The moment the camera stops rolling on NME’s In Conversation interview with Royal Blood, Ben Thatcher gets behind a drum kit while bandmate Mike Kerr starts playing the piano. It isn’t long before the tinkering becomes an effortlessly powerful performance, as the pair discuss rehearsal plans for their upcoming UK tour. Royal Blood has always been a celebration of the chemistry between Thatcher and Kerr, but new album ‘Back To The Water Below’ is something of a return to their roots, while also managing to be the most expansive album they’ve ever created together.
Lead single ‘Mountains At Midnight’ is the hardest, fastest track the band have ever released, and ‘Pull Me Through’ is a pretty yet gloomy piano-led song. Elsewhere, ‘How Many More Times’ channels Elton John. It’s a far cry from the thundering menace of early singles ‘Figure It Out’ and ‘Out Of The Black’, but the pair never felt like they were taking a risk with the new material. “When we play together, that’s all that’s required for it to be Royal Blood,” Kerr tells NME. “If we want to go somewhere new, we just go for it.”
“We were basically always in agreement,” Kerr says of the creative process of working on the new album. “We very rarely have disagreements about the songs and if we do, it means it’s wrong and we move onto something else.”
“The chemistry is all you have,” he continues. “That’s the thing you have to cherish and if you push that to one side, it defeats the point of doing this.”
Ahead of the release of the new album, Royal Blood spoke to NME about the new record, 10 year anniversary plans for their self-titled debut album and why being vulnerable is the toughest thing you can do in rock.
Was there a specific vision going into ‘Back To The Water Below’?
Kerr: “I don’t think we knew what we were going to make. Some of the songs were written while we were touring [2021’s ‘Typhoons’] and we carried on as soon as we got off the road. It was a process of discovery. What’s fun about making records is not knowing where you’re going, until it’s too late.”
Thatcher: “We’re lucky to have a studio in Brighton, so whenever we feel inspired or created, we can go there.”
Does this album feel different to what’s come before?
Kerr: “There are nods to stuff we did on the first album, but for me, making records feels like you’re trying to hit the bullseye of what you want to make. They all miss, but this one feels the closest. It’s the closest we’ve got to who we are as a band, the music we like and the songs we want to play live.”
Thatcher: “This record felt more enjoyable than the previous two, just because we got to let loose a little bit with it. With the first album, we had no idea how it was going to go down and it’s the same kind of thing this time around. But, we have the confidence behind us now [because] we’ve made three other albums.”
Did it feel like everything was on the table with this record?
Thatcher: “We’re inspired by putting a step forward into places where we’ve never gone before, and not being scared to do that. Being a riff-rock band, it’s nice to venture out and explore some other avenues. This album really does that.”
Kerr: “‘Typhoons’ cleared the runway a bit. We proved to ourselves that we can take this band in lots of different directions and we’re more liberated than we realise. At the beginning, restriction was the name of the game but ‘Typhoons’ eased that up a bit and we went into this record with a broader palate.”
Your previous three albums have all reached Number One in the UK albums chart. Does that add to the pressure?
Kerr: “There’s pressure every time you make a record. For us, the majority of that pressure is self-inflicted because you’re only as good as the last thing you made. Exterior pressure is really damaging because you’re trying to live up to someone else’s expectations. We have high standards for each other, and ourselves. As long as we’re both impressed by each other, we know we’re on to something that’s worth pursuing.”
Mike, you’ve said you spent a lot of time crafting the lyrics for this album. Was it a cathartic process for you?
Kerr: “It’s similar to the music making side of things, if I start the process asking what I want to say, I’d never write anything. 80 per cent of the way through the process, I realised what I was saying and that helped some of the other songs. I was like, ‘Wow, I’m really miserable’. You always learn something about yourself [writing songs] but I also try not to read too much into it. It’s always good for you though, it’s the only way I’m able to get my thoughts out.
So, ‘Back To The Water Below’ – is it a hopeful record?
Kerr: “I don’t know if it’s that black and white. I was writing from the same metaphorical place of being somewhere submerged, quite dark and alone. It’s the first time where I didn’t feel the need to escape that though.There is a gloominess and a darkness to it but there’s also a liberation in accepting where you might be at.”
Songs like ‘Pull Me Through’ and ‘Waves’ talk about the power of community or leaning on others. Was that deliberate?
Kerr: “I mean, it’s something I’m still learning how to do. Honestly, I’ve always seen asking for help as a weakness, so doing it in my own life has been really challenging. I think it takes serious balls to reach out to other people and ask for help. I guess [the album] is hopeful in that sense, because it’s writing from a lonely place but it’s also acknowledging that connection with other people.”
You’ve said you have no control over what people take from this record, but is that idea of asking for help when it’s needed a message you want to share?
Kerr: “Yeah. The whole tough thing with rock music is funny, because when you’re playing a really heavy song, it feels badass and there is a tough suit you can put on that’s somewhat of a mask. It’s fun to go into those spaces but with songs like ‘Waves’ and ‘Pull Me Through’, it’s like being completely revealed. I’ve felt the toughest in those songs. I’m standing my ground and not hiding behind anything.”
Next year is the ten year anniversary of your debut album. Any plans to celebrate?
Kerr: “We working out the best way to do that.”
Thatcher: “We’ll definitely celebrate it though. Maybe a firework display with the music playing behind it and some drones.”
What were your ambitions back then?
Kerr: “We didn’t have any ambitions really. It was all fast and very surprising. [The success] still baffles me. At that time there wasn’t much rock music and when we were recording, there was this sense that, ‘No one likes this [type of music] anymore, let’s do it anyway’. We had spent like £300 recording ‘Figure It Out’, ‘Hole’ and ‘Come On Over’. The only ambition we had was to make that money back, because otherwise it would have been a waste of time and money.”
And what about now, where are your ambitions at?
Kerr: “It’s about feeling rather than knowing where we want to go. Right now, we feel like we’re playing our best and we’re at a really strong point creatively. As soon as that feeling goes, it’s time to take a break or stop because the queue is out the door for what we do. The driving force for us is that we actually love what we do.”