- 28 Jul 17
Blues-rock heroes Royal Blood discuss their cracking new album How Did We Get So Dark?, writing music for Martin Scorsese’s Vinyl, and hanging out with celebrity fans Dave Grohl and Jimmy Page. ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Roisin Dwyer
“I think making an album should always be difficult, you should always be prodding at something and trying to improve it,” muses Mike Kerr. “Once ‘Lights Out’ was released there was less pressure, we had set the bar.” The Royal Blood singer and bassist is seated in Dublin’s Morrison Hotel with drummer and bandmate Ben Thatcher, discussing difficult second album syndrome – or lack of, as it transpires.
The rise of the duo has undoubtedly been meteoric. A mere three years ago, your humble correspondent was chatting to them in the modest surrounds of The Workman’s Club before their first Dublin show. Fast-forward to the present day and they have have just announced a headline 3Arena date, played Slane on a bill with Guns N Roses, toured the world with the Foo Fighters and count the likes of Jimmy Page and Lars Ulrich amongst their fans.
Their second LP How Did We Get So Dark? retains the same sonic power and core sensibilities as its predecessor, incorporating new elements such as hip-hop and funk. The first taster from the album arrived in the form of ‘Where Are You Now?’, a track penned for HBO’s Vinyl. But as Mike explains, the album has a multitude of influences.
“I think every song on the album has its own kind of inspiration,” he says. “I wouldn’t say there is any key thing that has inspired the whole thing. I think we were just excited going to territory we hadn’t gone before… I think it’s more roll than rock on this one. Ben always says keep the rock rocking and the roll rolling – that definitely resonates over the entire album.”
“That Vinyl track was the first time we had written for a visual, and it was definitely inspiring. It’s something that we will continue to do. On the tourbus, we will always have The Good, The Bad And The Ugly on mute, while we play the guitar or think about music.”
So there may be more soundtrack work in the pipeline?
“Definitely!” Mike enthuses. “This whole band is an elaborate setup to try and get a Bond theme and then we’re done!”
In the run up to the album’s release, Kerr stated they were out to break the rules. What did he mean by that?
“Not the rules, our rules,” he corrects me. “We went really crazy on this one; we put tambourines on it, we put harmonies on it. Our producer tried to include bongos as well but we didn’t go for that.”
So what was the most sonically adventurous part that made the cut?
“I hit myself in the face a few times!” laughs Ben. “You might think it’s a handclap.”
“Basically I couldn’t see Ben,” adds Mike, “but I could hear him clapping, so I was going, ‘Try hitting your leg or try hitting your arms!’ Then I heard a noise and said, ‘Whatever that is, that’s it!’ It was him slapping his face. Geniuses at work, eh?”
The pair are indeed quite the pranksters. The downtime during the recording sessions caused much of a stir on Instagram as they regularly uploaded videos of themselves goofing around in the studio, and belting out the most unlikely covers.
“Well, we don’t have the best attention spans!” smiles Mike. “The Instagram thing was like, ‘Hey let’s film ourselves and share it with lots of people!’ The next thing we’re at a piano in the corner smashing ‘Gold’ by Spandau Ballet out. It’s too good an opportunity to miss basically.”
Internet clips also brought the guys to the attention of Dave Grohl, resulting in a bromance that exists to this day.
“He invited us out because he had seen a few clips of us on YouTube,” says Mike, “which is a funny thought – Dave Grohl in his pants watching us on Youtube! So then we did a shitload of touring with them.”
So did Ben and Dave indulge in lots of drum talk as is skinsmen’s wont? “Not really, because he had a broken leg at the time but I chatted lots with Taylor,” says Ben. “That’s all he talks about actually. Drums and cycling!”
Over the years the pair have on many an occasion rubbed shoulders with rock royalty. Mike identifies Bono and Ben chatting at the MTV Awards as the most surreal.
“Ben grew up in Rustington, where about three people live,” he notes, “and then there he is making friends with Bono backstage at the MTV Awards! I never thought I would see that, I never thought it would actually happen.
“Bono asked me is if I was going to do Band Aid 30 and I said, ‘Only if I can sing your line’,” recalls Ben. “He started laughing and was like, ‘Of course you can’t do that.’ It was a very strange moment!”
Another pinch-me moment occurred when Led Zep legend Jimmy Page turned up at a New York show.
“It was so trippy because he is the Godfather of rock ’n’ roll and so much of my playing is him,” admits Kerr. “I’ve managed to make a career out of trying to be a terrible Jimmy Page rip-off! His enthusiasm for our music is pretty amazing.”
“When he turned up at the show it was terrible!” he continues. “Imagine trying to do a gig and Jimmy Page is staring at you! But when he started headbanging my mind was blown. Then we met him afterwards and he was lovely, really laid back.”
How Did We Get So Dark? is out now on Warner Music. Royal Blood play 3Arena, Dublin on November 26.