Royal Blood – Interview – 2014

Royal Blood, eh? Where did they come from? From nowhere (well, at a tiny Brighton venue in Feb 2013, sandwiched on a bill of 5 indie-rock hopefuls), to making the BBC Sound Poll 2014, to high up the bill at Reading and elsewhere with support slots with friends Arctic Monkeys at Finsbury Park under their belts, a Later… with Jools Holland scene stealing performance, a worldwide tour in motion and a UK leg in November to look forward to.

With their tasteful truckers and beards look, bludgeoning riffing and Bonhamesque meets Dave Grohl drumming, the suitably monikered Royal Blood have been a breathe of fresh air, an air raid siren amidst the saturated landscape of singer songwriters and electro pop acts. There are times – and they are many – when we need to seriously rock out and let our collective hair down. Not that this is heavy metal of the old school, more of an amalgamation of grunge, Black Sabbath, Queens of the Stone Age, and a little bit of Rage Against The Machine, White Stripes/Raconteurs and Muse. Their rise to the top has been incredibly quick, and live they have already nailed it, their very simple set up of bass and drums perhaps not the most difficult thing to synthesise when you aren’t burdened with other players. Nevertheless, the sheer power and energy of the duo’s sound has tested many a venues fabric.
With only four songs out in the public domain up to now, the conclusion to be drawn is that they like riffing, and they don’t like artsiness. it’s a quick, go-for-the-neck musical cure, a full-on rush that is heavy and hard all the way. The momentum behind the band has been incredible, culminating in the release of their debut album, which is short but sweet, much like their stage shows, clocking in at under 45 minutes. Within their narrow musical parameters, the dynamism is limited to those parameters, but the album displays enough eclecticism within their sound and song structures, enough to make this a good, maybe great debut album. Of course, there’s that difficult-to-work-out guitar sound… “It’s all a secret, a secret recipe. Just like the Colonel’s!” says Mike, in reference to the legendary Kentucky Fried Chicken recipe of Colonel Saunders. Is it a pitch shifter? Or, maybe the clever use of two or more amps for different strings? Perhaps an octave pedal too? Kerr has admitted before that he came up with the sound by accident (always the best way), whilst learning to play the bass and develop the Royal Blood sound with the use of more than one amp. Whatever the case may be, it’s had many scratching their heads, such is the brilliant effect those four strings have, both on stage and on record where they really go to town: “We just filled a room with four or five amplifiers, all on full and all having a different sound,”says Mike, about the recording process for the album. And all that for just one bass guitar.

Less of a secret is the Arctic Monkeys factor in getting Royal Blood to this point, and so quickly. It all started when the Arctic’s drummer Matt Helders was seen wearing a Royal Blood t-shirt at Glastonbury 2013. “We didn’t know them,” says Mike. “We share the same manager, they came to us before anyone really had heard of us, and they had first dibs on Royal Blood demos. They became our first fans before anyone knew who we were. We didn’t have any merch, we just made him a t-shirt for Glastonbury. So when he wore it (while headlining the Pyramid Stage) it was a big deal for us and out friends, but no one knew who Royal Blood were. It turned into a story afterwards. It didn’t kick anything off at the time.. a bizarre moment.”

The band’s name is also good. So good, you wonder why it hasn’t been used before. “I just made it up, I thought it was a good title for what the band sounded like; to sound grandiose, and English as well,” he says

Kerr’s alternating moaning turns growling and shouting vocal style provides a neat counterpoint to the general pummelling action.”I guess the people for me that made me feel like I could be a singer are Jack White (White Stripes) and Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) and Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), those kind of singer songwriters.” Those musical influences abound on the album; one minute it’s Jack White , the next it’s Josh Homme. Then Black Sabbath sneaks in here and there, while Nirvana make regular appearance, such as on ‘Come On Over’, to the point where it can sound a little too similar. Then there are hints of classic British blues rock a la The Groundhogs, Foo Fighters, and others littered throughout. Despite all these echoes of music past and present, the fact is Royal Blood have mixed it up enough to call their sound their own, helped of course by the unusual line up, and that distinctive bass.

“I wanted to have my own signature sound. I see myself neither as a guitarist or bassist, I see myself as a songwriter and I play piano,” says the Worthing based Mike, whose first instrument is in fact the piano. “Singing and playing bass felt the most comfortable way of doing what we do… I could be more myself with that set up.” Mike’s wicked bass/guitar combo is perfectly complimented by Ben Thatcher’s (Former Rustington resident, now Brighton based) inventive drumming. The two work very well together, and it’s this chemistry that has been key in getting it right, live on stage. “We have such good chemistry, We’ve been playing together for so long. I don’t really have to say anything in the rehearsal, we’re always on the same page.”

“Sometimes the songs start on the bass, then I jump on the piano and write melodies. They are always works in progress. Over time, if I have an idea, I pick up an instrument and when we get together – when me and Ben are together – it’s bass and drums, how it’s going to be. I like switching around when writing. It’s hard to write a vocal with just a bass line, so I get a guitar or piano and you’ve got some chords to work with and it helps me get some perspective to see where I am with the song, if that makes sense…”

As for the eponymous album, while they don’t quite scale the heights of those earlier songs, particularly ‘Little Monster’ and ‘Out of The Black’, there’s a strong consistency to the point where there are no duff moments. ‘Careless’ is a typically bruising number, alternating between hard rock a la Sabbath, while ‘Ten Tonne Skeleton’ is the closest to funk Royal Blood get, ‘You Can Be So Cruel’ is lyrically (not the strongest part of Royal Blood), like much of the album, full of hackneyed stereotypes about failed relationships and people who have done wrong. Not quite in the same league as say Cobian and his acid tongue or Ozzy Osborne with his over the top drama, and ability with memorable lines, still they just about serve their purpose in conveying often visceral outpouring of darkness, interspersed with the occasional bout of romanticism. ‘You made a fool out of me, took the skin off my back/so don’t breathe when I talk as you haven’t been spoken to’ is typical, a hint of aggression in the words and delivery, but never so menacing as to be a turn off, Kerr’s subtle drawl hinting more of world weariness rather than cold revenge. But again, it rocks like a mother, as does the The Groundhogs ‘Cherry Red’ aping ‘Figure It Out’, while blues-rock closer ‘Better Strangers’ even features a tambourine, possibly the only overdub on the whole album.

At the end of the day Kerr and Thatcher are rock fans – Kerr cites fellow grungers/rockers Drenge as a band he likes – and for him it’s an outlet for his dark side; an opportunity to, much like the punters who go to their gigs, let his hair down. They have love on their fingers and lust on their tongues, as Royal Blood have it on ‘Little Monster’, and by golly they sound like they mean it.