Royal Blood have returned with heavy new single ‘Mountains At Midnight’ and details of fourth album ‘Back To The Water Below’. Check them out below, along with our interview with frontman Mike Kerr.
Following on from their acclaimed third album ‘Typhoons’ from 2021, the Brighton rock duo of Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher will release the self-produced ‘Back To The Water Below’ on September 8 – with the first taster arriving in the form of the pummelling back-to-basics single ‘Mountains At Midnight’.
“It’s always about getting people’s attention, and songs of this nature seem to be rare,” Kerr told NME. “It sounds so much like us and what we’re known for. As a reintroduction to us, it felt like a bold way to come back and say, ‘Hi!’”
Asked about the lyrics of the song, Kerr said that he was reticent to reveal too much having unloaded so much about his personal struggles and journey to sobriety on ‘Typhoons’.
“I promised myself that I wouldn’t delve too much into lyric meanings on this one – only because I spent so much of the last album dissecting the songs to the point where there was nothing left worth listening to anymore,” he said. “What I will say is that there is a lyrical theme between the songs. It may not bring all of them together, but it is coming from a distressing place, mentally. I just don’t want to destroy it before it’s begun.
“I’ve spent so much time and effort on the lyrics and making sure I mean every fucking line, then I waltz out to explain them and I’m just gonna piss off Ben, so he’ll be like, ‘Oh, you’ve made them sound rubbish’.”
While the last record was produced with a little help from Paul Epworth (Adele, Florence + The Machine, U2) and Queens Of The Stone Age‘s Josh Homme, this time the two life-long friends made the album themselves at their home studio in Brighton.
“Ben and I know each other so well, and this record was about being honest with each other,” Kerr told NME. “Self-producing it forced us to do things that came naturally to us. Sometimes having a producer, although with good intentions, pushes you to go to territories you wouldn’t normally go to. Obviously that can really serve for progression, but for us it’s also about doing something that is inherently what you would do.
“Whenever we do something really honest, it’s musically very powerful. That usually requires not thinking about it too much.”
The album was also made with two pieces of advice learned from Jack White and Rick Rubin about listening to their gut.
“Jack White once said that it took him 30 years to figure out that the first thing he plays in the studio is the thing,” said Kerr. “Deep down, I think that’s something I knew, but I really respected it this time around. We honoured our instincts and the first thing we played. Sometimes you play something from a really pure place and you spend months overthinking and wrecking it, or you eventually circle straight back to where you began. Not having a producer allowed us to be a little more forthright and bold.
Kerr continued: “I met him very briefly about five years ago. He’s obviously an amazing character, and he said to me, ‘Royal Blood is whatever you invent and do together musically – the context doesn’t matter’. It’s just about the chemistry between us, not the instruments we play. When I think about it like that, it becomes something much more profound. At this stage it would be easier to think that we’ve been confined by what’s made us successful and there’s a rulebook that we have to adhere to. If we step outside of that, we’re disobeying what people like about us.”
“As long as there’s a connection between Ben and I, the genre and the instruments we play are almost irrelevant. It’s about how we interact and how we make songs together. If we lose that, we’ve lost everything. It allowed us some creative freedom – which is how we felt on this record. We could take left turns.”
Alongside ‘Mountains At Midnight’, the album also travels some wide sonic terrain for Royal Blood – including the dance-tinged ‘Shine In The Dark’ and the sleazy but full-bodied glam-rock of ‘Pull Me Through’.
“It feels like the songwriting is doing the heavy lifting and the songs are in charge,” he said. “Before it felt like our riffs were holding the songs up. With the songs on this record, they’ve been road-tested on every other record.
“You have to follow where the songs want to go and where they need to be. A lot of the songs on this record went off into very different places. I wouldn’t have been able to pull that off before.”
Asked about the over-arching character of ‘Back To The Water Below’, Kerr replied: “That’s so hard to answer because it has so many personalities. I couldn’t put it as one thing. It feels like the first album where you really go on a journey with us. There’s a real narrative to it.”
Speaking to NME ahead of the release of ‘Typhoons’, Kerr said that “a record should make you a better person at the end of it, or at least that it could”. Having since completed a full album cycle and tour while completely sober, the frontman explained his current mindset.
“We got to go on tour and that process of going back out on the road was what really brought us back to life,” he said. “The mantra for the band has always been that playing live is the reason we exist. It’s about the thrill of playing in front of people. We’re in rehearsal at the minute, and there are some songs that just don’t make sense without an audience. We really feed off that energy. It was beginning to remind and inform us of where to go next.”
And what’s it like to do it all while totally sober?
“It’s like doing it in HD,” he replied. “I came off the back of that tour not physically and mentally destroyed. I left that tour feeling like it was a sustainable thing that I can do now. I knew I was in it for the long game now, which was a really good feeling. Before, I really questioned how much longer I could do this. Touring is tough on the mind and body as it is.”
Meanwhile, the band are also gearing up for a busy summer of touring – including support slots with their heroes Muse.
“It doesn’t seem real to me,” said Kerr of the shows with the Devonshire space rock trio. “It’ll probably hit me when we arrive at that first stadium. I have to acknowledge how amazing it is, because both us grew up with those early Muse records ultimately teaching us how to play our instruments.
“They were the musical standard. They’ve always been so proficient and consistent. It’s amazing to tune into that frequency and be part of it.”
Among the summer dates, Kerr said that he was also looking forward to a “terrifying” slot at Glastonbury, where they’ll be performing at the festival for the third time.”
“As much as I would like to convince myself that it’s just another gig, you know it’s important and there’s a strange paradox where if you brush off that it doesn’t matter then you do a better job,” he said. “The energy that you get from the crowd at Glastonbury is really unparalleled. There’s something really profound about it that’s hard to define. There’s such a sense of belonging.”
“Sometimes at festivals you can feel like you have to walk out and prove yourself, but at Glastonbury it’s like they’re already on your side and rooting for you because they want to have a good time.”
Royal Blood release ‘Back To The Water Below’ on September 8. Check out the tracklist below.
‘Mountains At Midnight’
‘Shiner In The Dark’
‘Pull Me Through’
‘The Firing Line’
‘Tell Me When It’s Too Late’
‘How Many More Times’
‘There Goes My Cool’
Deluxe Edition 7” single bonus tracks:
Royal Blood’s upcoming tour dates are below. Visit here for tickets and more information.
27 – Plymouth, Home Park (with Muse)
28 – Dundee, BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend
20 – Huddersfield, John Smith’s Stadium (with Muse)
21-25 – Glastonbury
25 – Milton Keynes Bowl (with Muse)
9 – TRNSMT Festival
23 – Truck Festival
27-30 – Kendal Calling
28-30 – Y NOT? Festival
29 – Brighton Beach