Frontman Mike Kerr talks about the natural origins of Royal Blood, how not having a guitarist is similar to making a pizza, and what the band’s first time in the studio was like recording their debut.
I’m assuming this year has been pretty much a whirlwind for you two. How have you been able to keep sane through it all and not have it be too overwhelming?
I guess from the beginning the band didn’t really have much of an agenda. Me and Ben have always been playing music together for a very long time. Having experienced some form of success, I guess you could say now, how do we deal with it? That’s a good question.
To me, it’s how much you really cheat into that. I think that’s your choice. I think you can really experience the kind of tension and the whirlwind if you choose to. I’m not entirely sure that’s our choice, do you know what I mean? I think it’s more of a decision than a tactic.
It’s pretty rare these days for a band that’s really young and been around for as short a time period as you have to catch on this rapidly. What do you think it is about your music that has struck a chord and been able to grab people like it’s been able to?
I’m not too sure, if I’m honest. I think it’s hard to truly understand why it’s caught on the way it has. Maybe it’s the right band, right place kind of thing. I don’t know. From our perspective, it seems out of the blue, really. We didn’t think we’d even be on the radio, let alone on the charts.
In hindsight, I guess you can analyze why. Like I said, I don’t think you can really put a finger on one particular reason. Given that most music on the air at the moment is electronic and hip-hop, we’re the rock. How that works? Well, it’s a mystery, isn’t it?
The story of you getting together is Ben picked you up at the airport after you had been on a trip to Australia. You guys got together and played a gig the next day, and the rest is history. What allowed you to click together so quickly and start the band like that?
Maybe it’s a personality thing. We’ve never had a board meeting, to put it that way. We’ve always been doing gigs and doing things, and not thinking about them too much. I guess the nature of the band was from that first rehearsal. It went well. We made a decision not to have a guitarist, and then the next decision was to play a show. It was like one quick decision after the other.
I’m not entirely sure why it had that kind of energy from the beginning. Maybe a big reason was we were enjoying it a lot. It’s like if you got a brand new pair of shiny shorts. You got them on at home and go, “Yeah, these are cool shiny shorts.” You’re not going to put them away and then go out for dinner. You’re going to call all your friends up and you’re going to show everyone your new shiny shorts.
Maybe the band was like our shiny shorts, you know? We just couldn’t wait to show everybody. We didn’t actually wear shiny shorts by the way. We didn’t wear anything for that matter.
[Laughs] Nice, good to know. So you got a lot of buzz from Glastonbury last year when Matt from Arctic Monkeys wore your T-shirt, but you barely had any music out at that point. Did you feel any sort of pressure to write and get an album out as quickly as you could?
No. When Matthew Helders wore our band’s T-shirt, the amount of attention it created was minimal. That wasn’t really the intention. It was more of a nod to us from the stage. I think we had one fan we gained from it in the end, which put us up to 123 friends on Facebook at the time instead of 122. There was no pressure to write or get our shit together because someone wore our T-shirt.
I mean, my friends have worn my T-shirts many of times and it certainly hasn’t changed the way I look at things. But then again, I’m not wearing a T-shirt right now. Sometimes you wear them and sometimes you don’t, but in my case, I’m definitely not.
As of right now, you’ve only officially released 11 songs, which clocks in at a pretty short runtime. Is that tough then when you’re playing a live show, to only have that few of songs to pull from?
Because the set’s so short, we’ve decided to just play the first song three or four times in a row. That seems to kind of kill enough time. We’re actually getting away with it as well. That’s the funny thing. That’s kind of how we deal with that.
Have you talked about maybe throwing some covers in or anything like that?
Yes. I probably can’t tell you what cover it is, but we do have a special cover prepared. You’ll just have to wait and see. I’ll give you a clue, though. The first letters of the name are B-B-A.
The first song I heard from you, and I think most people heard, was “Out of the Black.” I had no idea you were just playing a bass on that, which I assume a lot of people aren’t aware of when they’re first listening to it. How did you arrive at that decision to go with the bass over the more traditional guitar?
Well, I just tried it out. We didn’t go into the room going, “Let’s just start with bass and drums.” I picked up a bass, me and Ben had a jam, and then that was it. We decided to not have a guitarist by default, really.
It’s like if you started making a pizza, you’re also making the simultaneous decision to not make lasagna. You didn’t choose to not make lasagna, you just chose to make pizza. You didn’t make two decisions. It’s the same with us. We went with the mode where I’m going to play bass. We didn’t decide to not have a guitar, I just decided to play bass.
In your writing process when the songs are first starting out, is the bass still heavily distorted like that, or is it more stripped down?
I don’t think there’s any format for the writing process. It’s whatever comes naturally. Every song starts in a different way. I guess that in general, though, they’re put together in a room with me and Ben on the right corresponding instruments. We jam together, for lack of a stinkier word, until it starts sounding good.
As far as the crazy sounds you’re able to get, how much of that is trial and error, and how long can it take for you to get something you like?
In terms of all the sounds, I kind of really have one sound that I do a lot, and that took quite a while. Apart from that, I don’t really feel like I have a buffet of pedals or sounds. It’s just kind of the same thing, really. I’m not necessarily on my hands and knees every day trying to work things out. Well, with pedals anyways.
When you were recording the album, you wanted to keep it as raw as possible, with minimal overdubs, and try to do it in one take if possible. What was that experience like? How difficult was it trying to do it like that?
It was actually pretty easy, really. There’s not a lot to record for us, so it’s not that difficult. I think if you spend enough time recording, it becomes mental, kind of like when you say the same word over and over again. It starts sounding weird, and then after a while it doesn’t sound like a word anymore. Custard, custard, custard, custard, custard, custard, custard, custard… Like that. After a while, custard doesn’t sound like custard, you know what I mean? To me, that’s what the studio is like.
What do you think is the biggest lesson you learned from doing the first album that you’ll take away and maybe apply down the line?
I don’t know. I guess the more work you put in, the more worth it it is. That sounds really lame now after I said that. It took a lot of work to do that record, and it was fairly worth it. I’d say if there’s a lesson anywhere, I’m sure that’s one.
How long did you end up working on the record?
Being a two-piece, there’s certain limitations that come with it just being two people. How do you flip that on its head and turn what might be considered a weakness into an advantage?
I don’t know, really. I think after about a week of being in a two-piece, that novelty wore off. Suddenly you’re just in a band again. Obviously, there’s limitations, like you can’t have a guitar on your record, but that’s not a limitation. That’s just a fact. I don’t see there to be any limitations. If anything, I kind of feel like there’s more options.
So more of a freedom, then?
There’s more options, yeah. There’s more you can do.
You’ve talked before about some of the blues influence that you have and how you’re able to tap into that primal nature when it’s just two guys playing. Can you talk about how you first got into that kind of music and have been able to apply it to Royal Blood?
Again, I’m not sure. The blues is quite a vague thing there, isn’t it? I don’t know. I’m just influenced by the music I listen to, and I guess some of that was from that ilk. I’m not entirely sure is my honest answer.
As far as lyrically, what does your process look like there? Is that something you write after the song is written?
Every song is different, like I said. There’s not really a format. On some songs the lyrics were first, other songs they came halfway through, and then some songs had no lyrics until I wrote them afterwards. It’s always different.
On the record there’s a fair amount of dark imagery, I guess you could say. There’s talk of blood, death and all that good stuff. Where do you think that comes from?
A subconscious place in my mind perhaps. I’m not sure. Not a lot of thought goes into this band. We just do what comes naturally and what feels good. It’s hard to answer questions like this. If there was a method, I’d be doing it every day, but there’s not. It’s a mystery. I think Frank Zappa once said, “Talking about music is a bit like dancing about architecture.”
Before the band, you were a chef and were thinking about pursuing that. How did you like doing that and what changed your mind to switch to music full-time?
Well, I was always doing both, but probably doing both really badly because my time was split. It was mostly cooking. I think I always knew I wanted to do music, but I didn’t have a job in music, I had a job in a restaurant. When that changed and I had a job in music, then that was the decision. Well, it wasn’t really my decision. That was just the changing point.
A lot of publications, especially back in the U.K., have liked to dub you as the new saviors of rock. I’m sure that’s certainly flattering on one hand, but kind of ridiculous on the other. How do you respond when that kind of stuff is said?
First of all, rock didn’t die. Ever. Calling us the saviors of rock is like, I don’t know. We didn’t save anything. It’s like thank you, but I don’t understand. Like you said, it’s simultaneously flattering as it is mental.
Looking ahead down the line, where do you think you go from here? What does the future of Royal Blood look like?
We don’t know what the future holds. Hopefully, we’ll just get better at what we do and grow with everything. That’s the only real agenda if there is one. I think just enjoy it even more than we do, if that’s even possible. It’s all about fun in our camp.
You have played something like 100 shows in the last year. Have you been able to tell how much you’ve grown from the beginning to now?
Yeah, definitely. Like anything you do more, you get better at it, so I have definitely noticed.
Originally appeared on Absolute Punk