Royal Blood – rock’n’roll where it counts

Brighton band Royal Blood aren’t very debauched off stage – but they more than make up for it with their live shows

“Noel Gallagher says there’s no feeling in the world like throwing a TV out of a hotel window.” As he says these words, Royal Blood’s singer and bassist, Mike Kerr, is reclining on a bed in a Manchester hotel room. He doesn’t get up to defenestrate the television, though. For a start, there isn’t space. He’s joined by his bandmate, drummer Ben Thatcher. I’m sitting at the side of the bed, and their tour manager is crouched in a corner of the small room, which is serving as their dressing room before they support the Pixies at a big city-centre outdoor show.

There’s also the fact that Kerr simply isn’t that way inclined. “I think it’s important to have fun,” he explains, “but you don’t want to be a dickhead. You don’t want to be a pain in the arse when some poor woman’s going to have to come in and clean up your room. There’s a moral aspect to it as well. I think the most badass thing you can do is write great songs and put on a great show.” He pauses, aware of how Pollyannaish he is sounding. “That’s very Jack Black, isn’t it? ‘A true rock show changed the world!’”

Royal Blood aren’t very rock’n’roll off the stage, then. So it’s a good job they compensate on it, even if there are only two of them. Inevitably, given their lineup, they play bluesy hard rock, Kerr’s bass configured through pedals and amps to sound more like a guitar, and Thatcher drumming brutally but with surprising suppleness. Even in the early evening, at someone else’s gig, they have fans in their T-shirts singing along at the front, and they’re invigoratingly powerful, presenting a show that has been honed by scores of support slots – so many, in fact, that they’ve barely headlined any shows of their own.

Royal Blood’s Figure it Out for Guardian Sessions.

The pair have known each other since their teens, playing in bands together and separately on the south coast. One of Kerr’s bands, Hunting the Minotaur, “felt like it was getting serious at one point”, but nothing truly serious ever happened until Kerr returned home from nine months living in Australia in 2013, and was met at the airport by Thatcher. “I had the bass sound, and I had a few song ideas,” he says. “So when I came back and Ben picked me up, it wasn’t a big deal for me to ask him to start a band with me. It was just a naive, normal thing. ‘Do you want to start a band?’ ‘All right.’”

They arranged a rehearsal for the next day, and a day later they played their first gig. “It was just in a local bar, to our friends, so it was an environment where there was no pressure, and I think after that show it was very clear people were enjoying what was going on as much as we were,” Kerr says.

And then they disappeared, off to rehearse properly, to write more songs, before emerging seemingly fully formed in the summer of 2013, when Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders wore a Royal Blood T-shirt during the Monkeys’ headlining slot at Glastonbury. Their songs started getting played on Radio 1, bands began taking them on tour, the major label deal was signed, and now their debut album is due for release. And they didn’t even play headline sets to fans who had definitely come to see Royal Blood until February. “That was the weirdest feeling,” Kerr says. “Going to places you’ve never been to or played, and there’s 200 people there. That concept is pretty mindblowing. Seeing that develop over this year has been wild. Especially when you’re in Australia or LA. That’s even more freaky. Places I’ve always wanted to go, and it’s almost like there’s this party waiting for you at the other end.”

Little Monster by Royal Blood.

It should be said at this point that the rapidity of their rise, and the wholehearted support they’ve received from Arctic Monkeys may have something to do with their sharing management with the band. But, equally, they’ve worked incessantly to take advantage of their opportunities. “We don’t often get a day off,” Thatcher says. “When we do, we wash our clothes.”

“I looked at our new diary this morning,” Kerr adds, “and I had to physically clench my bum to stop myself from defecating.”

Perhaps the oddest thing, though, about Thatcher and Kerr comprising such a hotly tipped British rock band is that the lack of rock’n’roll doesn’t just extend to their refusal to demolish hotel rooms. Look at the Royal Blood Twitter feed and you’ll see shoutouts to all sorts of artists they love, none of whom have very much to do with rock. And many of their early loves were distinctly unrocking. “My favourite albums were by the Spice Girls – I got Spiceworld on video,” Thatcher remembers, “and the Backstreet Boys.” Kerr recalls going to see Goldfrapp when he was 15. “I still love Goldfrapp,” he says. “I remember being the only straight person there and thinking: ‘Do only gay people go to gigs?’”

The one person they wish they could most closely emulate, however, is indisputably rock: Dave Grohl.

“Not only does he make the music he wants to make, every angle is how he wants to do it,” Kerr says. “It gives no excuse for rockstardom and arrogance – he’s a good all-round role model and he could do both our jobs in our band very competently.”

“And manage it and record it,” Thatcher adds. “What a bastard.”

The single Figure It Out is released on Warner Bros, followed by the album Royal Blood on 25 August


Michael Hann

The GuardianTramp

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