Big Bottoms: Royal Thunder’s Mlny Parsonz
Atlanta, GA-based southern heavy rockers Royal Thunder are perhaps the last great evidence against the Top 40 sycophants who attempt to maintain that no truly enduring hard rock music has been made since the ‘70s. One could long argue that we have modern day equivalents to Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd, but the female-fronted greats from the first generation of rock’s heaviness—the counterparts to Heart, Joan Jett or Fleetwood Mac—have been a more fleeting breed.
Royal Thunder has staying power. They have it not because of a great gimmick, not because of unrivaled record label support, not on the strength of a hit single, but because they are road dogs. They play, they drive, the write, the play, they ride.
For Royal Thunder singer/bassist Mlny Parsonz, it’s not about being a woman in an up-and-coming band; it’s about being good at what she does. It’s about being locked-in with RT drummer Jesse Stuber. It’s about improving as a bassist and as a singer. It’s about writing great vocal parts over riffs from guitarist Josh Weaver. It’s about being undeniable.
Mlny is the first bassist/lead singer to be featured in this space because, at the moment, there’s no one on her level. There’s no one with her story or with her chops. We talked about her introduction to music, how she joined Royal Thunder and, of course, gear.
What came first for you; was it singing or playing bass?
For me it was definitely singing. In this band, it was playing bass and I just kind of got pushed into singing. My intention was to just play bass for Royal Thunder.
So had you sung in a band before Royal Thunder?
Not in a band. I grew up playing piano, so I did that for a long time. I eventually picked up guitar when I was like 12 years old. It was my brother’s guitar, but I took it from him because he never really got into it. I taught myself how to play and took some lessons from there.
Eventually, my teacher didn’t want to teach me anymore. This is funny: he told me that if I didn’t learn how to read music and play the chords properly and stop putting my thumb over the fret board—things like that—he said I would never be in a band, I would never be able to work with other musicians because he said I had to learn how to do it like that. He was like, “If you’re not going to learn how to read music, I can’t be your teacher anymore.”
I was like, “All right, man, I play by ear, so I guess it’s done.”
So I taught myself and continue to teach myself. I got into singer/songwriter stuff and just kind of went back to bass and back to keyboard and ended up where I’m at now.
So how did it happen that you started singing for Royal Thunder if that was not your intention? Could the band just not find a singer?
Well, [guitarist] Josh Weaver started the band in 2004 with his brother and his best friend. They were a three-piece instrumental band. His brother and his best friend are tattoo artists, and their schedules conflicted with playing in a band, obviously, because they needed weekends and late nights—it’s pretty much the same schedule as being in a band.
So they left and Josh wanted to continue it. He tried a few people out until he came across the drummer, Jesse Stuber. They were playing together, and all this time they would practice at the house and I’d be in the bedroom, just staying out of their way and hanging out there while they were practicing. That’s how I learned the songs—almost subconsciously. I listened to the songs and I remember overhearing them talk one time. The drummer’s like, “Who’s gonna sing?”
And Josh said, “Oh, Mel will do it.”
I was in there like, “What? Are you kidding me?” Then I went in and I tried it. I was scared to death, but it worked out eventually.
Yeah, you’ve got a great voice, in addition to some pretty cool bass tone. Can you explain your tone a little bit to me? It’s mellow, but it’s also punchy.
I use an Acoustic head. It’s a solid state, the 600 series. That’s been a very reliable head. I had an SVT with all tubes in it that completely crashed one tour. It was my favorite head, but it just didn’t work out. We had to take it to this professional and he was like, “I can’t figure out what’s wrong with it. I’m not even going to charge you. It just blows my mind. I can’t fix it.”
That’s how I ended up with the Acoustic head, which has been really awesome. I’ve never really been much for pedals because I like the bass to bring out the tone up front. I play a B-301 Guild bass, and there’s always just something magical to me about that. It almost has like a grand piano kind of sound to it.
I’ve just always done that. When it comes to the head, I used the Acoustic and then a Sunn [215 cabinet]. That’s always sounded awesome. I had a P-bass for a while and I just got another Guild bass, another B-301. I had a black one; I got an amber colored one. [The amber] one is a little different, there’s much more warmth but there’s still a little punch to it. It doesn’t get buried, but it’s not too up front.
Yeah, it’s not super clicky on the top end.
Yeah, I was using a compressor pedal, the [Electro-Harmonix] Black Finger, for a little while, and that sounded kind cool. Then I was using a Big Muff, and that sounded a little too dirty. I’ve never had much luck with pedals at all. I wish I could find something—and I know it’s out there—that’s just enough fuzz that it’s noticeable, but that doesn’t make the bass sound muddy. That’s the kind of tone that I’m after.
Does one come more naturally to you between playing bass and singing?
I don’t know. For a long time I was a guitar player, so the bass felt really unnatural to me for close to a couple years. I just was like, “Man, I’ll play the bass, but I’m not a bass player.” It’s kind of like skateboarding; it just happens. Now I feel very comfortable with my bass and a little less comfortable with my guitar these days. Now it’s the opposite.
I never compare the two. Honestly, I’ve always wanted to be a better bass player, but I’m doing two things at once—I mean, I can be a better bass player. Anyone can be better if they fucking practice. But I even tried to put down the bass and give it to someone else because I want the rhythm section to be stronger. I’m a terrible frontwoman, I just stand there and don’t do anything and it’s boring.
I wish I could be better at both, but it’ll come in time.
Was it hard to be able to play bass and sing at the same time?
No. I did singer songwriter stuff with guitar for years. I cut my teeth learning how to do those things simultaneously. It feels unnaturally to me to do just one thing at a time.
What comes first when you’re putting a song together, the bass line or the vocal part?
The bass line for sure. I don’t even bring vocals into it until I get the bass part down. Then I have to start all over again and throw the vocals in there. But the bass lines get worse because I have to think twice. You have to start over and practice for a little while and then bring it back with the bass and vocals together.
Do you prefer to write music on guitar or on bass?
Well, for Royal Thunder, Josh writes all the music and then Jesse and I play along and find our place in that. We write our own parts.
You’ve done two records with Royal Thunder now. What are some of the things that have changed in your playing over the two?
I think on the EP I was still a little unsure of myself as a bass player. I certainly didn’t think I was any good at it. After recording that and doing some touring, I got more comfortable with it. On CVI, the second album, I reached more. I tried to do things for my own personal growth. I tried to challenge myself and do a little more. There’s more movement. At first I thought I really shot myself in the foot. I thought there was no way I was going to be able to play and sing the new parts at the same time. But it was just a matter of practicing and I got it down eventually.
The drummer at the time was like, “Make people forget that you’re the singer and show them that you’re the bass player.” And he just challenged me. That was an awesome way to look at it.
Is there an artist or a band without whom you wouldn’t be in Royal Thunder?
For me personally, had it not been for Nirvana, I would have never dreamed about being in a band. I wanted to be them. It was so awesome. I think they had a huge influence on what I wanted out of a band, what I wanted to be. It was like they didn’t care, they just did what they wanted. I think that band had a huge play in what I’m doing today.