Royal Blood have just today released their brand-new album How Did We Get So Dark. Still bathing in the afterglow of their award winning eponymous debut album Royal Blood, the pair have managed to pack twice the punch into a more refined, dynamic sound. I was lucky enough to chat to Mike Kerr, half of Royal Blood, about Splendour, touring in the US, and of course, the new album.
You were backpacking around Australia just before you formed Royal Blood, did the experience of travelling affect how you and Ben (Thatcher) came together?
A little bit, yeah. I’ve known Ben all my life so the longest time I went without seeing him was when I was away travelling. Perhaps it became a healthy break where we were more naturally drawn to each other to do something again.
He picked you up from the airport?
That’s right, he came to pick me up when I landed. I had been working on some tunes, getting the bass sound together. All of it, the music, was ready to begin but I needed a drummer. I had been in loads of bands with Ben before, and the timing seemed to be right. He said: “I’m up for doing it, let’s get in the studio, get these recordings, do some gigs and have a bit of fun!” That’s kind of where it all began.
How Did We Get So Dark offers such a huge sound, as does your album Royal Blood - is that something you find important to continue?
We like things to be extreme and heavy so that’s what we strive for. I think trying to translate that sound on a record is quite challenging because nothing quite tops seeing a rock band play live… so it’s something we are still working on. We are always reaching out, trying to get that kind of energy on record.
In previous interviews, you have said it was important for you to up your lyric game with this album, and it shows! What kind of process did you go through to achieve that?
I think the first record was all very subconsciously written, mainly because it wasn’t a very self-conscious album. We didn’t know or think anyone was going to hear it… (laughs) It’s a bit like your childhood photos becoming iconic and someone going “what were you thinking when you were wearing that?” This time 'round, it was a much more conscious effort to make an album. In a weird way it feels like we were making our debut with How Did We Get So Dark but the whole world was watching. So lyrically we recognised that was something we wanted to improve on. We wanted to develop on everything really… When the band first started I had only been playing bass for two years, written only ten songs and then put it on an album throwing it out into the world… so Royal Blood was my first effort and I know I have a long way to go still.
Would you say that Royal Blood was based around your passion as a musician and How Did We Get So Dark became more about the reaction of the audience?
I think we still made How Did We Get So Dark for ourselves. I just think that we wanted to refine what was good about us and refine the strengths of the band. We weren’t bothered about what “they” would think. I believe your job as a musician is to tell people what to think.
At first listen, this album revolves around themes of a break up. Is that something you consciously explored while writing How Did We Get So Dark?
While there are other themes, I guess the overall theme replicates a break up record. I think there’s other themes on there as well, but a break up is the main topic. It’s mainly written about my own experiences of relationships.
Do you find that it’s important to relate to your audience those themes or is the record more to examine and express your own experiences and feelings?
I have to be honest with myself and so far, this is what it sounds like. I think that when you are honest with yourself then you’re usually tapping into thoughts and feelings that you’re not alone in feeling. I believe this is a big reason why these kinds of songs connect with people. (Laughing) If I wrote a whole album about touring on a tour bus, I doubt the songs would have the same kind of effect.
You previewed “Hook, Line and Sinker” at both Reading and Leeds festivals in 2015. Was that to get a sense of how the crowd would react to the new material? Did that influence the sound of How Did We Get So Dark?
We never intended for Hook, Line and Sinker to go on the album. By that point, we had that song written but not recorded and we just wanted to put something new in the set. (Laughs) We kept playing the same songs for years! It wasn’t until right at the end of recording How Did We Get So Dark that we decided to go back in the studio for an extra week and get two more songs to add to the pile. Hook, Line and Sinker was one of them and How Did We Get So Dark was the other. When we had everything done, right at the end of recording, it was obvious that they were both meant to be on the album the whole time.
I was lucky enough to see you perform at Splendour in the Grass in 2015 and I know you’re performing again this coming July. Is there anything special that you have planned for us?
The whole show this time round has evolved a lot more since 2015 and I think just through the nature of having new songs to play, there’s more dynamics. We feel like we are a whole different beast now! I don’t feel like people are going to be watching the same show again. I think we’ve been out on the road for a couple of months and all the cobwebs are gone and we’ve never felt more on our game than ever before. We can’t wait to get out there and do our thing!
Do you prefer intimate shows or festival shows?
We just did Bonnaroo in the US and we nearly died because it was so fucking hot! Festivals are great though. It just depends on whether it’s outdoors or indoors.
Speaking of the US, a few years ago you were left behind by your band mates at a petrol station while on tour there. What happened?
Everyone was asleep in the van and the driver stopped to go to the toilet. I woke up, got out to go to the toilet but when I returned, the van had gone. I was stuck without my phone. It definitely wasn’t ideal. I ended up talking to a girl who worked at the Starbucks and she let me into the janitor’s office. I managed to get into my email and contacted my manager. I also got onto my Facebook, messaging my band members but no one had really noticed I was gone. I was there for quite some time.
Very resourceful of you!
Yep, I’m quite the survivor!
While you were touring San Francisco, You met up with Metallica’s Lars Ulrich. He gave you a tour of his hometown?
We were playing a show, opening up for The Pixies. It was our first time playing in San Francisco. Lars came into our dressing room and we had a couple of beers. He decided to take us on a tour, so we went to stuff like the Golden Gate Bridge… and then I kind of realised I really wanted to see Mrs Doubtfire’s house. I hadn’t had the time to go do it myself, so I said to Lars “hey can you take us there?” and he replied (imitating his accent) “Oh sure I’ll take you there guys!” and so he did. It ended up being a great photo… I still look at it and laugh.
What do you want people to know about How Did We Get So Dark?
Well it’s really good! (Laughs) go fucking buy it!
How Did We Get So Dark is out now. Stream or buy here.