How Royal Blood Created a New Genre + Gave Us the Live Vibe We Need
Over the course of two albums Royal Blood have become one of bright young breakout bands of the last decade, but admittedly singer Mike Kerr reveals the band had hit a stalemate. So how did they get their groove back with literally more groove? We spoke with Kerr about the evolution of their "AC/Disco" sound, how he views it as a new genre and the journey the band takes on the new Typhoons album in the interview below.
The singer-bassist also shares how the album's fun vibe allowed him to be more vulnerable in what he lays out to listeners, how the album will bring the party feeling live fans need in a post-pandemic concert world and he discusses the track he feels is the closest he's come to being the song he waited his entire life to write.
Kerr also offers a nod of respect to the career of Daft Punk and explains how the journey they've taken with their crew over the years is different than a lot of bands. Check out the chat in full below.
I know this is the phrase that's going around, but AC/Disco. If you can share how you discovered that "AC/Disco" vibe and how it evolved over the course of this record.
My other half Ben, he actually coined the phrase. And it was when we were making 'Trouble's Coming.' I was like, "I want to play like Angus Young, over disco beats" and then Ben jumped in with AC/Disco. When he said that, it just filled me with excitement, as I thought, "Oh my God, like, that's the genre. That's the genre that doesn't exist and that's the one I want to see."
I felt so affiliated with that concept because of the through line. I found a through line between AC/DC and disco music because they're not too dissimilar. The principle of a great AC/DC song is a straight beat with a riff that chops over the top of it. And it was almost like, well, if we just speed up and play disco beats, I can do the same. The principle is the same, but we can bring in all of our love of the Bee Gees and ABBA, but I can still essentially play riffs all day long and it would just feel brand new. So it was incredibly exciting.
Royal Blood, "Trouble's Coming"
In a previous interview, you discussed being fascinated with Back to the Future as it came from the '80s, an era which you weren't around for. Taking it back further, you weren't around for disco either, but it's something you've obviously investigated. How important and vital is it for musicians to know what came before them as a way to move forward?
I think it's the same with all aspects of life. In understanding history, you understand a lot more about who you are from where you came from. Songwriting and popular music is still in its infancy. Really. It's not a very old idea. And so looking at the building blocks of where everything originates is crucial because so much fucking brilliant music has been made a long time ago.
I think learning that you don't need to reinvent the wheel is really important. This idea that you're gonna make something brand new is fictional. In order to create something unique to yourself, it's about working out where you fit into the tapestry of it all. For me, this album is sort of us placing ourselves in the middle of everything we love with everything, everything equally distant apart from us. And then our job essentially was to bring everything we love about music, as broad as that might sound, together into one record.
Listening to this record through the first time, it feels like a "Friday night going out" record, but then you dig into the lyrics and there's some darker themes here. Does the fact that it's so upbeat and fun and bouncy make it easier to take something more personal and be more vulnerable and open with it?
Definitely. I think for me, the music has such a shimmer to it and was so in your face fun sounding that it almost gave me more confidence to be more vulnerable. And I think at the beginning I was doing it subconsciously and it wasn't till I thought, hang on a minute. I thought, is it weird, that I'm talking about a very dark period of my life over this music that has been made in a very light period of my life?
It wasn't until a few songs down the line that I proved to myself that this was working really well. It wasn't as weird as it sounded on paper anyway and I think once I gave myself license to continue, I just got more and more vulnerable with the lyrics, more honest as I was going, and almost as a counter of that, the music became more and more euphoric. So it's like the two kind of separated as the writing process continued.
The album also feels very catered to the live experience. I've seen plenty of musicians discuss the pandemic yielding darker music, but just thinking when we come out of this that live shows are gonna be a party. Was that something you had in mind as well when putting the album together or coincidental that this sounds like it has great potential for the live show?
I think I was in such a positive state of mind making the record and then the pandemic hit and I questioned what we were making and everything got very real, very suddenly. I asked myself a very honest question of what does this actually mean? And is what we're making pointless? What point does it serve? The world is falling apart right now. does it really need music and is this even valid?
I realized that we were making songs to make ourselves feel better in an incredibly dark time. And as the thought dawned on me that this will end and there will be a point where life does go back or resembles normal, we can be together and play shows that the importance of making a record that was a fucking party was suddenly becoming reality. Yeah, it gave this record a sense purpose and being onstage and playing live is the reason we started a band the first place.
We always have it in the back of our minds. It's where our heart is, really when we're writing music. So about halfway through, I thought, "This is going to be a great album to play live because this will end and nothing depresses me more than the idea of writing a record about it." Right. No one needs to hear that song, we're experiencing it. It's an era that we want to move on from and look forwards so the idea of reflecting that period of time seemed like bad energy.
Royal Blood, "Boilermaker"
You wrote most of this overseas, but we do have "Boilermaker" that came together with Josh Homme producing here in the U.S. In that case, does the environment affect how that song turned out and can you discuss how that relationship with Josh evolved over the course of recording this song?
So this was a song that was really the first thing we put down to the album. There was a pretty big hiatus between that song and the rest of the album. We wound up in a studio together really as a response to having toured together so long. We were opening up for Queens for many months around America. And then I went to feature on the Desert Sessions with Josh, and it was almost like off the back of that we were just in the studio making this track. It was just so inevitable that was going to happen.
He's been such a huge influence over us. I think it's impossible to play guitar and play drums and not be influenced by that band because they're groundbreaking. The experience of being in L.A. and being in the studio with him came during a very turbulent time in my life. I was at my crescendo before I had to throw in the towel and get sober. I think you can hear it on that song. I was nuttered for lack of a better word. And Josh did a brilliant job of helping us guide the ship.
We didn't have many days and only had a few songs, so it was early days, but I feel like we left that studio better equipped. I feel like I really understood the task at hand and what I was going to have to do to make this record.
You mentioned the task at hand and "Typhoons" in particular just lays it all out there. This record as a whole feels more personal and that you've taken a jump forward with being more open. How does if feel knowing you're opening listeners up to your story?
I think on that song, I was at the apex of the creative process. Really. I knew the world I was in and I knew the boundaries and the rules of it. That song started with the music. I had every single riff of the song and I'd worked out the order of the riffs. And then just for me that was like the song I wanted to write my entire life.
I have this theory that every song an artist writes is an attempt to get to this singular idea. And I feel like every single song is a failed attempt, but some land closer than others. For me, this is like the closest I've ever got, and it's still miles away, [laughs] but I felt like it's the closest I've got.
But like what I was saying before, really the energy and the feel-good nature of the music just gave me free reign to be honest, and I think I wrote the lyrics to that song and there was always an incredible vulnerability that comes out. I think any songwriter, when you sit with a song at it's bare bones and for me, I, and that's another reason why the lyrics are so delicate, because I then went to transfer from the piano to the backing track we'd recorded. But like most of the songs on this record, it created an interesting juxtaposition.
Royal Blood, "Typhoons"
Speaking of sitting at the piano and juxtaposition, "All We Have Is Now" really takes it down at the end with a nice change of pace but also provides a hopeful note to conclude the record. Why was that last piece so important to tie up this album?
I think it could have easily not been on the record, I think ending on "Hold On" would have been a very neat way to tie the end up. I don't feel like it's a same body of work, but that track was just something we were both really moved by.
I think it being unexpected and it being something so different for us, it had to be a song that had a lot of meaning to it. It's just something that holds some power to it, and we didn't want to see it go to waste, so half of me feels like it's a little bit randomness on there, but the other half, I'm just so proud of that. So I'm glad it's out there.
This album, with the added groove, there's a bit more pop vibe there too. You've established yourself in the hard rock scene. Alternative rock has embraced you, but I'd say there's a chance for crossover potential here. Is there any concern at all about where the music will go and what audiences will be supporting you as the music evolves?
No. No. I would never be picky of who likes us. I think the truth is that before we realized what this album was, we were going nowhere. It was stalemate. And for the first time in a long time, I feel like the band has a creative momentum. And if there's one thing I've learned making this record, it's don't decide on the direction, just start moving forward and see where it takes you.
We essentially got out of our own way and wherever we go next isn't really up to us. It's dependent on where the music wants to take us. Who knows what we're gonna write next, I'm not sure.
The pandemic gave you essentially a second start to this record, allowing you to write music you weren't even thinking would make the album that then became the backbone of this release. It seems like you clued in on something here and is this something you carry forward with writing in the future.
Totally. I think I've established trust with myself. With that, I have a confidence and I feel like I have an accuracy to be the best judge of what I'm doing right now, which is a really good place to be. I think creativity relies on that. The thing that stops you from being creative isn't the lack of ideas, it's actually being lost in them. And so the way we make music going forward, I think it's really gonna be based off the experiences of making this one.
I think with every record, you learn from your mistakes, but you also hold onto what works and we made a lot of mistakes [laughs] on the second one. We certainly knew how we didn't want to make these records and making this one, I think we established what works, so, that's what we'll carry forward with us.
Royal Blood, Typhoons Album Cover
This album has uncovered more of your dance influences, and one of the biggest is Daft Punk. It's kind of cool to see how they evolved from electro to '70s funk and disco by that last record, but sadly they are no more. Given the band's decision to split, just wanted to get your take on their legacy and the influence they had on you.
The legacy of that band is unreal. It was such a huge influence on me from a very, very early age. I began my journey in music playing piano and keys and I studied those records and learned how to play. The sounds they were using were so interesting and they often blurred the lines between sounds like making keyboards sound like guitars. That was such an important thing to me because the first band I was in, I was making a keyboard sound like a guitar. And then in this band I'm starting with my bass sounding like a guitar. So I feel like I'm always reaching out for like a guitar sound, but I never want to use that guitar. So it was so influential to me in so many ways.
Then the end of that band as well, I just think is so classy because I think we live in an era where we watched our heroes just sort of crumble before our very eyes. And I think it takes a lot of dignity to end on a high. And I think that's just testament to the reason they made such amazing music.
Daft Punk's Epilogue
I thought this was interesting but as a kid you were a magician at age 10 and a fire breather at age 12. Were you always meant to be a performer and what ultimately had you making the leap to music?
Yeah I always enjoyed being a performer at anything really. I think I enjoyed entertaining because ultimately it wasn't about attention. It was about entertaining people. Believe it or not, I don't actually enjoy being the center of attention and if I was at a party or something, I don't like talking to lots of people. But I don't mind demonstrating a skill of some kind and then entertaining a lot of people. I seem to be very comfortable with it. I think I was just spinning a lot of plates, probably literally when I was about 12 and music's the one that I just stuck through the most.
Being in a band just serves my personality so well. I love traveling. I love seeing the world. I don't like routine. I'm very creative, very spontaneous. I still love entertaining people. I like putting on a show.
You mentioned loving traveling and this lifestyle. At three albums and nearing a decade in, what are some of your favorite parts along this journey. What are things you've enjoyed the most given what this career has provided you?
I think getting to play in certain South America was just epic. Being able to tour with Queens of the Stone Age, the Foo Fighters, playing in Japan, Australia. But I think most of all, it's the experience I've had with Ben and with our crew.
Our crew are our friends. Most don't know this, most bands don't even know who their crew are. Whereas we hand-selected our crew because people like our sound guy and our lighting engineer, they have been our sound guy and lighting engineer from when we were 16, from when we were growing up. So when we're on tour, it's like a little family, so it's really being able to share the experience. Because I think if you aren't able to share it, then it's unable to be enjoyed.
That's pretty cool. I love that. I wanted to finish asking about what the future holds for the band. I know it's still a little hard to schedule things but what's on the horizon for Royal Blood?
At the moment we're scheduled to play a handful of festivals in England. The first one being in July. I imagine there'll be some warmup shows around that. As for the winter, we're not sure, there's lots of things pending. We might as well go to America, we'll, we'll see and then February and March of '22, we have a headline tour scheduled for the U.K. And I imagine we'll be able to get to go to Europe as well at that stage. But like most things right now, it's all in pencil and we're just, we're just kind of crossing both our fingers.
Thanks to Royal Blood's Mike Kerr for the interview. The 'Typhoons' album is due tomorrow (April 30) and you can order yours in a variety of formats here. Keep up with the band's touring activities here and stay up to date on all things Royal Blood via their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Spotify accounts.