Interview: Royal Thunder Captain Talks Mental Health

“Epic.” It’s one of those words that—along with “literally,” “unprecedented,” “authenticity,” “community,” etc—are so commonly misused in the contemporary American lexicon that their true meaning is now effectively rendered meaningless. Nonetheless, in the increasingly rare situations when those descriptors are properly applied, synonyms often fall short. Enter Royal Thunder’s esteemed vocalist and bassist, Mlny Parsonz.

One would be hard-pressed to talk about the hard rock visionaries from Atlanta without referring to them as epic. Whether the Atlantans are belting out tunes at the Troubadour (as this writer witnessed in February 2013) or at large arenas (where they recently opened for Alice in Chains), Royal Thunder leave no nook or cranny untouched by their enormous, enveloping sound.

Most impressive of all, only three individuals are responsible for Royal Thunder’s massive sound, calling to mind other deafening power trios like Nirvana, High on Fire, and Motörhead. With that in mind, it was time to not only check in with the band but to finally engage in a long, all-encompassing and even riveting conversation with Parsonz. 

Lauded over the years by many music publications as one of the “best women in rock”—a lame cliche that should be retired altogether—Parsonz gabbed to New Noise about her band’s state of being, incessant touring behind last year’s Rebuilding the Mountain (Spinefarm) and much more. Let’s just say that it was easy to come to the conclusion that Royal Thunder work hard, play hard—and rock hardest of all.

So, how’s Royal Thunder these days? Is the state of your union strong, so to speak?
I’ve always seen us as just a band—a cool band that does something cool. And I don’t really like look much outside of that. I love what I do. And I don’t ever—I don’t think it should really change a person that much. I just kind of want to be myself and—no, not kind of … I, like, definitely just want to be myself.

But if you were yourself, would things have panned out the way that they have for Royal Thunder? Aren’t you pleased with the band’s success in the 11 years since releasing your CVI debut?
I mean, I could walk around and think that I’m cooler than I was six months ago, but for what, you know? Just to be more of an asshole? The only thing about being popular that interests me is that our music reaches more people because what we do means something to me, and I want to help other people. I hope other people hear (our music) and it brings them healing and is something meaningful in their lives. Not just like, whatever, just like a song. I want it to like help people. So, being popular in that way—for that purpose but. Fuck all the rest of it.

What kinds of people who need help can you most directly help as a band? People who are going through breakups?
Anyone experiencing any kind of pain. I’ve written about failed relationships, but shit, who doesn’t? I find that I’ve grown a lot as a person—and it ends up not having anything to do about the relationship. Like, finding yourself in that and growing and being a better person and just moving up, not down. We all have pain; we all have tragedy; that’s just a part of life. I want to pass on some idea of recognizing that and accepting it and sitting with it for a healthy amount of time, but then doing something good with it.

Do you attribute your desire to help people to sobriety?
Nah, I’ve always been like that. Honestly, with sobriety, I feel a little more—unfortunately—selfish and more worried about stay sober. What I mean by “selfish” is that I’ve pulled back and am more protective of my energy, time, and space. I want to let people know there’s a way out. That’s really important to me.

There’s a saying that if you can name a problem, like pain or trauma, you can manage it. Do you agree with that?
I like that. Yeah, that’s pretty cool.

You’re playing about five songs from Rebuilding the Mountain and six songs total on this tour, is that right?
We’re only playing, like, two oldies; all the rest are from the new album. I think we’re playing eight songs. Maybe. No, you might be right. 

When I saw you at Psycho Las Vegas at Resorts World Las Vegas four or five years ago, you guys were playing in the middle of the casino area where anybody who was there could drop by. It was cool to see maybe 10 or 15 people near the stage, at least at first—and yet all these elderly people and gamblers in the back were also enraptured.
I remember that, shockingly. I was hammered for that show. That was a lot of fun. That was a great show.

Do you get more satisfaction when you finish a show knowing that you won over new fans, or that you pleased the fans who had certain expectations when they came into the show?
So there’s this running joke in our band that I totally have show dysmorphia. I go where I like to go (in our set) and where I need to go to connect our music with people. I’m there to express myself and feel something too—get in there and and work through it. But it’s also for the people that are listening. It’s no lie that most people who see us perform are just like, “What the fuck?” 

Show dysmorphia is a nice feeling, and maybe I do it to myself. But the only way I can really believe that (our set) was good is if I feel like we blew it or people hated it and then, afterward, I hear that like people liked it. Then I’m like, “Whoa.” Or I get offstage and I’m like, “Oh, they fucking hated it, dude,” and then Evan (DiPrima, drummer) says, “You’re a psycho.”

Sounds to me like you don’t have body or stage dysmorphia, you’re just very humble. You don’t like to take the mantle, I suppose.
Maybe. Sometimes I just feel like we’re annoying people waiting for the headliner. Then again, I’ve fought suicide and depression. (“The Knife” deals with that.) Like, “Why am I even here?” Or, “It’s all gone.” Even my ability to create, my ability to laugh. So that song is a lot. I wrote it during the pandemic during a really fucking dark time. But coming out of that …

I was doing a lot of cocaine at the time too. Like, a lot. And I almost died a couple times just doing too much of it. So that didn’t help feeling depressed because you go on these fucking benders for a week at a time … I was drinking and taking pills. … When I didn’t have those vices, I crashed hardcore.

Was this after COVID or before?
Oh, it’s been that way my whole life. It got really bad during the pandemic. That’s when people started getting honest and said, “I’m fucking depressed. I don’t wanna fucking die.” It’s like it was Halloween all the time in my head.

We’ve lost a lot of friends to overdoses and suicide. It hurts so bad sometimes. It’s a real thing. But there is hope even in those periods. It’s like my shadow self speaking to me and saying, “It’s not your time. Don’t tell yourself that. You’ll come through it.” Don’t treat depression as your best friend. Just let it go. It’s different being happy and clearheaded. It wasn’t until I got sober eight months ago that I started to feel, like, happy. So that’s been a big change.

Music writing is different now, but it feels more connected (and goes) to another level. I feel lost in a good way. Where the music takes me … I’m still learning how to navigate through that.

Does that apply to both Royal Thunder’s songwriting and performing?
Mostly performing. Each night feels different. It used to feel the same. I don’t ever want to fake it. If me being frustrated and that’s my connection (to the music that night), then I let that be what it is. I don’t ever want to pretend like I’m somewhere I’m not. Not ever.

So, when are you ever going to write a bad song?
Uh … well … thanks?! Trust me, I have. I’ve almost ruined a couple songs. You should hear the original version of “Now Here – No Where.” The guys hated it, but maybe one day we’ll release it. We need to release a joke album called Bad Ideas by Mlny. If there’s gonna be a bad song, it’ll be my fault.

The word “authenticity” gets thrown around way too loosely nowadays, but there’s a tangible quality to your music. Did you channel your struggles into Rebuilding the Mountain, given its theme of renewal?
The record is about what happens when you invite toxicity into your life and embrace it and put it on a pedestal, not even realizing that you’re fucking yourself all along the way. Sometimes people wanna take and take and take, and suck you dry, give you nothing. What you do to yourself in the process is very damaging.

I’ve turned a corner with that recently. It was, like, “I ain’t got fucking time for things that are toxic in my life to rob me anymore. Stop fucking doing it. I’m not making space for it anymore.” Then, once you cut out all that stuff, you find yourself with a lot of time in your hands sometimes.

Well, congratulations on eight months. That’s a good point to be at. I appreciate you sharing that with me. What else do you think Rebuilding the Mountain succeeds at doing, other than serving as a therapeutic tool for mental health issues?
More attention to dynamics and finding power in pulling back, instead of (turning up) the volume. For a long time, I thought I had to shout everything from my fucking pinky toes all the way, like, out of my head. That’s me being honest; that’s me letting it all out. And then I realized, “There’s like a lot of vulnerability (in doing) that.”

Evan is a beast who can fucking hammer out those drums, and (guitarist) Josh (Weaver) can play loud all day long—and dance on his fretboard. But (this time) we just were, like, “Man, you don’t have to do that. Let’s just calm down. Just listen.”

I can’t think of a better sign of maturity for a band. Do you feel more open creatively as well with Royal Thunder?
Yes. It’s, like, “What does the song want? How does it want to breathe? What does it have to say?” Which we’ve always done, but (this time there) was a lot less talking.

Sorry, can you repeat that? I wasn’t listening to what you were saying.
Oh, it’s OK, I was talking about …

That was a joke!
(Laughs.) I was, like, “Damn, that was so perfect. But I don’t know if he’s serious or not.”

What you’re saying strikes me as the spirit of your band. Do you guys feel like outsiders or part of a community, in the grand scheme of things?
Oh yeah, community all the way. I started going to shows when I was, like, 13, drinking beers and hanging out, skateboarding and running around, raising hell. People that I met back then went on to form bands like Mastodon, Kylesa … we all fucking kind of grew up around each other in those scenes.

I’ve always felt part of a community. I’ve never felt outside of it. I don’t feel like an outsider now. That would be lonely as hell. That would really be sad. We will never forget where we came from. 

Have you connected much with Alice In Chains?
It is really good to see (Alice in Chains’ co-lead singer and rhythm guitarist) William (DuVall). He came out to a Dillinger Escape Plan … I want to say it was eight years ago when I met him. He was a badass punk rocker but still, like, down to earth.

You wanna be careful not to keep journals like Kurt Cobain, where he had alternate lyrics and alternate titles.
Oh, I can relate to that. Yeah, for sure.

It’s always a pleasure to talk with you, Mlny. Have a blast tonight.
Later, dude. Thanks.

Rebuilding the Mountain is available now from Spinefarm. Follow Royal Thunder on Facebook and Instagram for future updates.

Photo courtesy of Justin Reich

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