Rewind to May 2014. A new English rock duo was in town for headline shows in Sydney and Melbourne. Although yet to release their debut album, the band’s full-bodied two-piece rock sound had already garnered comparisons to the White Stripes and Black Keys. In front of a full-house of sweaty, eager fans at Melbourne’s Corner Hotel, the duo of Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher proved there was nothing predictive about their next-big-thing status – their time had arrived.
Kerr and Thatcher are, of course, Royal Blood. And after their self-titled album came out in August of that year, their upwards ascent went positively nuclear. The record topped the UK charts, hit #3 in Australia and #17 in the US Billboard 200. They won Best New Band at the NME Awards, Best British Group at the Brit Awards and were nominated for the Mercury Prize. They also appeared at every major festival on the planet, including a high profile slot on the final night of Splendour in the Grass 2015.
But as for those White Stripes and Black Keys comparisons, they never felt particularly accurate. For one thing, Royal Blood has no guitarist – Kerr’s primary instrument is the electric bass, which he runs through a load of distortion and associated effects pedals. He and Thatcher have always known how to make a room move, but their sound skews closer to the groove-centric party rock of Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal than the blues-based songwriting of the White Stripes and Black Keys.
Grooves are at the heart of Royal Blood’s latest album, Typhoons. Kerr has no shame in calling it a disco record and the album’s high-energy assault is unceasing from track one through to ten. Kerr’s vocal performances also reveal more bald-faced pop ambitions than either of the band’s previous LPs. But Typhoons is still a riff-loaded rock record, and it even boasts a production credit from QOTSA’s Josh Homme.
Music Feeds spoke to Kerr about the hurricane of hype that surrounded their first album, the difficulties they faced making album two, 2017’s How Did We Get So Dark?, and what led them to make a disco album.
Music Feeds: From putting out the Out of the Black EP to releasing your debut album and then touring non-stop for a couple of years, it was a pretty spectacular run. How clear are your memories of that time?
Mike Kerr: Some of it’s hazy, but what was happening for us was so monumental that it’s an era of our lives we’ll always have some grasp on. Also, it was so jam-packed with crazy shit and so exciting and every day was something bigger or something that was brand new that it blurred into one, really. It wasn’t really until we came off the road from that first record that you sort of realise how high you’ve gone.
MF: It’s a great way to start your career, but it’s a high standard to uphold. You ran into some difficulty making your next album, How Did We Get So Dark? How would you compare your feelings when recording that album to when you were making Typhoons?
MK: Making that second record was not a fun experience, ultimately. It was really stressful and I could just sense a lot of anxiety and concern around from everyone, [wondering] is this going to be as good? And that’s not really a very creative or exhilarating atmosphere to be sat in.
I just had more fun making Typhoons. It was made with this idea of allowing whatever we wanted to do to come out of the speakers and almost cutting ourselves loose from that whole thing that happened to us and just going into a studio and deciding to, at whatever cost, make the best songs we can. Two tracks deep we were like, “Oh, we are making a disco record. Okay, here we go.” And it was so nice.
MF: Has the freedom you felt while making Typhoons had a lasting impact in terms of how you feel about the finished album?
MK: Yeah. I’m not seeking any validation for it and I’ve sort of done my celebrating and all my high-fiving already. It’s the album I always wanted to make and I feel genuinely confident about what we’ve made. Also, finishing that second record, I didn’t want to listen to it and finishing this one, I can’t stop listening to it. It really was made for ourselves.
MF: Along with the disco grooves, the album is loaded with hooky vocal melodies and sing-along choruses. Did you make a decision to embrace the poppier side of your songwriting?
MK: Catchy songwriting has always been our priority. From the very beginning, we knew we had the ingredients for a big sound, but there’s nothing clever about going out there and just being loud without having any songs. We always wanted to have songs, because that’s what a band thrives off. So it was no different on this record. It’s perhaps more highlighted because we just got better at it. There seems to be a reluctance or fear if you’re in a rock band of having anything catchy and we’ve just always thought that’s total fucking nonsense. Why would we be scared of something being infectious? We just cut ourselves free from that.
MF: So there was no one in your ear saying, “Come on guys, make a disco album”?
MK: No. I don’t think we decided to make a disco record, but it was more that we went in with an open-mindedness rather than decided on a direction. It was more, “Let’s see where the music wants to go.”
I always feel like we’re a very primal band. There’s always a physicality to our music and if it makes us move in a certain way then we like it usually. And this was just a way of moving we hadn’t explored yet.
‘Typhoons’ is out today. Download or stream here.