If Robert Plant and Tina Turner had spawned an offspring who grew up worshipping at the altar of Janis Joplin, she might sound a lot like Mlny (pronounced Melanie) Parsonz, the front woman for Atlanta’s Royal Thunder.
When the band emerged with their debut album, CVI, in 2012, they were raved about on the metal scene for their hard-hitting blend of swampy, soulful psychedelic rock and Parsonz’ primal, bluesy wail. But their new album, Crooked Doors, ups the ante considerably, powered by the emotion of the Parsonz’s break from a Christian cult, her painful divorce from Royal Thunder guitarist Josh Weaver, and a general desire to change her life for the better.
I recently spoke to the singer/bassist at length about her bitter breakup, her emotionally vulnerable lyrics, and the making of what I consider to be 2015’s finest rock album.
I like to start off all my interviews with the same question: Tell me about when and why you fell in love with music?
I was just a kid. It was me and a piano to the right of a mirrored wall in Tom’s River, New Jersey. I sat on the piano bench every day and found my own little island, so to speak. It was a place where I could duck my head and find melodies.
Who were the artists who inspired your early interest in being a singer/songwriter?
When I heard Nirvana, it resonated with my soul. I was a rebellious, weird, pissed-off troublemaker. There was something about Nirvana that I could relate to. Of course I had to bleach my hair, dye it bright red, buy a fuzzy green cardigan, and start a band. It was an awful band, Conniption Fit.
What originally brought you to Atlanta from New Jersey?
My father was a computer engineer. He had a better opportunity within his career, and he took it. Now I’m a southern yankee. They say ya can’t take the Jersey out of a Jersey woman. ‘Tis true!
Can you talk a bit about how the band came together, and what attracted you to Josh in a musical sense?
Josh and I have always had a sacred, special musical connection. We’ve been making music together since 1999. Josh and I have evolved so much over the years as musicians and, luckily, we evolved together. We were always on the same page, and we always shared the same vision. It’s a dream that never died. He started this band without me, but he always knew I’d be standing in that empty space where he was missing a bass player and a singer.
I’ve read about your experience with the Christian cult. Is that something you’re willing to discuss?
I’ve gone in-depth on the topic of what happened. But I’d like to talk more about how I feel about organized religion. I think there’s a slippery slope– a potential danger, or a slow burning fire that creeps up the front porch stairs, eventually burning down the house– when a human being is in a position of power. With organized religion, I believe people get lost in the smoke, groping the walls blindly. They can hear “god,” but is it really God or is it just man? If it’s man you worship, YOU will die. I am on my own path. This is my journey. Only I will determine what it is I do next. No longer will I allow myself to be guided, trained, conditioned or indoctrinated. I wanna be free, goddammit!
CVI established you guys as major players on the hard rock/metal scene. Were you surprised by the warm reception to the band, the album and your vocals in particular?
Surprised, indeed! I never expected anyone to care as much as they did, and I’m thankful for all of the love and support. The metal scene scene was very accepting of us when we first started out. When no one else gave a shit, the metal scene was championing our band. The metal scene has everything to do with who I am as a musician today.
Since CVI was released, half the lineup has changed and you and Josh ended your marriage. Was there ever any question of whether you would continue on with Royal Thunder?
Behind the closed doors, in my home, is a world no one else knows with the exception of our closest friends and our family. I won’t ever again talk about Josh and I (no offense) but I must say, it BLOWS my mind to see people write about your life as if they know about YOUR LIFE. We will always be in each other’s lives. We will always make music. Our dreams are our destiny. Don’t expect us to ever get punched in the face and not heal up. I’m a bull. I don’t give up. I don’t stop growing. And I won’t ever stop movin’ and shakin’. Even after I’m gone.
Crooked Doors seems more emotionally charged, less cryptic than CVI. Can you talk about the difficulty of co-writing a breakup album with the guy you’re breaking up with?
For the record, we didn’t write a breakup album. We weren’t even in the studio together at the same time for MOST of the album-writing process. Josh read the lyrics after sent them over to our label during the layout process for the album art. I didn’t have a concept in mind. I wanted to share my heart, and my only intention was to be more flagrant and less cryptic. As far as lyrics go, cryptic is what I’ve been since I was a child. Until I burned them, I had poetry books full of bullshit cryptic stuff. Art, songs, etc…. But I wanted to follow my gut and my heart, and that was to open up and say [what I was feeling]. So I did. I’d felt conflicted for so long, and I needed to process that whole idea. I needed to snap, break and bend my life. Each song is me, sitting around my campfire, watching my life dance in the flames. That’s what Crooked Doors is, not a breakup album. I wanna say that like you say, “It’s not a tumor!” “It’s not a breakup album!” (Laughs)
Your voice shows the usual strength and dynamic power, but also a newfound sense of vulnerability. Was it hard to allow yourself to go to these intensely personal places?
It was hard to NOT beat myself up and enjoy my voice. I just tried to appreciate the fact that I can do it at all! I’m thankful that I have any kind of voice. I’m thankful that I get to express myself, singing. It’s a pleasure and a challenge, but it’s one that I will gladly take on. As far as the sense of vulnerability goes, yes and no. It was difficult because I didn’t wanna give it ALL away, my heart. And I didn’t. I always keep a little to myself and never tell anyone everything. That’s where “no” comes in. Because I always keep a few beans in my pocket, I feel a little better about being vulnerable.
I’ve read about your efforts to stay sober. How is the recovery process going for you?
This one is hilarious. Dude, I was on a 14-day cleanse to strengthen my immune system and build up my endurance before I played SXSW, so I could bring my all to the table! I was asked during an interview, “How are you doing?” My (the addict) response: “I’m 12 days into being sober: It’s been hard, but it’s been good!” Maybe it’s my fault for not being more clear. But, that’s just it– people writing about other people. It’s probably not even close to the truth, what you read about others.
It seems like you’ve been through a hell of a lot in the last few years, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. How would you say you’re different from the woman you were when you started Royal Thunder?
I’m stronger. More sure of myself. Less focused on the static. And determined as hell to be true to myself and to those around me. I think I get “it” now. How to live. How to be happy. And THAT’S what I’m after.
Where would you like to see your career 10 years from now?
I don’t ever consider my future. I’m here now. I’m seeing what it is I need to be seeing, right here, right now. Who knows?! I’m a sonic gypsy. Don’t know where I’m goin’, but I’ll end up somewhere… – by Bret Love
If you enjoyed reading MIny Parsonz On Religion, Divorce & Crooked Doors, you might also like: