Nashville, Tennessee 4-piece Blacklist Royals are a wonderful example of how music can help overcome. Overcome uncertainty. Overcome anxiety. Overcome all the shit that life can throw at you without warning or cause. Music, when examined thoroughly enough, can occasionally be the best medicine a doctor could prescribe. If only more would do so.
The group’s latest album, Die Young With Me, is an exercise in total fraternity. The album is wrought with stories and struggles stemming from Rob Rufus’ lengthy bout with cancer and hospitalization, the difficult nature of being in a band, and the anxious feelings that come from an uncertain future. Ultimately, as is demonstrated by this release, perseverance is key in this crazy business, and the twin brothers used their latest as an outlet for a host of very complex emotions. It worked, and the band is stronger than ever for it.
Currently in Europe and The UK for the month of August, I spoke with Nat Rufus over the phone to discuss the lengthy process of getting Die Young With Me out there for the fans, the upcoming and just finished tour, and how music allowed the Rufus brothers catharsis and increased their birth-given connection to each other.
G- Nat, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five today, man. Just back from Warped Tour… How was it?
N- Oh man it was good. And hey man, just have to say thank you very much for that kind introduction. That was really nice.
G- My pleasure.
N- Yeah Warped Tour was a blast. You know, it was a good warm up for Europe, and we just added a new keys player live that has never toured with us before, so it were knocking the dust off and kinda getting him geared up to go overseas with us. But it was good, man. It was definitely a trip
G- Nice. How about stand out cities or shows of the tour? What place really went off for you guys this year?
N- We did a week on it, and I’ll tell you man the week that we did was probably the worst weather-wise ever. We got rained out quite a bit. But I think Nashville, which is always hit or miss, we had a really good show in Nashville. We had a really good show in Charlotte. You know, through the other days… I mean, we had good shows everyday, but it was cool because we got to sneak out sometimes and see other bands’ sets. I mean, I saw Saves The Day and Terror and Less Than Jake and all these bands and stuff, so it was good. It was fun. I was definitely feeling kind of old, but it was alright. (laughs)
G- Yeah I’m 36 so I know that feeling… I could be some of those kids’ parents. Thankfully I’m not, though.
N- I feel that 100%.
G- So, you’re not really giving yourself too much room to breathe because you’re off to Europe in a few days?
N- Yeah we fly out here in a couple of days, and it just gave us a little moment to catch our breath. Half the band doesn’t live in Nashville, so we only get a chance to rehearse right before we go out on the road, so Warped Tour was good for that, too. They came in for a week and we jammed, did Warped for a week, rehearsed one more time, and I’m leaving again on Sunday. (laughs) I wouldn’t have it any other way, man. I’ve been in situations where I wasn’t busy, and that’s a much harder situation to deal with. I’m really excited to be going back to Europe!
G- That’s excellent, man. And you guys haven’t been to Europe in a little while… Tell us about some of these dates because it looks like you have some wilds ones on the wing.
N- Oh yeah man! Reading is always the crown jewel of European festivals, and I never really thought that it would be something we’d be doing. I mean, there was a point where I didn’t know if we’d get the chance to go back over there, so the fact that we have that and a bunch of really great Euro festivals is great. We’re playing in Amsterdam and that’s one of the cities we’ve never played over there, so I’m really looking forward to that.
G- I bet you are! (laughs)
N- I told our manager that he has to hold my wallet the entire night. (laughs) I’m only taking an allotted amount of money with me. Don’t let me do too many drugs! (laughter)
It’s gonna be awesome and I’m really excited, especially having the new record out and being able to go play new songs for people. We’ve always had really great fans in Europe, and they’re always super enthusiastic, so I’m fucking completely stoked!
G- Awesome, man! And we definitely have to dive into this album, so let’s do that now. This was quite a process… Die Young With Me deals with some tough subject matter, some honest subject matter. It’s got a variety of styles on it and it took quite a while to get ready. It’s just a topically heavy record, but you’ve been playing some of these songs for a minute. Tell us some of your personal reactions to the songs when you’ve played them in the public sphere.
N- Man, it’s kinda been really interesting. We knew going into it that… The intimidating thing when you’re writing songs and they’re that close to you is that once the song is out, it’s out. It’s not yours anymore, critics can say what they want and take it for whatever they want. But the whole point when we went to make the record was even if people can’t relate in a literal sense, maybe just being that open and honest and singing about things that are that close to us, there’s… When people take that approach, even if you don’t relate directly or know what they’re singing about, there’s an underlying thing, a subconscious thing that you can relate to your life. So, it’s been interesting.
We met a couple people at Warped and have gotten a few emails from people talking about their own experiences, so it’s been a good feeling because music has always been our savior, especially at that period of our lives. With Rob’s struggles with cancer, music was always our backbone. So to be able to maybe help people, not even help people but… The best part about Rock and Roll to me is the hopefulness. When you hear a great record or a great song, or you see a great concert, you feel better about life and you fucking feel energized and you feel alive. Even if it’s one person, to do something and have it means something is a really great feeling and rewarding and validating. It makes the whole thing worth it.
And a quick side note that I don’t want to discuss too much, but Rob: Healthy, ready, kicking ass, yes?
N- (laughing) Yes, he’s definitely kicking ass, man.
You know, he still struggles. He got his lung removed and he plays drums and he’s got a lot of nerve issues and chronic back pain and stuff. Touring can be rough on him and playing live sometimes, because we don’t like to fuck around too much. (laughs) We try to Ramones it as much as possible and just go song to song, but he’s a bad ass and he’s doing well. He’s a fucking bad ass, man. He’s the toughest dude I know.
G- Killer. Very good.
Now, you produced this with Tedd Hutt, and he’s done some heavyweights and has quite a repertoire under his belt. This album took some time to do, but what was the experience like going into the studio and finally laying these tracks down? How was the whole process for you guys?
N- It was a very eye opening experience. We actually recorded what we thought would be the record in 2012, and we couldn’t get it out, and everybody quit, and we finally started getting things rolling again in 2013. We toured almost the entire year trying to get a deal or somebody to bite, so just getting another record deal and having the record come out was a challenge enough.
Then after we got the deal, we had written a couple other songs that we thought were important and needed to be on the record and just with scheduling, we couldn’t do it with our friend Matt Yonker who we’d originally recorded with. Ted’s name came up. Initially, someone reached out to him for mixing the record, and he said ‘Look, I’m not going to just mix this.’ He heard something in the band and was like ‘If we’re going to do it, I want to completely re-cut it.’
Through budgetary issues, we had… (laughs.) We had 2 and a half years of doing the record, touring, and then we had 10 days to record with Tedd. We got out to LA and the amount of stuff we changed was ridiculous. But it was a very eye opening experience.
Tedd is probably the coolest due I’ve ever met. Just a great guy and, when we went to LA, he said ‘Send me some samples. Tell me what you want the record to be. Tell me what you listen to.’ When we got out there, he was like ‘I don’t know what band you think you’re in, but if we want to make the record you want to make, we’re changing a lot of shit.’ (laughs) Rob and I agreed before we went out that if we’re going to get through this, whatever he says. We’re going to do. I’m not going to go out and act like I know better than this dude.
At the end of the day, during pre-production, Tedd was like ‘This is what I want the record to sound like 2 brothers in a room playing music together.’ Because like you said,
The songs a trying to be as honest and straight forward as possible, and the approach was to hone in on our own sound, but also to make the sound as honest as possible. With the vocal approach and all that, it was supposed to be just blunt and it’s own thing, it’s own world.
Tedd is a fucking genius, man. He’s super cool and always has on great shoes (laughs). He’s a really great dude and, like you said, he’s done some really huge records and some really great records, and he did not disappoint. We clicked really well personality wise, taste wise, and it was a great/extremely nerve-wracking experience. But we went in for 10 days, cranked out the whole thing and, I should’ve said this earlier, but it’s one of the only choices I’ve made in my music career that, in retrospect, was the right one, that I don’t regret. (laughs) It’s like ‘I did something correct there!’ I definitely think I’ll never look at songwriting the same way after working with him.
G- Alright. Now for the last few questions, I want to open it up a little bit. The first one I want to know is, off of this record, do you have a favorite song, or if you could only give 1 song to someone who’d never heard Blacklist Royals before, to try and make a new fan, from this record, what song would you give them and why?
N- I would probably give either “Die Young With Me,’ the title track, or maybe “Righteous Child.”
”Die Young With Me” is a make or break track. It’s not the standout single to a lot of people, but that was the catalyst to the whole writing process and if you like that song, you’ll like the record and if you don’t, you may hate the whole fucking record. (laughs)
And as far as favorite tracks go, I have a rotating cast of favorite songs on the record, and I feel like that is because some of these songs were written 3 and a half years ago, and some were written 3 weeks before we went in to the studio. I mean I wrote and we worked out “Open Door” probably a week before we went into the studio. So, you always lean toward the newer stuff, but it’s probably because I’m not sick of hearing it yet.
We went to LA with 16-17 songs and, for time reasons, and only 11 of them got cut. But I would say if I had to give someone who’d never heard the record a song, I’d go with “Die Young With Me.”
G- Right on.
And as a pretty hard touring band, you’ve logged a lot of miles and this is not just one person here; This is not The Miley Cyrus Show. This is 4, now 5 people in a van touring, and I want to know, in your opinion, what is the most important thing to consider as a member of a touring band?
N- The main thing that has to be is a level of mutual respect. I feel like, especially on the road, even if you’re the best of friends, there’s going to be issues, there’s going to be arguments, somebody is going to get irritated, somebody’s ego is gonna get hurt, or whatever. But if you have that base level of ‘I respect this person. I care about this person,’ and a lot of that comes with age.
I’ve been doing this since I was 18, so at this level, and with the band we have now, if there are any flare ups or any issues, we deal with them quickly. Everybody is man enough to apologize, even if they don’t think they’re wrong, we squash it. We try not to have any lingering issues on tour. I feel like if you’re going to play music with people, that has to be the main connection. This is my friend, I care about him, I respect them, and I’m not going to let the fact that somebody was drunk at the bar and being a dick until 3am effect my entire week or whatever. (laughs) We get along really well… We have a really tight crew as far as that goes. We watch each other’s backs, and we don’t let the stupid shit from the road erupt into big problems.
G- Excellent. The road is a tough place and 1 hour of performance and 23 on the road is a tough life. I’ve done it myself and miss it terribly, but I know that it can have its moments. Really good answer to the question.
And with that said, you just played in front of a bevy of young kids who were watching you guys perform and they want to be in a band and go on Warped Tour and go to Europe. Hell, I still want to tour Europe and I’m 36.
But for some of the up and comers, what is some advice you could give them to try to make it on the road and as a professional musician?
N- Wow. I would be weary to give anybody advice (laughs), but it’s a very disheartening business and world if you’re trying to play Rock and Roll or any type of music. You can work as hard as you want or be as good as you want, and then you see people who are terrible or know the right person and they never earn their keep and just get handed million dollar record deals and they’re on TV and doing whatever.
At the end of the day, I feel like the main thing is that it just has to be who you are. You have to be making the music for the right reasons because it’s always a crapshoot how successful you’re going to be or what kind of shelf life your band will have, or if you get a record deal if you’ll have a hit single. All that shit is literally up to the Gods and who is in your rolodex. But if you’re in it for the right reasons, then you’ll always feel validated and it makes all the other bullshit worth it.
All the tours we’ve done, anything we’ve had going on, the highlight of my day is that 45 minutes or whatever on stage. That has to be the driving factor, because if you’re doing it to get rich, you might as well just go to law school and get it over with. (laughs)
G- It’s true. It’s true!
Well look, that’s all I’ve got for you today. I just want to say again thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five today! Have a blast in Europe and I wish I was going with you but I’m not, so tour hard, travel safe, and I look forward to doing this again in the future!
N- Hey man absolutely and thank you for taking the time to speak with me. And like I said, thank you for the very kind words and it’s been a real pleasure, man. Thanks a lot!
G- Alright man. I appreciate it!