Today sees the release of «Typhoons», the third studio album from Brighton duo Royal Blood. With their explosive mix of bass and drums, Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher have been causing a stir in the rock circus since their self-titled debut in 2014. Now, for the first time, the two musicians have broken up their tried-and-true formula and allowed new influences to take hold. To be capable of this big step, singer Mike Kerr in particular had to make some changes in his life. Drummer Ben Thatcher talked about live energy, his various tasks on stage and the process of creating the new record. One thing already seems clear: Royal Blood will maintain their place in the rock Olympus also with «Typhoons».
Royal Blood are:
Mike Kerr (vocals, bass)
Ben Thatcher (drums)
Indiespect: What makes «Typhoons» your best album, yet? And what was necessary to get you to the point where you were able to make the record the way it is now?
Ben Thatcher: This record is feeling fresh, it feels fun and it’s got energy. It has got some great songs on it that we’re really proud of. And it’s coming at a time where people need that energy and that fresh new music. It’s our best record to date because we love it, for one, and we think it’s brilliant. Also our songwriting and our production on it has gone further than we’ve ever gone before.
We don’t play to click track, any tracks or anything like that.
Everything that comes from the stage is completely live.
Indiespect: When you’re on stage you play much more than only drums. You said that the string parts from «Trouble’s Coming» are actually all part of your drum kit. How much of a computer is a drum kit nowadays and how long does it take to figure out how to program and use everything?
Ben: Good question. Computers and drums are things I try and push apart most of the time because I love the sound of an acoustic drum kit. There’s a great feeling and an energy to it. But I also want to respect the song and these other elements. A lot of them are electronic. We don’t play to click track, any tracks or anything like that. Everything that comes from the stage is completely live. The way of doing this, for me, is that I’ve got four pads dotted around the kit. Just Roland bar things – and one for my foot. They trigger off percussive sounds or elements of the song that we feel are really important and have to be there. Mike can’t do everything on the bass and sing at the same time. I’m trying to do as much as I possibly can to recreate those things. I don’t like playing an SPD [sampling pad; note indiespect.ch]. I don’t feel anything from playing the pads. So, I just incorporated it into the kit and have these little things here and there which make drumming really difficult sometimes. You’re not just focusing on keeping the beat down, the pace of it. You also have to remember if you got a string part here and there. But it makes you a better musician and I think with this new record, there is a lot more going on like that. Live, we’re gonna be bringing in some singers and someone who can play keys and do those parts. So we can produce this music live.
© Dean Martindale
Royal Blood are: Mike Kerr (left) and Ben Thatcher (right)
Indiespect: It has not been possible to play live shows for quite some time. Did you have to actively take care not to lose the live energy in your drumming?
Ben: Yeah. I think it’s just building up in us, really. We’ve been on tour for a long time and this time away, doing this record and having this record done now. Once it’s out, we just want to play shows again. And it’s looking good. We’ve got some things booked later this year, in the summer, in England. But we have just to take every day as it comes as well and see how things develop – with going overseas and stuff. I think we’re through the worst of it now and gigs are gonna be wild when they come back.
Indiespect: How long could a Royal Blood set be before you would collapse on stage? Your drumming style looks really exhausting from the audience view.
Ben: Good question. I think you feed from the audience. There’s never a time on a good show where you look down on the setlist and you go: aah. You always want to play more and more. Which is why you got bands like Foo Fighters who play 3.5 hour sets because they just love playing. That’s what they’re kind of born to do. Be on that stage, hold it and have a good time because people just want to party and listen to music. Energy levels for this… you try to keep it up. The more you do it, the better you get.
The string parts for «Trouble's Coming» are played by Ben Thatcher on his drum kit.
Indiespect: Is it an advantage that it’s only the two of you who are involved in writing the record or does that make the creative process harder?
Ben: It only takes one idea to be brilliant. So, you only need one person to come up with that idea. Too many people writing and creating… you know, people have different minds and different ideas. You can have a lot to create but no one to pull it together and find the right pieces. That’s why you’d get a producer in a bigger band to hold everything together. Because you would have three to five people who all have different ideas of how it should be. For Mike and I, we’ve written so many songs and so much music together, we played so much together, that creatively it’s great for us to just feed off each other.
I still look up to the people that inspire me. But some of them have become friends
and people that I can text and bounce ideas from or get comments on things.
Indiespect: When you started as a band you surely looked up to your musical heroes. Now you have met several of them during the last few years. How does the sight on them change when you’re also touring the world with your own band?
Ben: I still look up to the people that inspire me. But some of them have become friends and people that I can text and bounce ideas from or get comments on things. For us, it got wild quite quickly with those people and after a while it became quite normal, in a way. You realise that they’re just people who love music and also love what you do, which is really encouraging.
Indiespect: You once said that going on tour with Queens of the Stone Age was a really big achievement and you worked towards that point.
Ben: To go on tour with your favorite band is incredible and that tour wasn’t anything but incredible. We got to watch them every night. They’re incredibly talented musicians and just wicked people to be around.
Screenshot from the video interview with Ben Thatcher.
Ben Thatcher talkes about the changes for album number three.
Indiespect: Is there a target that you have followed since?
Ben: I wouldn’t ever say that was a target. It was a dream that came true. We never went out and aimed to do this or to support this band or play this stage. The aim for us is to be the best that we can and make the best music that we can and produce the best albums and live shows that we can do. If you focus on that, then those things come. If you’re good enough.
There’s only so much that a human body can take. If you realise something is starting to get in the way or is destructing you, you have to take a look at yourself,
work that out and see the change.
Indiespect: Mike said that he had to change everything for this album. He has been sober since February 2019 and that helped him to get to parts of his brain that he didn’t reach before. I can imagine, going on tour with Queens of the Stone Age is anything but being sober.
Ben: Yeah. We had a great time on that tour and it was real fun. I don’t regret anything from that and I think Mike would neither. But there’s only so much that a human body can take. If you realise something is starting to get in the way or is destructing you, you have to take a look at yourself, work that out and see the change. For Mike, he was just a bit in a destructive mode sometimes, I guess. When he went out and didn’t know when to stop. It wasn’t making him happy. He had to stop drinking and work himself out and he just hasn’t started drinking since.
The New Album
- Trouble's Coming
- Who Needs Friends
- Million and One
- Either You Got It
- Mad Visions
- Hold On
- All We Have Is Now
Indiespect: Did that also have an effect on you?
Ben: I’m a different person. I was on that ride with him and for me, I found boundaries and knew when to stop. It’s when things become something that you need, it becomes dangerous. For me, those things are still things that I enjoy. Not to say that Mike probably wouldn’t enjoy it because he would. But, it takes a turn sometimes. You can abuse those things.
© Facebook, Royal Blood
In 2017, Royal Blood had to cancel their planned show in Zurich because of food poisoning.
I ran to the end of the tour bus and Mike was already being sick in front of everybody.
Indiespect: The last time when I was supposed to do an interview with you, you were forced to cancel your concert in Zurich because you and big parts of your crew had food poisoning. The night before you ate oysters in Milan, which did not go so well with you. May you remember that specific night?
Ben: That is true. But we didn’t play Milan either. We had Oysters in Paris and then we drove to Milan. It was the first time we would’ve ever played in Italy. I remember, our tour bus turned up and I remember not feeling very well. There was a huge line of fans already outside the venue. I was like: I’m gonna throw up. Sorry, that’s disgusting. I ran to the end of the tour bus and Mike was already being sick in front of everybody. I don’t know what it was because a lot of us got ill and I don’t think everyone ate oysters. But it was something like that. Our backing singers were ill and our merch guy. There was something going on. We just were in that venue, all of us just lying on the floor and sofas and stuff. It was horrible. Then we had to obviously cancel the show. And that would’ve been the one after. I think Mike had to go to the hospital.
© Eva Pentel
Indiespect: For the cancelled show in Zurich you would’ve had your friends from Black Honey with you as your opening act. Recently, they released their second album called «Written & Directed». On that one there is the song «Run For Cover» which was originally written for Royal Blood. May you tell me something about it and why you decided to not include it on your album?
Ben: That was a song that Mike had done ages ago. It was called something different. The lyrics slightly changed. It was a song that we jammed together but it wasn’t quite where we were going. It is a great song, right?
© Mads Perch
It's a kind of magic: The chemistry between Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher.
Indiespect: The chemistry between you and Mike Kerr is magic, whether it's on stage or during interviews. Did the two of you match like that from the beginning or did that evolve over the years?
Ben: We’ve always been good friends from the beginning. But obviously it does evolve because you’re together all the time and you’re experiencing the same thing. You do interviews, you play shows and meet the same people. The humour and the fun of everything we share together.
We’ve always been good friends from the beginning. But obviously it does evolve
because you’re together all the time and you’re experiencing the same thing.
Indiespect: You used to give out stamps at a legendary pop club party in Brighton called bar and pop. Can you tell me something about that time?
Ben: (laughs) Bars and Pop, yeah. Oh gosh. We were very young. That was just an indie night that we would go to from one of our friends. It was just pretty wild. We got up to a lot of things at that time.
Indiespect: I love all of the songs but besides the songs that were released prior to the album, «Million And One» stuck with me right away. Do you have a favorite track on the record? And if yes, why?
Ben: Wicked! I think mine is Typhoons. As soon as I heard it, I just loved it. I thought it was a great song and it’s got a good groove to it. It just makes me want to bop my head. Even now that I’m thinking about it, I’m bopping my head. Good pace, the chorus is wicked and the riffs are cool in it.
Indiespect: Thank you very much. I hope to see you soon on stage someday.
Ben: Amazing. Absolutely, have a good day!
Cover image: © Dean Martindale