Royal Blood: Darkness falls
The pressure is on for Royal Blood to deliver with album number two.
Published: 8:05 am, June 15, 2017
Royal Blood drummer Ben Thatcher is attempting to explain exactly why he and vocalist/bassist Mike Kerr’s debut album was such a huge success, but he’s struggling to come up with a definitive answer. “It’s a bit of a mystery to us! Trying to calculate it in my head, it could’ve been anything. Maybe we came out at a time when there was a lack of rock music going on, or a lack of rock music that people wanted to hear – but I’m not actually too sure!”
Rock hasn’t been a major feature of mainstream music in recent years – not that it hasn’t been there, of course, it’s just not been on the radio much – but Royal Blood’s rapid rise to prominence since forming in 2013 is proof that people will still show up for big riffs. And boy are fans showing up in their droves for Mike and Ben at the moment. Speaking not long after his band’s triumphant hometown show return at the Brighton Concorde 2, Ben is revelling in the love that remains for Royal Blood, and it’s clear from the reception to the band’s live return that this is band are more than a flash in the pan. Royal Blood mean something to an awful lot of people.
“The gig was amazing!” enthuses Ben. “It was great to be back in Brighton where we first started playing, and at a small venue like Concorde. The buzz for tickets and the people queueing outside since the night before they went on sale to get them was amazing to see, and we sold the tickets through local record shop [Resident] which was really great. It’s a great store where we’d go to buy records, and we thought it’d be cool to sell the tickets through them. There was a great buzz around the whole thing, and it felt so good to walk out onto a stage again. We needed to start playing shows; we hadn’t played in a year-and-a-half, so we wanted to have our first show back in our hometown where it all started, and it was really nice to be able to play in front our family and friends, before we go out into the world and share our new music with everyone else!”
Brighton has always been a creative hub of the UK, and Royal Blood aren’t the only shining lights of the seaside resort’s music scene: Dork favourites and certified banger merchants Black Honey also hail from the town, and Ben couldn’t have been happier at the fact that they joined Royal Blood for their intimate run of pre-album release shows in May. “They’re a fantastic band, and they’ve been going for a while under different names and line-ups,” Ben says of the indie-popsters. “They’re friends of ours from Brighton, and Izzy [Baxter, vocals/guitar] is a fantastic performer – she’s just really, really cool, and they have some really great songs which match us perfectly. With music in general, we feel that if you have too much of the same thing, that’s not good; if we had straight-up rock bands playing with us all the time it wouldn’t be very exciting. It’s nice to have a bit of variation in style, and it’s really great that we’ve been able to take them out.”
But despite how bloody brilliant Black Honey are, the main attraction of these gigs – and the shows Royal Blood will play across festivals this summer and UK arenas in the autumn – is that the world finally gets to hear the songs from new album, ‘How Did We Get So Dark?’, in all their unhinged, uninhibited and unshackled live glory. And like Royal Blood fans the world over, Ben can’t wait for everyone to experience the songs he and Mike have been working on.
“This new record is more glam,” Ben states. “There’s a bit more of a Marc Bolan, T-Rex feel to the vocals and guitars. But there’s also quite a lot of hip-hop elements to the drums; we were listening to a lot of Kendrick Lamar, and we listened to Glass Animals quite a bit – and the grooves in it and some of the song-writing elements of that band are reflected in the record. We really wanted to write some different songs that had different features; there’s a lot of Black Sabbath-style riff-rock too!”
“The songwriting has really progressed for us. Learning how to play together again, we’ve experimented with different sounds, and there are a few different things going on for us on this album. If you take ‘Hole In Your Heart’, for example, we start the song with keys, which is something that we’ve never done before, and there were things that we were only learning about on the first record that we’ve been able to apply to this one, so there was a lot of experimentation with all of that.”
The first glimpse of Royal Blood’s new found ‘glamness’ came in the shape of lead-single ‘Lights Out’; a familiar-sounding Royal Blood track in many respects, but one that hints at broadened musical horizons on album number two. “‘Lights Out’ is a song that establishes the record,” explains Ben. “It’s still quite heavy, but it has a few new elements in it. It was obvious to us that it was going to show what the rest of the songs on the album have a feel for. Picking a favourite song on the album is difficult, but ‘Lights Out’ was certainly the most enjoyable to record!”
As well as being the introduction to the band’s new sound, ‘Lights Out’, and fellow single ‘Hook, Line & Sinker’, present Royal Blood in a darker, more brooding mood this time around. “This album definitely goes darker than the previous one, and the scenarios that inspired the songs were darker for sure,” reveals Ben. “But I also think that ‘How Did We Get So Dark?’ has the lightest moments compared to our previous music. We wanted to do something that was musically ‘softer’, but also write songs that were heavier than anything we’d done; so you get songs like ‘Don’t Tell’, which have a softer element, and then there’s ‘Hook, Line & Sinker’, which is quite brutal.”
Brutality may be present on their album, but when it comes to the members themselves, and the outlook Mike and Ben have on being a hugely successful rock band, things are much more positive than they are pessimistic. Ben is just thankful that despite some of the drawbacks that come with being an artist, he gets to live out a life that most could only dream of.
“We’re very lucky to be able to do what we do; we know that very well, so focusing on the negatives that come with doing this doesn’t really make much sense. You have to snap out of them, because they’re actually quite silly when you think about what we could be doing. Obviously this is a job, and we do live normal lives and have things that happen that are very human and normal, but despite that, we feel very lucky to be able to play music for a career, and to get to tour the world and write albums is a party for us, really!”
Affable and amiable, with his feet planted firmly on the ground, Ben Thatcher isn’t a rock star in the traditional fashion. He just wants to play music, have a laugh and live a good life. Returning to Ben’s inability to nail-down the reason for his band’s success, it’s perhaps this lack of rock star bullshit that comes with himself and Mike that may well be the reason Royal Blood find themselves capturing the masses and taking their place at the top of the Brit-rock pile.
Royal Blood is just two normal blokes. But they’re two blokes with a not so normal ability to craft the kind of rock songs that are well and truly capable of conquering arenas and airwaves the world over.
Royal Blood’s album ‘How Did We Get So Dark?’ is out 16th June.
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