All rock duos, from Simon and Garfunkel to Hall and Oates to the Black Keys, inevitably come to a fork in the road. Either they invite more musicians into the fold, either in the studio or on the road; or they take time apart to work on their own projects.
So for Royal Blood, which is it going to be?
"It's not really an elephant in the road," said singer and bassist Mike Kerr, who along with drummer Ben Thatcher makes up the Brighton, England rock duo. "I think we'll get to a stage where we may need extra people to help us do what we do. For example, we now have some backing singers who'll be out on this run. But the core of the band will remain myself and Ben."
That's been more than enough so far. Since forming in 2013, Royal Blood has become one of the few new heavy blues-rock acts to break through on an international stage this decade, playing festivals from Glastonbury to Bonnaroo to Coachella. They've done it partly through social media savvy — their covers of songs like Pharrell Williams' Happy and Lana Del Rey's West Coast have attracted millions of views — but mostly through original songs built around fierce, ferocious bass riffs distorted to sound like guitars.
Almost exactly a year after releasing their sophomore album How Did We Get So Dark?, Royal Blood will perform at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. Beforehand, Kerr took a few minutes to answer some questions via email.
You guys are kind of a rarity: A relatively new, pretty popular rock band, in an era of the industry when new rock bands don't often become pretty popular. What's the biggest challenge for rock musicians right now in building that type of career?
I think staying relevant. Attention spans are at an all-time low, and there's always something new coming along, so it's a case of continuing to evolve, at our own pace, and hope that people stick with us for the journey. It's been a hell of a ride so far.
Is the process of coming up with a all-new riff exhausting? Do you ever feel like all the great ones have already been done?
I think my thought process is not to go searching for it too hard, if you try too hard to come up with this "perfect" riff you can hit a dead end and ultimately frustrate yourself. Our writing process is pretty relaxed. W make music that we enjoy ourselves.
Let's say you could take an arena full of fans from the '70s and time-travel forward to today. What three bands would you put on stage to show them what rock is like in 2018?
Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age and Arctic Monkeys. That's a festival lineup right there.
What do you think makes kids in 2018 want to pick up a guitar in the first place? As opposed to some other instrument — or no instrument at all?
I think that's the difficulty. We need more exposure to "rock" music and bands so that there still is that generation that comes through, picks up a guitar, plays the drums, forms a band in their garage with their best mates. It's important that the next generation are exposed to bands and live music.
What would it take for rock to once again become the dominant force in music culture? Can it happen?
Firstly I think it would take some of the gateholders in the streaming age to really profile new, emerging rock music. People need to be given the choice. At the moment it seems everyone wants more pop or electronic music, so the rock side of things doesn't get so much profile. We just have to keep doing our thing and encouraging the next wave. There's some great rock acts coming through; they just need some exposure.
Your old covers still have a fan base. Do you feel like you're over that phase? When's the last time you heard a new song and thought about trying to work up a proper Royal Blood cover?
It's been awhile. A lot of the time we've been asked to come up for covers for certain radio commitments, we don't tend to include (those songs) in the set these days. We've been pretty focused on writing new material for the next record so haven't considered covers at the moment.
— Jay Cridlin