Royal Blood's Mike Kerr reflects ahead of the band's upcoming Australian tour: "I think there's something incredibly childlike about being creative, and as you get older, it's really important to hold on to that."
Royal Blood are far from the fierce two-piece with the sound of a four or five-piece outfit of their 2014 self-titled debut.
Where their first album contained punchy, sassy, mysterious numbers and won over the masses with bassist and singer Mike Kerr’s crooning vocals and distorted melodies and drummer Ben Thatcher’s unparalleled energy, their fourth album, Back To The Water Below, released in September of this year, contains the rock and roll grit with new moments of surprising beauty. To say that Royal Blood have grown ambitious in the last ten years is an understatement.
Their new album, while rocking, finds Kerr on the piano, revisiting some of the music he listened to growing up, such as The Beatles and T. Rex. The band find new comforts in stretching their boundaries, crafting intelligent piano-based Britpop meets rock songs in the form of Pull Me Through, The Firing Line, and There Goes My Cool.
Initially sounding like a blend of early Muse and The White Stripes, now, Royal Blood have a distinctive sound that’s all too satisfying to hear. Since their formation in 2011, the British duo have developed a signature sound of the two members utilising their instruments, guitar pedals and amplifiers to get those dirty noises out of Kerr’s bass guitar.
In 2013, Royal Blood were signed to the American publishing company Warner Chappell Music – a subsidiary of Warner Music Group, released five albums: 2014’s Royal Blood, 2017’s How Did We Get So Dark?, 2021’s Typhoons, and this year’s Back To The Water Below, and toured the globe, opening for the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Foo Fighters and Muse, as well as embarking on steadily larger headline runs.
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Next month, Royal Blood return to Australia for the first time since 2018, bringing two new albums and local special guests Psychedelic Porn Crumpets and The Buoys along for the ride.
When The Music reunites with Kerr, he’s having a “nothing day” in the US amidst a rigorous touring schedule. Relaxing in comfy clothes and chatting via Zoom, the singer and multi-instrumentalist reveals that he’s pumped to return to Australia in December after having previously lived on the Gold Coast.
“I lived in Australia for a little bit. I'm a big fan [of Australia] and touring it,” he says. “It's only been great for us; it's just annoying that it's been this long, honestly, to come back. So, it feels way overdue. It's gonna be great.” On whether or not he embraced the lifestyle by the beach when he previously lived on the Gold Coast, Kerr laughs, admitting that he tried surfing, but he wasn’t very good.
Last time Royal Blood were in Australia, The Music’s Bryget Chrisfield declared that the band were “gold-medal contenders in the two-piece category of the Gig Olympics. They totally smash it” after witnessing them in all their glory at Melbourne’s Margaret Court Arena. While Kerr smiles at the comment and appreciates the nice things critics or fans have to say about Royal Blood, ultimately, he doesn’t choose to take in any validation from elsewhere.
“How do I put this?” Kerr asks, “People saying nice things about us is really nice. But, yeah, any sense of achievement is. It's a very small world we keep ourselves in, and when we're making music, I'm just trying to impress Ben and challenge myself, you know? Anytime we're put into a category with other great bands is very generous, but I don't read anything about myself.”
More often than not, there isn’t much good on the internet – “except for dog and cat videos,” Kerr notes, and there are more important things to be concerned about, like having new music to play live on stage.
“I think having four albums has made playing live easier than ever because, in the beginning, it's like you're hostage to your best material – basically all the material you have – to put on a satisfactory show,” he says. “Whereas now, it feels like we can change the setlist a bit more. It’s actually quite fun.”
Kerr explains his inspirations for the new album, “When we were making it, I don't feel like I was listening to too much [music]. I feel like we tend to avoid that and focus on what we're making. But, I think what happens as a result is that all the kinds of things that have influenced us over the years bleed through rather than something we just listened to.
“There's a lot of music that I grew up with, like The Beatles and T. Rex, that I think bled their way onto the record and onto the songs, and I think a big part of that was the fact that a lot of the songs were written at the piano. That's where I really fell in love with music properly when I sat at the piano and was learning Beatles songs and Queen songs. So, it brought me back to that feeling and that moment in my life.”
Kerr believes that the childlike enthusiasm that inspired his journey with music to start with and made its way onto Back To The Water Below was the best thing that could have happened and where “anything good” comes from. “I think there's something incredibly childlike about being creative, and I think as you get older, it's really important to hold on to that,” he says.
Interestingly enough, Kerr mentioning T. Rex follows another recent The Music interview in which Icehouse’s Iva Davies and Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr detailed the influence of the band and frontman Marc Bolan on their lives. Mike Kerr, over 30 years younger than both of those singers, has also found significant inspiration in Marc Bolan.
To Kerr, T. Rex crafted “some of the coolest music ever made and some of the best recordings. It's just timeless.” And Marc Bolan was at the centre of it all. “I think the thing that really made me believe I could be the singer in a rock band was Marc Bolan’s voice because it was very soft, quite feminine, and quite well-spoken.
“I think a lot of the rock that I did hear had a lot of, like, screaming and very masculine vocals, and it was kind of like, ‘Oh, I like this, but I don't know how I would fit into this’,” he states, “And to hear T. Rex, I felt like it gave me permission to try being a singer, basically, in the context of a rock band.”
Marc Bolan was essential in Kerr’s belief around and expression of masculinity; that he could be quieter, introspective, and still rock. As Kerr puts it, “Sometimes, the most macho thing you can do is wear eyeliner and put on a feather boa.”
Kerr and Thatcher found recording Back To The Water Below thrilling, with the frontman noting that the recording process and organisation was the best part. “Everything felt very written, and it meant that when we were making the record, it was all about sounds and capturing performances,” he says.
The experience with Back To The Water Below was a stark difference from the past, where Kerr recalled far more writing going on in the studio, which felt like it “could kind of separate your brain into too many pieces, and you're trying to do too many jobs at once.
“So, when it came to recording, it was just really fun and really inspiring because we knew we had the goods,” he shares. “And then the challenge was just getting to that point where you can walk into the door and do that because it's a lot of hitting your head against the wall and coming up with nothing and fleeting moments of writing really important songs. And, you know, they're important immediately – it's all worth it when the song comes through. That's why it's [recording] is so addictive.”
When announcing their new album back in May, Kerr reflected on the band’s journey so far and explained in a press release, “No-one saw the years of us playing in loads of bands to no-one, that all gets swept under the carpet because the other story is magical and much more wondrous. Luck is where passion meets opportunity. We got our golden ticket and walked out as tiny ninjas.”
He continued, “We were in the right place at the right time, and we have to remember to give ourselves the credit that we didn’t get into this position by winning a quiz show; we put in a serious amount of work. It’s taken us four albums to realise this isn’t luck; we’re good, and we’re committed to this.”
While Kerr acknowledges the duo’s hard work and commitment, his mindset is that “for some reason, we're in this position, and we're just squeezing the life out of it, really, and trying to make the best music we can.
“I do feel like we were in the right place at the right time,” he notes, “I also think preparation meets opportunity. I feel like we got a golden ticket. Luckily, we had been playing together for a long time, and I felt as prepared as we could be. And then, when it started, you realise people are not prepared whatsoever.
“It's a hard one to sit down and reverse engineer how you ended up in this place, and there are a lot of components.” For Kerr and Thatcher, the most significant component is their families and upbringing. “The support we got from our families to pursue music is quite rare, and I think without that, you're playing with a very different hand. It's a very extreme experience to go through. We're very fortunate that it's the two of us.”
Royal Blood are touring in Australia and New Zealand this December. You can purchase tickets via the Frontier Touring website. Back To The Water Below is out now.
Thursday 7 December - Spark Arena | Auckland, NZ (Lic. All Ages)
Monday 11 December - Riverstage | Brisbane, QLD (Lic. All Ages)
Wednesday 13 December - Hordern Pavilion | Sydney, NSW (Lic. All Ages)
Friday 15 December - Festival Hall | Melbourne, VIC (18+)
Tuesday 19 December - Hindley Street Music Hall | Adelaide, SA (18+)
Thursday 21 December - HBF Stadium | Perth, WA (Lic. All Ages)