For someone who serves as lead singer, bassist and lyricist for a band, Mlny Parsonz sure does have a hard time owning the phrase "front woman." Literally. When mentioning the term, even in passing reference to her role with the Atlanta metal trio Royal Thunder, she pauses and practically shudders before saying it.
"I have an issue being a focal point," Parsonz, 31, explains when talking about the band that is also made up of her husband, Josh Weaver, on guitar and their roommate Jesse Stuber on drums. "I've always thought that Royal Thunder is the three of us together and I have — not a fear, but I don't want anyone to focus on this band because there's a female singing, or for it to be a female-fronted band."
She might have a hard time controlling that. With sultry, goth-tattooed looks like something out of an unwritten Edward Scissorhands sequel, a vowel-averse stage name (pronounced Melanie), and a voice that has been compared to such hard-edged female leads as Joan Jett, Parsonz "fronts" Royal Thunder songs that make listeners feel like they're attending some sort of grungy death celebration. Imagine early Nirvana veering toward a metal phase, with lots of slow-burning candles.
The band released a critically acclaimed self-titled EP in 2009, which included the single "Mouth of Fire." Among other things, the song details, in bluesy rock fashion, the foolishness of a rival bringing a knife to a gunfight.
And now, after being signed by metal favorites Relapse Records last year, Royal Thunder is recording its first full-length, due out this fall. NPR did a story on the band. Kenny Crucial is a regular attendee of its fist-in-the-air, smoke-machine-enhanced shows.
Still, Parsonz does not see herself as the focal point. "It's a three-piece," she says. "When we started out, I wanted to be in the back or on the side in pictures. I was like, 'Put Josh in the middle.' It's me being very protective of being a front woman. I fucking hate that."
Parsonz and Weaver were living in Cobb County when they met in their late teens. They were married at 21. As musicians with a penchant for failing in traditional music classes, they made a choice to devote themselves to bands — not to become stars, but to spend their lives dedicated to an artistic endeavor.
As members of Atlanta's underground grind-core and black metal scene that included players from Mastodon, Parsonz played and sang backup in bands like Orchrist, Souls Unrest, and Malform. But it wasn't until Weaver teamed up with drummer and California transplant Stuber that she was asked to step in front of the mic.
"She can go from soft, clean, low volume to gritty and dirty," Weaver says of his wife's vocals. "Very heartfelt, very soulful."
Parsonz, meanwhile, gives Weaver's "crazy music head" credit for being the foundation for the band.
"He's a songwriter," she says. "He's writing all the time. He structures songs from A to Z, and he plays it, and we all just start jamming and writing our own stuff from that."
Royal Thunder is named after Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue. Someone screwed up the first word, but they stuck with it. There is no mistaking their chemistry.
The new, as-yet-untitled Royal Thunder album is being recorded in Marietta on weeknights, after the band members get off work. At the epicenter of the album is a tune titled "Parsonz' Curse." Clocking in at more than six minutes and offering genuine metal-opera aspirations along with Weaver's bluesy riffs and a personal story from Parsonz, it's a strong indication of the band's musical direction.
"It's definitely a song about family," Parsonz says. "I won't be specific about whether it is my family. At the time that I wrote it, where things were going in this particular family, they aren't going in that direction anymore and are on their way to being reconciled."
This is not a front woman talking, mind you, but a member of a trio who's still finding her voice.
"I feel like I have a lot to say," she says. "There are things I want to express. I feel like I haven't even tapped into expressing myself through music. Sometimes I'm too afraid to say the shit I want to say.
"But I'm gonna say it. I'm gonna sing it. I feel like it's coming, and it's coming soon."