“This track was a really pivotal moment for us,” Royal Blood frontman Mike Kerr tells NME about the band’s long-awaited comeback single ‘Trouble’s Coming’. “We were really hungry and searching for something that felt new, but wouldn’t destroy what we’ve spent years creating. We needed something that we genuinely hadn’t done before, and this was the first song that came together.”
A Daft Punk-flavoured blast of bombastic dance rock, ‘Trouble’s Coming’ was the turning point that inspired the mood of the Brighton rock duo’s upcoming third album – their first since 2017’s brooding ‘How Did We Get So Dark‘. This time, their muse had some moves.
“We realised that this much dancier sound really leant itself to the kind of music we were already making,” says Kerr. “We found this through-line between classic rock, dance music and disco music where, to me, some of the best fretting ever is AC/DC. They always play over this straight beat. It’s just like a heartbeat through the songs that never stops. Then these riffs just cut over the top. All we had to do was speed it up and it gave us this new approach to what we did. It felt like we were seeing in colour for the first time.
“We had the same level of excitement as we had on our first record, but stumbled across something genuinely unique. This song was the fuel on the fire.”
To get the lowdown on their new sound and what else is on the horizon, NME gave Mike Kerr a quick call.
Hello Mike. How have you been through these troubled times?
Mike: “Music is the only thing I’ve really had in order to keep some kind of level of sanity over the last six months. I can’t complain, and I won’t!”
Have you been working on the album through lockdown?
“We were actually in the middle of making the record before full lockdown hit. We had to call it, because it wasn’t safe for everyone to be working. We had a full studio gang of engineers and people coming in and out. During lockdown I ended up tinkering with the record on my own and ended up writing a couple more songs. It was a really creative time for me.”
So COVID changed the course of where the record was going?
“Definitely. We were in the middle of what we thought would be the album and were so excited. What we had was great, it’s just that this forced time away and time off put everything on pause. It felt like I had Bernard’s Watch and could just click that. For the first time in a long time, it felt so pressure-free. The whole world had stopped. My plan was to not make music, but after a week I was itching to do something creative. It was very care-free and pure. As a result, it made for the two best songs on the record.”
Do those new songs deal with all this horror that surrounds us?
“One of them does, but when things aren’t great I don’t like to play music that’s a downer as well. I don’t like kicking myself when I’m down. It gave a hunger and desire for euphoria and to make something that would make me feel really good. In terms of sonics, we move as a unit rhythmically. For Ben [Thatcher, drums] to lay down a simple dance beat but still have all of his personality and bombasticness over the top – it just felt like I was dancing on top of his drumbeats. It’s the kind of music where you’re never sat down making it. We were on our feet the whole time. It was awesome.”
Lyrically, what’s ‘Trouble’s Coming’ all about then?
“It’s funny – it’s quite a dark song really. The musical backdrop juxtaposes what I’m saying. It felt quite weird at first, but that actually makes it more powerful. I never like explaining lyrics word for word, in the same that a painting never comes with an explanation from the artist. The lyrical themes on this song and the whole album don’t take place in any physical place or location. It’s all taking place in my own head and my own battle with my own analysis. The whole song with ‘Trouble’s Coming’ is a feeling, and it’s a feeling that I know well. It’s more about these recurring mental nightmares that I’ve had. I felt more comfortable being that honest, that open and that vulnerable, because the backdrop was so upbeat.”
What does ‘Trouble’s Coming’ tell us about the rest of the new album?
“All the tracks on this record have their own personality. This encapsulates the change and progression that we’ve made as a band and as people. We’re aware that we’ve been away for a long time, and we didn’t want to come back with something that we’d done before. This shows a maturity on every level. This record wasn’t just the next 10 songs that we wrote about the last album. We wrote an insane amount of music after coming off tour. To us this is like our sixth record, but it’s officially being released as our third!”
So what’s new?
“There are a lot more additional elements and luxurious production. It’s also a self-produced record. I know it’s traditional for a producer to push and challenge, but we felt like we were having people in the way. We knew so clearly what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it. It felt like a very delicate direction. With rock music, it can very easily go wrong. You want to make something scary and with one slip-up it becomes spooky, which is just awful. Or you want something romantic and then the next minute it’s just cheesy. Rock’s so extreme, it can highlight these things quickly. A producer would have either held us back or pushed us so far that it would have destroyed the DNA and fabric of the band. We had to do this on our own and for ourselves.”
You played two new songs, ‘Boiler Maker’ and ‘King‘, on tour last year. Did they make the record?
“I can’t tell you! I’m not allowed. I’ve got a strict set of instructions of what I can’t say. I’ve broken nearly all of them, but I can’t break that one.”
It must have been a relief to get that tour done, not knowing when you’ll be able to hit the road again?
“I am relieved, yes. That little run was really important for us. You need to know who you are before you go into a recording studio.”
Reading & Leeds was pretty good, eh?
“It was totally amazing. It’s a festival I grew up going to and it never ceases to blow my mind that we get to go up on those stages and have the kind of experiences that we do.”
You played just before The 1975 headlined. I guess that means you’ve got to headline the next time you play?
“I’ll go back and sweep up if they’ll have me!”
After all this time, what do you think that your fans are expecting from a third Royal Blood album?
“I’ve learned to not pay any attention to any expectations of me or the band. There was a time of my life where I allowed that to take a hold of me and it killed me passion and creativity. It killed the soul of why I do this. On a personal level, I’m so proud and feel like we’ve made our best album yet. If anyone doesn’t like it, that’s OK! I’ll strongly disagree with them and they’re wrong, but this this is a record that we made for ourselves. It’s still all I listen to every day. There are bands out there who just don’t want to hear their music when it’s done, but for me it’s the opposite.”
If you weren’t in Royal Blood, would Royal Blood be your favourite band?
“100%! If you’re not the best at what you’re trying to do, then why bother? You might not get there, but that’s got to be the starting point. It’s better to laugh at how your dream is so ridiculous than that it isn’t big enough. I don’t want to put any limitations on how good we can be. To answer your question, yes. The album is all I’m listening to, so I’ve achieved it!”
‘Trouble’s Coming’ by Royal Blood is out now. More news on their third album is expected in the months ahead.