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Punk Practitioner

How Royce Nunley went from practicing basslines to practicing family law

Published in 2022 Michigan Super Lawyers magazine

“Everybody who has known me, when they found out I was going to law school, they were like, ‘What the fuck are you doing going to law school?’” Royce Nunley says with a laugh. “Then, when I was through, they’re like, ‘So you must do entertainment law.’ No. I’m doing absolutely nothing with it.”

The reason everyone thought they had Nunley pegged: He spent more than a decade as a punk bassist, opened a studio and record label, and managed tours and sound engineering—experiences that took him everywhere from Warped Tour to Japan. “There was a time I could have told you all the venues that would have punk shows in nearly any U.S. city outside of North Dakota and Alaska,” he says. “Those are the only places I never ended up playing.”

Nunley was 17 when he joined The Suicide Machines in the mid-’90s. At that time, the punk four-piece played “backyards, parties, and whatever bar would let kids come and play,” he says. Punk had a mainstream revival during his stint with The Suicide Machines, and between their split album and three full records they notched two minor hits, “No Face” and “Sometimes I Don’t Mind.”

One of the Nunley’s many notable memories is touring with the Descendants. “Just meeting those guys and hanging out with them every day was pretty cool, because they were heroes of mine,” Nunley says. “They say, ‘Don’t ever meet your heroes.’ Well, with Gene Simmons that was true, but the Descendants were as nice as they could’ve been. When the tour ended, they invited us over to their house and they had a giant barbeque.”

Before he left The Suicide Machines to sing lead with Blueprint 76, Nunley bought a four-track to record songs. “Then I was like, ‘If I had eight tracks, I could really make it sound good.’ Then, naturally, ‘If I had 16 tracks …’” he says. This progression in new gear led Nunley to production. “I started in a bedroom, then moved up in the world to a basement. Then, eventually, I bought a duplex in Hamtramck and the first floor was a recording studio.”

Over a handful of years, Nunley’s companies Ringside Recording Studios and Broken Spoke Records worked with acts such as The Insyderz, Tooth Fuzz, The Van Ermans, and Mr. Meano and the Clodhoppers. Then Nunley started doing live sound at clubs like the Magic Stick.

“The more I did, the more I tried to get away from recording bands because it’s tedious and can get brutal,” he says. “A live band will play a shitty song once and it’s over. The recorded band will have to play their shitty song like a million times in a row, and then I have to mix and master it.”

One day, a former Suicide Machines tour manager called Nunley to gauge his interest in engineering sound and managing the tour for the psychobilly outfit Reverend Horton Heat. “I jumped at that, and worked with them for a few years,” he says.

After a while, though, the drama and egos in the industry became too much. “I was so burnt out on dealing with the personalities that I needed a break,” Nunley says. “The work is one thing, but it’s disheartening when it goes from feeling so cool and fun to just feeling like a job. There came a point where I could walk on stage and I wouldn’t even see the crowd. I was just at work. I wasn’t enjoying myself.”

While on tour with RHH, Nunley’s then-girlfriend found out she was pregnant, and he thought he needed a more stable career. He had a Spanish degree, but saw limited prospects, he says, “so I’m like, ‘I hear med-school takes a long-ass time, but law school was only like three years. I can do that.’”

As for why he didn’t opt for entertainment law, it’s about as punk a reason as it gets: “I can’t stand the thought of working for somebody else—having a boss, having to clock in and out and get my billable hours,” Nunley says. “The day I got admitted to the Bar, I opened my own practice. At the beginning, I was just trying to get work, to keep the lights on, so I did divorces because everybody knows someone getting divorced that they can send my way. Before I knew it, the majority of my practice was family law, and the rest is criminal and civil litigation.” 

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