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Interview: Royal Blood’s Mike Kerr talks Led Zeppelin, opening for Foo Fighters, and the downside of owning an old iPod

 

Everyone knows by now that the most important band in the UK these days are Nottingham’s Sleaford Mods, but another duo to the south, Brighton’s Royal Blood, are coming in at a very close second. Comprised of drummer Ben Thatcher and Mike Kerr on vocals and a tricked out bass, the band have become the rock and roll toast of England with their thick and devastating blend of blues-infused distortion and catchy-as-hell songwriting. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page called it “an honor” to be given an award by them and has dubbed their tunes “music of tremendous quality.”

Currently supporting their eponymous debut which is creeping up on its one-year anniversary, Royal Blood scored their first number one at rock radio this week with the second single from the album, “Little Monster.” Sunday night they’ll be sharing opening duties for the second Foo Fighters show at Fenway Park with Dropkick Murphys, and continuing on with Dave Grohl et al through the summer before hitting the Reading and Leeds Festivals, Rock in Rio, and ending the year with a handful of Stateside dates with Bass Drum of Death.

Vanyaland caught up with Kerr to talk about touring with the Foos, keeping ego in check, and his favorite Zeppelin album.

 
 

Michael Christopher: You’ve cited the Foo Fighters as one of your main influences. What’s it been like opening for them for the first couple dates?

Mike Kerr: Great! It’s been great so far. It’s kinda weird, as you say; we grew up with the Foo Fighters, listened to Foo Fighters… and there’s a few too many members of Nirvana walking around backstage. It’s sort of mad talking to Pat [Smear] and Dave and seeing how they operate is a great opportunity for us to kind of see how it’s done on that level.

Were you worried that the tour might get postponed, given Dave’s accident?

 
 

It was touch and go for a moment. Obviously we were down to play the Wembley in London and when they got cancelled it sort of felt like this might not go ahead, but he’s a trooper man; full credit to him for going on and getting this down.

What are your thoughts on the throne?

The throne is something to behold. If you see it up close, it’s mad.

You guys are at the point where the album has been out for almost a year and people are getting antsy for some new material. When will we hear something new?

 
 

We’ve got nothing else planned for release at this stage. We just sort of built a recording setup into our tour bus as of Monday, and we’re trying to get some demos done. It’s mainly trying to get some ideas down on the road, and then we have a couple of weeks off in September where we’ll go into the studio. But in terms of when we release anything new? Yeah, not sure at this stage.

There’s been a ton of success with this album, and it’s come really fast. How do you avoid the pressure that comes with such swift accomplishment?

We feel it in certain stages. The pressure will come when we kind of really get into the second record, you know, the famous difficult second record. But we’re really enjoying what we’re doing at the moment and you’re moving around so much and you really don’t get a real moment to process. Then you go home and you might sort of go, “Wow, that was mad.” But in terms of pressure, playing live is what we really enjoy. There’s pressure certainly when you open up for the Foo Fighters, but it’s something where we just go out there and put on a show and hopefully people dig it.

 
 

How surprised were you with the positive reaction to the record, not only with fans, but artists who influenced you? Obviously Jimmy Page comes to mind when he says it’s an honor for him to be given an award by Royal Blood, that he trusts in you and that he’s passing on the baton.

Yeah… the thing with Jimmy is, we couldn’t ask for anyone better to talk about us in such favorable terms; he’s the godfather of rock. For him to be saying nice things about the music we’re creating is amazing. It’s strange having things like Lars from Metallica coming up and playing with us during a tiny club show in San Francisco — all that sort of stuff is madness. You certainly take that praise to heart, and it’s nice that someone takes the time to credit your music, it’s like an added bonus. It’s great that it’s received by the public and critics and whatnot, but when you also get one of your idols kind talking about it, that’s a sort of pinch yourself moment.

It’s got to be tough to find that balance, because on one level it’s fucking mind-blowing, and on another level, you don’t want to get a big head over it.

That’s it; you take it with a pinch of salt. You can’t let those things get into your head and start thinking kind of on an ego level or something like that. You have to stay on the ground and go, “Oh, cool,” and carry on with what you’re doing. We go out on this tour and you’re playing to people who don’t know who you are and our job is to put on a show that people go, “Oh wow, I’ll go check out that record.” To have people talking about it in those circles is great as well.

 
 

When it comes to Zeppelin, what’s your favorite album of theirs?

[Long exhale] Oh, that’s a difficult one. Hmmm… you know what, I listen to Zeppelin probably every single day. It’s never not on my iPod. It’s always been something you listen to before a show. I’ll probably say… Led Zeppelin II.

And that could change tomorrow.

Yeah, that’s it — I love it all. It’s something that we’ve grown up with as well, both Ben and I constantly listen to Zeppelin and it’s just perfect music to get you prepared for a show as well.

 
 

Have you been impressed with the expanded editions?

Do you know what; I actually haven’t had the opportunity to listen. If you’ve ever seen my iPod, it’s an old, sort of second generation iPod, so I don’t think I can even update it anymore.

So you can’t add anything to it.

[Laughs] Exactly — yeah, so it’s a real hassle in that respect, but no, I haven’t had the opportunity listen to them yet, but it’s something that I definitely [want to check out], like the new tracks and unreleased, different versions of it.

Other than their double albums, every release in Zeppelin’s catalog clocked in at 40, 41 minutes. But you see artists today that fill an entire CD, and then put out iTunes bonus tracks or whatever. But Royal Blood seems to be a fan of the less is more approach; the record is just a little over 30 minutes long. Was that a conscious decision to make it that long?

No, not consciously. The 10 songs on the record were the 10 songs we kind of felt summed up the sound we were trying to achieve and we didn’t feel like adding additional tracks onto that would’ve have benefitted the record. We’re certainly feeling it now when we have headline shows when you go and expect to hear an hour and 10 minutes, an hour and 20 minutes set and we’ve got a half hour record. So we’ve put in our B-sides, which is great on this support tour because we have 45 minutes, so we can get there. But you’ll see in the live set we’ll build upon them, so they’re not completely similar to the record. But I wouldn’t say it wasn’t a conscious decision; if we had had two or three or four more songs that would have fit, they would’ve gone on the record.

 
 

It’s always tough for a UK band when they attempt to break the States. But one of the thing Royal Blood has going for it is not only the high profile support slots, but you’re pulling in fans from so many different genres looking to claim you as their own; garage rock, indie and alternative — even metal fans are gravitating toward the music. What do you think it is about the band’s sound that draws in so many listeners?

I don’t know actually. It’s great that it’s able to span across those genres. We’ve not set out to be one particular genre and it’s great to know that it appeals to, as you say, garage rock kids and the heavier side of rock or metal — or even pop. The track “Out of the Black,” the first track we put out, is probably the most aggressive, heaviest sounding song on the record. Then you’ve got tracks like “Figure It Out” which is perhaps… it’s almost poppy in places. I think also the setup that it’s just the two of us and just bass and drums, it’s not really weird for us at all, but people are like, “Oh wow, it’s the bass and drums.” I think the setup is something that’s quite unique that people gravitate toward.

Finally, when’s the next headlining tour in the States?

I’m sure we’ll be back to Boston quickly for our own show. We did a great show there at the… uh… the Allston Music Hall?

Brighton Music Hall!

Brighton Music Hall! Right, I should remember that.

 
 

Yeah, come on man, you should remember that.

Yeah — but we did a great show there.

ROYAL BLOOD + FOO FIGHTERS + DROPKICK MURPHYS :: Sunday, July 19 at Fenway Park, 4 Yawkey Way in Boston :: 6 p.m., all ages, $49.50 to $75 [sold out] :: More information on the V:List