Royal Thunder

106 Beats That:
Royal Thunder’s Number Proves a Lucky One

They claim no interest in numerology, but Mlny (Melanie) Parsonz and Josh Weaver of Atlanta quartet Royal Thunder kept seeing it randomly pop up in their lives so often that when it came time to name their debut full-length album, nothing else made sense: CVI, Roman for 106.It’s shown up on their automobile license plates, the lengths of particular cellphone calls and the cost of a set of tires. During the recording of CVI, Josh played one song’s guitar intro without the benefit of a click-track. The engineer, however, set one to it, and discovered it was 106 beats per minute.

“Yeah,” Josh laughs. “It’s crazy.”

You wanna hear how it all started? ’Course you do. Josh and his friend, tattoo artist Jason Kelly (who was born on January 6th, whoa), were teenagers, probably 17, 18 years old. Driving around with another friend of theirs one evening, somebody thought they saw a dollar bill (or more) in the road. Always scrounging for dough for Taco Bell or whatever, Josh turned the car around and parked while the other guys scurried over to retrieve the loot. “I look in the rear view mirror, and they’re scraping up bills and holding up money in their hands like they won the lottery,” remembers Josh. “They come back to the car, and it was a hundred and six dollars. But we didn’t keep it. We heard this lady crying, ‘I lost my wallet…’ Part of us were like, ‘Just keep walking…’ But we gave her the money back, and we got harassed by a cop like we were trying to steal it, but we did the right thing.

“And then that night Jason found our friend’s grandmother dead upstairs.”

“Ever since then,” Melanie interjects, “106 has been following us everywhere. And if you get close enough to us, it’ll start following you too! I probably have 50 pictures in my phone of times when…there’s been receipts or clocks, you name it.”

But the album’s title and its backstory are but a mere sidebar once you press play on this mother. It’s anything but by the numbers. “Sleeping Witch” from their self-released EP reappears in a spooky re-recorded form, but otherwise it’s a newborn onslaught of sensual power. Thick and thundering, its riffs careening in a molten groove, CVI alternately slams and stalks, allowing each song to build its own mood, at its own pace, be that three minutes or ten. The drums rumble up from behind you until eventually you’re surrounded. Weaver’s guitar carves these pieces into shape with massive slabs of clamorous unrest. And Parsonz sounds absolutely ferocious, a wild beast cornered, clawing her way out. It would be Atlanta’s metal album of the year, if “metal” didn’t seem so confining a term. But it’s heavy as hell, that’s for certain.

“I’m proud of it,” Mel modestly states. “We worked really fucking hard on it.”

It’s as if the album, and in fact the band itself, in its current configuration, were just meant to be. Everyone in it’s been weaving in and out of the others’ lives and bands for so long now, it’s like it’s been working up to this.

Josh still vividly remembers the day he spotted Melanie at the mall, wearing a Metallica T-shirt. She’s convinced it was the shirt that got his attention, but he swears “it was the whole package – just seeing this awesome looking chick wearing a Metallica shirt, I mean, it’s something you don’t see every day. It wasn’t some cutesy Metallica shirt you see some girls wear, either – she had a straight-up original ‘80s Metallica shirt on!”

“Then he came to my high school [in Marietta] when I was playing in a battle of the bands,” she continues. “It was the first band I ever sang in. I’d been in screamy bands, done grindcore, black metal, I’d always done that stuff growing up. In this band I sang and played keyboards. Basically it was a ripoff of Skid Row.” But they won the battle, and she won his heart.

Half-Spanish, even at 32 you can hear the defiant toughness in her voice when she talks. She tells me about the time she snuck out of the house to see her first “real” rock show, Fugazi at the Masquerade (and got caught by her parents sneaking back into her house). After seeing Metallica for the first time at the Omni, she went home and carved the band’s name into her stomach with a razor blade and India ink for a rudimentary self-applied tattoo (ouch). So she was a little teenaged rock ‘n’ roll troublemaker, yeah?

“Hah! Yeah, I guess so. That’s what I hear. I hear stories more than anything. You know, I was on a lot of drugs back then,” she tells me. “The guy who’s playing drums with us now, I actually went to high school with him, it’s Gentleman Jesse’s little brother Lee, and he tells me stories all the time. I’m like, ‘I didn’t do that shit.’ He’s like, ‘Trust me – you did it.’ Apparently I was in a band with him that I don’t remember! I’m tellin’ ya, I did a lot of drugs. Acid, mostly. I’d get on the bus and dose before school. I did it on the weekends too. Yeah, I did it a lot. How I am able to function still…”

Josh and Mel hit it off from the start. “We did a lot of hanging out together,” she says. “Music was a huge bond for us. And playing together, too. We’ve always had that chemistry.” They got married a few years after the mall encounter, when they were 21.

Having trained on piano as a kid, Mel was comfortable playing keyboards and joined Josh’s band World Against World, for which Jason Kelly sang. Appropriate for their sludgy, crusty punk-metal sound, she would dread her hair and weave bones into it. (These days, you’ll more likely see copper wire entwined in it). Josh and Mel continued together in the subsequent bands Orcrist and The Souls Unrest, by which time she’d taken up the bass guitar. The latter band included her old high school friend Smith.

Weaver: “We would practice over at his house, and Josh Coleman would always be over at Lee’s house, and I had no idea that he even played guitar or anything.”

“He said he used to sit up there and listen to us,” says Parsonz. Today, he’s the second guitar player in Royal Thunder.

But it still took a few more steps to get to this current cosmic conflagration. Disgruntled after the lack of significant headway made by any of their bands, Josh and Melanie ditched The Souls Unrest and stopped playing music altogether. He even sold his gear.

“We both quit playing music for six months,” Mel recalls. “We just sat around and looked at each other, like, ‘What the fuck? Who are we? This isn’t us, man.’ Finally we were just like, ‘Fuck it.’ We just had to play music.”

“It was good, though,” says Josh, “because I went from playing Marshall half-stacks with Les Pauls to getting a Fender guitar and a Fender amp, just to kind of mix it up. A lot of early Royal Thunder came from that – leaving behind my metal thing and just playing different riffs, whatever came along, whether it was heavy or pretty.”

“That’s what Royal Thunder is,” emphasizes Parsonz. “It’s not trying to be any particular thing.”

But Melanie wasn’t even in Royal Thunder at the start. They were an instrumental group with Josh’s brother on bass and Kelly on drums. They played one show at the old Lenny’s on Memorial Drive before collapsing. But this whole time, Melanie was sitting in her room as they’d practice, “humming along. Not even thinking about being a part of it, just sitting in my room chilling and learning the music, without even knowing it.”

After struggling to find a stable lineup for Royal Thunder, Josh started playing with drummer Jesse Stuber. Melanie remembers “it was just Josh and Jesse jamming for a while, and Jesse was like, ‘Well, all we need is a singer and bass player now.’ And Josh said, ‘I think Mel’s gonna do it.’ Without even asking me. He already had it in his head.”

Though he plays on their EP and most of CVI, Stuber left the group during the recording of the latter.

“He finished all of his drum tracks a couple days before I did my vocals, and we parted ways, so I was super fucking tense,” says Parsonz. “My mind was like, ‘We don’t even have a drummer right now. What does it mean to even do this album anymore? We don’t even have a band.’ So my head was jacked when we started.”

Not to worry. Lee had just moved to Florida from Santa Cruz, where he had been playing with the band Estradasphere. When Josh called and offered him the drummer slot in Royal Thunder, he quickly accepted.

“The best part is, there’s a history there with us, and a lot of love,” says Parsonz. “He’s like a brother to me. It feels like family. And even Josh, he came on in hopes that he would be the bass player and I would just sing. The feeling was, okay, we’re transitioning, so let’s just try everything, see what fits and what doesn’t. And I’ll tell you right now, I was the most boring ‘just singer.’ And every time I would show [Coleman] a part and sing it and play it at the same time, it felt right.”

Weaver: “Lee had mentioned that he played guitar, so we were like, ‘Let’s give it a try.’ And he’d gotten the recording and already knew all the songs. I could tell both [Lee and Josh] wanted [to be in the band], because they both attacked it.”

Coleman’s presence frees up Weaver and gives him room to enjoy leads, which is a good thing – live, he always seemed wound up and stressed trying to play all the guitar parts. But recalling a recent tour stop in New Orleans, he says, “I was doing stuff I’d never done, and feeling so liberated while I was doing it. It was amazing. I was super tense when we were a three piece, because I could hardly move at all. I play a lot of pedals too – sometimes I’m using both of my feet.”

We started this little story deciphering the significance of the album’s name. Let’s end it by asking Melanie the reason she spells her name M-L-N-Y.

“You know, I have memories of sitting down learning how to write my name in cursive, and I fucking hated it. There was something about seeing my name spelled M-E-L-A-N-I-E, it just didn’t resonate with me. I think I saw it as really feminine, and I was very much a tomboy. I spent a lot of time modifying that, you know, all the way from middle school. It was Melany for a while, and then it had a star in it for a long time. I just did everything I could to not have that name, it just didn’t sit well with me. It just slowly chopped down to Mlny. It’s been like that since high school, probably. Everybody knows me as Mel. It’s sexless.”

“Poor guy,” I say to Josh.

“No, not that kind of sexless!” exclaims Mlny. “You’d be talking to some divorced people if that were the case!”

Photo by Christy Parry.