"People think it's all Southern rock or sludge/doom," says Royal Thunder vocalist/bassist Mlny Parsonz (Mel Parsons) the band's hometown, Atlanta, Georgia. According to the husky voiced singer, things are more varied than outsiders see: "I don't think any genre encompasses everything. Everybody's so different here, for sure. It's just what we're doing. The sound we have isn't forced; it is what it is and we just do it."
The band's sound doesn't sound contrived on CVI (Relapse Records), which finds Parsons' soulful vocals cresting over a heady blend of math rock riffs, Southern grit, and barroom boogie. Royal Thunder isn't afraid to get spacey (see the nine-minute plus "Shake and Shift"), spooky (the haunting "South of Somewhere," which swirls like a Mazzy Star or Jesse Sykes ballad before breaking into a double-bass blast), and explicitly tuneful (the gorgeous "Black"), all while maintaining a crunchy, trashing vibe, like Heart jamming with Neurosis.
Parsons spoke with Up on the Sun about family curses (witch-doctors! Horse thieves!), taking care of her voice on the road, and what the typical Royal Thunder fan is like.
Up on the Sun: CVI does a really good job integrating Southern and classic rock influences without sounding hopelessly retro. Do those kind of influences just come naturally to you guys?" Mlny Parsonz: You know, the whole Southern rock thing...I don't know. I guess I don't really hear it that much. Atlanta's got so many kinds of genres and groups.
The city is more diverse than people might think?
Oh, yeah. People think it's all Southern rock or sludge/doom. Or rap. I don't think any genre encompasses everything. Everybody's so different here, for sure. It's just what we're doing. The sound we have isn't forced; it is what it is and we just do it.
The record starts off with "Parsonz Curse." What curse are you referring to in that song.
I haven't got into specific details about this one, like who in my family I'm talking about and whatever. It's really about someone in my family and they're one of the people that carry this curse. It goes way way back, it's like one of those passed down from my ancestors. They were horse thieves, and they would steal these expensive horses and turn around and get money for them. Apparently, they stole this horse one time from a local witch-doctor/medicine woman. She put a curse on my family, and you see it on certain people. There's one member of each family that's one common trait that's past down. It's a curse. The song is about this one person in my family that I deal with that has this curse. It's me talking to them and consoling my mother at the same time.
So the curse isn't specifically applied to you?
Oh, no. Without saying too much, I've done my part to avoid that curse. [Laughs] That's all I'll say about that.
NPR's Lars Gotrich provided a pretty great quote about you guys. He described your sound as "...Led Zeppelin astride a psychedelic unicorn." Is that the funniest description you've read about your music? Do you read things about the band at all?
I hear things, but I never get on our Facebook. I can't fucking stand dealing with all that stuff. Josh Weaver [guitarist] actually takes care of that. The band members will tell me, "Oh, somebody said this," but I personally won't type anything in the search engine. I feel like it's too much pressure. So my head is somewhere else; I've got to stay focused. But as far as that being the funniest thing, I do remember reading that and it crescendos, like "Led Zeppelin astride a --" and I was like "what?" Someone posted that at work to make fun of me. It was really cool. That could mean anything right?
Is it difficult to maintain your voice on the road?
Ah, no. I'm such a big mouth, and I always want to chit-chat in the van. After shows I want to talk to everybody. I just get way too excited, and I spend my voice. That's where my struggle is. I need to learn to shut the fuck up. That's what gets me -- it's not the singing. In the van they're always like "shut up, shut up. You're not going to be able to sing tonight." [laughs]
What kind of things do people want to talk to you about after shows? Do you notice common threads?
Not really common threads. It's just all kinds of people, all kinds of stuff. There are people who want to take up all of your night. I don't want to sound like, pretentious or I'm too good to talk to you, but sometimes it's like, "I cannot sit here for thirty minutes and talk to you. I can't listen to you tell me something while you're drinking 17 PBRs." But our fans are really cool and friendly, and we try and give that back to them.
Could you describe a typical Royal Thunder fan?
No. I'm always shocked, because we get all different kinds of people. I'm always shocked that girls like our music. I thought it would scare them, but lately we've had a lot of female friends. I guess it's supposed to be obvious to me.
People approach female metal singers in such a strange way. Do female fans say things as simple as "We like your band, we're into this stuff," or do you feel like they want some more involved conversations from your fans?
Our female fans are less involved. They aren't as emotional about it. Half of the females I talk to are hardcore feminists, like, yeah, way to take one for the team, and others are just like, I just really love what you're doing.
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Do you feel any pressure in regards to what you do? Do you think about societal implications of being a female metal singer?
I have my days of thinking "what the fuck," man. How can people like this so much? To be completely honest, sometimes I don't feel like a great singer. When someone says they like my voice, I'm trying not to be an asshole to myself. Like, you're doing a good job. Don't be so hard on yourself. If there's any kind of pressure, I put it on myself. I've walked offstage and tore myself to shreds, but I'm trying not to be that kind of person, because it doesn't do anything for me or the people around me.
Royal Thunder is scheduled to perform Tuesday, July 10, at the Rhythm Room.