Royal Blood interview: On the road with the Brighton duo

The band talk Coachella, live shows and Foo Fighters

Craig McLean
Thursday 11 June 2015 17:11
Let it bleed: Ben Thatcher and Mike Kerr or Royal Blood
Let it bleed: Ben Thatcher and Mike Kerr or Royal Blood

In the boiling hot heat of the Colorado Desert, Royal Blood are hard at work. Very hard at work. The Brighton band’s second-stage slot at California’s Coachella festival has pitched them straight into the hottest part of the day. There are only two of them (and two instruments) to fill this big space (even though they manage to sound like a full band). The pair are dressed in their customary head-to-toe black; and they’re facing directly into the blazing sun. It’s a tough gig.

But true to the raging form that has propelled Royal Blood on a world tour that is now well into its second year, singer/bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher rise to the occasion rather than buckle. They play with a ferocious intensity that takes the heavy, dynamic, metal-blues of their self-titled debut album to another, ear-splitting, head-banging level.

At one point, mid-set, Thatcher throws himself into the audience for a crowd-surfing interlude. At others, he wanders the stage absent-mindedly while Kerr conjures his famously expansive – and, still, brilliantly mysterious – noise from his Gretsch. It’s a guitar-meets-bass racket that’s both intricate and explosive. The Coachella fans, centred round a furiously dancing mosh-circle of topless, tattooed Californian bros, lap it up.

Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher of Royal Blood

For a while Thatcher stands on his drum stool and simply surveys the crowd – it’s the closest Royal Blood ever get to an onstage breather.

“Well, you have to give them a little bit of drama sometimes, don’t you?” he explains mildly. “There’s times where I just walk off stage in between songs, and just chill out, and just let Mike get on with it. Mike’s doing his thing. It’s fine. Then I’ll come back on.”

“Ben will front the band as much as I will,” Kerr adds. “That’s the whole thing. There’s stuff I can’t do. It’s about both of us attacking the crowd together. Just ’cause I’ve got the microphone doesn’t mean I’m the leader.” And how about performing in that kind of heat?

“We’re used to doing shows under difficult conditions, says Kerr, “that’s just part of being in a touring band.” And the ever-present black clothes (and, for Thatcher, a snap-brim baseball cap) – are those part of it too? A uniform, to go to work?

Thatcher shrugs: “It’s just what we wear.” Do they black off-duty too?.

“We’re always on duty,” says Kerr.

Mike Kerr of the Royal Blood performing at the Electric Ballroom

Two days after their Coachella performance, Royal Blood are in Los Angeles. The night brings their largest-yet US headline show, at the 1,800-capacity Henry Fonda Theatre. This, they think, is their seventh US tour. Sitting on the roof of the theatre post-soundcheck, the close-knit pair insist that they’re far from bored with themselves, each other or the music they write together.

“The fact that we’ve done it so much – we pretty much do it every day – means the songs have taken on new personalities from the ones they had in the first place,” says Kerr, 25. “And we’re just getting better at putting on a show. We’ve gone from being a band that just used to play our songs in a particular order to a band that has grown with the size of the shows. There’s always new things emerging.” He and Thatcher do seem to have an almost telepathic connection, I suggest.

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“It’s just from doing something every single day,” the drummer, 26 and married, replies with a shrug. “If you’re on a computer keyboard, the first time you’re on it, you’re a bit hesitant,” Thatcher says, embarking on perhaps the least rock’n’roll analogy ever, “but if you’re working on it very single day, you do it quicker.”

The surprise appearance of Brighton duo Royal Blood at the top of the charts

For Royal Blood, this early summer swing through America is the latest leg of a tour that predates last August’s release of their self-titled album. Their profile was rocket-powered when the raucous, melodic, 10-song, 33-minute debut entered the UK charts at No 1, and received another boost when the duo won two NME Awards in February (Best Live Band, Best New Band) and Best British Group at this year’s Brit Awards. Their album has now sold more than 400,000 copies in the UK and more than a million worldwide.

Worldwide, then, Royal Blood are the biggest new British rock band around. Not that you’d get much sense of that stature from a pair of old friends who are friendly enough, but are as flatly undemonstrative offstage as they are rambunctiously extrovert on it. But maybe they’re simply saving their energy for where it matters. Kerr talks of their “old school” approach to building their profile – that is by gigging, and then gigging some more – shepherded by the same management as Arctic Monkeys.

“It’s just having a good instinct for how you don’t want to do it,” says Kerr, a quietly charismatic individual who’s something of a hit with the ladies. “To be honest with you, most of how we’ve done things comes from us listening to people who are far more experienced – our manager, [artists] who’ve done it the wrong way and regretted it, and from bands we love. We’ve paid attention to their careers over the years, and they haven’t done anything lame. Which is why they’re cool.”

Royal Blood

Chief amongst these lodestone artists are Foo Fighters. This summer Royal Blood support Dave Grohl’s band on a tour of stadia, arenas and amphitheatres, both here and in the US.

“It’s that conversation you have where you ask: what would you do if you won the lottery?” begins Kerr. “And most people would do really boring, uninspiring things with the money. But someone like Dave Grohl, where he’s got all these possibilities, all these things to do, he actually goes through and experiments and explores new things to do. We’re not playing with Foo Fighters because they’re playing stadiums. We’re paying with them because they’re the Foo Fighters. I’d do a tour of baby showers with the Foo Fighters.” Would they do an acoustic set? Kerr winces, almost.

“No, we did it once. And we said, ‘we should never do that again’.”

“It’s like Radiohead doing a country set,” says Thatcher. “‘Can you do this, but can you add Taylor Swift and only use maracas?’”

“It’s just not who we are,” Kerr concludes. “If we went down the line to write a song for that purpose, then maybe… But yeah, it’d just be like cutting our balls off. Which, you know,” he says with a flicker of a smile, “wouldn’t be nice.”

Royal Blood support Foo Fighters at London’s Wembley Stadium (19 and 20 June) and Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium (23 June)

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