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DS Exclusive: Rob Rufus (Blacklist Royals) talks about his upcoming memoir, “Die Young With Me”

The market for music-industry memoirs is a cluttered, albeit typically enjoyable one. There’s a bit of a standard flow to what makes most of these works successful: one-part entertainment, one-part shock value, one-part precautionary tale, one-part paean to the music that helped guide them through. Special attention is typically paid to those times when an individual crashed and burned due to their own behavior, only to have mustered up some redemption on the other side. As long as the names are somewhat familiar and the stories are lurid and riddled with enough sex and drugs and rock and roll to go around, it generally makes for a compelling and fulfilling (though not entirely ground-breaking) couple of days to dissect cover-to-cover.

If we’re using that, then, as the sort of loose framework from which many a good (or at least widely-read) rock and roll story was generated, it makes little-to-no sense for a guy like Rob Rufus to throw his trademark fiddler hat in the proverbial ring. If you’re even a casual peruser of Dying Scene and you’re not familiar with Rufus by name…well…that’s exactly the point; over the last half-dozen years, we’ve written four- or five-dozen stories about the band for which Rufus is not only the drummer but one-half of the twin-brother duo that makes up the band’s core (hint: they’re called Blacklist Royals).

Rufus’ memoir, Die Young With Me, is due out September 20th (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster) and it is, by no stretch of the imagination, a standard fare rock and roll tome; the bulk of the story takes place largely between Rufus’ 12th and 19th birthdays, and a quick run through the “sex, drugs and rock-and-roll” litmus test reveals intimate encounters that rarely escalate above teenage backseat-of-mom’s car heavy petting, drugs that include names like “bleomycin” and “cisplatin” and “something called VP16,” and a rock and roll band that’s effectively unknown to the masses. Put ‘em together and what have you got? Probably the most compelling page-turner of the genre (or any true-life genre) in recent memory.

You see, the Rufus twins grew up in Huntington, West Virginia, a middle-of-nowhere town if ever there were a middle-of-nowhere town; a rest stop on the way from..well…from Louisville to Pittsburgh, I guess? Punk rock culture, or most any culture really, was virtually nonexistent. Were it not for one fateful trip the brothers took to a family reunion in Richmond, Virginia, that might still be the case. The duo spent the better part of a long weekend poring through the music collection of their cousin Anthony, who despite being only a few years older than Rob and his brother Nat, was already steeped in Richmond’s mid-1990s punk scene.

With a newfound love for punk music in tow, the brothers headed back to rural West Virginia with a new outlook on life and music…and a healthy dose of inspiration. “The best thing about punk rock to me (was) that nobody was really that good!” says Rufus with a laugh. In many ways that trip spawned a period of what has now been close to twenty years of writing and making music. “In a lot of ways,” explains Rufus, “(Die Young With Me) is a kind of love letter to punk rock music and how awesome it was for a kid from the middle of nowhere to hear anything like that.”

At first glance, the phrases “love letter to punk rock” and “most compelling page-turner of the genre in recent memory” may not realistically overlap. But then again, there’s a huge part of the story that’s been left out so far unless you’re familiar with the drugs listed above. At the age of seventeen, just as his band (then called Defiance of Authority which frontman Nat would later refer to in an interview as “pretty much the worst band name of all time”) had gotten an offer to play a week’s worth of shows on the Warped Tour (a huuuuge deal for a band of high school kids from West Virginia, or anywhere for that matter) Rufus got diagnosed with cancer; a rare, and fairly progressed cancer. “It’s called a germ cell tumor, which is basically the same makeup of testicular cancer except that it starts somewhere else in your body,” says Rufus rather matter-of-factly, at this point probably well-rehearsed in telling the details. “It was basically like a big fucking tumor in the middle of my chest.”

Coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis is an unfathomable thing for most people to comprehend at any age, let alone being a 17-year-old punk rocker from Nowheresville, USA. In fact, the latter confluence of facts led to an initial inability to even get a diagnosis. The signs and symptoms were there but, as Rufus tells it, “I’d been getting progressively more sick for months, and my normal doctor was on sabbatical, and then every time I went to the doctor at a local hospital, I would see whoever was available. It was very fucking clear that something was wrong with me. But a lot of times I would go the local hospital and they would look at me, and I was in my super punk phase with big spiked bleached hair and a Black Flag shirt with a middle finger on it or whatever it may be, and they would just dismiss me.”

Once the diagnosis came, treatment came quickly and aggressively, and just in the nick of time:  “It was so bad that if I would have waited another week before getting diagnosed, I would have died. My lungs were on the verge of collapse because this tumor was so big and wrapped around my organs.” Treatment also meant shipping out of West Virginia altogether, by way of a speedy ambulance ride to Columbus, Ohio. The treatment was aggressive, about as aggressive as you’ll find for chemotherapy in a “child.” And it seemingly worked, at least for a while. Fast-forward the tape to age nineteen and the cancer would make an unfortunate, and very grave, return.

“I was first cancer-free for not even a year, or six months,” says Rufus, before explaining in detail that “the cancer came back in my hip and went in my legs and mutated. That was the only time that I really realized that they thought I was gonna fucking die. They were basically like, “well, we have this treatment that they’ve used a couple times in Japan and we can try that and we can try to make you comfortable.” And I’m like “what the fuck does that mean? I don’t want to be ‘made comfortable’!” That was a really surreal moment in my life. It was the only time through all of that that I really was like “I’m so fucked,” and that it really sunk in like that.”

Treatment for the second round of cancer involved another bout with chemotherapy, intense radiation therapy, removal of his right lung and half his diaphragm, and a series of other lengthy complications. But it also worked successfully. Now in his early thirties, Rufus has a good, if somewhat uncharted, prognosis. Before Rufus’s generation, kids with most childhood cancers didn’t really…survive. They didn’t really get better, at least not in any great numbers. “Doctors and oncologists and everybody are very aware that they don’t know what issues will come from those treatments and what issues will develop as you get older and older,” he explains insightfully. “I’m aware of all that, but I also know that there’s nothing I can do to change it other than what I’m already doing. At this point, I’m trying to enjoy my life as much as I can. I want to create as much as I can create and do my thing and have a good fucking time!”

Read this book. Seriously. It’s funny and moving and disturbing and very, very real. And the idea was helped along by a somewhat unlikely source; Blacklist Royals’ former label boss (and Less Than Jake drummer) Vinnie Fiorello. “Vinnie…was actually the first and really the only person to say “what the fuck are you doing writing these stupid fucking rock and roll songs? Your life is so much more interesting than that, and you have so much more to say than that!”

So what do you do when you have an interesting story and you finally figure out how to tell it and what to say, but you’re a punk rock drummer with no ties to the book publishing industry? You go back to your roots. “I just kind of did it like I did when I was a teenager sending out demo tapes,” explains Rufus. “I’d get books I liked and look up the author’s agent and the publisher, and I just started sending out manuscripts.”

The result is, well, it’s due out September 20th. Pre-orders are available a bunch of different places, like here. And check out our full Q&A with Rob below; it’s one of our favorites, if we can be so self-indulgent.

Rob Rufus of Blacklist Royals to release autobiography, “Die Young With Me”

Awesome news for fans of Nashville punks Blacklist Royals. The band’s drummer, Rob Rufus, has announced plans to release his first book in Spring 2017. Entitled “Die Young With Me,” the tome serves as a memoir, chronicling Rufus’ diagnosis of a rare type of Stage IV cancer as a teenager. Rufus is now on the other side of 30, having successfully kicked cancer’s ass, though the illness left obvious scars of the physical and emotional variety. “Die Young With Me” will be published via Simon & Schuster; stay tuned for more info.

If the book’s title sounds familiar, it’s the same title that Rob Rufus (above right) and his twin brother Nat (above left), who serve as the backbone of the band that has contained a number of moving parts over the years, gave their sophomore full length upon it’s release in June 2014 (Krian Music Group). The album also chronicles Rufus’ cancer diagnosis, though unquestionably in looser terms than the book will cover the same source material.

Blacklist Royals’ last release was Dead Time Vol. 1: Songs of The Cure, a digital EP of The Cure cover songs, released on September 21, 2015.

Blacklist Royals release music video for “The Open Door”

Blacklist Royals have released a music video for “The Open Door.” The song appeared on their sophomore album, Die Young With Me and you can watch it via GuitarWorld here.

The band released a free covers EP, Dead Time Vol. 1: Songs of The Cure, on September 21, 2015. The band’s last release of original material, Die Young With Me, was released on June 10, 2014 through Krian Music Group.

New Music: Blacklist Royals stream cover of The Cure’s “Plainsong”

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from the Nashville-based Blacklist Royals; too long, in my opinion. Today, we get our first taste of what the brothers Rufus have been cooking up.

The band are streaming a bit of an obscure cover today. It’s for The Cure track “Plainsong,” which exists in its original form as the opening song on the latter band’s 1989 album “Disintegration.” Check out the cover here, and let us know what you think.

BLR’s cover of “Plainsong” is the first sneak peak at of what’ll become an ongoing covers series called “Dead Time.” Volume One features, you guessed it, songs from The Cure. Stay tuned for more info on this one, and head below to see where you can catch the fellas on tour alongside Goddamn Gallows next month!

Free Song Download: Blacklist Royals – “Die Young With Me”

Nashville’s Blacklist Royals are offering the title track of their latest album Die Young With Me up for free download! Give the track a listen below if you haven’t already heard it, and snag your free mp3 by clicking here.

Die Young With Me was released on June 10th through Krian Music Group. The band will be embarking on a European tour in support of its release later this month.

Blacklist Royals announce European tour dates

After wrapping up a short run of dates on the Warped Tour, Nashville’s Blacklist Royals will be making their way overseas for a 3-week European tour. Details on all of the band’s upcoming shows can be found below.

Blacklist Royals’ new album Die Young With Me was released on June 10th through Krian Music Group. Head over here to read our review of the record.

Album Review: Blacklist Royals – “Die Young With Me”

The topic of the “concept album” can be a bit of a tenuous one at best. For every Quadrophenia or Separation Sunday or Zen Arcade, there are effectively infinite complete and total clunkers (looking at you, Smashing Pumpkins, Fall Out Boy, and the entire post-Rush prog-metal genre). Many times, the projects are an exercise in self-importance, the hallmark of a band that’s long-since reached its apex and is now relegated to artsily grasping at straws. All too often, the lyrics tend to feel forced, clunkily shoehorned in to fit the topic at hand.

And yet, it was with limited trepidation that news of Nashville rockers Blacklist Royals newest “concept album” release, Die Young With Me, broke. Much has been written about in these pages already about the album’s theme and the band’s tumultuous existence in the years since the 2010 release of their prior full-length, Semper Liberi. Essentially a two-piece band during much of the Die Young With Me writing processdrummer Rob Rufus and his twin brother/frontman/guitarist Nat chose to retell the former’s struggle to overcome a rare type of cancer. And while that sounds like it could make for an over-the-top sappy schlock-fest, the result is anything but.

For starters, that’s because Die Young With Me doesn’t sound like a concept album. Album-opener “Righteous Child” begins the recurring theme of reflecting on what might have been if days gone by had gone by a little differently. The song builds gradually to its uptempo climax by the time of the anthemic second chorus. The album’s lead single (initially self-released as a 7-inch prior to the band’s tour with Swingin’ Utters last fall), “Righteous Child” sets the stage for what represents quantum leaps forward, both lyrically and stylistically, from Semper Liberi. When at their best, the brothers Rufus have a penchant for penning anthemic tracks that build like waves. “Missing Something,” “Skeleton Crew” and the album’s title track are brilliant examples of this. “Hearts On Fire,” the second track released from the album, could exist as a stand-alone single in its own right, built around an infectiously catchy chorus.

From the first listen, Die Young With Me has been one of my favorite releases of the year. The strongest tracks seem instantly relatable and right at home, and yet not like anything that the band (or the Gaslight Anthem, to whom they are frequently, and unfairly compared) have ever done. And while the songs are structured and expertly written, I can’t help but think that a few of them are, well, missing something (obvious pun not intended). The lead vocals seem high in the mix, and keys and layered rhythm guitar take the place of bass and any lead guitar to speak of (Die Young With Me was recorded by the Rufus brothers with producer Ted Hutt; bassist Dirk Mathews and lead guitarist Brad Blanco didn’t make the trip to LA). While many times this is enough, there are a handful of songs that get this close to building to a crescendo that they don’t quite reach, and don’t quite capture the high-energy live performance that the current four-piece lineup have crafted in a fairly short amount of time (“I Got Your Letter” appears on the album in a stripped down form from its initial live sound; uptempo rocker “She’s The One,” the b-side to the “Righteous Child” single, didn’t make the final album cut).

Though barely a week removed from its June 10th release date via Krian Music Group, Die Young With Me has rightfully earned what will undoubtedly be a long-standing spot in my regular rotation. And yet, what it may have ultimately achieved the most is having more than sufficiently planted seeds that leave me eagerly awaiting what comes next from Blacklist Royals, both live and on record. One can only hope (and I think the band would agree) that it doesn’t take four years and another lineup turnover to get us there!

4/5 Stars


Blacklist Royals release music video for “Righteous Child”

Nashville’s Blacklist Royals have released a new music video for their single “Righteous Child” and you can check it out below.

“Righteous Child” is was one of two tracks released on a 7″ on November 2013. The band recently released their second full length, “Die Young With Me,” on June 10th of this year through Krian Music Group.

Full Album Stream: Blacklist Royals – ‘Die Young With Me’

Nashville’s Blacklist Royals have released a stream of their upcoming album, Die Young With Me. You can listen to the whole thing below.

Die Young With Me is set to be released on June 10, 2014 through Krian Music Group. Their last full-length, Semper Liberi, was released back in 2010 on Paper + Plastick Records.

Blacklist Royals added to select dates on Warped Tour 2014

Nashville’s Blacklist Royals have just announced they will be playing select dates on the 20th annual Warped Tour! A full list of dates the band will be playing can be found below.

Blacklist Royals’ upcoming album Die Young With Me is set to be released on June 10th through Krian Music Group. Their last full-length Semper Liberi was released back in 2010 on Paper + Plastick Records.

Pre-Orders launched for Blacklist Royals’ “Die Young With Me”

Pre-orders are live for the upcoming Blacklist Royals full-length, “Die Young With Me.” Click here to check out the pre-order bundle options, and maybe score yourself a switchblade comb in the process.

“Die Young With Me” is slated for a June 10th release via Blacklist Royals’ new label home, Krian Music Group. Their last full-length, “Semper Liberi,” was released back in 2010 on Paper + Plastick Records.

New Music: Blacklist Royals – “Die Young With Me”

Nashville’s Blacklist Royals have premiered a brand new song for your Hump Day listening pleasure. It’s called “Die Young With Me,” and it’s the title track of the band’s upcoming full-length. Click here to give it a listen.

“Die Young With Me,” the album, is the band’s autobiographical retelling of twin brothers Nat and Rob Rufus’ (the band’s singer/guitarist and drummer, respectively) experiences living through Rob’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment as a teenager. Probably doesn’t take a quantum leap to figure out what they’re talking about in the Costello-meets-Petty title track.

Blacklist Royals will release Die Young With Me on June 10, 2014 via Krian Music Group. They last released the Righteous Child EP late last year.

Blacklist Royals stream new song “Hearts on Fire”

Nashville’s Blacklist Royals have released a stream of a brand new song titled “Hearts on Fire”. The tune will appear on the band’s upcoming album Die Young With Me and you can listen to it below.

Blacklist Royals will release Die Young With Me on June 10, 2014 via Krian Music Group. They last released the Righteous Child EP late last year.

Blacklist Royals sign to Krian Music Group for release of upcoming album

Nashville’s Blacklist Royals have signed with Krian Music Group. The label, which is distributed by the Universal Music Group, will be releasing the band’s sophomore album, Die Young With Me sometime in Spring 2014.

We’ll keep you posted as more details on the Blackist Royals’ new record come to light. They last released the Righteous Child EP late last year.