ROYAL BLOOD are back. With their new track, ‘Mountains At Midnight’ – and a fourth album ‘Back To The Water Below’ to follow – they’re out to create a legacy. Check out the latest cover story for our New Music Friday playlist edit The Cut.
Words: Ali Shutler.
Photos: Tom Beard.
“I’m sure there are people out there who think what we do is easy,” says Royal Blood’s guitarist Mike Kerr. “Go ahead and try it,” he offers with a smirk. “There’s nowhere to hide in this band.”
The rock’n’roll duo are back with new single ‘Mountains At Midnight’, taken from their upcoming fourth album ‘Back To The Water Below’.
“It feels like the sort of Royal Blood song that should have always existed,” says Mike, taking a break from “dusting off the cobwebs” in their rehearsal space ahead of a run of stadium shows supporting Muse, festival headline slots and their own homecoming gig on Brighton beach later this summer. The new songs already feel “very live-friendly”.
‘Mountains At Midnight’ started taking shape while the band were on the road in support of 2021’s ‘Typhoons’. “You’re composing in the context in which you want to play, which was so helpful,” explains Mike, with ‘Mountains At Midnight’ feeling “powerful” because of how locked in he and drummer Ben Thatcher were. “We’ve never had anything this fast before,” he continues.
Writing on the road meant that the new songs had to feel exciting because there was already so much going on. “Testing out new material at big venues reinforces the confidence to do less because it’s so loud,” says Mike. In the quiet of the studio, there’s a temptation to put in too many layers, “but you hear a kick drum in an arena, and it’s already monstrous”.
“‘Mountains At Midnight’ is a nod to our roots and how and why the band started, but there’s something that feels incredibly fresh about it,” he adds.
‘Back To The Water Below’ isn’t a throwback record, though. “It’s a fucking roller coaster. It’s the first album we’ve ever made that feels like a real journey, that tells a real story,” says Mike. “There are a lot of left turns on it.”
He goes on to explain that the record features many songs that the band would never have made if it wasn’t for the multicoloured disco stomp of ‘Typhoons’. “We really gave ourselves permission to do this other thing with that record,” says Mike. “This time, we felt really equipped on how to go to those other places, successfully and honestly, and it still feels like Royal Blood.”
“It’s the first album we’ve ever made that feels like a real journey, that tells a real story”Mike Kerr
“The biggest danger of being in a rock band right now is walking out onstage, looking cool as fuck and hiding behind a wall of noise without having any art or meaning to what you’re doing. That’s the quickest way to get lost,” says Mike. “I want to feel what I’m saying. I want it to come from somewhere that’s real,” he continues, explaining that ‘Back To The Water Below’ is the most time he’s ever spent writing lyrics for a Royal Blood album, and the pair focused on “good songwriting” over big riffs because that’s the thing that lasts.
“I really sweated over every word, and I’m fully aware that I will go out, attempt to explain it and ruin all that hard work,” says Mike, hesitant to dive too deeply into the inspiration behind ‘Back To The Water Below’.
‘Mountains At Midnight’ is written from a “dark place”, with those themes reappearing across the album. “It feels like I was writing from that place of being somewhere that’s very isolated, dark and deep down,” says Mike, hence the title.
“Whenever I get to that place, it’s not always about trying to escape it,” he continues. “It’s not about trying to swim for the surface; it’s about acknowledging that this is where I’m at and sitting in those feelings. I’ll try not to give everything away, though.”
‘Back To The Water Below’ is the first Royal Blood album produced entirely by the band, even if the pair have always been all over their previous records. “For us, capturing energy is so much more important than anything else,” says Mike.
For years, he could explain away Royal Blood’s success by chalking it up to blind luck. “I’m over that now,” he says. “I know people saw Ben and I appear back in 2014 with ‘Out Of The Black’, and suddenly we’re at the BRIT Awards. Don’t get me wrong; I felt out of my depth, and it felt like too much too soon – but it didn’t come out of fucking nowhere,” with the pair playing in countless other bands before forming Royal Blood. “There’s nothing sexy about someone slogging it out, failing, then coming back while putting the time in to learn their craft, though.”
“We’re incredibly fortunate that we got that golden ticket 10 years ago, but the position we’re in now is very different,” he continues. “It can’t just be luck. It’s friendship and hard work.”
“I feel a real confidence in who we are and what we’re trying to do,” Mike adds. Not that it makes writing music any easier. “I feel like a better writer and musician, but it feels harder than ever, looking for something new and trying to stay out of your depth.”
Now that the band are more comfortable with where they’re at, they’ve started thinking about legacy. “I want to get to the end of my life, look back at the songs we’ve done together, and know that they were exactly how we wanted them,” says Mike. “I want to know I wasn’t influenced by trends or led astray by other people’s expectations because all of that will disappear.” Which is apparently incredibly liberating.
“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”Mike Kerr
“There are songs on this record that are wild,” Mike continues, excited to see the outrage of people asking ‘how dare Royal Blood go and do that?’ The pair have never written to appease other people, with Mike admitting that even thinking of doing that makes him feel sick. “It’s not why we started this band, and it’s not how we ended up in this position. We really honour how we got here, and that’s by Ben and I both being excited by something, whatever that is. So, of course, we’re going to follow through with all these ideas, no matter how mad they might seem from the outside.”
“We’ve got fans who’ve been with us since day one, and we’ve got people who only discovered us because of ‘Tyhpoons’, which was ultimately a very disco, dance-heavy record. Maybe they’ll hate this one,” he suggests. “All expectation leads to someone’s disappointment. I just see that as more evidence to do what you want to do.”
Last year Royal Blood headlined London’s O2 Arena, and this summer, they’re topping the bill at Kendall Calling, Truck and Y Not. They’re also due to support Muse. “Just because we’re at this level where we’re headlining a festival here and there and we’ve played some big shows, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement,” says Mike.
“I’m no fool. I know that we’ll go and play those shows with Muse, and we’ll get schooled on how to put on a show. It’s humbling, but it’s good. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room,” he adds. “We genuinely want to just be better. We might be successful, but we have a long way to go.” ■
Royal Blood’s new single ‘Mountains At Midnight’ is out now. New album ‘Back To The Water Below’ is out 8th September 2023. Follow Dork’s The Cut Spotify playlist here.