Growing up and playing rock music are almost antithetical concepts. To commit to a career of playing live music often means forgoing an ordinary work schedule—and sleep schedule—and spending a lot less time at home. And it's unlikely anyone's parents will ever praise their children's choice to join a band as a wise and secure financial decision.
Whatever stereotypes continue to persist, the truth of the matter is that musicians do grow up. And that period, and process of growth, very frequently becomes a part of their music. Before writing and recording new album Crooked Doors, Mlny Parsonz, frontwoman of Atlanta-based hard rock outfit Royal Thunder, went through a pretty intense period of life change. She and her bandmate, guitarist Josh Weaver, got a divorce. Prior to that, she left a religious cult that she described in a recent Rolling Stone interview as "completely out of control." And as Parsonz revealed to Stereogum last month, she's also newly sober.
These combined experiences became a creative impetus for Parsonz, who used her own personal period of growth and uncertainty as a catalyst for creating something positive on Crooked Doors.
Royal Thunder play June 3 at The Hideout
"I feel like, obviously I'm not the only person going through, What the fuck should I do with my life?'" Parsonz says in a phone interview. "I felt like everything I was going through was the same thing all the time. I wasn't living. Being stagnant has never agreed with my spirit. Creatively and mentallyit's no good for me. I need this moment to process everything I've been through and to talk about it—this kind of soul vomit. And hopefully someone will hear itit'll be an encouragement to someone to move on and do what they gotta do with life and find happiness."
Given how intense and personal Parsonz's lyrics are on Crooked Doors, it's a remarkably accessible—even pretty—album. The group's debut, 2012's CVI, was more deeply rooted in doom metal and prog rock, more often than not invoking the power and majesty of metal gods Black Sabbath with traces of the occult just around the fringes. With Crooked Doors, however, Royal Thunder pivots away from that metal sound in favor of a melodic rock approach that can alternately recall '70s rock n' roll titans Led Zeppelin and Heart, or contemporary performers like PJ Harvey.
The album's lead-off track, "Time Machine," reflects both personal and musical change, with Parsonz singing "I'm looking for a way to feel/ cause I don't feel a thing," against a restrained, psychedelic rock pulse. And the more straightforward rock stomp of "Floor" more directly addresses Parsonz's experience in a religious sect: "Dirty pictures/ Holy water/ and a hole in my eye." But as much passion and fury as there is in each song—a whole lot of which comes straight from her own powerful vocal abilities—Royal Thunder never strays far from a melodic approach on Crooked Doors.
"I was thinking, What can I do to continue to grow?'" Parsonz says about writing the new album. "I just want to push and write a better melody. I was very careful and very thoughtful and wanted to do something really special, so when I sit back and listen to it, I felt like I gave that song the best melody it could possibly have.
"I was in my late 20s then, early 30s," she adds, reflecting on their debut album. "Now I'm 35. And I feel the music is growing up as we're growing up."
Royal Thunder is in its 11th year as a band, and while its individual members have experienced a lot of transition and growth since it began, the band itself scarcely resembles what it was in 2004. Royal Thunder started off as an instrumental metal trio, but changed direction when Parsonz joined as vocalist. Several members have come and gone, and over time they've distanced themselves from showcasing some of their more explicit metal influences, though Parsonz says that those roots will always be a part of who they are. "I think you're always going to hopefully feel the metalbut I don't think you necessarily hear it," she says.
As Royal Thunder pushes on into the future, however, Parsonz, Weaver, drummer Evan Diprima and guitarist Will Fiore are focused on letting go of some of the cryptic darkness that once defined them, and—ultimately—are growing up.
"A lot has changed," Parsonz says. "I feel like we were more cloaked when we started out. We were coming out of so many things in life, and things were changing. And it's not that we didn't know who we were. We were who we were at the time, but we were still figuring out how to get out of being those people. There was this brooding and darkness and mystery. That's always how we have been—we love dark shit, and grew up on that stuff when we were teenagers.
"But as we move on and get older and make music, we're shedding a lot of skin," she adds. "And now, everything feels lighter and brighter."