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Out of the Black: An Interview with Royal Blood’s Mike Kerr

Mike Kerr and Royal Blood
Photo source: Royal Blood Facebook Page

Sometimes great things come in small packages. That’s true in the case of Royal Blood, a British rock duo that gets a gargantuan sound that rivals four or five-piece bands. One of the key ingredients to that sound is the massive bass tone delivered by Mike Kerr.

Kerr started Royal Blood with drummer Ben Thatcher in early 2012 after discovering his voice on the bass. The bassist, who also handles vocals, sees their small band size as a reason for getting creative.

“We seem to resist every opportunity to do something the easy way and instead come up with a more creative solution,” he says. “If it gets to a point where we think, how can we progress or can we go even larger, I’d like to think that there’s another creative solution rather than expanding the line-up with additional musicians.”

The band quickly caught the attention of several prominent rock bands, including Arctic Monkeys, for whom they opened at Finsbury Park. Other performances include South By Southwest, Liverpool Sound City Festival, Download Festival, and Glastonbury Festival.

Royal Blood released their debut EP Out of the Black earlier this year and will be following it up with a self-titled full length debut on August 25th. We reached out to Kerr to get some insight into the band’s beginnings, his massive sound, and the new album.

How did Royal Blood get started?

It’s weird really, because [Ben and I] have been in bands for years together. We’ve grew up in bands together. We cut our teeth together, in that respect. The start of the band really was when I found this bass sound. Ben is the first person I go to when I want to start a new band. The noise I was making was just big enough that we didn’t add any more members this time. We decided to just keep it simple.

It was more curiosity than anything, like, “I wonder if we can get away with doing it with two people.” I was a little bit suspicious at first, really, of how much you could actually get out of it. But it turned out to be a great combination.

So the band really is formed around your bass sound. How did you find it?

Just lots of experimenting, really. I never set out for that sound, it’s just something that happened I guess. I started mucking around on the bass about three years ago. I normally played keys. But I really enjoyed it.

I got really into bass, and I love making new sounds with effects pedals, so I got into that. We looked at how to get different sounds and how they work with different pedals. It got out of hand, really. Once I found something I liked I kept adding to it and adding to it until it became this elaborate thing. But it was mine. I took that weapon with me to create Royal Blood, and here we are.

I know you keep your signal path to yourself, but can you give us a rundown of your gear?

I use three amplifiers, [which are] all Fenders, at the moment. I use two Super-Sonics, which are guitar amplifiers, and I use an 8×10 Bassman. I use a Gretch Electromatic Jr. bass. Everything in between that is entirely secret, but that’s pretty much what I’m using.

I know a few of our readers were trying to speculate on your pedals but couldn’t quite make it out.

Well, everyone knew that Bob Dylan had an acoustic guitar, you know? So I’m not too worried about it.

It seems like you guys have really blown up over a short time. What do you think has pushed you to the next level?

I don’t know if it was one thing, to be honest with you. I don’t really know. I guess for starters, we were in a position where we had a publishing deal quite early on, so we could put all of our time into the band. But it just felt like we were on a bit of a mission to show everyone who we were. We did just what every other band did, which was tour and do loads of gigs. You have to win people over one at a time. With that we ended up winning people over from radio and record labels. I don’t know, it just came to us from playing live and being a real band. I don’t know that there’s a secret [formula] to it.

What’s your writing process like? Does your keyboard background influence how you write?

To start, I like to write melodies. Sometimes I don’t know whether that melody is a riff or a vocal line. [Ben and I] go into a room together and we just throw ideas together and I’ll record it to my phone. There’s no routine or method, really. You just throw ideas at each other until you stumble across something that seems special then explore it.

Your full-length debut comes out August 25th. What can fans expect from it compared to the EP and what they’ve heard from you so far?

This is kind of our attempt at capturing the band almost in a time capsule. There are songs on there that we wrote from day one of the band, and there are songs on there that we wrote just a month ago. We look at it like our greatest hits [laughs]. It’s taken a long time to get a variety of tunes on there and to get away with making up the arrangements with two instruments. It’s taken a lot of sweat and it’s taken a lot out of us to make it. Hopefully you’ll be able to hear that hard work. I’m really proud of it.

Your live show has gotten a lot of peoples’ attention. How do you bottle that excitement and that feeling for everyone when your recording session boils down to the two of you in a studio environment?

When you come see us live, that’s what you see anyway. It’s just [Ben and me] doing our thing, so it’s very similar. What we do is not just egged on by how many people are in front of us. We’d do that in front of two people. In fact, we did it in front of twenty people a month ago. To me that energy is genuine and real, so when we go into the studio it’s not like we’re trying to recreate anything. It’s the same.