Thanksgiving Bliss

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than a decade since “Gimme a Little Bliss” was released.
But after 12 years of triumphs and much publicized personal tragedies, it’s probably both fair and accurate to call Royal Bliss Salt Lake City’s resident veteran rockers.
Their stories of near paralysis, near death and other major accidents are well known. Now, Bliss is ready for a string of success, and it seems to have already started.
Lead singer Neal Middleton said 2010 was a phenomenal year for the band, but also a year of change. The band parted ways with Capitol Records, amicably said goodbye to bassist Tommy Gunn and hello to Dwayne Crawford, whom Gunn picked himself as his replacement.
“Every change has been for the better,” Middleton said. “Everything feels really good right now.”
Bliss just finished playing a bunch of radio shows across the country. When their 2009 release “Life In-Between” came out, most radio stations had never heard of them, Middleton said. But on the last tour, many of those same stations remembered Royal Bliss this time around.
Bliss pack clubs in Utah regularly and have done well in other states. They’ve opened for major acts such as Stone Temple Pilots, Candlebox, P.O.D., Kid Rock and Three Days Grace. Wednesday night, Royal Bliss are playing a pre-Thanksgiving show at The Depot. Middleton calls it a showcase event for RB to show Salt Lake City fans their new focus and play many of the songs off their upcoming new album.
The band is hoping their new album, scheduled to be released in 2011, will give them the mainstream breakthrough they’ve been hoping for.
But if mainstream rock radio is going to play Royal Bliss, they’re going to have to accept Bliss for who they are, because the band isn’t going to compromise its sound and songwriting just for a shot at a radio hit.
When looking for a producer for their latest album, Middleton said the offer was made to come up with a top 40 rock song, and he admits it was tempting. But ultimately, he and is bandmates decided today’s rock “hits” on the radio, aren’t what Royal Bliss are about.
“We had a bunch of other people we were working with trying to take us a different direction. They were writing that song that was the cookie-cutter song for rock-n-roll,” he said. “We had all these promises from the label, if you do this and do this, you’ll blow up and be huge. We want that so badly. We want to start making money at this. But we also don’t want to sell ourselves.”
The original proposal was to make a “cookie-cutter” rock song, and then hope that once that song hit big, people would discover all the other Royal Bliss songs. But Middleton said too many of today’s mainstream radio rock songs all sound the same.
“To me, it seems to lack the emotion, the good ole’ feel of rock-and-roll and what rock-and-roll is,” he said.
Ultimately, the band decided they were going to do what they’ve already been doing for years.
“We decided let’s just make a Royal Bliss record, make an album we’re happy with. We didn’t want to disappoint the fans. In the end, if we only sell five copies, at least we did a record that’s us.”
That was the same feeling Nashville-based producer Brian Virtue (Jane’s Addiction, Audioslave, 30 Seconds to Mars, Chevelle) had about Bliss. Middleton said Virtue told them he wasn’t interested in working with them if they were going to make one of those other rock songs. But if they wanted to make a Royal Bliss record, he was in.
“He said, ‘I gotta work with you guys. I think I can bring something to the table,'” said Middleton. “We’ve never worked with a producer with credentials.”
A lot of the lyrics written for songs off the new album came from the band’s situation. There are aggressive songs toward the music industry that express anger and frustration for way they treated Royal Bliss was treated and how the industry executives tried to change who they were, Middleton said.
“There are so many crooks in the record industry,” he said.
But Middleton also has softer songs about his son and the how having a child has impacted his life.
“This (album is) just a lot more focused. A lot of the songs really work well. It’s a little bit more of a rock record. We always focus on the song writing as much as possible. It’s Royal Bliss from the first song to the last,” he said.
While in Nashville, the band rented a storage unit and set up their instruments for a place to rehearse, working their way through grueling 104 degree temperatures to learn their new songs.
During that trip, Royal Bliss posted a lot of homemade videos on their social media pages to keep fans up to date on the new album. Websites such as Facebook, Twitter and You Tube have become important for independent bands trying to get their music out, Middleton said.
“I think it’s critical,” he said. “People want to know and be able to contact you and feel like they’re a part of the experience. You tweet little random things. It’s weird people want to know when you’re eating a cheeseburger in Kentucky. The greatest thing of the whole Internet is letting people get involved. You can’t do it on radio alone.”
Learning how to navigate the world of social media is just one of many things Middleton has learned about how to run a band over the past decade. In addition to being a musician, Middleton has also had to learn about budgets and finances and everything from the business end of being in a band.
“Music is just a small percentage of what it is,” he said. “The hour-and-a-half we spend on stage is the best part. The rest is all business. We handle our own accounting, LLC, we have six different bank accounts for records, merchandise, the taxes in each state are different, you’ve got to learn publishing and copywriting. The amount of stuff I’ve learned business-wise I could have never learned in college.”
For 2011, the Middleton expects the new record to be out in April. The band will continue touring, possibly even their first UK tour, make videos and continue to spread the word about Royal Bliss.
“We’ll keep our conquest for conquering,” Middleton said.

Leave a comment encourages a civil dialogue among its readers. We welcome your thoughtful comments.