Royal Blood’s teenage obsessions: ‘Girls aren’t into kids who can juggle’

The chart-topping rock duo, returning with their third album, Typhoons, recall their love for wrestling, nu-metal, David Blaine and how Back to the Future kickstarted their band

David Blaine and magic

Mike Kerr, vocals and guitar: I was a budding musician, but also magician, from the age of 10. The truth is I was a born showoff – anything that gathered a crowd I was up for. I was mainly doing escapology, which would consist of, at Christmas, asking a relative to tie me up and put me in a sack. And then escaping. I did a pretty good job, for a child.

At the time, no one had ever seen anyone like David Blaine, though he was very reminiscent of Houdini. Looking back, perhaps some of it now is a bit silly, but the magic was brilliant. I grew up quite religious and my parents were worried about him, they thought that perhaps he was possessed by the devil. It’s how I imagine parents would have reacted to rock’n’roll in the 1960s – it made it more and more attractive, and furthered my interest in magic. It’s something I’ve actually picked up again in lockdown – I’ve blown the dust off the cards, and I’m getting my chops back.

Nu-metal

Ben Thatcher, drums: In years 7 and 8 at school, you kind of had to choose who you wanted to go with: was it the football crowd or was it the nerds? I went with the music group, who all hung around at the end of the school fields, wearing chains and baggy jeans, with black dyed hair. It was the beginning of Napster and Limewire, and you’d go home and start downloading these nu-metal bands that were coming out. I started with Linkin Park, who I wanted to drum along to, and I liked the mismatch of genre: you had rap and rock coming together, which opened up the door to hip-hop for me.

I didn’t get deep into the disaffection, though – I had a good group of friends around me, and I was quite a light, happy person. I still liked to play football in my lunch breaks, and I hung around with a load of Christian kids as well, so I was quite torn really. Church was quite boring, so you really wanted to be in the worship band. I would call it soft rock, like a really bad version of Coldplay, but I would do anything to be on stage playing. I’d be doing that in front of 500 people every week, so I really cut my teeth there. Then with POD, suddenly you had this Christian nu-metal band. My dad was the minister – I asked if me and my mates could perform their music and he was up for it. I didn’t really care how it went down with the congregation because I was playing rock’n’roll at church. There was probably two people who liked it.

Back to the Future

Mike Kerr: I would almost treat this film as a hobby of mine; it’s the essence of the 80s, an era I never experienced but one I’m very much a fan of. The scene where Marty McFly plays guitar at Doc Brown’s house inspired me in such a huge way. For those who haven’t seen it – and first of all, God help you – he plugs into this huge speaker, the size of the entire room, and it blows up and he gets blasted back by the sound. He’s wearing a very small yellow guitar and mirrored aviators, it’s iconic. I loved the idea of having the world’s largest and loudest rig – it sent me on the trajectory to being in this band. My initial attraction to rock’n’roll was that noise. I grew up in a very small church where people would sing off a hymn sheet, and it was all very tame and lame. Rock’n’roll couldn’t be further away from that, it was like a violent breath of fresh air.

Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future.
Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future. Photograph: Amblin Entertainment/Universal Pictures/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

I am of the opinion that the narrative of Back to the Future has been skewed for comic effect. A lot of standups say the film is about him going back and hooking up with his mother. That is inaccurate – he goes back and his mother is attracted to him, but he’s disgusted by the idea. I want to defend the film here, and remind everyone that isn’t the storyline. The bit where Marty essentially teaches a group of Black musicians to play rock’n’roll? That might need some ironing out, but I would say it’s innocently done.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2

Ben Thatcher: I was playing Tomb Raider and Crash Bandicoot on the PlayStation One, but Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 was a standout game for me, mainly because of the soundtrack. The first time – and I think I can speak for Mike, too – we heard Rage Against the Machine was on that game. Gran Turismo also had a great soundtrack to it, with My Favourite Game by the Cardigans.

Juggling

Mike Kerr: This was yet another attempt to gain the attention of the masses – a common theme in frontmen is the revenge of the nerd. I have a bit of an obsession with fire, and learned to breathe fire when I was 12 – I’m amazed my parents were cool with it. I wasn’t allowed to listen to the Prodigy, but I was allowed to breathe fire, which is quite ironic given they did Firestarter and Breathe. There are no juggling heroes, which is interesting; I just saw someone juggling fire on the beach once, and it looked so brilliantly dangerous I had to give it a go. I started with two regular balls and got close to juggling with five, then went from balls to clubs, and then I got into passing, where you juggle with someone else.

We’d meet in the park round the corner from my house, and it would basically be a bunch of fucking nerds with juggling balls, clubs, decks of cards and a load of paraffin from a hardware store up the road for fire breathing. It would come through your nose when you laugh and you’d swallow some of it – there were many nights where I would come home throwing up for hours. It takes a pretty desperate nerd to resort to these kinds of things for any form of attention. I’m very grateful I found music because it fulfilled all of these things – it had the technicalities of all of it, but also the danger. It was a great way of meeting people and let’s be honest, impressing girls. Girls aren’t really that into kids who can juggle, you know. But as soon as you start playing guitar, it’s game on.

Wrestling

Ben Thatcher: The late-90s and early-00s era of WWE wrestling – then WWF – was when it was at its peak: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, the Undertaker and his brother Kane, the Hardy Boyz, all these characters coming at you. It was just so entertaining. You got involved in the stories, of good guys against bad guys, but they were characters who kept evolving. Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson was originally this bad guy that everyone hated, but he came to be loved and one of the biggest stars.

My main thing I loved was the Royal Rumble, this match where a wrestler goes into the ring every two minutes or so, until there’s a bunch of them all trying to get each other out of the ring. There was blood, people jumping off stairs, it was crazy. If you take it for a real sport, then you’ve totally got it wrong – it’s great performance, really. They’re almost superheroes, but in real life. I was always wanting to write the theme tunes too – I loved the entrances of these guys. Even now, if I went to the wrestling, I’d absolutely love it.

• Royal Blood’s album Typhoons is released on 30 April on Warner Records

Contributor

As told to Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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