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From the very beginning, Royal Blood’s story has been one of two life-long friends, Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher, whose shared passion for rousing, full-throttle hard rock has led them on an extraordinary adventure together – a story of such success that has yet to be repeated, leading to a succession of achievements that are as rare as they are remarkable. One day they were plotting how to recoup the meagre £300 they had spent on their first recording, but within a year they were at the top of UK album charts, storming Glastonbury and winning the BRIT Award for Best British Group.
The duo’s initial outlook reflected the authenticity of the bands they had grown-up admiring. “The aim was simply to make music for ourselves and each other, and we trusted that as the only reliable way to measure the quality of the music we made,” says Mike. “It’s never been about creating music based upon the expectations of the outside world.”
That’s an attitude which still defines everything that they do. Once an album is released, he adds, any opinions that anyone offers are completely out of his control. When all that external noise is stripped away, the only thing that matters is that they’re both proud of the music that they’ve made. It’s a matter of trust, of independence, and of sticking to everything that you believe in.
It’s unusual that such an uncompromising approach results in what appeared to be a classic overnight success story. But, as Mike explains, the reality was somewhat different. “No-one sees the years of playing in loads of bands, that all gets swept under the carpet because the other story is magical and much more wondrous.” Prior to their sudden breakthrough, Mike and Ben had been playing in bands together for years, often under inglorious circumstances such as being stopped after two songs while playing in a pub because the volume was putting customers off their dinners.
Ben compares their slow ascent to that of IDLES or Architects: they’ve been together a similar amount of time, but Royal Blood’s early grind was entirely away from the public eye. As Ben remembers, “We were playing together ten years before Royal Blood blew up, so when it did we were so prepared musically.”
Fast-forward to 2022. ‘Typhoons’ had proven to be a third successful chapter in the Royal Blood tale as it completed a hat-trick of chart-topping albums (the other being 2017’s ‘How Did We Get So Dark?’), underlined by a huge UK arena tour and an array of international festival dates. Their creative juices were flowing, as evidenced by the standalone single ‘Honeybrains’, but there wasn’t a structured plan as to what would come next.
Which, it turns out, was exactly what they needed. Instead, they focused on instinct over analysis, feeling over thinking and let the songs come naturally – a process boosted by having the freedom to stroll down to their studio space near their homes in Brighton whenever a moment of inspiration struck. While everything had changed for Royal Blood over the course of the previous decade, the reason for forming the band was completely unchanged: the simple joy of Mike plugging in, Ben picking up his sticks, and the pair making a racket for the sheer fun of it.
“There’s definitely some of that shoot-from-the-hip mentality when no-one’s looking, and that’s all over our first album,” affirms Mike. “I think it’s probably taken us to get to this point to go full circle.”
Just as importantly, they cast aside any preconceptions of what Royal Blood should be. Buoyed by the reaction greeted to the piano-based live favourite ‘All We Have Is Now’, they allowed themselves the freedom to embrace other ideas: at times being guided by melodies rather than riffs and rhythms, and at others deploying whatever instrumentation they felt best complemented the songs. If in doubt, they returned to a core belief: that the sound of Royal Blood isn’t defined by genre or the instruments that they play, but by the unique chemistry forged by the two friends.
While the recent single ‘Mountains At Midnight’ offered a supercharged take on the old school Royal Blood prototype, the resulting album, ‘Back To The Water Below’, offers plenty of surprises without ever compromising the essence of their identity. ‘Shiner In The Dark’ sets a rock ‘n’ roll swagger to the tight, danceable rhythms that pulsated throughout the ‘Typhoons’ album. Devoid of distortion, ‘The Firing Line’ represents a bigger departure, its ‘90s alt-rock tone and an underbelly of psychedelia later elevated by a chiming piano melody. ‘Pull Me Through’ goes further still, uniting the plaintive piano with a full-blooded denouement. They’re songs which will not only provide a broader spectrum of moods, but that will provide the contrasts to amplify the power of their most fiery moments.
As Ben credits, “Watching Mike, the progression in his songwriting, and going to different chords, which is where a lot of the piano stuff comes in, feels really interesting and unique. I think that’s a major part of this record.”
Key to achieving their creative liberation was the decision to produce the record entirely independently for the first time. “I think sometimes having someone make you try things you wouldn’t normally do can be helpful, but it can make you do something out of character and, therefore, something that isn’t natural” says Mike.
Ben nods in agreement. “It’s normally the first thing that you do that’s the most natural. Then we go and explore other ideas and other ways of doing things and it takes you on a journey. It helps you realise that what you had in the first place was the right thing.”
Those two statements hint at the almost intuitive connection that the pair share. Mike appears to carefully consider every statement he makes but is also open to sharing his thoughts on any question posed. Meanwhile, Ben lets his bandmate do most of the heavy lifting but regularly jumps in with a succinct observation to emphasis Mike’s point or cracks a joke to shift the tone.
They’re most animated when sharing some of their memories together, whether it’s remembering how Ben continued to drum in a weekend cover band even after Royal Blood had signed their first publishing deal (Mike: “Ben just loves playing music, so the more drums he played he better”) or Ben’s awe at the huge crowd that greeted them when they made their Glastonbury debut (“We walked on stage and there were more people waiting outside the tent than could fit inside”).
So much of the madness that followed felt alien to them, but their friendship and their music provided an anchor. Their own heroes were renowned for the music rather than any celebrity status, and that’s precisely what Royal Blood have replicated. It’s a brotherhood, a bromance, an us-versus-the-world-mentality. Or in the surprisingly tender words of Ben: “I think the love for each other is there and we always have each other’s back. There’s a lot of love and care.”
And between the upcoming release of ‘Back To The Water Below’ and a landmark homecoming show on Brighton Beach, those modest yet powerful principles continue to inform Royal Blood’s future. “I think about the innocence of where this all began, and I’m just proud,” beams Mike. “Despite where we’ve ended up, the ethos of the band has remained the same and the intentions of what we do haven’t been shaken.”