Royal Blood: Jimmy Page Is ‘Just This Regular Guy From England': Exclusive Interview
Earlier this year, Royal Blood did a brief headlining tour of the U.S. to preview tracks from How Did We Get So Dark?, their sophomore release. Now that the record has been out a few months and has been able to seep into people’s consciousness with ragers like “Lights Out,” “I Only Lie When I Love You” and the title track, they’re back again.
This Wednesday (Sept. 6) the Brighton, England, rock duo will begin a high-profile opening slot for Queens of the Stone Age that’ll go through the end of October. Then it’s back to Europe to close out the year with a string of headlining shows.
Recently, Royal Blood bassist and singer Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher sat down to talk about a variety of topics like how grounded they found Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, encounters with fame and feeling out of place on the pop landscape.
There’s been a lot of talk about how you’ve gotten so big so fast. Playing with these huge artists like Foo Fighters, Guns N’ Roses … how do you go through that and keep yourselves grounded, keep your wits about you – and not walk around with sunglasses indoors and all that?
Kerr: Well…I love wearing sunglasses indoors – especially when I’m hungover, so I definitely don’t want to stop doing that. But, I don’t know, I mean, I guess it’s a mixture of who you’re around and how you’re brought up. Maybe we are like that and we don’t know [laughs].
What about the friends back home?
Kerr: I think part of the role of a friend is to look out for you on an emotional level. So I think the reason why a lot of our friends back at home are still our friends is because our career or our lifestyle as a band– we don’t really talk about it. We talk to them about their lives. Our friendship is bigger than a rock band.
It’s not even a thing.
Kerr: No. That’s why people who want to talk about the band all the time we don’t really have time for because we live this band and if we’re not playing we’re talking about it and it just feels like…we want to switch off from that stuff.
How Did We Get So Dark? Has a sound that’s a lot… “bigger” is one way to put it I suppose. Going into it, was that the intention?
Kerr: I think all the differences in this new album from the first one; it’s almost like the second album is a product of our having more experience. We didn’t do much more than set out to improve on every angle really. We were just looking to sharpen the tools really.
Live, are finding you can let them breath a bit more?
Kerr: Yeah, playing them live they begin very differently than played a few months down the road. The record is just like a snapshot of that song and what it was like then, so we play things very differently live. But they feel good – they’re very hard. They’re a lot more difficult than the first one.
Thatcher: You see them on the setlist and you kind of get excited about playing them, because they’re fresh. And we’ve still got butterflies when we know they’re coming up…
Kerr: It’s dangerous, which is a good feeling. I think once you feel safe up there, try something else, pack it in.
The States are notoriously hard for British bands to break. You’ve been getting a good deal of notice here whether it's the headlining club shows or as support. There’s got to be an air of excitement about that.
Kerr: Surreal. I mean, there’s nothing quite like it really. To be honest with you, I think we get more of a buzz playing shows [in the States] than we would playing a massive award show in the U.K., because here is like a way of us measuring how far we’ve come as a band. I never thought I’d be able to come to Boston, let alone sell out a show for our band. It’s definitely not something we take for granted and it always trips me out when I think about it, which I try not to do.
You mention award shows. I was reading a bit about your adventure – or misadventures – at the BRIT Awards – where [Thatcher] had shot a champagne cork at Taylor Swift’s head…
Thatcher: Yeah…that was an accident.
When you’re mingling with these people, these pop stars…
Thatcher: I think we got over it quite quickly. I think the minute Jimmy Page stepped into our dressing room; he was one of the first people we ever met, everyone after that was…
Kerr: Everyone was like kind of secondary. It’s like, “Who’s better than that?”
Thatcher: And especially when, you know, when we first met Jimmy Page, we were really excited – obviously – to meet him. When you‘re talking to him, you forget that he’s “Jimmy Page,” he just becomes this regular guy from England who’s done a lot of s---, but he just loves music and makes you feel really relaxed and he’s eating f---in’ potato chips and he’s just normal. So after that you’re just like, “Cool.”
Kerr: I think as well if we ever do get in a situation where we’re round, like, major famous people, it’s quite rare for us really, we’re not really in that world, we’re still a dirty rock ‘n’ roll band.
Which is why I was so surprised you went to say "Hi" to Taylor Swift.
Thatcher: I had just won a BRIT award. And we were drunk [laughs].
Kerr: Yeah, that equation.
Taking it back to Jimmy Page, I’ve spoken with some people who’ve met him and they always say what a laid-back guy he is…
Kerr and Thatcher: Yeah.
So when he puts you at ease like that, do you feel comfortable just joking around with him; do you ask him to join the band?
Kerr: He has all of those qualities, just an easy guy. He’s passionate about music and for us, it’s probably easier to talk to someone like that than, like, a Formula One driver who’s just a famous guy. With musicians you can just talk rock music.
When you see that in someone, it does beg the question in pop stardom when you have these people – and I don’t want to single out anyone – but these popstars in general walking around with their entourage and think they’re better than anything else out there. Then you have a guy like Jimmy Page who just rolls up on his own and is so grounded.
Thatcher: It’s just a different world isn’t it? Being an artist in 2017 isn’t like being in Led Zeppelin in the ‘70s.
Kerr: Most people we’ve met are all right. I don’t really think you can get by with being too much of an a--hole these days. It’s very rare that you meet someone who’s, like, a d---. That’s just my experience.
A lot of people continue to latch onto not so much the two-person thing, but the fact that Royal Blood doesn’t have a guitarist.
Kerr: To us it wasn’t a big deal. We’re not the first two-piece by any means, so to us, we didn’t really think it would be such a talking point, but people are obsessed with it [laughs]. We’ve forgotten that there’s two of us; it’s just me an Ben trying to make really good music and good songs. I guess it’s just become like a bullet point.
Thatcher: It’s just an attraction because we are so loud, but that’s just the nature of rock music.
It’s not just fans of rock music who are into you either; you’ve got fans of hard rock, garage rock, heavy metal – and they all want to claim you as their own. What’s it been like to appeal across those different genres?
Kerr: It’s great! It’s cool we get to play, like, I guess it gives us a variety in the kinds of festivals we get to play, but it’s not something we thought about or designed – it’s just by default really. It’s not really something we think about either. It’s gotten us into some weird places I guess, but it’s cool.
Have you felt out of place, whether it’s on a festival bill or…
Kerr and Thatcher: All the time.
Kerr: We just did this Big Weekend Radio 1 thing in the U.K. where we felt out of place in the best way possible. Before us it was really just pop acts and I guarantee I was the only one there with a fuzz pedal or “a” pedal [laughs].
Thatcher: We have, like, I think there’s such an easy way to access music and you don’t have to buy it anymore and you’re opened up to a lot of other genres and artists.
Kerr: Everyone has a diverse taste now. No one’s really – apart from, like, jazz guys – no one’s really into like, one thing.
Thatcher: You’ve got people coming to watch your band then they go to watch Bastille or Little Mix or [laughs], you know, whatever.
Last thing I want to ask, what do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about the two of you or would be surprised to know?
Thatcher: We’re not very serious [both laugh].
That’s huge – because so many people think that you are this dour lot.
Kerr: I think it’s a mixture of sort of photos that misrepresent us, because we’re forced to stand in front of a f---in’ wall and – “Look moody – stop smiling.” So there’s that. And I guess as well our connection with people on social media and we’re, not consciously, fairly aloof in the sense that we don’t use it that much so I guess there’s a certain sort of mystery about the kind of people we are. A lot of people we meet are surprised, like, “I thought you’d be really angry.”
Thatcher: Also, our humor is so dry, sometimes we don’t even know if we’re joking or not.
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