Royal Blood’s daring new album, Typhoons, is the duo as you’ve never heard them before and sees the band bring bright colours into their previously monochrome world. It’s a kaleidoscopic record that captures Royal Blood taking a giant leap out of their comfort zone and into the unknown, which could have backfired, but pays off in dramatic style and is their most vital work to date. In truth, the fact the album is even here is a worthy cause for celebration.
The duo, made up of Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher, are in the best place they’ve ever been, both sonically and personally. In the interim, since their last album in 2017, Kerr made a life-changing decision to get sober, which is a contributing factor as to why Royal Blood are sharing their masterpiece today. Without making that drastic life switch, then who knows what the future may have held for the band.
It was 2014 when the group shared their chart-topping debut album, a project that landed them with a Brit Award for Best British Group and made Royal Blood one of the most-talked-about acts in the country in the process. Although it seemed as though they had arrived out-of-nowhere, sneaking onto the mainstream in an overnight raid to immediately achieve superstar status, the less glamourous truth is they spent years honing their sound across open-mics before sniffing an inch of success.
With momentum behind them, the duo followed up their eponymous debut in 2017 with How Did We Get So Dark?, a record that saw Royal Blood recreate their devilish black magic to great success again. It would have been easy for them to stick to this winning formula, but instead, the duo has thrown caution to the wind on the illuminating Typhoons.
“I think we had a real hunger for something fresh. I think we both felt like we had exhausted our Royal Blood formula,” frontman Mike Kerr honestly tells Far Out over Zoom from his Brighton base. “We made two records were really happy with, but the idea of continuing and not changing was so uninspiring and not something we wanted to explore. We had no appetite to explore that whatsoever,” the singer explains in a refreshingly matter-of-fact way.
“I felt like there was a bit of an appetite from everyone for something fresh,” Kerr adds. “Not that I go around with a microphone interviewing people, but I just think we’re very successfully completed with those records.”
Unlike their first two albums, Typhoons is sprinkled with electronic aspects, which evolves the duo to a whole new level. Throughout the record, Royal Blood allows themselves to channel their inner Daft Punk without compromising their rock ‘n’ roll credentials to seamlessly mesh the two contrasting worlds together. This sentiment is especially triumphant on ‘Mad Visions’ and ‘Hold On’, tracks that bleed into one another in viscoelastic fashion — again showcasing this tantalising side to Royal Blood which previously we didn’t know the duo had in their locker.
“That’s been a huge influence on both of us,” Kerr notes on electronic music. “I think that it’s also broader than that, I think, songs at that tempo is the kind of music we listen to on the tour bus. It’s just such a party, and I think our shows are just these very aggressive and full-on experiences. We wanted to bring about a bit of that party atmosphere here and make it feel like an after-party.”
The title track is quite rightly an immense source of pride for Kerr. “I think it’s the most colourful we’ve ever gone and the most textured,” he comments. “For us, because the previous records have been so bare, raw and simple — it felt so refreshing to hear these songs so luxurious. I think we’ve almost starved ourselves of that aesthetic.”
Realising that they could conquer this new ‘luxurious’ sound was a liberating moment for Royal Blood. On Typhoons, the duo feast upon their sonic freedom thanks to their newfound adventurous strategy.
“It was something that was happening naturally,” Kerr says about their approach. “I think we have a greater sense of identity, now, in our lane, our world, and it’s exciting.”
When Royal Blood first entered the collective consciousness, their rise to the top seemed sharp and led to a backlash from the tin-hat brigade. Bizarrely, people started spreading a false narrative that they were created by a major label, despite the duo having spent years on the gigging circuit before getting any kind of recognition. However, in a sentiment that rings true to the core of the band, theser critics spurred the band on and gave Royal Blood a point to prove whenever they performed live.
“I think anything that gave people a low expectation of us made us feel pretty comfortable,” Kerr admits. “We knew we could go on stage and blow someone’s mind with our songs. Anyone being like, ‘Oh, apparently their shit’, that to me was almost like a bit of a weight off my shoulders. If you think we’re shit that’s about, that’s so much better than someone saying you’re the best band in the world and having to live up to that.”
Although playing live is still Royal Blood’s second home, they have allowed themselves to enjoy the creative process more than ever before on Typhoons. “Making record before felt a little bit like doing your homework. I think this time around, we found a bit more of a love for it. We found our creative freedom in the studio and that freedom we’ve always had on stage.”
It’s not just on a professional level where Kerr’s outlook has changed since their last album, but on a personal note too. As previously mentioned, the singer got sober in 2019 and has just celebrated two years which has changed his life. It’s taken a lot of mental strength to reach this admirable milestone, and it’s not been a plain-sailing ride for the singer.
“Getting sober at the beginning actually has the opposite effect where it’s actually worse, and everything’s harder,” Kerr bravely admits in regards to being creative. “For me anyway, that went on for quite a long time, I’d say nearly a year of thinking like maybe I should sort of go back to how things were. After a while, some real clarity sort of descended on me and I just got my mojo back for music.
“I just felt sharper in the studio, and as a writer, that thing was about confidence. I think that comes from trust, and I felt like I could really trust my own opinions, which is so important if you’re a creative person. If you don’t trust your own opinions, then you look for validation in others, which is the beginning of the end.”
“I think sobriety is allowing yourself to feel rather than drown them out,” the singer poignantly states.
However, most importantly, it’s allowed Kerr to enjoy every little nuanced aspect of life and just appreciate life in all of its intricate complexities: “It translates into the rest of my life as a human,” he said. “No one’s ever had a worse time by being more present.”
From our conversation, it’s the frontman’s brutal honesty that strikes me the most. None more so than when I ask Kerr if Typhoons would be here today if he didn’t alter his lifestyle, and he candidly revealed without a moment of hesitation: “Absolutely not. I think I’d be dead. We wouldn’t have a band, let alone an album.”
The last two years haven’t been a stroll in the park by any stretch of the imagination, Kerr has come out of the other side with a new lease of life, and he isn’t taking a single breath for granted. Speaking about how he wants listeners to feel to drop the needle on Typhoons, Kerr’s answer is a simple one, yet, moving in equal measure: “Just happy to be alive.”
At his darkest hour, Kerr’s sole focus was to come out of it alive. Not only is he here today, but he’s come armed with a swaggering new album to signify the dawn of a new era. His frankness on his journey is infectious, and how he got from where he was to his position today is inspiring.
At one point, Kerr could have been another rock ‘n’ roll tragedy who departed us painfully too early. Miraculously, the marauding frontman is here today to gift the world with Royal Blood’s magnum opus, which has arrived against all odds.