Seeing as this is the first interview I think you’ve done for Punknews, would you mind quickly giving readers a run down of the band, who is in it and what other bands you guys rock in?
Blacklist Royals consists of me on guitar and vocals, my brother Rob on the drums, Eric on bass, Jamie on guitar and our friend Alex just jumped into playing keys with us live, which rules. None of us have any other projects going on at the time; we’re just focusing on Blacklist Royals.
How about a brief history – how and when did you get together?
Blacklist Royals started in 2006. Rob and I had been playing and touring with our old band since we were 17, and when that band imploded we decided to move down to Nashville from West Virginia to try and keep shit rolling. We actually hooked up with Eric and Danny (our original guitarist) after playing a show with their old band and we kind of just formed a new thing from that.
Where did the name come from?
Me and Rob’s old band was called Defiance of Authority, which I think is probably the worst fucking band name of all time, so the name Blacklist Royals basically came out of the desperate need to have a new name before we did Warped Tour in 2006, since it was really totally a different thing anyway. We did come up with Defiance of Authority in high school, though, so at the time it sounded pretty tough.
What influences/comparisons do you cite for your sound?
Well, growing up, all I can really remember my dad listening to is music from the 1950s and 60s, and when I first started playing in bands it was all about Descendents, Face to Face, Misfits, Pennywise, NOFX, lots of SoCal Epitaph and Fat Wreck stuff. Right after high school I got really into old country music, which had a lot to do with the move from West Virginia down to Nashville.
Basically I see us as a pop-punk band that’s just been saturated by the music and environment around us. If I had to describe our sound I’d say Tom Petty’s Southern Accents meets [The Ramones] Rocket To Russia - something like that. Not to say we could hold a candle to either of those bands; that’s just kind of what we’re going for.
How did the signing with Paper + Plastick come about? The label started around 18 months ago, and since then it seems Vinnie is signing great bands left and right. How did you guys catch his attention, and why did you feel the label was the right fit?
We played with Less Than Jake in Nashville, and after that we just started emailing Vinnie demos of all our new songs. This went on for almost a year and he eventually decided to take us on. Our friend Matt Drastic (who produced and recorded our album) helped us immensely also, and we’re just super excited to be a part of what Vinnie is doing.
The industry is so fucked right now and Paper + Plastick is really trying to push the art aspect of things again. Growing up, I learned about new bands through the liner notes in cassettes and CDs. I fucking memorized every word and read those things from top to bottom, and I miss that. I also don’t think I’m the only person out there who does. Paper + Plastick is just taking that a step further, because while cassettes and CDs are cool, we all know they don’t hold a candle to a 12”. Also I like the idea of someone putting our record on their turntable and listening to the whole thing all the way through. The concept behind this label is something we’re so happy to be a part of.
Let’s talk about Semper Liberi a little bit. First of all, where did the name come from, what is its meaning, and how does it play to the themes of this album?
That means “always free” and we took it from the West Virginia state motto which is “Mountaineers Are Always Free.” The title really fits into the whole concept behind playing in a band to me, and I feel like it comes through on every song on the record as well.
Being out on the road at our level can lead to some of the most discouraging nights of your life along with some of the best, and I think everyone knows that the music industry is one of the most skewed and twisted things ever. But sometimes there’s only two speeds, full-throttle and fuck-it, and once you take a step over that line and say you’ll push your way through all the bullshit because playing your guitar and singing your songs are all that really matter to you anyway, once you make the decision that you’d rather give everything else up for something you love and even if you fail miserably in the end it would still all be worth it, well that’s about as free as you get.
This is your first full-length effort, following the Six Strings 7-inch. Can you talk about the process of getting to this point? When did you start writing the material, and what were some of your goals going into it?
Six Strings is actually a few songs that came out of a full-length we recorded at Stall #2 in L.A. which never came out. None of us were happy with the way any of those songs ended up, and that was honestly a fucking terrible studio experience. We promised ourselves getting into this record that we wouldn’t work with anyone who wasn’t going to give their all to it and that any “man it’d be cool if…” ideas regarding production and arrangement would become a reality. And it ended with us having some really cool shit like accordion and fiddle on there. I’ve been playing in bands since I was 15 and this is honestly the first time I can listen to something I’ve recorded and not be disappointed.
How did you get involved with Matt Drastic as a producer, and what was it like doing this album with him?
Matt gets the band completely and really helped us develop our sound and pushed us to get the best out of these songs. He’s championed for this band when no one gave a fuck and has really just been a great friend.
Doing this album with him involved a fair amount of drug and alcohol abuse, lots of pictures of wolves, Indians, naked women and Bob Dylan being hung up around the studio, a few dog fights and some projectile vomiting. It was a blast. If you’re reading this you should do your next record at Drastic Sounds.
How close is what you’ve recorded on these 13 tracks to what you hoped to accomplish when you went into this album?
I’d say it’s pretty right on to what we wanted to accomplish. I’ve gone back and listened to the demo versions of the songs and am completely satisfied with how they came out as a whole. I think they span a pretty wide range of influences and styles without even doing it intentionally.
Now that you’ve put in some time on the road – reportedly hundreds of shows in your first few years of being a band – how are fans and new audiences receiving the tunes live?
I think the new songs are going over really well, we’re playing mostly songs from the new album so most people haven’t heard them yet, but we’ve got nothing but positive reactions for them so far, and having keys with us live now is adding a lot since they’re such an important part of the new record. I’m actually on the road right now in our van heading to Pittsburgh, listening to Banner Pilot and trying to dry out after a crazy fucking weekend in New York.
You’ve been part of The Fest for two years now? How is Blacklist Royals’ Nashville sound received down in Gainesville territory?
Gainesville is one of those towns that I love but feel like I would fucking OD or something if I lived there. I love the people; I love The Fest; and we have a lot of friends down there these days.
The Fest in general is just a breath of fresh air to me, it’s a good reminder that there are lots of great bands and music fans out there that just want to rock out and have a good time and don’t have huge egos. I have so many fucked up Fest stories. One ended up with me waking up after our show in a house five miles away from the venue with no cell phone. One ended with us all drinking weed-shine (whiskey that had pot soaked in it for three months) and puking up the pita I had just ate all over our hotel room. Most of those records are sealed, but yeah, I love The Fest and can’t wait for Halloween weekend.
In comparison, what was it like playing the slot on the Warped Tour for a few days?
We’ve done Warped a few times. We did the whole thing in 2006, a week in 2007 and then a week on it this summer. I mean, Warped is really great to play; it’s hot as fuck and there are lots of neon t-shirts rolling around these days. It is what is. I’ll just say I was extremely happy when I found out we got on it this year and extremely happy to get off it as well. I did get to see Bad Religion free for a week, so that ruled.
You’ve also done time on the road with punk vets like Pennywise, Circle Jerks and The Queers? Who has been the most fun to tour with, and what is it like being on the road with these types of bands?
The band we’ve had the most fun touring with I’d have to say was actually a band called Corrupted Youth from Maryland. We took those guys to their first strip club on the road, and not just any strip club but to The Clermont Lounge in Atlanta, which is infamous among touring bands and is basically like where strippers go to die, a stripper elephant graveyard if you will. We got them a chair dance by this 65-year-old woman dressed up like Little Bo Peep. It was some seriously fucked up shit.
Any favorite places to eat when you’re on the road?
We’re constantly eating Subway because it’s so cheap, but I’d have to say my favorite place to eat is this burrito place in Little Rock, Ark., because Eric has a serious stalker there that always remembers us when we go in.
Last time we were there she told him she wanted to make a shrine to him out of her fingernail clippings, and then she added us to her MySpace and had all these pictures of herself in her underwear and all this crazy Nazi shit up on her page and kept leaving Eric all these fucked up picture comments. It’s totally amazing. I bet she’s tried to roofie his burritos before. The weirdest part about the whole thing is he’s always the one that suggests we eat there. I think there’s some kind of fatal attraction situation going on I just don’t know about.
How did you hook up with Thomas Barnett for that cover of Ann Beretta’s “Love’s Easy Tears” earlier this year?
We did some shows with Robby’s new band Foundation and mentioned that we’d wanted to cover that song because it was my favorite AB song, and it just ended up Thomas was in Richmond when we played up there, so it all kind of just fell together. That was so amazing to me, both those guys are awesome and everyone should check out Foundation because their new record is great.
With the melding of sounds Blacklist Royals has, it seems you’ve gained some attention from the Nashville scene, the punk scene and some mainstream press. Did you always expect your sound to have such a wide crossover, or did you think it would appeal to one crowd more than another? Like, did you ever think you were writing country/rock n roll tunes and wonder why the punks took such notice, or vice versa?
Well like I said before I see our sound as just kind of a natural progression. Like, the first songs I learned on guitar were all by The Misfits or Pennywise, and that’s what spoke to me when I was 15. As we got older and better at what we did and were able to appreciate lots of other styles we just kind of brought that in as well.
It’s been kind of frustrating seeing some bands getting successful playing the kind of stuff we’ve been doing for the last few years when we had label’s telling us they didn’t know what to do with us. It’s like, just because you put on a western shirt doesn’t mean you’ve become Woody Guthrie in the flesh. But regardless of all that, I think it’s a sign that people are sick of these bullshit bands and are looking for something a little more legitimate, so hopefully that works in our favor.
What else should people know about the band and/or what you are up to in the near future?
Well we’re still doing all our own booking, but our plan for the future is just to stay as busy as possible and play as many shows as we can whether it’s on big tours or in basements, and I just hope people check us out and give us a chance.
A question for the whole band to answer – what is your favorite song on the new album, and why?
I just polled the band in our van and everyone said something different, so since Alex is passed out right now I’ll go ahead and say his favorite is “Howling at the Moonlight,” since he ended up hanging out with the Puerto Rican drug dealer who almost killed us the other night in Brooklyn until 6 a.m. Other songs in the running were “American Heats” and “Love in the Backseat,” and I’ll say “The Promised Land,” since we didn’t write it.
Basically I just hope everyone likes the whole album.