Royal Blood Are Learning the Ropes of Arena Rock Domination
Royal Blood's Michael Kerr and Ben Thatcher
Courtesy of BB Gun PR
Dave Grohl took a nasty spill onstage (or off of one, technically) at a music festival in Sweden last month, resulting in a broken leg and a string of canceled concerts for the Foo Fighters in the midst of a tour in support of 2014's "musical map of America," Sonic Highways. Instead of heading home to recuperate, Grohl and the Foos opted to keep at it, working a new throne that looks like something straight out of a drunken nightmare circus into their stage plot so that Grohl could continue to play with his foot elevated and crutches nearby. For Royal Blood, the pulverizing rock duo currently opening for the Foos, this is just another thing that has them singing the praises of their road buddies.
"There's more to [Grohl's] performance than him just running around," says Michael Kerr, who mercilessly barrels down on both his vocal cords and guitar strings with Royal Blood. "How he communicates with the crowd, that's in essence what makes him a great frontman. Just the concept of him in that chair and everyone being aware of the context — he's got a broken leg, and he's still going mad and putting on that quality of a show — it's incredible to watch."
They're a few dates into a two-month stretch on tour with Grohl and Company, and it's the perfect time for the duo to be doing so: After a meteoric year that saw the drop of their self-titled, full-length debut and deafening sets at Coachella, Governors Ball, and Bonnaroo, Royal Blood have planted firm feet in big-stage rock 'n' roll, and they've got the chops to stay there. That's not to say they became seasoned pros overnight from roaring their way through "Out of the Black," the single that launched them out of Brighton to international acclaim. Opening for the Foo Fighters serves as a double-bonus in that it provides a bit of an educational opportunity for Kerr and Ben Thatcher. They get to watch the Foos bring stadiums to their knees with "Everlong" every night, sure — but it's the grunt work they witness that makes for the true highlight, for them, on this tour.
"What's amazing and what I didn't realize about them is how hard they work, really — to see it firsthand is really something else," says Kerr. "I know everyone says that about bands they go on tour with, but I guarantee [other bands] don't work as hard as this band. They get there hours and hours before the show, and they just play. They have their own jam room and they just play all day. Taylor Hawkins lives and breathes the drums. All of them are just constantly writing and working. They never stop. Not only that, they go out and they play a full-force show for three hours. Just to watch them do that on a daily basis, you can't help but be inspired by that kind of work ethic, you know?"
The magnitude of the endeavor at hand has also forced Kerr and Thatcher to look at their music — and specifically how they approach their live set — in a new way.
"It's definitely had an impact on our live performance," says Kerr. "Playing the bigger shows — it's something about being further away from the crowd. In a weird way, it gives you more perspective on what you're doing as a band. We've been fortunate enough to be playing these massive shows, and in between these shows, we've been playing smaller shows in places we've never been to. We've got this amazing dynamic of touring, which is really sort of teaching us a lot about how to perform and what it's all about, really."
While Royal Blood have cracked the Top 20 on the Billboard 200 Chart and are plugging in before thousands of people, they're still playing for huge audiences who are largely there to see the other guys every night — but that's working to their benefit in that it just pushes them harder.
"It's very difficult to understand whether anyone is familiar with anything," says Kerr of winning over Foo fans. "That's half the fun, really. We go out there and play for a lot of people, but they're not necessarily all at the front, you now? We're playing to huge crowds, and it's very difficult to understand the familiarity out there. But I will say there's always a midpoint in the set where we play 'Little Monster,' and we definitely feel a turning point. Whether that's because it's that song or the midpoint of the set, I don't know. There's definitely a point where people acknowledge us and go, 'OK, I like you guys!' We form a connection around that point in the set." He laughs. "I don't want to jinx it!"
All of this — watching the Foo Fighters at work, snagging the attention of their fans, earning a spot on their stage — has rubbed off on Kerr in that he and Thatcher have started to piece together the follow-up to Royal Blood, and they're not waiting until they're stationary to get the ideas for the next record down. "We're writing all the time, and we don't really have the opportunity to put those songs out just yet," he says. "I've set up my little studio on the bus, in the lounge, so whenever I feel creative I can go in there and write stuff down. I don't put pressure on it; I write when the ideas come."
No rush: Royal Blood are a little busy at the moment and will be through October, when their time with the Foos, a jaunt with Bass Drum of Death, and sets at the Reading and Leeds festivals will wind down a most successful year. Maybe by the time they head out on the road again, the songs of their sophomore effort will be ready enough for the live set — and they'll likely have a few more faces in the crowd who are there to see them; they'll probably be headlining, next time around.
Royal Blood open for the Foo Fighters at Citi Field on July 15 and July 16. The shows have sold out, but tickets are available on secondary markets.
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