The Brighton rock duo release their “instinctive” fourth album ‘Back To The Water Below’ this Friday (September 1), after an intimate launch show at Camden’s Electric Ballroom in London tomorrow.
While this record is self-produced by Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher, previous album ‘Typhoons’ was co-produced by Paul Epworth and Homme. Speaking to NME, Kerr spoke of how working with Homme – particularly on previous album single ‘Boilermaker‘ featuring on Homme’s 2019 side project ‘The Desert Sessions Vol 11/12‘ – and the advice from the QOTSA frontman helped him put together new material.
“Josh Homme said, ‘If you expect anything from music, you expect too much’,” said Kerr. “Tomorrow is never promised, and I’m amazed we’ve got this far and still get to do this.
“We never had any ambitions to play this venue or do that tour. The only ambitions we have now are to keep digging and pushing forward creatively. It adds fuel. I get to the end of every record and think, ‘I never want to do this again – I’m broken, I’m fucked’. I have no idea how to start another album, but when you find a new thing all the inspiration comes back.
Kerr continued: “Making an album is really hard. I’ve had amazing moments in [our studio] but they’re really fleeting. I spent most of my time really doubting if I can do this. It’s imposter syndrome – thinking you’re shit most of the time. Then you get this blip where you think, ‘Maybe I’m not completely shit’. You get to the end and it’s like finishing a marathon.”
Asked if he’d ever work with any other musicians beyond Thatcher or form another band, Kerr replied: “This might change, but we both get a real kick out of it just being the two of us. I find it hard to keep that dynamic going when there’s anyone else there. We have more fun. You can get up to no good when we’re jamming. There’s no authority or grown-ups. I’ve had mainly negative experiences of working with other people.
“Josh Homme is the stand-out for me where it was amazing and really powerful. I learned so much about myself and what we were doing. That was an amazing moment in time. It equipped me to do what we did on this record. It gave some amazing self-belief and that hasn’t really wavered.”
Of the chances of ever making a solo record, Kerr told us: “I have thought about this, but even if I did a solo record I’d be like, ‘I need some drums’, and it would just end up being this. Honestly, I love being in this band and the support of Ben. I don’t know how anyone does it on their own.”
Looking ahead to ‘Back To The Water Below’, Kerr explained how the focal-point of the album was “the songwriting” above all else.
“For the first time, I feel like you can play every song on a piano or an acoustic guitar and the songs would survive being presented in different ways,” he said. “Previously on other records, there are songs led by the riff or the muscle or strength of being heavy or loud. This record is all about the song, and that’s always been the thing since the beginning. One thing that always annoys people is a catchy rock song. They’ll be like, ‘How dare you attempt to write a pop song while wearing a guitar?’ To us, that’s always been the point – making things that stick with you.”
He went on: “If you’re in a rock band and you go out there with a fuzz pedal and a wall of amps and have nothing to say with no song beneath it all, you’re a fucking moron! You’re a poser. We’ve put songwriting at the forefront, which allowed us a framework to put a thing underneath.
Kerr pointed to new album track ‘The Firing Line’ as a “powerful moment” for the band, and a breakthrough in them stepping outside of their comfort zone.
“I remember that ‘Typhoons’ had just come out and I was not writing for Royal Blood,” recalled Kerr. “I had a weird eight-string bass and was just fucking around. I made the whole instrumental for it in about an hour.
“It was just for the sake of doing it. I thought, ‘What the fuck am I going to do with this?’ Feeling a bit scared is a good way of doing things. Bowie had that analogy of ‘Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in’. That’s where we should exist, so we pursued it.
“Funnily enough, our first move was an insecure one to Royal Blood-ify it – and we fucking destroyed it. It was a reminder that the songs are in charge, and if you deny them what they are supposed to be then it’s very obvious. It went back to the demo of this delicate and transparent song with no distortion. For me, moments like that give me hope that there’s a future. I don’t want to keep doing the same thing – I want to see what’s next.”
The frontman added: “In the same breath, I don’t want to alienate our fans or myself. It’s like trying on clothes – you put on a jacket and you know straight away. You can only lie to yourself for so long.”
“Sometimes bands do genre flexing like, ‘Look at all these things that we can do’. With some bands that comes from a real place and that’s great, but I don’t want to feel like we need to. Like, ‘Check out this fucking funk record!’ The songs took us to this place, rather than us saying, ‘Let’s do something we’re not very good at!’”
Noting other “surprising” moments in the making of the album, Kerr spoke of how the song ‘Waves’ came from a more “pure” and “vulnerable” place.
“I knew the album wasn’t done – there was something missing,” said Kerr. “We had a week to decide if we were going to delay the whole thing. I was sat at the piano thinking, ‘I’m pretty scared writing this’. I was terrified to play Ben the first demo. I felt embarrassed because it was a brand new place to be in with no wall of sound.
He went on: “I sent Ben a rough sketch of what I was thinking and he was like, ‘10/10 – we have to do this!’ He’s amazing in that he’s so supportive in me trying new things. We had that on the last record with ‘All We Have Is Now’. I thought, ‘Is this a bit lame?’ There’s an insecure part of me that wants to go out with my chest puffed out and be a pro-wrestler. That’s a part of me and I have fun with it, but it’s not all of me. With songs like ‘Waves’, there’s a softer side to me that’s never represented on stage, but all my friends know it’s there.
“It feels important, and it feels good.”
Next year also marks 10 years since the band released their debut Number One self-titled album.
Asked if fans can expect an anniversary tour, Kerr replied: “It would be great to mark it by doing some kind of play-through honouring it, but I don’t think about it. It would be great to get back in the van and re-do the original tour. That would be funny.”
And how about perhaps stepping up to headline Reading & Leeds festival next year?
“That would be amazing,” replied Kerr. “I’m hoping we can ramp it up.
Last month, the band also spoke to NME about the fall-out of their appearance at BBC Radio One’s Big Weekend, as well as lessons learned from touring with Muse.
Royal Blood release ‘Back To The Water Below’ on September 1, before a run of intimate album launch shows and later a full North America and UK headline tour. Visit here for tickets and more information.