WRIT­ING FOR OLD WOUNDS

IT’S THE UP­BEAT AL­BUM OF 2017, THEMATICALLY, BUT IT’S BUILT AROUND FEEL­ING UT­TERLY AW­FUL. HOW DID ROYAL BLOOD GET SO DARK!? STORY AND PHOTO BY

Australian Guitar - - Final Note - PETER ZALUZNY

Ex­hausted. Ex­cited. Burnt out, but blown away. Af­ter re­leas­ing their self-titled de­but in 2014, Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher’s lives went from zero to 100 al­most overnight. The duo from Brighton, bet­ter known as Royal Blood, were be­ing hailed as the saviours of rock and roll. Pub gigs turned into mega fes­ti­val slots with au­di­ences in the thou­sands; it was a wild ride, and one that the guys aren’t soon go­ing to for­get, but years of tour­ing took their toll on Kerr. When the chaos of LP1 was all over, the singer/bassist went home, grabbed his in­stru­ment and slammed it into a door. It was oblit­er­ated, but Kerr seemed re­lieved.

“That was prob­a­bly me say­ing, ‘You can’t make us do this any­more,’” he laughs. “It was like, ‘We could have done more gigs, but now we def­i­nitely can’t.’” Although cathartic, a busted bass didn’t leave him with many op­tions. “But Fender called,” he adds. “I had a chat with them about short scale basses, and they had a Jaguar Squier one on hand. I re­ally liked it, but I also liked the pickup I was us­ing, so they made me, like, a posh ver­sion of the Squier short scale. Be­fore, I’d used these Gretschs that were £300 off the shelf, but I just couldn’t go back.”

The les­son? Smash your way to mak­ing your dreams come true. Okay, it’s not a great les­son, but it paid off and the Squier be­came his main in­stru­ment on the new al­bum, HowDidWeGetSoDark? This time, Kerr felt con­fi­dent ex­plor­ing sounds out­side the riff-laden stomp rock and youth­ful angst wrapped up in rum­bling riffs that de­fined their de­but. Sure, tracks like “Lights Out” and “I Only Lie When I Love You” still reach the deaf­en­ing heights of “Fig­ure it Out”, but Kerr and Thatcher don’t lean on big sounds as much as they used to. In­stead, ...SoDark turns your at­ten­tion to­wards its bleak sub­ject mat­ter.

“I ex­pe­ri­enced quite a lot of dark­ness mak­ing it, but I didn’t want to write about what was go­ing on, be­cause that meant ad­dress­ing it,” he says, al­lud­ing to the topics while with­hold­ing the de­tails. “But there was a point where I re­alised I had to be hon­est with my­self. So I got re­ally into the theme of things be­gin­ning as some­thing good and then turn­ing into some­thing poi­sonous, and there were a lot of metaphors about the process of dy­ing.” And just as it starts to sound like the most un­ex­pect­edly mor­bid record of 2017, Kerr smiles and adds, “It might as well be a re­ally up­beat record about feel­ing like shit.”

Though he keeps the specifics un­der wraps, you get the sense that …SoDark’s nar­ra­tive is at least par­tially in­spired by the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing in a band that blew up un­ex­pect­edly. But de­spite the hard slog through a pe­riod that he refers to as “f***ing men­tal”, Kerr holds the ex­pe­ri­ence in high es­teem. By the end, he felt con­fi­dent enough to branch out from the core sound of their de­but, which meant mix­ing up the writ­ing style and toy­ing with new gear.

“The way we recorded a lot of the al­bum was through lay­er­ing things,” he ex­plains. “I had the bass lines, but I was chang­ing the scene with all the gui­tar tones, which meant a lot of re-amp­ing and adding some ex­tra stuff – two Fender Su­per Son­ics, an 8x10 and a 1x15 – to the rig. There were all of these huge sound changes and amp con­fig­u­ra­tions, but work­ing out how to do all that live was a bit of an af­ter­thought.”

In other words, Royal Blood took a com­pli­cated rig and made it even big­ger. That seems about right, but De­spite Kerr’s in­sis­tence that they weren’t con­sid­er­ing the stage while writ­ing, the songs lived up to ex­pec­ta­tions laid by their de­but. The live con­fig­u­ra­tion is built to shat­ter ceil­ings, rat­tle ribcages and cack foun­da­tions. Even if you’re chilling at the rear with a beer, you’ll see rip­ples rolling through the cup. And boy, has ...So

Dark done their legacy proud. He ad­mits, how­ever, that the gigs weren’t quite up to scratch un­til re­cently, as he couldn’t recre­ate all the sounds from the stu­dio. Try­ing to wran­gle the bounty of ped­als was im­pos­si­ble for any­thing short of an oc­to­pus, which meant com­pro­mises had to be made. But that all changed when some­one showed him the VooDoo Lab Ground Con­trol.

“Ul­ti­mately, what it’s af­forded me to do is make some way more im­pres­sive gui­tar sounds be­cause I don’t spend half the show hit­ting four ped­als at the same time,” he ex­plains. “Now I can go into much finer de­tails with the sounds, even on songs from the first record. It’s like we sort of re­mas­tered ev­ery­thing.”

So while Royal Blood’s rapid rise to fame and work­horse tour that en­sured may have proved bru­tal at times, Kerr and Thatcher were smart enough to treat their jour­ney as an ed­u­ca­tion of sorts. And sure, they could have cloned their first record for round two, but in­stead they made a con­scious de­par­ture from their ori­gins, and it paid off. That said, there are some styles that Kerr will adamantly ex­clude for­ever. “My hate for cym­bals has grown mas­sively over the years,” he says. “Ben nat­u­rally plays a very hip-hop style any­way, but I’m like, ‘Please don’t rock out on a cym­bal. Just keep it clean!’ F*** cym­bals. They suck.”

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