Royal Blood: ‘Do everything ironically: wear gold jackets and drink Champagne'
The Brighton band's success has come at warp speed but the seem to be handling it well
Royal Blood: “We definitely didn’t want to rip ourselves off”
Good beards, say Royal Blood, are the key to success. That and good shoes. There’s no other way that Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher can explain their rapid ascension to “rock gods in waiting” status over the past couple of years, leading Dave Grohl to describe them as one of his favourite bands and to them bagging numerous awards and playing to audiences that acts of their ilk usually take twice as long to build up to.
“When we did the Brit Awards, we definitely felt like the sore thumb,” smirks Thatcher, the baseball cap-wearing drummer, regaling the story of Grohl stopping by their dressing room to express his admiration. “You just go with it, and realise that it’s mad. And you do everything ironically, but in complete secret: wear gold jackets and drink Champagne.”
“It’s the world’s most public in-joke,” adds Kerr, the bassist, vocalist and writer, musing on their journey over the last four years. “At the time, Ed Sheeran was slowly becoming this f***ing megastar and it seemed like everyone who was getting record deals emulated something like that – whereas we were making, in our heads, dirty garage blues-pop tunes. We just thought, Well, no one listens to this any more; it definitely felt like it was an underground thing. So maybe it was just being the odd-ones-out and there being a lack of catchy rock tunes around. And also, probably just having really good beards, or something. Or a good shoe collection. ‘Finally, a band with good shoes.’ ”
It’s been three years since the deadpan Brighton duo sledgehammered their way into the public consciousness with their unique take on the drum-and-bass formula on songs such as Out of the Black and Figure It Out, and an album that charted well in territories around the world. Today they’re sitting in the plush boardroom of a Dublin hotel, preparing to play to the biggest live audience of their lives when they support Guns N’ Roses at Slane the following day (it went well). There’s also the small matter of How Did We Get So Dark? – the follow-up to that eponymous debut album – to discuss.
Back to life
Getting back to normal life after a whirlwind couple of years wasn’t easy, says Kerr. “It definitely takes a second to switch off and tune out of that world, and it can be difficult to ignore the idea that there is an audience of people eagerly awaiting your output. But it doesn’t take that long; after being in a studio for two or three weeks and you get an idea rolling, suddenly the conversation is all about the song: ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we did this?’ or ‘Would this work better?’ We’ve never worried ‘What will they think?’ ”
Although recording for the album took place in Brussels, Nashville and Los Angeles, going back to their hometown was the key to unlocking their creativity. “There’s something about English people, where they will tell you if they don’t like it, whereas other places in the world, it’s just a lot of patting on the back and delusion,” he laughs. “Sometimes you just need a quality check – asking a mate ‘Is this good?’ and them saying, ‘No. It’s really bad.’ You’re not gonna get that in LA.”
This time, they entered the studio with a distinct plan in mind. “We kind of believe in the traditional three-album format, really – in that your first album establishes the band’s sound, the second one spreads that out and goes to the places you’ve never gone before, and then the third one is the masterpiece that sums both of those records up,” says Kerr. “I think we followed that both subconsciously and consciously. We were kind of aware that our set was missing these tunes and puzzle pieces to make the set list dynamic, so we were reaching for tunes that, stylistically, we hadn’t done before; there’s a lot of groovier tunes in there. We just see it as a list of weapons. We didn’t want to write another Out of the Black because it was like, we’ve already got that. So it was looking to what don’t we have, and suddenly that’s when it felt creative again. We definitely didn’t want to rip ourselves off.”
He’s right about the groovier numbers, including She’s Creeping and Look Like You Know. Some of that may be down to relaxing the rules on the self-imposed parameters of their debut, such as no samples, no overdubs and songs recorded largely in one take.
We realised that if you add the wrong ingredient to our band, it just dilutes it so it becomes like anything else
“We kind of put the whip down for this one,” says Kerr laughing. “It was fun experimenting with those extra elements. The only reason we had those limitations on the first record was because, at the time, we believed that it would make for more creative and interesting music.
“But I think we exhausted that method, so this one was kind of the opposite – it was really like anything goes and the music comes first, the aesthetic and the set-up comes second. But weirdly, it stayed very true to the Royal Blood sound because through that experimentation we just realised that if you add the wrong ingredient to our band, it just dilutes it so it becomes like anything else.”
The title, meanwhile, “felt like a stone that was killing a shitload of birds. The actual title itself has more context as a lyric [on the title track], but it definitely felt like an appropriate soundbite that would sum up most of the themes on the record. And also, yes, I guess I would admit that I did like the idea that, given the world at the moment, that’s a fairly relevant question.
“We were in a darker place in every way imaginable, really. We were in the middle of Brussels, locked away in this studio with this sort of medieval weather, and we’d almost written ourselves this sentence of this album, [thinking], how the f*** are we gonna make this? It wasn’t that it wasn’t a joy to make, but we definitely put a lot of hard work into it. We’re big believers in hard work; I think that’s where quality lives, basically. Things that are easy to do are usually not that good.”
If the future looks darker, that’s entirely Royal Blood’s own doing. For now, they’ll keep working towards that masterpiece and taking things as they come in their own poker-faced way.
We get to sit there and scratch our chins and know that it’s our job
“We’re not the kind of guys who’d ever have a five-year plan,” shrugs Kerr, his bandmate nodding silently beside him. “We’re four years into the band now and we’ve come this far . . . I think the first album just awarded us this opportunity, so now we’re making the most out of it, really. It’s licensed us to be creative for a living, which is something I thought we’d never be able to do. It’s a privilege to be in that position, so you should use it, basically.
“Most rock bands now all have other jobs, and creativity is a compromise with life, whereas we get to sit there and scratch our chins and know that it’s our job. That’s pretty freaky, when you think about it.”
- How Did We Get So Dark? is out on June 16th. Royal Blood play the 3 Arena in Dublin on November 26th