Back in March, Royal Blood were finally cooking with gas. They’d spent much of 2019 trying to follow up their second record, the Number One-charting ‘How Did We Get So Dark?’, yet had been struggling for inspiration; more than 60 songs were written and discarded, as the duo aimed to abreak away into new sonic territory. Last summer, however, a run of huge festival slots - including sub-headlining positions on the main stage at Reading and Leeds - finally set their creative juices flowing, and by the start of this year they had an album that they were not only happy with, but that frontman Mike Kerr felt confident was their finest work to date.
And then… well, we all know what happened back in March. In the middle of recording LP3 in London, the studio closed as lockdown commenced, putting proceedings on hold yet again just as Mike and drummer Ben Thatcher were finally getting somewhere. “After a week or so of sitting around at home, I decided I might as well try to keep making music,” says the singer. “So I went into the studio near my house and just started writing for the sake of it, which is really the best place to be - that’s how you start out, just writing to entertain yourself more than anything. By the time it was safe to get back to work, I came out of this weird little twilight zone I’d been in with three new songs, and I honestly thought they were the best three I’d ever written. So, from a musical point of view, lockdown was brilliant. More personally, it was fucking scary and isolating, but that’s obviously not a unique experience.”
Far from upending the progress already made, the new tracks slotted seamlessly into the running order, “almost like they were the answer to the questions we’d been asking ourselves” notes Mike. Two of them will be singles, with the still-untitled record - which is now in the final stages of mixing - tentatively slated for release in the spring of 2021, when the pair will aim to make it a hat-trick of chart-toppers.
"I had to change one thing, and that was everything."
— Mike Kerr
The first taste, however, arrived at the end of last month in the form of the supremely danceable ‘Trouble’s Coming’ - a track that sees them veering off the course set by their last two releases into considerably funkier territory, swapping hard rock for a disco stomp. It might prove challenging to a fanbase accustomed to the bare-bones riffery of the last two LPs, but Mike is unfazed. “We’ve truly made it just for ourselves - we love it, and if you don’t, that’s OK. It’s genuinely all I’ve been listening to at the minute!” he chuckles, proudly. “You can hear that we’re liberated on this record; all the new influences on there, it’s stuff we’ve always loved but never allowed ourselves to pursue. I think you can actually hear the embryos of these songs in tracks like ‘Figure It Out’, but we just didn’t explore it enough. That’s why we self-produced this one; as soon as we knew which direction we wanted to go in, it seemed pointless to put anybody else in the way of it.”
For Mike, the new musical trajectory was made possible by a profound breakthrough in his personal life. “I had to change one thing, and that was everything,” he laughs. “A big part of that was the way I was living. I needed to be in a different headspace.” The singer has been sober since February 2019, and points to the decision as the basis for the euphoric sound that came to define the new record. “It’s had a huge effect. My entire headspace has shifted; it’s changed my outlook, my relationships, the way I think about music, everything,” he continues. “I really feel like it’s helped me to access all of my brain, all of my potential. There were a lot of reasons for wanting to sort my shit out, but my songwriting has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of it. It’s why that festival run we did last year was huge; I had to prove to myself that I could do it sober. And I did it, and I was singing and playing better than ever, so I came away from that with genuine confidence. I didn’t feel like I needed to answer to anybody. So, that’s what had to change. My entire life!”
With ‘How Did We Get So Dark?’ providing the platform for the step up to massive festival slots and arena headline tours, it’s not unreasonable to imagine the new album could see them take it a step further - if the future state of live music allows them. On that, though, Mike is philosophical. “Touring is the reason that we make records,” he says, “and potentially not having that be a part of this new one is fucking strange. I’m trying not to think about it too much, because it’s daunting, the idea that it won’t be coming back for a while. But ultimately, it’s something I can’t control, so I won’t dwell on it. The only thing I have power over is the music that we’re making right now.”
As featured in the October 2020 issue of DIY, out now.