In Conversation: Royal Blood

The breaking-through Brighton duo isn't feeling the pressure...

Clash feels not a little guilty for pulling Royal Blood away from essential practice time. “We’re writing some new stuff just right now, for the album,” says vocalist and bassist Mike Kerr. Which is normal enough for a band to do, but pretty vital for this Brighton-based act, one that’s achieved a great amount of attention with minimal output – at the time of writing, just two singles have been released. More material, yes please.

The band – completed by drummer Ben Thatcher – was the only rock act on the BBC’s annual Sound Of list, which landed them with both an ample amount of hype and presented them as some sort of vanguard for a rock revival.

If you take what some frontmen say as gospel, rock needs to fight back against other genres to maintain its presence as a popular force. Which is nonsense, obviously. Rock does just fine. But nevertheless, Royal Blood’s highlighting as the new rockers for 2014 on a poll of such prominence, based exclusively on the track ‘Out Of The Black’, has inevitably set the bar for success rather higher than it might’ve been had the duo remained under the radar.

No pressure, chaps. But, at the same time, let’s not rush out some rubbish, yeah? Back to rehearsals right away, now…

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‘Out Of The Black’

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The attention you’ve received regarding being a two-piece has seemed a little odd to me. It’s not like there haven’t been countless drums-and-guitar, albeit bass in your case, duos previously. But did you set out as a pair, deliberately, or was it just a matter of not finding the right third member?

That’s a good question, and honestly I think it’s a bit of both. It started off with me playing around with these big bass sounds, which I was just carrying around with me. I’d been in a four-piece before, and Ben had helped me out, before we got together here, with some writing and recording. It was when we played alone together, with this sound, that we thought that we could do something as just the two of us. I started to develop the sound I was using, trying to make it as big as possible, and before we knew it we’d written enough songs to start playing gigs. So I guess that maybe there wouldn’t have been any room for someone else to come into the band, anyway. When we properly started rehearsing together, that idea didn’t really cross our minds. I don’t know what they would do!

Despite the limited personnel, you like playing around with what sounds are available to the band, right? You like to experiment with different set-ups, and using gear in interesting ways?

Yeah, we do. I guess you have to work the most out of what you’ve got, really. It isn’t the easiest way of doing things, to be honest – and it can actually be quite hard writing a song when it’s just the two of us, and keeping it to the equipment at our disposal so that we can then play it live. The ideas don’t always come, as when you’re just a duo there’s either one idea of there’s no idea. In a bigger band, there’s more opportunity to bounce ideas off people. But we like this set-up, as it means that when a good idea does come up, we can really focus on making the most out of it. In bigger bands, that can become more complicated, as people might have their own ideas on where a song can head. We’re a little bit more down the line.

Ben and you were friends long before the band, right?

Yeah.

Reading some publicity on the band, it’s suggested that your coming together was a very quick, almost instant decision. In a car, outside an airport, after you returned from travelling.

It really was as spontaneous as that, really. I’d been away, and wanted to start a band and have fun. I had a few hundred quid saved up, so we got on with it. We were just doing it for fun then – we didn’t think we’d make anything out of it. Both of us have been in bands before, so we know how it can go. That’s part of the reason why we understand how fortunate we are to be doing this now. When this took off, something happened for us. But we did just start it on the spot, for fun.

Even with the attention on you now, are you very wary about not rushing material out? Are you keen to make sure that what comes next makes good on the promise shown and isn’t merely a consolidation of already expressed qualities? Some might have expected more out from the band by now…

I don’t think we’re under any pressure to release material quickly. Things took off for us at the end of 2013, but we’d been writing for a whole year before that – and out of that whole year, we only released the one song. So we’re familiar with not putting out a lot of material. We’ve a lot more material that we’re playing live right now, as we work towards putting an album out. We’re not rushing anything – the new songs will come out when we feel the time is right. We’re not in a rush, at all.

The released songs to date – ‘Out Of The Black’ and its B-side, and ‘Little Monster’ – are they indicative of your intentions to convey the live energy of the band?

Definitely, that’s the goal.

And having been in bands previously, you must know all about recorded versions not having that same punch as they possess on stage…

Yeah, and we’re a live band, first and foremost. That’s what we do. So when we’re in the studio, we take all of those live elements in with us. We can’t use all of those studio tricks – so what we capture in there is the same as us being on stage, really. We don’t do anything on record that we can’t do live. We don’t add anything, and that’s really important to us. We’re not going to add guitar parts just because we can, but that we can’t do live. No organs, or flutes, or whatever – not unless Ron Burgundy himself turns up.

The whole rock ‘n’ roll will never die rhetoric that we heard at the BRITs – what’s all that about, then? Because from where I’m sat, obviously it won’t. There is a stack of great British rock bands right now. And you being on the Sound Of is clearly indicative of that…

I don’t really like the idea of a genre holding anyone back, y’know? We are a rock band, but I don’t know if we really want to be put into a box like that. We just like writing good songs, and that’s how we intend to present ourselves. As much as I like rock music, I wouldn’t say that it’s vital for everyone to be doing rock again. The way we play music is just the most natural way of us doing it, so that’s what we do. I certainly don’t feel we’re part of a revival, or anything like that. I don’t think there’s anything to be revived!

When you’re compared to The White Stripes, that just doesn’t stick for me. It’s a visual thing, because of the two-piece formation. But you don’t sound like that band, at all, do you?

No, we don’t sound like The White Stripes, but before they broke through I don’t think anyone had properly proved how far a two-piece band could go. So they’ve set the bar, and are so iconic that any band with just two members is going to be compared to them, immediately. But to be honest, I don’t mind who people are comparing us to, as that’s their choice, their luxury. Do I mind being compared to The White Stripes, ultimately? No, because I really like that band. There are definitely worse bands to be compared to – and I don’t think it’s my place to say whether I like the idea of that or not.

But what bands have really set you on your way, as a musician, and towards making this band a reality?

Led Zeppelin are a massive influence. I don’t think I’m really influenced by bass players – I’m more inspired by songwriters. So Jeff Buckley’s big for me, too, and Queens Of The Stone Age’s ‘Songs For The Deaf’ was a massive album for me. That album’s so melodic and so huge, without any screaming. That’s it for me.

You’re based in Brighton – are you both native to the city?

Not quite. I’m from Worthing, and Ben’s from a smaller town, but we’re both there now. Brighton’s a weird place, because there’s a lot of people like us there, who aren’t from the place originally. It’s got a big student population, and a lot of people from the surrounding smaller towns and boring villages move there.

Do you feel there’s really a scene in the city? I think, to those who don’t live there, that might be suggested – there are a lot of bands and promoters, and venues, and BIMM’s there, too. But I see a real disconnect between these players, a lack of what could be considered a coherent community…

You might have a point there. Just at the place we rehearse in, we’ve met some great bands. There’s a band from down here called Tigercub, who came on tour with us, and who are incredible. A lot is happening in Brighton, but then, how many times do you want to play in the same town? We’re going out and touring, so we’re not engaging in a community, I suppose. And a lot of bands are doing the same. Obviously, there are a lot of new bands coming through, but I’m not sure that they’re cultivating any sort of community in Brighton. But we were never massively involved in the city’s scene, anyway – we sort of went straight into touring, so we never joined the club.

And when are you joining the album club? Are we thinking quarter three, in industry speak?

What does quarter three mean? Oh, I see! Sorry, we’re not really in the industry yet. I expect it’ll be out sometime after August. Ben is planning on setting up his own label, called Smash Records (or possibly God Smash Records – ed). That’s really exciting. We’ve just finished the website for it, and it looks pretty cool. We say August, or sometime just after, but you know what these things are like – you say one thing, but then the album comes out in 2030.

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‘Little Monster’

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See Royal Blood (website) live as follows (on the NME Awards Tour):

March
18th – O2 Academy, Glasgow
19th – O2 Academy, Leeds
20th – Academy, Manchester
22nd – O2 Academy, Liverpool
23rd – Rock City, Nottingham
25th – O2 Academy, Birmingham
26th – O2 Academy, Bristol
27th – O2 Academy, Brixton, London

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