|When Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher sat down to talk about making a new Royal Blood album, they knew what they wanted to achieve with it, and what they were determined to avoid. The former involved a conscious return to their musical roots, when, in their first band Flavour Country, they had made music that was deeply influenced by artists such as Daft Punk, Justice, and Philippe Zdar of Cassius. The latter was easy: they had to relocate the purity, innocence and joy of their early days as Royal Blood, to go back to the basics of chemistry, telepathy, hunger and drive that had made their self-titled debut album, with its brutal and utterly novel soundbed of bass played like a lead guitar and thunderous drums, so thrilling, visceral and original.
Mike uses an arresting analogy to describe the experience of going stratospheric as a band, releasing one of the fastest selling British debut albums this century, topping the charts and being showered with awards and platinum discs – and then realising you’re expected to repeat the magic formula. “It’s a bit like telling the same joke twice,” says Royal Blood’s frontman and bassist, “and trying to get the audience to laugh as hard the second time.” “He’s not wrong,” laughs drummer Ben. “It was like: ‘You’re the saviours of rock’n’roll, here are a ton of awards.’ And then suddenly: ‘Do it again. But better.’”
Two South Coast boys with big dreams that came true pretty much overnight, they hardly had time to draw breath after the vast success of their debut album, and the globe-spanning tour and festival dates that followed. Reconvening to record the follow-up, How Did We Get So Dark, felt like being inside a pressure cooker. “There’s so much riding on you, so much expectation and responsibility,” says Mike. “That was handed to us incredibly quickly, and every day, it went up a notch. Every show was bigger. It felt like we were doing something for the first time, every time. You just have to hold on and not drown.” “It becomes strangely isolating,” says Ben. “Our world was getting smaller and smaller, while everything around us was growing. Look, our job is so much fun, we’ve been taken on an incredible ride, and we’ve loved pretty much every moment. But you can forget that you are allowed to have bad days.”
The pandemic had delayed the release of the new album. No worries, they say: more time to refine, distill, perfect. “These new songs gave me this incredible freedom, vocally and instrumentally,” says Mike. “I got to dance across the groove, if that makes sense – it was something to slice over, and that felt exhilarating. We realized that there was a genius in just deleting stuff, paring things back. You’d suddenly get hit with air, with space. We kept cutting parts and sounds. It was such a revealing and thrilling experience.” Less is more, then? “Less is definitely more,” says Mike, as Ben laughs beside him. “Of everything.” Except? “Passion, purity, reality.” “And beats,” says Ben, a man of fewer words than his old friend but clearly determined to have the last one.
Better put on your dancing shoes, then. Royal Blood are back. And their future starts here.