“I will come back here one day, my love,” sings Mlny Parsonz, bassist and vocalist of Atlanta’s Royal Thunder, on the band’s new “One Day.” I’m not sure I believe her. This is the kind of ballad that is trying to break your heart — along with the rest of you — and Royal Thunder are full of them. The band’s upcoming Crooked Doors is a barn-burning album about, in part, the tumultuous romantic relationship between Parsonz and Royal Thunder guitarist Josh Weaver. Think of it as the contemporary hard-rock equivalent of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors — not just in terms of the emotions inside, but also in terms of songwriting. The band’s debut album, CVI, made some waves when it was released in 2012, but only in the heavy metal underground, a scene that the band never slotted into especially well. Back then, Royal Thunder sounded a little bit like Kyuss with Tina Turner on vocals, and like those artists, Royal Thunder didn’t fit into any particular category: Metal? Soul? Blues? Rock? Kinda, sorta, all and none of the above. Since then, the band were reduced to their core members, Parsonz and Weaver, who rebuilt Royal Thunder with the addition of Evan Diprima on drums and Will Fiore (of Zoroaster) on guitar. Royal Thunder 2.0 have crafted a remarkable album with Crooked Doors, one with progressive-rock storytelling and country songcraft, as well as their aforementioned groove and fury, all of which are on display on “One Day,” which we’re prmeiring today. Below that, read our interview with Parsonz.
STEREOGUM: After hearing Crooked Doors I want to know, honestly, how are you doing?
PARSONZ: I am well. I am 12 days sober and experiencing a lot of clarity, and it’s been painful, to be honest, but it’s good.
STEREOGUM: I’m glad to hear you so upbeat, because your record is a downer.
PARSONZ: I hope it’s the good kind of downer! I hope it’s like when I listen to the National and I think, “God this hurts, but it hurts so good.”
STEREOGUM: It is! So CVI was a guarded record. The lyrics were cryptic, and the recording was sort of murky as well. Even the title is a code in roman numerals. But Crooked Doors is the clearest you’ve ever been, musically and lyrically.
PARSONZ: Musically, I know Josh was exploring new horizons as far as guitar tone and using different pedals. I know he was really into fuzz pedals on CVI, which kind of matched the lyrical content and vibe of the album. It was my intention to be very cryptic, not in the sense of, “Oh I want to be mysterious and dark,” but to be more layered, to mask things and leave them open to interpretation. I was singing about a lot of stuff that I still have not completely dissected for myself. It was a spiritual journey for me, [I had broken] away from a Christian cult. And I didn’t really want to tell people about it until I felt more comfortable. On Crooked Doors, I had to sit down and sit back and ask myself, “What do I want to do with our music?” And I do want to be real. I do want to be honest. I did want to unzip it more, and show more of what I was going through. I didn’t want to be obvious, but I wanted to find fun ways to mask things less than I was doing on CVI. I thought, “This could be the last album I ever do. I could be dead tomorrow. I want to put something real out there.”
STEREOGUM: This is a breakup album, yes?
PARSONZ: You are not wrong in saying that. What I’m breaking up with I cannot say. I broke up with a lot of things on this album. One thing more specifically [than others].
STEREOGUM: It was public knowledge that you and Josh were married at the time of CVI’s release. After listening to Crooked Doors, I’m surprised you guys didn’t break up the band.
PARSONZ: But that will never happen. That’s not the kind of people we are. We were meant to play music together. I am married to this band, and this is my destiny. Josh and I, whether we are together or not, we are going to be best friends and musical partners. That is who we are. Whether or not we’re together [romantically] … maybe. Maybe not. That’s something I don’t want to say yes or no to.
STEREOGUM: That does relate to the song we’re premiering, “One Day.” The lyrics go back and forth on the issue.
PARSONZ: It definitely is the song, for me, that if you could swirl everything together that I was trying to express [on this album], it feels like the core of what I was going though. I felt so conflicted during this entire album. For the past two or three years, I’ve been going through so many things in my head. I feel like I was living my life on a hamster wheel. I stepped off the wheel several times, but when I did, I would stand there and decide I wasn’t ready, and step back onto my wheel. I’ve been doing that for all of my life. I’m the kind of person who’s very free-spirited and wild, and it made that side of me even more volatile. The a capella bits of that song are me singing to myself from a different time, sort of where I am now in terms of having a direction. I look at that song and say, “That is exactly how I felt.” I’ve made my decision now and taken my path, but at that time I had to do something. I did not want to step back on my hamster wheel. That’s why I sing, “Cut me down the middle.” I was done. I felt like I was dying.
STEREOGUM: After people hear “One Day,” I don’t think they’re going to call you a metal band anymore.
PARSONZ: I sure hope not. If they do, they have a problem. I don’t think they’re listening to metal. That intro has been hanging out in the band room for years now. The final take is a failed attempt at what I originally thought the song was going to be, so we just took a little of it and started over. I guess I’m not metal. I have a metal heart. I think you can feel the metal on this album, in terms of that pull and heaviness, but I don’t think you’ll hear it so much.
STEREOGUM: People forget, metal bands used to have more tender moments. Pantera wrote “Cemetery Gates” and “Hollow” as well as “Walk” and “Cowboys From Hell.” Was it a conscious decision to have a throwback to that more classic metal-style balladry?
PARSONZ: Absolutely not. It was very natural. There wasn’t a bullseye, there was no blueprint, there was nothing but a little bit of panic and not much time, but we were bubbling with inspiration, because we weren’t able to write anything for a long time. We don’t write on the road. When we’re on the road we are on the road. There was so much stuffed within us and it was like unscrewing a cap.
STEREOGUM: When CVI came out, there were a few kind-of-metal, kind-of-rock-and-roll bands with women singing. Spin did a big story about it, featuring you, Witch Mountain, and a few other bands. They tried to hint at some sort of occult leanings, which I haven’t heard in your music. Does the occult have a part in your music?
PARSONZ: No, but I do see why people think that. On our merch table there are a lot of bones. It’s a piece of art for us, and we were trying to express that with a witchy altar-type setup at the table. But that’s how my house is. That’s an art medium for me, making altars, but they’re more a reflection of what life was like for me at that time. They’re not witchy per se. There was a time when the witch thing was super cool, and at that time you were super-super cool if you had a girl in your band singing. No disrespect to anyone who was trying to do that, but nobody can help looking at that and seeing a trend. If any bands are affiliated with the occult or witchcraft, I don’t know. I don’t care. I’m not super in-touch with what’s going on with music now because I’m stuck on stuff I’m still discovering from when I was growing up. Anyway, I think it’s silly to focus on that. Who gives a fuck if somebody’s a witch, or a girl, or a dude?
STEREOGUM: One of the songs on Crooked Doors I wanted to talk about was “Floor.”
PARSONZ: “Floor” is about that church, the cult that I was in. I’ve mostly puked out my experience with that church; there’s just a little bit left. I’ve still got some problems with anger at Christianity in general. I’m not as bad as I used to be, but I still have my moments. That is about the last experience I had at that church, which led to me leaving.
STEREOGUM: And “The Line.” That’s my favorite song on the album.
PARSONZ: I can’t really tell you what that song is about. Well, I can tell you what it’s about without telling you who it’s about. It’s about people being in a position of having money and wanting to have a hand in what you’re doing. When I rejected that help, this person in the music business said verbatim, “You’re worth fucking pennies. Nobody gives a fuck about you. You should just side with me.” He told us we were nothing up and down. It wasn’t a label; it was another kind of business. That song is about the conversation we had when we broke up with that person.
STEREOGUM: So what are you listening to right now?
PARSONZ: When I look at the music I like, I’m drawn to things that are one of a kind, things that people want to emulate but can’t do it twice. I like Tom Petty; I think he is so fucking real. I like Billy Joel. I know that’s weird to say, but he’s on fire, on his older albums anyway. I love Phil Collins. I love the Cult, they’re one of my favorite bands — the Love album is incredible. And not to be too girly, but I love Jeff Buckley, I love Nina Simone, I love PJ Harvey — one of my favorite albums is White Chalk. Nobody else can do that. It is untouchable. Even George Michael, and Queen’s Freddie Mercury. Who can sing like that? No one. The other day I was listening to Thriller — who can do that anymore? Nobody. There was this magic to Michael Jackson’s voice. That’s what I love. Oh, and Type O Negative.
STEREOGUM: I was so sad when Peter Steele died. I never got to see them.
PARSONZ: I saw them on their last tour and they were great, but you could tell [Steele] was sick. He didn’t take his shirt off and he didn’t point at a single girl to go sleep with him backstage. I was really bummed out.
Crooked Doors is out 4/7 via Relapse. The band is touring, too. Here are the dates:
05/28 New Orleans, LA @ Siberia
05/29 Houston, TX @ Fitzgerald’s
05/30 Dallas, TX @ Club Dada
05/31 Austin, TX @ Holy Mountain
06/02 Phoenix, AZ @ Rebel Lounge
06/03 San Diego, CA @ The Hideout
06/05 Anaheim, CA @ The Grove
06/06 San Francisco, CA @ The Regency Ballroom
06/08 Portland, OR @ Roseland Theater
06/09 Seattle, WA @ Showbox SoDo
06/10 Boise, ID @ Revolution Center
06/12 Missoula, MT @ Wilma Theatre
06/13 Spokane, WA @ Knitting Factory
06/14 Vancouver, BC @ Commodore Ballroom
06/16 Billings, MT @ Pub Station
06/18 Salt Lake City, UT @ Crucial Fest
06/19 Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge
06/20 Kansas City, MO @ The Record Bar
06/21 Minneapolis, MN @ The Nether Bar
06/22 Chicago, IL Beat Kitchen
06/23 Grand Rapids, MI @ The Pyramid Scheme
06/25 Brooklyn, NY @ Saint Vitus
06/26 Boston, MA @ Great Scott
06/27 Providence, RI @ The Parlour
06/28 Philadelphia, PA @ Kung Fu Neck Tie
06/30 Baltimore, MD @ Metro Gallery
07/01 Richmond, VA @ The Camel
07/02 Charlotte, NC @ The Chop Shop
07/03 Atlanta, GA @ The Earl