When a lot of bands hit the big time, they start abashedly vowing not to let it go to their heads. Not Royal Blood. Having sold an impressive 66,000 copies of their debut album in one week en route to the top of the UK album chart, when the Brighton duo drop by the NME office, they’re busy discussing what sort of diva-ish behaviour they can get with now they’re bona fide rock stars. “For our rider for our next tour, we’re gonna ask for D-list celebrities,” deadpans frontman Mike Kerr. “Wolf from Gladiator, Jeremy Kyle, ‘Our Graeme’ – you know, the voice from Cilla Black’s Blind Date,” continues drummer Ben Thatcher. “Just to be there in our dressing room at each venue, entertaining us. I think Wolf would make a great cocktail waiter.” Kid around they may, but the phenomenal success of their eponymous debut is no joke: in an age of declining album sales (but an upturn in streaming), with guitar music supposedly on its death bed, it sold only 20,000 copies less than ‘Definitely Maybe’ in its first week back in 1994. I sat down with the pair to ask what the album’s success means to them and to rock music as a whole.
The album’s now up there with some of the fastest sellers of the year in the UK. What does commercial success mean to you?
Mike: “For us, the success of this album was finishing the thing, really. We put a lot of hard work into it and we set the standard ourselves and it was a lot harder than we initially realised to make. All the glory and victory for us was just in making it what it is, really.”
Ben: “The way we’ve been justifying or the way we see it now is that our record is our kid, our child and it’s entered school sports day. No matter where it comes you don’t think any differently about it, really. If our kid loses the egg and spoon race, we aren’t gonna disown it – we love it no matter what. No matter how many eggs were dropped.”
Mike: “When the band first started, we really didn’t have any agenda or expectations other than to enjoy ourselves so I think the fact that so many people have gone out and bought it is truly overwhelming. We’d never credit our own work on how popular it was, if that makes sense. Not to take away from everything that is going on [the album’s chart success] at all.”
What is it about the band you think has chimed so powerfully with people?
Mike: “It’s hard to work out why things have commercial success, and we’re still scratching our heads as to why it’s happened to us. We’re still amazed that we were even played on the radio, you know? So to get to this point now, where we’re experiencing commercial success, it’s quite unreal for us. I think we just went in and made something we wanted to make on our terms and tried to write the best songs we could and rock music is something we just do naturally.”
Ben: “We’re so caught up in what we’re doing and playing and travelling, I don’t think we will truly realise the gravity of what’s going on for some time yet.”
Heavy music is often overlooked, critically speaking. For example, the Mercury Prize nominees for this year are announced next week, but its panel very rarely put metal or hard rock albums in the running. Do you think the album’s success might prove a wakeup call to those people?
Mike: “I don’t know how much responsibility we can take for rock music and any kind of resurgence people might read into how well the album does, as a rock album. I think that’s quite a lot of pressure really. But yeah, it feels like we’re fighting a corner that’s needed fighting probably for quite some time in that way. Rock music is something we’ve always loved and something we’ve always loved playing and I think despite the fact we love all types of music, rock music is just the way we play music naturally. So it kinda feels exciting but there is hope for riffs and guitars and real drums and real music which has perhaps been lost for quite a while.”
What have been the big milestones for you up until this point, the moments that made you realise this band was going somewhere?
Mike: “YouTube videos of people in their room playing our stuff – that’s the most rewarding thing I think that I’ve experienced so far out of anything else really. I was that kid learning other bands songs on guitar, bass, piano or whatever. Ben was the same – he was the guy drumming along to Limp Bizkit, filming it then putting it on Myspace or whatever. It’s those people who are the important ones to me, the ones that are going to write much better songs than us and be in better bands than us.”
Have you met many of those artists that you looked up to when you started learning music?
Mike: “Yeah, we’ve been lucky enough to meet so many of our heroes and people that are pretty responsible for the position we’re in. Jimmy Page came to our gig in New York which was just a mind-blowing experience. He had heard us on Jools Holland I believe and really fancied coming down and checking out our gig in New York.”
Ben: “It was a surreal experience having Jimmy Page on your guestlist but not really too sure if he’s going to turn up or not. I just remember walking on stage and going past him and thinking – that’s Jimmy Page! It’s pretty fucked-up pressure. After the gig he was waiting for us in our dressing room and we were thinking, ‘how did we get to this moment?’”
What was he like?
Mike: “He’s like a god in our eyes so when we met him and he was just a really nice guy, it made us even more into him. I think with all my favourite musicians, you can hear what type of person they are from their music. There’s nothing more relieving than meeting your hero and being like ‘yes! You’re a good person’ as well as an unstoppable musician you admire.”
Ben: “I think when you meet someone like that there is an illusion that they’re not human, like they don’t have blood running through their veins. But yeah, he was a really nice guy – really intriguing and obsessed by music. He still seemed as excited about it as he’s always been. It was just a really memorable moment and really inspiring.”
Listening to the album, Zeppelin sound like a major influence. What is it about them that inspires you?
Mike: “To me, it’s about them as a combination of music and friendship that’s untouchable. They were such a gang and such a team that when Bonham was gone, it was over, because that was Led Zeppelin – it required all four of them. All my favourite bands have that, in a way, like Nirvana. There’s some sort of voodoo about it when those specific guys play together. It’s not just music and it’s not just friendship – it’s a fusion of the both. We get asked all the time why we’re a two-piece and why we don’t have a guitarist. All people talk about is the limitations of that. The reason why we’re a two-piece is that we’ve known each other for ten years, we get on so well and there’s that chemistry. Led Zeppelin had that personal chemistry. That’s what we want Royal Blood to be.”