Royal Blood’s Mike Kerr Opens Up About Road To New Album: “When I Got Sober, I Had To Relearn How To Write Songs”

On April 30, the British indie rock band Royal Blood put out their third studio album, Typhoons

Videos by American Songwriter

Already racking up tens of millions of streams on its singles, the arrival of the album itself feels like a triumphant moment for the band, who’ve been in the public eye since their debut self-titled album hit No. 1 on the U.K. charts back in 2014. Swaggering, genre-blending and with a daring quality to its writing, Typhoons shows us the members of Royal Blood—vocalist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher—at their most comfortable. But coming to a moment like this has actually been years in the making… after their self-titled rocked the scene in 2014, the world wasn’t quite as rose-tinted as Royal Blood thought it would be.

“There’s a great quote: ‘Success and failure are equally as disastrous,’” Kerr told American Songwriter.

See, after being launched to the top of the charts, the thrill of success was surreal at first. “One minute, I was working in a cafe in my hometown making cups of coffee for little old ladies and the next thing you know, I was on tour in America with Foo Fighters playing stadiums every night,” Kerr said. “To go from naught to a thousand like that is incredibly exciting. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t something I had dreamed of.”

But despite how exciting and fulfilling this “dream come true” moment was, it didn’t take long for the glow to wear off and the pressure to sink in. Being lauded with accolades and awards left and right was an honor for the duo, but it also introduced them to some of the darker sides of fame. Thrilling and fun at first, success on that level can be a rather dehumanizing thing, especially when your status—and thus, security for your way of life—is dependent on how well you can balance your own insecurities with the whims of a money-motivated entertainment industry. 

“The one thing success brings is expectation,” Kerr explained. “That meant that, suddenly, when I was songwriting, the motives almost became poisoned by the validation of everyone else. We had been showered with so much praise and had been given so many awards we didn’t ask for… it became difficult to make music for ourselves. Everything we did felt infected by this idea of meeting people’s expectations. And, I mean, I was only 23 years old—it was pretty hard to handle. I also felt so inexperienced as a songwriter and artist. It was a debut record, you know? We were still cutting our teeth. So, yeah, it was a lot to take on.”

With that stress building, Royal Blood still managed to turn out a phenomenal sophomore record, which only cemented their place in the annals of indie rock history and furthered their upward momentum. To a certain degree, this alleviated some of the stress Kerr felt to follow up their debut… but it wasn’t enough to save Kerr from losing himself. 

“Alcohol was a big stress reliever and I was going through a lot of stress,” he said, frankly. Diving into drinking, Kerr started to spiral down a bad road. He began to lose track of time, which led to losing memories altogether. Looking back, he recounts that there are many nights from Royal Blood’s second tour that he can’t recall at all—including an appearance alongside one of his heroes, Jimmy Page, at Brixton Academy.

Eventually he realized that enough was enough: he had to get sober.

“Instead of medicating the symptom, I had to deal with the problem,” he said. “Sobriety was just a gift… it allowed me to take a look under the hood, rewire some things, ground myself and remember who I was. I went back to the very beginning and worked out why I started playing music in the first place. That process took a really long time. Once I relocated my identity and figured out why I’m doing this, that’s when this new record started to take shape.”

With this newfound ethic and inspiration, Kerr was eager to get back to the drawing board with new music… but while the record started to “take shape” during this time, it wasn’t quite getting “good” yet, at least not to Kerr’s standards. 

“We were writing, but nothing was hitting the spot,” he said. “I was a little concerned. Part of me was worried that I needed to be drinking and partying in order to have things to sing about.”

But as he pushed onward on the road to sobriety, Kerr soon learned that this lack of inspiration was all a part of the ride. “When you become sober, you have to relearn everything,” he explained. “It’s not just relearning how to write songs—you have to relearn how to go to sleep, how to wake up, how to fucking talk to people. You have to rehabilitate yourself back into society. So, songwriting was no exception.”

Thus, he devoted himself to the act of learning how to write songs again. At first, the process was slow and steady. Alongside Thatcher, he started chugging away at a series of tunes that had some potential, but still didn’t have that magic spark. Things changed again, serendipitously, when something totally unexpected occurred: the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Being in isolation created the most perfect condition for pressure-free writing,” Kerr explained. “By the time the first U.K. lockdown was done, our album went from an okay-ish album to, like, complete. During that time we wrote ‘Limbo,’ ‘Mad Visions’ and ‘Oblivion’—those are probably some of my favorite songs I’ve written.”

Getting back in touch with their mojo again, these new songs were the result of a huge burst of creativity. Disregarding anyone’s expectations but their own, Kerr and Thatcher hunkered down and began chasing whatever got them excited, just like they did back in the days before their 2014 debut. 

“Genre is something we’ve never taken very seriously,” Kerr said. “At best, it’s a way of organizing a record store. That’s about it. On this new record, instead of obstructing influences that we didn’t feel should go, we allowed our musical tastes to enter our world and our band. The fact that it ‘shouldn’t’ go actually led to something much more creative and unique. We fucking love ABBA and we fucking love the Bee Gees—so, what does it sound like if we try to do that? That’s where ‘Trouble’s Coming’ comes from. Our love of French dance music also factored in—there’s rhythm, there’s groove, there’s texture. We’re allowing everything we love about music to come through.”

Ultimately, the journey to making Typhoons was a life-changing one that brought Kerr’s passion for music into sharp focus. To that end, the record is a beautiful encapsulation of his experience and the road he’s traveled to a healthier life. But at the same time, it’s certainly a departure, exploring a side of Royal Blood that fans haven’t quite seen before. Quelling any fears, however, fans have been embracing the new music with open arms.

“Honestly, it’s gone much better than we anticipated,” Kerr said, reflecting on the reception of the record so far. “We only make music for ourselves—with that kind of dedication, it always runs the risk of alienating fans of your previous work. But to be honest with you, I think most people have come along with it. They’re actually up for it. That almost proves that we were kinda right—making a change was something that needed to happen.”

And for as scary as it was for Kerr to make that change, it has resulted in nothing but a better life for Kerr and even more phenomenal music in the Royal Blood cannon. 

“If you’re making music and you feel comfortable and safe, you’re probably not making anything very exciting,” he said, concluding. “There has to be an element of danger, there has to be an element of excitement. Otherwise, you’re going through the motions and not pushing yourself anywhere.”

Royal Blood’s new album Typhoons is out now and available everywhere. Watch the music video for the song “Boilermaker” below:

Leave a Reply

Oliver Wood Teams Up with Old Friends on “Face of Reason” from Forthcoming Solo Debut ‘Always Smilin’’