A Decade Well Done and Hard Won
Northwest Royale’s final show
by Vanessa Salvia
The “WELL DONE” tattoos on Chris Phillips’s knuckles have been there since 2004 and refer to his nickname, “Beef,” but now that Northwest Royale is calling it quits after “a bleeding decade” of heavy metal music, “well done” also aptly describes their career.
The band of self-taught musicians formed in 2000 and rose above the fray to be sponsored by Jägermeister and live the life of their dreams. Drummer Phillips is humble but proud of the band’s accomplishments, and the stories come easily. They’ve played alongside some of the most popular metal bands on the planet — Slayer, Testament, Rob Zombie, Killswitch Engage, Disturbed, Devildriver. They met Dimebag Darrell of Pantera at a North American Music Merchandisers show, and he hooked NWR up with gear. They recorded in the same studio immediately following one of their favorite bands, Machine Head, and on the same board as the one that recorded Pink Floyd’s The Wall. “We’ve done a lot of stuff,” Phillips says. “It’s pretty crazy to think about. Not a lot of bands from our area have done as much stuff, from nothing.”
But getting by takes more than luck and hardheaded determination. “Any independent band has to have their own finances pushing them and none of us can do that,” says Phillips. “We’ve got real lives. We’ve got real bills. Who’s gonna pay those while we’re gone?” Some of the guys are married, some have exes, kids, house payments, medical bills. Despite worldwide distribution of their recent 5-song EP, The Bleeding Edge, and having played their biggest show ever this summer — to a 20,000-strong crowd at the Rockstar Mayhem Fest in Seattle — there’s no record label support. Any tours are paid for from their own pocket, and there’s not enough money or time to keep pushing for the next level.
“I wanted to be done soon. I was thinking it,” Phillips says, “but I didn’t know who was thinking it besides me.” After the band drove down to Oakland last summer to play, discontent surfaced. It was a “really hard” decision, but also a relief once the band started talking about it. “We didn’t want to be the band that lingers. We wanted to go out now,” he says.
And so, like the way they’ve managed their entire career, Beef and the others — bassist Kenny Nestor, guitarists Travis Zering and Colt Williams and percussionist/keyboardist Blake Owens — are bowing out on their own terms, without band drama, without hard feelings, and with a legacy that cements them as one of Oregon’s most successful bands.
“I think we were ahead of our time actually,” Phillips says. “I was just listening to our CD from 2006 [Home Is Where The Hate Is] trying to remember how to play it and I’m like, ‘Wow, this kicks ass. This is better than most of the stuff on the radio right now. Did we fuck up? Should we have waited and tried to get signed later?’”
But at 35, Phillips is ready to move on. “I want this to be done so I can close the book and put it on the shelf. I don’t know if I will ever read that book again, but I’m done with that book right now. And I just opened a new one.” Phillips isn’t sure what the other band members may end up doing, but he’s already planning his next project — a hip-hop group, with him on drums. “I’m grown up now,” he says, “so it’s only gonna get better from here.”