Royal Blood frontman Mike Kerr has spoken to NME about the fall-out of their appearance at BBC Radio One’s Big Weekend, as well as lessons learned from touring with Muse and what to expect from their huge homecoming show in Brighton this weekend.
The rock duo, currently gearing up to release their “instinctive” fourth album ‘Back To The Water Below‘, made headlines and became the topic of much online discussion when a short supercut video of Kerr voicing his annoyance at the reaction of the crowd at the Big Weekend in Dundee went viral.
“I guess I should actually introduce ourselves seeing as no-one actually knows who we are,” said Kerr said at the beginning of the clip. “We’re called Royal Blood and this is rock music” – before asking the crowd: “Who likes rock music? Nine people. Brilliant.”
The clip also saw him comment how they were “having to clap ourselves” as the crowd’s response was “pathetic”, and later left the stage with his middle fingers aloft.
Royal Blood making their feelings known about the crowd at BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend yesterday 😂
— The Rock Revival (@TheRockRevival_) May 29, 2023
Kerr later explained his actions, saying that he “felt like a sort of pro-wrestler” and “a kind of pantomime villain”, admitting that he actually enjoyed performing and that he had “no intention isn’t to kind of alienate anyone or push anyone away”. The band soon resumed supporting Muse on their stadium tour, alongside some headline dates and an appearance on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury.
Before their huge homecoming show at On The Beach in Brighton this weekend, Kerr invited NME to their studio to talk about the incident, the backlash, class, his relationship to playing live, and what they learned from supporting Matt Bellamy and co.
NME: Hello Mike. How were the shows with Muse?
Kerr: “It was amazing. They were kind of a baptism of fire with the first thing we did [for this album] being playing stadiums. The last time we did something like that was with Foo Fighters, so we have a bit of experience with what we were going into. It put us in front of really large crowds in a lot of places we’ve never been to and places we’d never be able to afford to get to.
“By the last three songs of the set, you had a new understanding of and connection to the crowd. There was also a sense that you’re preaching to choir in that Muse’s first three records are part of our band’s DNA. They’re one of a few bands whose influence you can hear in us, and Muse fans can sense that.”
Did you learn anything from the experience?
“I did, actually. They’re so slick and so pro with such a level of musicianship that they could all individually go and be the greatest session musicians on the planet. It’s just wild they’re all in the same band. They’re so clean living and the show is always the most important thing. They’re like athletes and they play like it. For me that’s quite inspiring in that the main way I’d always toured was not looking after my body or my mind while destroying myself for the sake of what I thought was a rock’n’roll lifestyle. I’m quite new to the other side of the coin, so it was brilliant to see them to do it that way.
“Also the scale and ambition of their show is really hard to argue with. Sometimes I’ll listen to their record and realise you need to go see the live show to see it all together. You can’t help but have a big, dumb grin on your face. I never think too deeply about what we do, but there is a part of me that recognises that our band is about playing live. That’s where we relate to them. We’re like, ‘Come to the gig before you make your mind up’.”
From preaching to the converted to the Dundee incident. That all escalated quickly, didn’t it?
“I think now that some time has passed and the internet dust has settled, I’ve realised that. The size that the story got to is in no way in proportion to the severity of it. The two just seem so out of joint with each other. It seems so tame to me, still. It’s not something I look back and think it was necessary. It was an unnecessary roasting, but I’m amazed that out of all the shit we’ve done as a band, that this is the thing that took off. I think it says more about the attitude of social media and the witch hunt that’s out there. I think we were just the cocktail of the day. It wasn’t a pleasant experience.
“Some of the criticism I can sympathise with, especially if you only saw that one clip and not the whole gig – but the majority of it just seemed so out of proportion with the level of anger. I refuse to be the origin of that anger. I don’t accept responsibility for that anger.”
You later described your behaviour as intentionally like a Ric Flair or Triple H-esque wrestling heel?
“Yeah, there was no malice at all. It will never cease to amaze me that it’s a thing that happened. The only thing I’d want to reassure anyone of who was actually at the gig that it was nothing to do with them. It could have been anywhere.”
And you actually enjoyed the show?
“I thought we played so well! I was so nervous because it was a big. A gig where you being recorded and filmed is something I find so difficult because you want to lose yourself, but then a camera comes out and you can freeze. Honestly, I watched the gig back and I was like, ‘Fuck yeah!’ I was so stoked.
“I understand why people might have been like, ‘Why did he say that?’ That’s not my reputation as a frontman or as a person. Anyone who has been to our gig will know that’s not my thing. The internet kind of treated it like, ‘This guy has been getting away with this for too long! Finally we’ve got him!’ That’s not fair because it’s not how we behave.”
Do you feel as there’s always been a target on Royal Blood’s back?
“Well, this must have been the perfect moment for anyone that’s had hate building up for us since 2014! Their bucket of shit was ready for me. Who knows?”
How did you feel when comments about supposed class and “Waitrose accents” started to spread, that you were two very posh lads?
“Honestly, neither of us are. I’m the very proud son of a decorator and a stay at home mum. I don’t come from any money. I’m honestly flattered if anyone thinks I’m posh in any way! Even if we were, why should that matter? They’re right in a way – we are two privileged guys making rock. That’s the truth.
“We’re fully aware that it’s fucking bonkers that we get to do this and that this is not a normal way to exist. There are stepping stones that have allowed us to get here that are not afforded to everyone. I’m aware of that, but I don’t think it’s wrong for us to play our music to people with a shared love of going to gigs. I struggle to find anything morally wrong with it.”
Have you since reconsidered how to interact while on stage?
“100 per cent. One thing I’ve taken from it is that it’s not worth it. As an experiment a few shows later I thought, ‘What happens if I just walk out and don’t say anything?’ That’s not something I’d ever done, but I did it and the show was great. It made me think, ‘These songs and the connection between Ben and I is the thing’. In a similar way with drinking on stage and partying, I’d convinced myself that these were important parts of the show.
“The more than time has gone on, the more I’m stripping those things away. It doesn’t matter what you say, what you wear, or what you drink. It’s like when you see a play and they take away all the lights and it makes for a more raw and interesting performance. I realised, ‘You know what? It’s not worth the risk’.
“Every time you open your mouth these days, you’re rolling the dice. We all do it. You say something and then think, ‘Well that was unnecessary’ or ‘I didn’t mean that’. But when I say it, I’m doing it down a microphone and sometimes on national television! I don’t want to roll the dice with my band in that way. At the Muse shows, [Bellamy] didn’t say anything. I didn’t realise until I actively thought about it.”
Has all of this changed your relationship with the internet and that imagined audience?
“I think I engaged on Instagram for around two years around the time of [2021 album] ‘Typhoons’. Now I don’t. Honestly, I don’t see it. We create and post content because we want our fans to see what we’re up to as we know that’s important. I saw an interview with Jimi Hendrix when I was 18 before anything happened for our band. Someone was asking if he read his reviews and he said something like, ‘No, because if I read the bad ones then I lose my confidence and if I read the good ones then I get big-headed and neither are good for me’. Fucking hell, that is so bang on.
“I’m engaging in a currency of self-validation from other people, and that’s so fucking toxic. I don’t want to read positive comments just as much as I don’t want to read negative ones.
“It’s not extreme. I don’t think I’m fucking God! I wouldn’t destroy myself, I just don’t think it’s helpful. There’s a lot of talk about mental health, and that’s great, but how can you be on social media and survive? I don’t know how to exist in that world. For me, a big part of being sober that I found so powerful was accuracy with my own feelings. If I’m in my studio and have an idea, I know exactly how good it is and exactly how bad it is. I enjoy that accuracy. It made me connect stronger to my girlfriend and Ben [Thatcher, drummer] and people’s whose opinions I really respect with music. If Ben and I think it’s shit, then it’s shit. Going onto the internet and getting feedback is not helpful in any way.”
Royal Blood probably came about on the cusp of the new social media age.
“It’s difficult and I feel so lucky I didn’t grow up with that. We’re still pretty naive to it all now. There’s nothing nuanced to it. ‘Is this right or is it wrong?’ There’s nothing in between. That’s not life. It’s not accurate.”
Do you feel the reaction might say more about the relatively tame times we’re living in?
“I don’t know. If I acted in that way, it would be forced. Whereas for the Gallaghers, that’s them – and it’s entertaining. For me it would be shocking, like the very first time you hear your dad say, ‘Fuck’! We’d have to get an expert to come and analyse it. Who knows? Must have been a slow day for the news!”
Are you concerned that this could colour the way that some people experience the new album?
“I’m fully aware that I have no control over how someone listens to a record. Everyone is coming at it from a different place. Some people are that angry they’re not going to listen to it, and I hope they’re alright!”
Were the fans more engaged at the shows that followed?
“Yes – it was almost as if nothing had happened! They don’t care. I’m not in for that and nor are the fans – they’re in it for the music and the show. The way I do get feedback is at the shows, and that’s the way I want it. When you play a gig, the audience can’t lie. You can see them deciding how they feel about a new song. We’ve been playing ‘Pull Me Through’ and ‘Mountains At Midnight’ and it’s been awesome. They feel like they’ve been in the set for a long time.”
You recently told us that you won’t be talking about lyrics anymore. Do you now feel more of a need to not explain the new album and allow the fans a more direct relationship to it?
“I just feel like I’m not very good at explaining lyrics. I read back a few interviews, and I’d hate to risk oversimplifying what a song’s about and not do it justice. There’s a real powerful moment where you listen to a song and realise what it’s about yourself or feel like you’ve made something that’s your own. It would be horrible to then hear an artist say, ‘And it’s about this guy called Jeff’. I wouldn’t want to destroy that. It takes away the fun. I’ll talk about lyrics, but I’m just watching my words a bit more. I never feel like my songwriting is that cryptic. I feel like it’s quite condensed and to the point.”
You’ve got a huge homecoming show at Brighton this weekend – what can we expect from that?
“We’ve arranged an insane amount of fire, which we’ve never done before. We’ve got these fire cannons that shoot 40ft up in the air. I’m very excited about that. I think Muse have rubbed off on us.
“It’s going to be an amazing moment. The first ever photo we took of us together after our first gig in Worthing, we just look so fucking naive playing in the snow. We had no fucking idea what was coming. We just thought we’d play a couple of shows in Worthing and Brighton and that would be it. We’d grow up or something. To be on that same spot with 8,000 people coming to the gig is insane.”
Have you had a lot of landmark moments in Brighton?
“I remember playing The Haunt and that was the first time more than 10 people had come to the gig. I was like, ‘Fucking hell, this is amazing’. It’s so easy to get used to doing this. That’s a necessary part of your brain. It’s a survival tactic so you can open for Muse in a stadium and not have a fucking panic attack – that’s the normal response, but something in your brain builds up a resilience.
“Moments like Brighton force you to look back and go, ‘Don’t fucking forget – you had no idea where this was going and for some fucking reason, you’re here’. I still walk out thinking, ‘I’m not convinced I can do this’. That risk of it is quite an addictive feeling. It’s not actual risk. I’ve got a friend who’s a paramedic and that’s actually life and death. There’s just an excitement of, ‘Oh shit, this could all go wrong’.”
So are you going to keep your mouth shut on Saturday?
“Absolutely not! Not for Brighton.”
Check back at NME soon for more of our interview with Royal Blood.
Royal Blood release new album ‘Back To The Water Below’ on September 8. The band headline Y Not Festival tonight before playing Brighton Beach tomorrow and topping the bill at Kendal Calling on Sunday before touring North America and the UK. Visit here for tickets and more information.