Utah band Royal Bliss celebrates 25-year anniversary | Music | Salt Lake City Weekly

Utah band Royal Bliss celebrates 25-year anniversary 

Reflections on staying power and building a following in the music industry

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  • Brian Medeiros

There's no doubt that 25 years is a long time to claim a career in rock and roll. At a time when one-hit wonders and the latest flash in the proverbial pan all compete to dominate the charts, any band with the substance and dexterity to find success for any substantive length of time qualifies as a phenomenon.

Royal Bliss—specifically, Neal Middleton (lead vocal, guitar) Taylor Richards (guitars, vocals), Jake Smith (drums, percussion) and Brian Hennesy (bass, vocals)—are one of those isolated examples.

Since their formation in the late 90s, they've managed to release five albums (After The Chaos II, Life In Between, Waiting Out The Storm, Chasing The Sun and the band's 2019 eponymous debut) with a sixth, as yet untitled album set for release later this year. They've toured continuously, sidelined only by the pandemic, climbed to number one on multiple Billboard's charts and garnered over 100 million streams and 180,000+ monthly listeners on Spotify alone. Nevertheless, the band members insist that their greatest accomplishment has been their sheer survival.

"Survival in this ever-changing music industry is extremely difficult if you plan on making a living at it," Middleton says. "We came up in a time when social media was still very new. We had MySpace, and that's about it. The only way to get your music heard was to get out and hang flyers, shake hands and give away CDs with tickets to your shows to total strangers in hopes they would come watch you play, or at least listen to the CD. It's a lot more work than people expect, and it was a lot more work than we all expected, that's for sure."

He continued: "For years we used to drive around town putting up flyers everywhere, The U of U, Graywhale CD, Raspberry Records and other music stores that don't exist anymore, as well as coffee shops and anywhere they'd let us put up flyers."

Middleton adds that even Salt Lake City Weekly itself was part of their aspirational goals, as they checked the print paper back in the day "to see where the cool local bands were playing, and hoping we'd get to play there one day."

"Sometime around 2003, we did a road trip and actually drove from here to Reno, to Sacramento, to San Francisco, hitting just about every city down the coast," he said. "We'd look at their local papers and see where all the cool bands were playing. We'd drop off a CD and press kit and talk to the bartender, or manager. We actually booked a few tours based on that."

Having the opportunity to perform for appreciative audiences has been well worth the effort, though, according to Middleton. "Being on that stage performing is one of the greatest feelings in the world," he said. "To hear an audience singing your lyrics back at you is absolutely amazing and extremely addicting. We all have that same love of music and an addiction to the live show, so we do whatever we have to do to be able to continue to perform and make a living doing what we love. For some musicians, that is too much work, and I don't blame them, because at times it's overwhelming. We just never gave up. Music is therapy, and we've also noticed over the years that our music is therapy for others, so we want to continue to serve them."

In that regard, the members of the band have remained united for a common purpose. "We all have different tastes in music and come from vastly different backgrounds as well," he says. "I think it's our differences that make our chemistry work so well. It would be boring if we all loved the same music and had the same personalities. We each have unique musical skills as well as business skills that we have refined through the years."

Middleton notes that it's their shared love of music that also makes that pursuit worthwhile: "This band is kind of all we have known, so we have to make this work."

Richards concurs. "It's still fun," he says. "Sure, there are hard times, arguments, frustrations, but at the end of the day, week, or month, we get to do what we love to do: Play music. Also, we keep growing and getting bigger and bigger. It may be the slowest growth process ever for a band (laughs), but it's growing. And we are still growing as songwriters and musicians as well."

For his part, Middleton sees a definitive trajectory. "We were young when we started, teenagers," he recalls. "We just wanted to have fun, meet some girls, make some money and party. When we realized pretty quickly that people liked our music and we might have a shot at making a career of this, we set out to conquer the world. That young ambition and persistence really paid off."

Asked if he thinks they've succeeded in realizing their initial goals, Middleton pauses. "If you asked me that question even five years ago, I would have probably said no," he replies. "As we look out at the audience nowadays and see the connection they have to us and our music, then I have to say yes. We have people all over the world that listen to our music through hundreds of millions of streams and views, so I would say we have a made an impression ... and that is pretty amazing." 

That said, both Middleton and Taylor agree that there have been difficulties they've encountered along the way. "There were many times where we thought about taking a break or hanging it up," Middleton says. "Hell, at one point, after an accident, I was told I would never walk again. It was the fans and the local music community that got me back on that stage. I believe we have built something with this band that will last forever."

Richards has his own reasons why they persevere. "Not giving up has made us stronger," he argues. "So many bumps in the road have made us question if we should continue. Failed record label deals, loss of money from tours and promotions, extremely high gas prices, time away from family and loved ones and a pandemic!" 

"There are experiences we have had, people we have met, food we have enjoyed and beautiful places we may have never seen if we had not stayed on this path," Middleton concludes. "We have been a part of this community for most of our lives, we would not be where we are without their support. So we have to thank them for the amazing ride that they've allowed Royal Bliss to take. A band is nothing without their fans, and they have made our lives unbelievable. Cheers to 25 years and hopefully a few more!"

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About The Author

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman

An accomplished writer, blogger and reviewer, Zimmerman contributes to several local and national publications, including No Depression, Paste, Relix and Goldmine. The music obsessive says he owns too many albums to count and numerous instruments he’s yet to learn.

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