Check out this great interview I had the pleasure of doing with Nat Rufus of Blacklist Royals. I spoke with Nat about the formation of the band, the release of their newest album "Die Young With Me", and playing this year's Vans Warped Tour.
Usually I ask how bands come together, but you’re twins, so it’s kind of clear who approached who. But when did you originally decide to start a band?
We’ve always played in bands together. I think the decision to start a band was just based on...there’s two types of people: there’s trained musicians who come up learning to play an instrument, and then there’s people who are, whatever age, who see a rock and roll band and say “I wanna fuckin’ do that.” There was this lucky period where discovered punk rock when we were twelve or thirteen, and we were just like “we’re going to start a band.” We’ve always played music together. We were about twenty-one. We’re from Huntington, West Virginia, which is where we grew up and where a lot of our older bands came from. When we turned about twenty-one, we kind of made the decision that we seriously wanted to pursue music, and it wasn’t going to happen if we stayed in West Virginia. So we moved to Nashville, and after a couple of years and had sort of stolen people from various other bands (laughs), we started Blacklist Royals.
You released your full-length album “Die Young With Me” on June 10th. How long did the initial writing process take?
So the songwriting process was kind of unending, but the thing that actually took the most time was getting it out. We actually went into the studio in 2012, and have spent the last two or three years, ever since our first record came out, just writing songs and pulling songs out. We tried to make the record then, and we couldn’t get it out, and the entire band quit, so we were kind of in limbo. Last year, we got stuff together, got new members and things started rolling. We were touring all year, and we were trying to find a label to put the record out. We were also writing during that time, and eventually found a new home for the album. We then decided to just re-record the whole thing (laughs).
But for the final record, I mean, some of the songs were written about three and a half years ago, and some of them were written a month before we went into the studio.
You cover some very deep and personal subject material on this record. What was it like to speak about Rob’s battle with cancer and bring forth some of those experiences into your writing?
It was definitely kind of a hard thing to do. “Die Young With Me” was like the first song where we’d ever actually written about anything like that. Rob actually wrote the song. We just kind of decided to go for it. There was a lot of stuff going on over those years that we were kind of like….it seemed like it made sense. When we first started the band, we were trying to find our sound and figure out ourselves as writers. When we made the decision to make a record that was themed about that…. It was a tough thing to do, and put into songs. Once it’s a song and people hear it, it’s kind of not yours anymore. We’d have to read reviews where (laughs) people are talking shit and tearing it apart, and we’re like “oh, that’s like my whole life.” (laughs) Thankfully, we’ve never had too much of that though.
Or we’ll meet people and they’ll have misinterpreted something, but that’s the beautiful thing about music. When we set out to do the record, we kind of decided to put it all out there, and be as literal and personal as possible. We thought “let’s just put it out there.” Even if people don’t relate exactly to what we’re singing about, I think there’s that subconscious, like, thing in music where maybe we can connect with people on different levels, or it could mean something more than just a kind of fun, poppy, rock and roll song.
It was interesting. Like I said, we recorded a lot of these songs a couple years ago. Last year, we had been touring and trying to get a new deal. We had been playing mostly new songs that were on the new record. So I’d kind of distanced myself from it. When we went back into re-cut it, it was kind of tough. (laughs). Some of these songs that we’d done three years ago would play, and then Ted Hutt, our producer would say, “well you have to write another verse.” And I’d be like, “I don’t want to write another verse, man.” (laughs). But I’m really proud of it. It was nice to kind of close that chapter and move onto something else.
The album was produced by Ted Hutt, whose definitely worked with some notable modern punk acts like The Gaslight Anthem, Lucero, and Chuck Ragan. What did he bring to the table as a producer?
Man, he just totally changed the way I would even think about writing a song, or performing. It was a trip, man. In the past, we’d done records with friends and stuff. When we went out to LA, we had more songs written that we said had to be on the record, or it’s not going to be the record we wanted to be. Ted Hutt’s name came up, and we spoke on the phone, and he just seemed to get where we were coming from musically, and what we wanted the record to be, so we made the decision to go do it. We flew to LA two weeks later; we only had eleven days to re-cut the record. I’ve never recorded that quickly.
We were doing pre-production, and he was just like, “I don’t know what band you think you’re in, but if you want this to sound like the stuff that you want it to sound like, then we need to change everything.” (laughs). It was interesting though. The whole idea was to make it sound like an intimate record, make it sound like two brothers playing together in a room, which is essentially what Blacklist Royals has always been. Set that tone and that vibe, and make it sound real and more personal. There were definitely a lot of changes. We rearranged a lot of the songs, and he was kind of on me about my vocal performance and stuff. It was incredible. Ted is a great dude, super cool. It was one of the first times where I’d ever felt like I made the right decision. (laughs).
You just finished up a run on the Vans Warped Tour. What was it like to play to that audience? I ask this because Warped has expanded to a very eclectic audience of concert-goers.
It was a trip, man. (laughs). We did the whole thing in 2011, and the crowd has kind of changed. The biggest issue we had on Warped Tour was the weather. We had good crowds, and a couple of the days we had really good crowds. But it’s a very weird experience when you play festival shows like that because it’s all these people that don’t come to shows. It has this really young demographic, and it includes music from all of these genres that we don’t necessarily play. Our fan-base is usually eighteen and on, so it’s cool to play for younger people! But it’s a lot of people that come out of the woodwork and stuff like that. I’m kind of walking around going, “what the fuck?!” (laughs). But it’s cool! It’s a good way to get exposure to people who may not be at whatever club you’re playing at. And it was a good warm-up because we just added a new key player, and he hadn’t played live with us before. We’re leaving to do a bunch of festivals over in Europe, so it was a good warm-up to Europe. I was really happy we did it.
It’s really cool to play shows with other bands like that. I don’t usually get to play a show and then watch Terror play. (laughs). A lot of people that don’t necessarily play music don’t really understand that just because you may not like someone’s band, they may be cool as shit as a person. And with the same token, you may see a band that you really like, and then you’ll meet them and go “Oh. This guy’s a huge dick or whatever.” So it’s cool to see and meet new people! I think maybe I’m just old. (laughs)
These next two questions I ask to every artist that I interview. What kind of message would you like fans to walk away with after listening to your music?
I think the real message is, and I think a lot of this is why rock and roll music has appealed to me, we’ve always kind of had this sense of escapism. I’m from a tiny town in West Virginia that I’ve wanted to get out of since I knew it was possible to get out of it. That’s why I love touring. There’s always a sense of freedom and something better.
A lot of the songs on the record were harder to write or touched on sadder subjects, but there’s kind of a sense of underlying hopefulness. I want people to feel good after they see us play or listen to a record, even if they’re going through something terrible. I guess that was kind of the point of doing the record. Any time I go to a show from a band I love, and I get transformed not into a band dude that sees live music every day, but just being in the moment and a fan, you walk away from that and you feel good about life. I guess that’s kind of what I would like people to feel when they walk away from our record.
That’s kind of a tall order, but we want people to just have a good time and feel the connection, feel good.
What does music mean to you?
Man, it means everything to me. That’s such a cliché thing to say, but you know, punk rock really spoke to me when I was young because Rob and I were….we didn’t fit in, you know? We didn’t know what we were supposed to be. We weren’t cool, we weren’t good looking, we weren’t good at sports, or whatever. Then you’d see some band play and you’d go “holy shit, this is what I want to do.” When he was sick, man, we were always just focused on music and just having this idea in our head that if we kind of just assumed everything was going to be okay, then it would be okay. We stuck with music the entire time. To have written the record like we did, and as a writer to find my own niche, which I think can be said for both of us, but to write and let that stuff go through music, it’s the most important thing in my life. I love music. I’m a fan! I’m a fan first and always. It saved my life. I can absolutely say that. There’s nothing else that I want to do, and there’s nothing else I’ve ever even tried to do, as far as a career path or life path. It’s always just been “I want to play in a fuckin’ band!”
Last question: what are the future plans for Blacklist Royals?
I was actually just talking about this earlier with some of our team! I think the rough plan for after Europe is to probably shoot a new music video, to come out in the fall with a new single, and then do a US tour in the fall. Who we’ll be doing that tour with, I don’t know. Decisions are being made though! We’ll definitely be touring the U.S. in the fall. I think that everybody can expect a new music video to hit at about the same time.
Blacklist Royals' newest release, "Die Young With Me", is available now.
This has been another Shameless Promotion.