Interview With Blacklist Royals' Nat Rufus
Updated: May 10, 2021
Folk-punk band Blacklist Royals are getting ready to return with the release of their new EP Doomsday Girl, out April 2nd on Paper + Plastick. Since their last album, Die Young With Me -released in 2014- the Rufus brothers have released music with other bands, done solo projects, and are working on a film based on Rob Rufus’s memoir. Inspired by writing new music for the film, the band is better than ever and ready to reassert themselves into the world. Guitarist/singer Nat Rufus and I spoke on the phone to discuss the new EP, the band’s history, who should play Nat in the film, and what’s upcoming next for them.
How are you doing, Nat? I’m doing good, man. Just getting things slowly back to normal. Luckily, everyone in our other band, Bad Signs, were able to get vaccinated so we’ve actually been rehearsing. It’s been awesome, we went over a year without playing together. So it’s starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel with the craziness of the last year or so. Before all this, Bad Signs has been our more active band over the years. It’s kinda different-like a psychedelic country-type thing, with a female singer that I switch with. It’s punk at heart, but it’s got a different vibe from the other stuff we usually do together.
How would you pitch Blacklist Royals to someone who had never heard you guys before? I’d say it’s kind of West Virginia’s version of The Clash. We come from a very rural, isolated place, and even though all the California punk bands were our inspiration to start playing music I think our roots kinda seep into it. I’d say if you’re looking for some Clash-type vibes with some American hillbilly-ness thrown in, you might dig it [Laughs].
It’s been a few years since your second album, Die Young With Me, was released. How does Doomsday Girl represent the growth of the band? Doomsday Girl is almost a mix of the sounds of our first two records. They both kinda sound different, and the songwriting approaches were a bit different. On our first album, our songwriting was just figuring things out, so this is more of a developed sound. But we had a lot of fans that dug our first album more than our second album because the second album was more mellow at points or definitely song topic-wise, it was more serious. I think the Doomsday Girl EP is kinda a mix of both of those. Rob and I’s other band, Bad Signs, has been really active, but we tend to do a lot of mid-tempo tunes and whatnot, so when we were discussing cutting new Blacklist songs, we were both looking forward to playing some fast punk rock. So the songs kinda came out that way.
Do you have a favorite song off Doomsday Girl? I’d say probably the lead single [Doomsday Girl]. Rob actually wrote that song, and I just think it’s super catchy, and it’s always easier for me to dig what someone else wrote [Laughs]. I’m very self-critical, so the songs I didn’t write are always great, and the ones I write, I’m like, “eh, I don’t want to listen to it” [Laughs]. I’m proud of all the songs on there, but I’m more proud of Rob’s. And Rob actually came up with that title years and years ago. It’s funny how the times kinda caught up with some of the stuff we were writing about. It was definitely weird to be under lockdown and thinking about songs called “Doomsday Girl” [Laughs].
Did you guys record the entire EP during the lockdown? We actually recorded the three songs maybe a year or two ago because Rob’s first book is getting adapted into a movie, and it’s about, among other things, our punk band when we were teenagers. So we were working on songs for that movie, and we were revisiting a lot of older stuff we wrote when we were kids and kinda taking some of the parts and rewriting them, just to keep the spirit the same. So we had cut these three songs just for that, it was being pitched around and they wanted some songs to go with the screenplay and whatnot. And when the lockdown did happen, and everything got cancelled, we were just sitting around going, “Should we release these?”. They sound very much like they were written today, they are timely. We didn’t even really have a plan to release anything. We were supposed to play a ten-year anniversary show for our first record, which got cancelled. And it was like, alright, if we can’t play, and we can’t practice, let’s at least put these tunes together and release them. And I have been kind of saved many times over the last year with some of the hopeless feelings, by some of the killer music that has come out. If anything, we just needed to put these the fuck out, just give people something new to listen to, and keep everyone stoked until the world opens back up.
Can you tell me anything about what’s going on with the film? Is it still progressing? Yeah, where that’s at right now, as far as I know, is they’re talking to directors right now. It’s still in the weeds a little bit, but it’s definitely moving along, and it’s surreal. It’s been a surreal and exciting thing. But yeah, we’re hoping there’s an official announcement about whose gonna be involved sometime in the next couple months.
Disregarding any budget concerns, who do you want to play you in the film? [Laughs] Shit, man. I’d say… It’s a problem for me because it takes place when I was 17, and I don’t know any of the kid actors. Maybe throw Timothee Chalamet in there, all the kids today look punk so it won’t be that hard, ya know. I think Tom Cruise and I share a likeness, so maybe they can get him.
No problem on that. They can just CGI Tom Cruise from his Outsiders days. Yeah, man! That would have been the prime time, all those guys back then were called the Brat Pack. That would have worked. I’m gonna have to look into the modern Brat Pack and get back to ya, in order to know who can play me on film.
Is there more music from the film that you guys are saving for that, or did you guys write just the three songs and decide to put them out there? There’s all kinds of music written for the film. Right now, we don’t know what will end up in the film anyway because things change so much. We have probably twenty tunes written for the film and a lot of it was because of the uncertainly of it all. The three songs on Doomsday Girl may not even make it to the film. So we were like, these are cut, they sound great, let’s just go and put them out. It was just as much us needing something to do. Rob is very high risk, so before he could get his vaccine, he was very locked in his house for over a year. So it was to keep us from going crazy.
You and Rob form the spine of the band, how does the dynamic between the two of you work to produce the best music? Well, with us, and especially with Blacklist, we have other projects that branched out sound-wise and don’t really sound… I mean some people wouldn’t consider our other band, Bad Signs, a punk band even though we do. Working with Rob, especially going back to Blacklist, which was our first real band, we started after we left our small town and whatnot. It’s especially cool after so long of being apart to be able to get back together and write. He kinda brings the best out of me because when it’s just the two of us playing punk songs, it really brings out that element of two 17-year-old kids playing punk songs in their parent’s basement. Our vibe has remained unchained when we get in a room together. And I think the new Blacklist songs, since it was written about Rob’s movie and where our lives were then, it helped us keep our vision of, “what would our high school bands have wanted to sound like?”. Just to stay true to what we really dug when we started the band. The best thing about being in a band with your twin brother is you always have a band member. He keeps me in line, man. It’s been cool to go back to our old band and get stoked on all that stuff again. It’s been more fun to go back and get in that headspace of teenage punks. “Let’s take this lyric from a song we wrote when we were sixteen and throw it in this other song.” and stuff like that.
What Blacklist Royals song do you particularly love that you think flew under the radar with your fans? There’s a song called “The Open Door” on our second record that Rob and I really wanted to be the first single and we both thought it was a rocker and it sounded a bit different. Anyway, it was not the single and definitely flew under the radar and I thought it was a cool song, so I’d say that one for sure.
What’s something you wish people asked about but seldom do? I guess, even questions like the one you just asked about our second record. Our second record itself just kinda flew under the radar, it didn’t really sell. We had such a great time making that record and thought it was really great. It was kind of a situation where we were working with punk labels in the punk world, and we had gotten an opportunity to work with a subsidiary of a major label and a really great producer and had this really killer experience making the record. And when it finally got done, the label kind of seriously shelved it. And we toured the entire world, and people would say, “Where can we get the new record?”. So it was a disappointment at the time, and we definitely had to lick our wounds for a little while. It was part of what inspired us to branch out a little and form new bands. Since that second record is tied in with Rob’s book, it’s all kinda pushed together for me. So I guess that’s what I’d say, I wish people took the time to listen to our second record more.
One of the positives of the streaming era is that now that you guys are releasing new music, old fans and new fans can go back and listen to those songs or albums that they didn’t previously have access to for whatever reason. It really changes the game on that front because before all the streaming took off, you usually couldn’t dig into those hidden gems that didn’t get as much label push. Yeah, absolutely! I think the same way. Streaming has a lot of negative aspects for bands, but it is cool to be able to say, “Oh shit, I didn’t even know they had a second record out.” Which I think happens sometimes. Like you said, in our days, pre-streaming, you are just living and dying on what other people do. You can make the best record ever, but if it falls through the cracks, you’re fucked. And we lived that, for real.
So Rob has released a book. Are you writing one as well, or is Rob working on his second book? I don’t write, so Rob is working on a second book. I’m actually holding one of the unedited proofs of the new book that’s about to come out because he just got a box of them yesterday. So he’s got a book called Paradise: West Virginia, that’s coming out this summer, that’s being adapted into a television series right now. So he’s got a lot of stuff going on with his writing. It was a cool way to kind of pull that in with the band and release these songs as well.
When you’re thinking through your career up to this point, what brings you the most joy? It always goes back to shows. Either playing shows or getting to play with bands that I never thought I’d get to share a stage with or hang out with. I’m kinda sitting here talking about the business rollercoaster of the music industry, but despite all of that, it could be the shittiest bar show with two people or a huge festival show, it’s always those moments where the band connects on stage and looks at each other and goes, “Fuck yeah, we’re all feeling it,” ya know? I was just talking yesterday about our first tour in Europe, and we played a gig with the Descendents headlining this big reunion tour, and I never thought in a million years that I would even see the Descendents! And then I got to watch them side-stage in front of like 30,000 people! It’s just stuff like that. It’s fandom. At the end of the day, we’re both just fans, and our love for these bands that influenced us has not diminished. I’ll go full fanboy in a hot minute!
What inspires you and keeps you going? The prospect of last year, where I’m sure a lot of musicians and stuff were like, “Oh shit, now I live in a world where live shows aren’t even a thing.” I’m sure a lot of people felt like they had their identities robbed from them, especially in the music or creative arts industries. I will say that I don’t know what makes me the way I am, but it was a weird thing when you get pushed with this full cancellation thing. At first, we were kinda moping, but then we took a different approach. Like, “Alright, we’re gonna do as much stuff musically as we can possibly do.” So we had a bunch of songs written and I had a solo EP come out. It’s probably that same ties that bind everyone in the punk community to feel this way, and I’m just thinking, the second some punks can get in a room with each other and play some loud fucking music, it’ll be a new day on the horizon.
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