British bass-and-drums duo returns with follow-up after breakout debut
The story goes, two lads from Brighton, England — drummer Ben Thatcher and bassist/singer Mike Kerr — got together to write some songs after Kerr returned from a nine-month trip to Australia in 2013. Thatcher picked him up from the airport, and the friends began making riff-y rock songs as Royal Blood.
“This is the first band we formed that didn't have any agenda,” Thatcher said recently by phone. “We wanted to write some music together and play shows and just have a bit of fun. When it all started taking off it was quite unexpected. We never thought we'd ever make back the 500 pounds that we spent making demos.”
The duo was heralded almost immediately after forming by bands like Arctic Monkeys, which asked Royal Blood to open some shows. After the band's self-titled debut came out in 2014, Royal Blood toured with Iggy Pop and the Foo Fighters. The early buzz came to a head when Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page handed the band a trophy for Best British group at the Brit Awards in 2015, beating out bands like Coldplay and One Direction.
“Trying to describe three years, and especially the last two years, is quite a story, and many things have happened along the way. Testicles [have] been lost, hearts have been broken,” said Thatcher, who opted not to describe in further detail the lost testicles or broken hearts.
A drums-and-bass duo brings to mind blues-indebted, minimalist garage bands such as the White Stripes and the Black Keys, and while aspects of both bands find their way into Royal Blood's music, the Brit duo's sound is more maximalist rock 'n' roll. Kerr routes his bass through a bevy of effects that make it sound like a wall of distorted guitars. The sound is anything but stripped-down.
Though the band sells out arenas in the UK, Royal Blood's profile is still growing in the states. The duo will play the Newport Music Hall on Saturday, June 10, touring behind its forthcoming sophomore album How Did We Get So Dark?, which the band began working on immediately upon returning home after a season of touring.
Thatcher described long days in a recording studio in Brussels — a city he does not recall fondly. “It was winter there, so it was very bleak with nothing much to do,” he said. “I think it made us focus a little more on getting out of there as quick as we did, because it's not one of our favorite places to go. We knew no one there.”
Thatcher and Kerr were also aware of the huge expectations for their new album. “If we really thought about it, we felt the pressure,” Thatcher said. “But really it was more of a privilege that people were going to hear the record.”
Royal Blood hoped to make a record that's “more sexy and groovy,” Thatcher said. The songs on How Did We Get So Dark? also find Kerr in a vulnerable state after a few years of relationship ups and downs. “He's really gone there and worn his heart on his sleeve,” Thatcher said.