If anything should have been a warning to Mlny Parsonz that her life was out of control, it was the Fentanyl overdose that nearly killed her. Royal Thunder’s singer and bassist had been partying hard that night, much like she had over the last few years. Booze and cocaine were her consumables of choice, except she didn’t know the coke she’d just taken had been cut with something else. Suddenly she realised something was wrong. Really wrong. An ambulance was called. “I got in the ambulance and they said, ‘This is definitely looking like a Fentanyl overdose, you need to come with us’,” remembers Mlny.
Fentanyl is bad news. A powerful synthetic opioid several times stronger than heroin, it was a factor in the deaths of Slipknot bassist Paul Gray and Power Trip frontman Riley Gale, as well as Prince, Tom Petty and literally hundreds of thousands of others. The sensible thing for Mlny to do would have been to let the ambulance take her to the hospital. Except, no. “I was like, ‘I got this’,” she says. “I went back in my apartment and stood on my balcony in my underwear and slapped myself to stay awake. I was in psycho mode.”
She made it through the night, and the next one, and the one after. But it wasn’t the wake-up call she desperately needed. She carried on boozing and drugging, pausing to record her band’s new album, the damaged, defiant, redemptive Rebuilding The Mountain, then picking up where she’d left off when it was done.
The night Mlny Parsonz nearly died isn’t a distant memory. It happened in November 2022. She finally quit alcohol and drugs in February this year. When we speak via Zoom, it’s the end of April (her birthday, to be precise). Everything she’s gone through in recent years - everything she’s put her bandmates, and particularly guitarist and ex-husband Josh Weaver, through – is still raw and painful. “I think it’s important to talk about the dark stuff, because I don’t live there anymore,” says Mlny now. “I’m glad I went through it. It woke me the fuck up, and a lot of beauty came out of it.”
Royal Thunder have spent more than a decade turning drama into art. Their 2012 grunge-meets-doom-meets-classic rock debut album, CVI, was partly inspired by Mlny and Josh’s time as members of a cult-like Christian church in Seattle. 2015’s follow-up, Crooked Doors, addressed the dissolution of the pair’s marriage (they remain the closest of friends to this day). 2017’s darkly psychedelic Wick reaped widespread acclaim, if not the sales needed to kick the band to the level they deserved. But commercial success wasn’t really at the forefront of their minds at that point.
“We did the Wick album, it was great, but we just lost focus,” says Josh. “Life was just hard. We were all going through so much. We were drinking, we were partying more and more. It all took a backseat to that.”
The guitarist is talking to Hammer from the porch of his house in Atlanta. It’s 10am local time and the sun lights up the trees behind him. He sips coffee from a reusable cup as he speaks. Royal Thunder were always beer drinkers, but it never used to be out of control. At first they’d only drink after gigs. Then they started having a few beers onstage. Then they started having a few beers before the show. Over time, a few became a lot. By the time they were touring in support of Wick, their priorities had been upended.
“When we started this band, music was everything to us,” he says. “It was our religion, it was something bigger than us. All of a sudden, the partying overtook the music. It’s not something that happened overnight. It was a slow thing.”
There were warning signs that things weren’t going so well, such as the departure of drummer Evan Diprima. “He’d been such a big part of our band,” says Josh. “It was a blow.”
It spoke to bigger problems within Royal Thunder. Tours were getting harder to book, and Josh felt decisions about the band he had started with Mlny in the mid-2000s were being taken out of his hands. They’d blow out press interviews and skip practice sessions to sit in bars and get drunk. Cocaine would sometimes be involved, if only so they could drink even more. “Alcohol is the most selfish drug, because you just don’t care about anybody in that moment. You just care about getting drunk, or dealing with your hangover.”
His anxiety at life began to spiral. Even something as trivial as paying a bill became an insurmountable problem in his head. “I wasn’t facing my issues,” he says. “I was just pushing all the shit in my life into a corner and not dealing with it. Every day, I woke up and that pile of shit was a little bigger.”
His decision to kick the booze and turn his life around came in 2019. It was largely down to a new relationship he was in. “Deep down I knew that if I carried on drinking, it wasn’t going to work. I didn’t want to be fucked up physically and emotionally. In those terms, it was easy to quit the booze.”
The upswing in his personal life wasn’t mirrored by the state of his band. In 2019, the inevitable happened. Royal Thunder ceased to be. It ended not with a flame-out but a fizzle. “We dissipated,” says Josh. “But it was done. We just knew it.”
Mlny Parsonz remembers talking to Josh just after he got sober. The singer and then-bandmate Will Fiore, Royal Thunder’s other guitarist, were sitting in a bar at the time. “Josh came in and said, ‘Hey, I’m sober, I’m moving forward, I don’t want alcohol in our band, it’s destroying things’,” she recalls now, perched on a couch in the Airbnb she and a bunch of friends have hired to celebrate her birthday. “He left and we said, ‘That’s the lamest shit I’ve ever heard, let’s keep drinking.’”
Like Josh, Mlny was proud of the Wick album. They’d worked hard on it. “It was like, ‘Cool, we kicked ass, we gave everything. Now let’s just not give a fuck, let’s disintegrate.’ Collectively, we were all partying. We were destroying ourselves.’”
At the time, everybody knew it but her. When the band played their last gig in Atlanta pre-Covid, Mlny got wasted before she went onstage. She thought she’d played a killer show until she spoke to friends afterwards. “They went, ‘Dude, that was the worst show ever.’”
By the time the pandemic hit, Royal Thunder were done. “Our band broke up because of getting fucked up,” she says. “It was a huge part of me, and to have that taken away…” She trails off. “I lost my confidence: ‘I don’t know how to sing, I don’t know how to play bass that well, my spirit’s dying.’”
She immersed herself deeper in booze and cocaine. “I was not in a good a place in my life,” she says. “I was in a lot of pain in my head, making poor decisions.”
‘Toxicity’ is one word she uses to describe her life at that point. ‘Addiction’ is another. “I wasn’t caring, not wanting to face myself,” she says. “I just wanted to cover up the pain, numb it out.”
Josh had started playing with other musicians. Mlny asked if she could join them. He told her she could try out. “He came to my house to jam,” she says. “I was drunk, and I started playing and it was this feeling of, ‘No, we’re not doing it with her.’”
Deep down she understood why. “But Josh is my musical soulmate: ‘This is what I do, his writing speaks to me’,” she says. “I was like, ‘I guess I’ll go drink and get some drugs and hang out with my friends and ride motorcycles.’”
She found it hard to listen to music, whether it was friends’ bands or even on YouTube. “I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to be reminded what I’d had was gone. I just stayed fucked up.” There was an unexpected bright spot. Their former drummer Evan Diprima – “My little brother,” as Mlny calls him – got back in touch for the first since he’d left. “We hadn’t spoken,” she says. “We were pretty angry with each other. It was so good to heal that relationship.”
Reconnecting with Evan was the first step in bringing Royal Thunder back from the dead. The three of them began exchanging ideas remotely, planting the seeds for the album that would become Rebuilding The Mountain. When the pandemic lifted, they began playing together in real life. Even then Mlny wasn’t focused. She’d turn up late, or sometimes not at all. “They would text me or try to call, completely stressed out: ‘Where are you? What’s going on?’ I was just completely unreliable.”
This time Josh stuck with her, even while she was still getting fucked up. The near-overdose on Fentanyl-laced cocaine wasn’t the end of it. She kept drinking and using after that. She stayed sober long enough to write the lyrics for Rebuilding The Mountain and record at the start of 2023. As soon as that was done, she went back to partying. The tipping point came in February. Josh had already given her an ultimatum: “If you can’t get well, I’m not doing this. The band’s gone.”
But really, Mlny didn’t need anyone else telling her something was wrong: her own body was doing it for her. “I was violently throwing up,” she says. “Bleeding and puking. It was bad. I got really sick, to the point where I couldn’t do it anymore. It just hit me. My body was broken.”
Mlny was staying in Philadelphia when she had a phone conversation with Josh and his girlfriend, the one who had inspired him to get sober. “I don’t remember exactly what Josh said,” she says, “but it hit me like a freight train: ‘Oh shit, I’m fucking up my life, but I’m also fucking up your lives and your dreams and your art as well.’”
The title Rebuilding The Mountain came from an old western movie Josh Weaver once saw. He can’t remember the title, but the story involved a mountain being blown up. “One of the characters said something about ‘rebuilding the mountain,’” he says. “It resonated with me. You can blow up your fucking life and there’s still a chance to rebuild it.”
It’s a fitting metaphor. Royal Thunder’s new album is the sound of a band who have been given a second chance at life and have seized it with everything they have. Songs such as Drag Me and the could-have-been-prophetic Dead Star ebb and flow with emotion, Mlny’s voice switching from vulnerable whisper to powerhouse raw. The beauty she talks about is in the aura of redemption that surrounds it. “I feel like I left my old self in this album,” says Mlny. “In a lot of ways, it’s like digging a grave and putting that era of my life in it. The album, for me, it’s my own funeral.”
Neither Josh Weaver or Mlny Parsonz can predict the future, though both insist the bad old days aren’t coming back. They’ve already started working on ideas for their next album. “I don’t miss being drunk, I don’t miss being hungover, I don’t miss being broke,” says Josh.
“I damn near killed myself doing that,” says Mlny. “I dug myself out of a dark place, I’m not going to jump back in there. I love telling a story and putting hope at the end. It doesn’t matter what the fuck you go through, there’s always hope."
Rebuilding The Mountain is out now via Spinefarm.