets difficult out on the road."

He said the hardest thing is turning down a fan who wants to buy him a drink.

"I mean even here in Modesto, I am walking down the street and there are three guys having their beer on the patio and they recognized me. I start talking to them, and we were just sitting there, back and forth. They're like, 'Let me buy you a beer.' And I told them, 'No, I don't want to start drinking this early.' But one of them ran in and bought me a beer.

"I don't want to hurt someone, turn them down and hurt feelings, because now these guys can tell their friends, 'I had a beer with the singer.' It means a lot to them, and that means a lot to me. The fans got us where we are."


Royal Bliss has added a few southern dates to their current tour:
Apr 26 @ Charleston, South Carolina
Apr 28 @ Houma, Louisiana
Apr 30 @ Baton Rouge, Louisiana
May 2 @ Jackson, Mississippi
May 3 @ Springfield, Missouri
May 5 @ Atlanta, Georgia
May 8 @ Charlotte, North Carolina
May 9 @ Montgomery, Alabama


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