Royal Blood
Brighton duo open up about their bombastic return...

Ask Royal Blood to recall the moment they realised their lives had changed forever and they’ll always come back to Glastonbury 2014. Having already released a slew of turbo-charged singles, the duo, bassist and vocalist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher, had been turning heads with their muscular, Queens Of The Stone Age meets White Stripes sonic assault. Then came their Glasto debut and an early slot on the John Peel Stage.

“We poked our heads around the corner to see if anyone was going to be watching us,” remembers Mike. “And there was like 12,000 people or something mental, they were right outside the tent and I was like oh my god what's going on?”

“That was crazy because the record wasn't even out at that stage,” agrees Ben. “We were playing to 200 people on tour and that was mind blowing to us to sell out those venues. Then to turn up at Glastonbury where we thought there'd be a couple of hundred people there, to walk out onstage to that... yeah that was a shock to the system.”

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When it’s happening to you, you can be quite numb to it.

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In just a few weeks the band will return to Glastonbury, only this time they'll be on the Pyramid stage with only The xx and Radiohead playing above them. It's the latest high point in a short career that’s been rammed with what most bands would consider lifetime achievements: supporting the Arctic Monkeys at Finsbury Park, scoring the best-selling rock record of the last three years and rubbing shoulders with every childhood hero they can recall from Jimmy Page to Lars Ulrich.

“You can’t digest those life experiences immediately,” says Mike, struggling to describe exactly what it was like to live in that Royal Blood maelstrom at the time. “It wasn’t until two years later when we came off the road and went home that everything becomes real and you can understand it for what it is. When it’s happening to you, you can be quite numb to it.”

Do they feel like rock stars now? They both cringe at the question. “To us that’s like an ugly word,” says Mike shaking his head. “It’s almost offensive in a way. We’re musicians.”

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Clash have come to meet the duo at the swanky, achingly hip Ace Hotel on Shoreditch High Street to discuss the band’s new album, ‘How Did We Get So Dark?’. A full day of press is running behind schedule, and as we chat Mike and Ben tuck into plates of chips and chicken, their first chance to eat all day. They seem relaxed, rejuvenated and excited for what’s to come. “We're in that honeymoon period of press where we haven't done anything like this for so long and there’s so much new stuff to talk about,” says Mike. “Last night was our first show in 18 months.”

Were they nervous? “It was so fun,” he replies. “We were so full of adrenaline before we went on, I was trying to calm down a bit.”

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Pressure’s such a turbulent thing...

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After the huge success of their self-titled debut surely they felt enormous pressure when recording its follow-up, something they found new ways to deal with. “Pressure’s such a turbulent thing,” says Mike thoughtfully. “We didn't have pressure on the first album, we genuinely didn't think anyone beyond our friends would hear our music. But it always came back round to the idea that if me and Ben think an idea is good, it is good. And that's really where it ended.”

The duo started writing the new album when out on the road touring ‘Royal Blood’, however it wasn’t until they came off tour for a much needed break that their ideas really started taking shape. “We didn't want to jump in and write without thinking about it,” says Mike. “Our first record is this Frankenstein patchwork of demos and with this one we wanted to make a proper record, a proper body of work. ‘Lights Out’ was a breakthrough song for us, it was like we discovered the DNA of the album. It was like the final piece of the puzzle was coming together.”

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Before I was a bit more innocent in my writing...

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Due out on June 16th, ‘How Did We Get…’ is just as taut and powerful as its predecessor, although sonically it’s a more intricate beast than its hulking predecessor, littered with dynamics, textures and even electronic keys, the tracks coming lyrically from a much darker, more personal place. “I felt less aggressive,” admits Mike. “I think my style of playing became more roll than rock. I didn't want to headbang on stage I wanted to have a little dance, throw out a few shapes. On this album I definitely wanted to be more open and more vulnerable and honest about things that I've been through. ‘Hole In Your Heart’ feels like a real breakup tune. And I always struggle with fabricating stories, I have to write from personal experience.”

“It comes really naturally to me to write about relationships. Before I was a bit more innocent in my writing, I was angrier about situations, this album is more reflective. There was definitely times when I asked, is that too obvious and Ben would be like no keep it raw. Our music is very raw so the lyrics should be too.”

“Mike has a good compass with lyrics, he knows what language and what interpretations to use,” interjects Ben. “He's not too safe either he goes and says something's that are a little out there.”

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“We trust each other,” adds Mike. It’s the same with Ben’s drumming. We look after each other's departments, that's how it works,” Ben laughs. “Like the ‘Lights Out’ drum fill, I don't think many people would take that into a song...”

“I remember saying come up with the worst drum fill. What's the anti-drum fill?” says Mike. “There's a great Josh Homme quote which is, if you can't outsmart them out dumb them. That drum fill is perfect. It out-dumbs every drummer in the world,” Ben nods knowingly. “There's a reason that drum fill has never been done before.”

The duo might have tweaked their formula, but one thing’s for certain. ‘How Did We Get So Dark’ is proof of just how much racket two people are capable of making. “I'm still obsessed with the simplicity of it,” says Mike when Clash ask if they ever feel restricted by their bass and drums set-up. “If anything on this album we've pulled even more away. There are parts on this album that are even more minimal. Our third record is going to be just Ben.”

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I'm still obsessed with the simplicity of it...

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Before we get to that point though there’s mammoth crowds to play to and huge spaces to fill with thunderous, Gods-balls riffery, not to mention a huge UK tour in November with support from seminal post-punk At The Drive In. How would they say life has changed the most during this manic rollercoaster ride?

“Before Royal Blood I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life or where I was going to go,” says Mike. “I guess now I get to do this as my job and my career I feel settled now. I feel employed.”

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‘How Did We Get So Dark?’ is released June 16th.

Words: Dannii Leivers

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