“It was one of the best shows we’ve ever done,” says an admittedly exhausted but cheerful Mike Kerr, one-half of British rock outfit Royal Blood. The band are, somewhat, fresh off a 1 am club show at Brooklyn venue Warsaw, ahead of an anticipated set at New York City’s Governors Ball festival. The venue, it turns out, is inside a Polish community centre that sports my favourite tagline to date: “Where pierogies meet punk.”
“It’s great,” quips Kerr. “It smells like sausages, you know, in a good way.”
Chatting to Music Feeds at the New York festival, just a few weeks away from the release of their second album, the wryly titled How Did We Get So Dark?, out now, the band seemed buoyed by the excitement of having new material to play live. They had, after all, been touring off the back of their hugely successful eponymous debut for over two years.
“It’s nice to have new shit to play,” says singer, bassist Kerr. “I don’t know, before we were, like, milking a 33-minute record. So this time, there’s more dynamics in the set. It feels good. The more people get to know the new stuff, the better the shows are getting.”
“We’re excited,” adds drummer Ben Thatcher. “Excited to have the album out. Excited to play today. We’ll get a boost of energy and adrenaline before we get on stage, I’m sure. Last night we played a show, at 1 in the morning and then we partied a bit afterwards. So we’re a little bit fragile.”
With How Did We Get So Dark?, Royal Blood now have around another 34 and a half minutes of material to play with on stage, and while the record doesn’t deviate far from their sonic home turf, that is by design. Royal Blood know they’re onto a good thing, and they’re not about to mess with it.
MF: There’s quite a lot going on in the new album, production-wise. How are you translating that live?
Mike: Ben has some triggers on his kit that he’s like firing shit off and then I’m still, kind of, doing a bit of voodoo, having loads of pedals turning on and off. But, apart from that, it’s the same as we did on the first one, really.
Music Feeds: You had a bit of an insane trajectory though over the last few years – album success wise and also hanging with some of rock music’s greats: Jimmy Page, Lars Ulrich, opening for Foo Fighters and The Pixies. Did that change the way you approached doing this next record?
Mike: No, I think it just kept us on the same trajectory. I think it was a vote of confidence that our instincts, as a band, were good. So, it was more about continuing to follow our gut and our instincts on what was good music. I don’t think it changed our mentality at all.
Music Feeds: You’ve kept that core Royal Blood sound, which is, basically, the two of you. Is that intentional?
Mike: It’s all intentional. I mean, we have a sound, which is ours, so it’s OK to own it and refine it, sharpen it. A lot of bands don’t have their own sound. They have their own songs but they don’t have their own sound. We have a sonic identity. So it was just about preserving that and seeing if we could enrich it, rather than reinvent it.
Music Feeds: Still, you can hear the influences of other genres in there. ‘She’s Creeping’, for example, has a Weezer meets hip hop groove. Was that reflection of things you were listening to? Or were you deliberately trying to enrich the record with other sounds and genres?
Mike: I think every song on the album has its own set of influences. We never design songs. We never sit down over a drawing board thinking: “Wouldn’t it be cool if we made a hip hop, Weezer tune?” We just start writing and start fishing for ideas and as they come together we follow our nose with it until it’s completed. It’s not really until we have hindsight that we realise we were influenced by that or by that. We don’t, sort of, flick through the filing cabinet of influences and try and build something. Everything just happens naturally.
Music Feeds: Are you constantly refining songs as you’re in the recording process.
Mike: Yeah. I definitely think this album, more so than the first one, we spent time refining the songs by either demoing them or giving them time to breathe and just to sit with them for a bit. And that proved to be pretty productive, a lot of the songs really went to another level by that process.
Music Feeds: Do you feel like you’ve honed in on a good process then?
Mike: Kind of. I don’t really believe in having a process because that feels like you’ve got a method and you’re just running through the motions. It feels contrived. So I think it’s about doing whatever you need to do to feel creative and excited and then when you stumble across something that feels like it has potential, then it’s just cherishing that. Being respectful of it and seeing where it can take you.
Music Feeds: Do songs then change when you play them live?
Mike: Yeah. The songs, for our band, when they’re written they’re captured. And when they go out on the road, they’re growing and developing and changing. Sometimes they speed up, sometimes they slow down a bit. They swing a bit or they change key. Sometimes a whole new section gets put in there. It’s more about… we’re still trying to improve the songs the whole time.
Music Feeds: Does that ever make you want to go back a re-record something?
Mike: No. Because it’s supposed to be set in stone at some point. Records are just references of that time period. The band’s like a living, breathing thing that’s constantly changing and evolving.
Music Feeds: Do you always write songs with playing them live in mind?
Mike: Definitely. I mean there is an element of practicality to what we do. We probably wouldn’t put a string orchestra with what we do unless we thought we’d be able to have a full string orchestra up there [on stage]. But I think those practical limitations, or those decided limitations, are what keep us being us. I think as soon as you throw a couple of guitars on there, my bass would just sound quieter and the drums would sound quieter and we’d just sound like every other rock band.
It’s like, if we were a cuisine we’d be Italian food. Wholesome ingredients…
Ben: You know what you’re going to get.
Music Feeds: Do you use music as a form of escapism or as a way to vent?
Mike: It depends really. That isn’t a constant feeling. It would be impossible for me to say that every time we play. It’s so circumstantial. But I’d say more times than not, we get a kick out of playing live and there’s the sort of risk element of playing in front of people. So I’d say yeah it does bring an element of, like, adrenaline and it’s fun to do. I don’t know if we vent anything. Because, I think, any emotion you wrap up in a song kind of dies when you record it, and after
I don’t know if we vent anything. Because, I think, any emotion you wrap up in a song kind of dies when you record it and after that, you’re putting on some kind of performance. It’s put over what you meant. You’re kind of acting really, you can’t forever feel like that. With a breakup song, you write it and you feel really sad. You record it and you feel a little bit less sad than when you wrote it.
Ben: And then you meet a new girl…
Mike: And then you meet a girl and three years later you’re playing it on stage, there’s no way you’re feeling as sad as when you fucking wrote it. There’s no way, at that point you’re acting.
Music Feeds: So there’s always that element of performance?
Mike: Absolutely. Music is performance. Live music is performance.
Music Feeds: Do events like the attacks in Manchester or in Paris at the Bataclan Theatre weigh on you as performers and as touring musicians?
Mike: No. I think those things affect everyone. In all walks of life. I think you’ve just got to carry on. I think playing music is something that can’t be held back or stopped. At times, being a musician or a performer can seem kind of pointless. Like, what does it actually do? What does it serve? There are real problems in the world that need practical solutions and, meanwhile, bands are just kind of being a distraction. But I think they’re important distractions sometimes. [Music is] like a relief, sometimes, from thinking or worrying about these things. So I think it’s crucial and vital to be kept alive. It can’t hold anyone back. Like, what happened in London the other day, doesn’t mean I’m going to stop crossing bridges. What happened at some shows over the last couple of years, doesn’t mean we’re going to stop playing gigs, or going to them.
Music Feeds: Are you thinking beyond? Are you thinking of the next album?
Mike: I think we’re always looking forwards. So, whether that’s another album or just the next song. Or our careers as movie stars, we’re not sure yet. But we are just looking forward.
Music Feeds: Careers as movie stars?
Mike: I mean, that’s just one example. That’s just forwards, isn’t it? ‘Cos it’s something we haven’t done before. Maybe we’ll get into origami or something.
Music Feeds: Like that guy who’s challenging himself to make the smallest origami crane he can?
Ben: I’m going to do the world’s biggest origami! It’s going to be called the Origami Fest. But you can’t get in because the origami is too big…