Eye of the storm: Royal Blood, Phil Christie & Ian McAndrew talk Typhoons

Eye of the storm: Royal Blood, Phil Christie & Ian McAndrew talk Typhoons

In January 2019, Royal Blood went into Los Angeles’ Pink Duck recording facility with studio owner Josh Homme to begin tentative work on their third album. Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher were hardly overflowing with ideas but they’d become close friends with Homme after supporting his band Queens Of The Stone Age the previous year and they trusted him to help get the motors going. Homme identified a skeletal tune titled Boilermaker as a song that could possibly generate some momentum and they got to work.

Progress was dependent on more than geeing up from their heroes, however, and deep down Kerr could feel it. The frontman and bassist knew his band would remain tethered until he resolved a developing alcohol dependence, an overspill from a year’s worth of touring and partying that had yet to subside. You know this story, you’ve read it before: a band are at their peak and on top of the world, but a bittersweet subplot is emerging, the frontman’s on-the-road life morphing into his
off-the-road life, the chaos becoming all-consuming. On top of that, Kerr was starting to feel a weight on his shoulders regarding the small matter of Royal Blood’s third album. He knew that, Boilermaker aside, he had no other material. Royal Blood had already pulled one rabbit out of the hat, trudging through tortuous album sessions to emerge with their triumphant second album How Did We Get So Dark?, but he didn’t feel it was in him to do it the hard way again.

His problems hadn’t dampened the singer’s ambitions. Kerr wanted to make Royal Blood’s next record better than anything he’d done before, an album that was both lyrically vulnerable and refined and reinvented the lithe rock grooves that had made his band huge. But he knew that something had to give. 

“I was looking at the way I was living my life,” he says down the phone from his home in Brighton on a snowy February morning. “And I was like, ‘Well, the two cannot exist together, one thing has to be sacrificed. One thing has to die.’ Looking back, the idea of trying to write any music in that state is just laughable. I was barely functioning.”

And so Mike Kerr took a weekend off from recording to go where all hedonistic demons meet their maker – Las Vegas –  and went on a bender. One night sat at a bar, woozy and weary, he decided it was time to get sober when, at that very moment, the barman handed him an espresso Martini. A fine farewell, we’re sure you’ll agree. ‘This is my last drink,’ Kerr thought to himself as he downed it. 

Upon arriving back at Pink Duck, he explained his new situation to Thatcher and Homme, telling them, “I’m sober now, I don’t know where it’s going to take me or where it’s going to lead.” “They were like, ‘Good for you,’” he recalls. 

Thatcher had seen it coming. “I could see things going on but it never affected our relationship,” says the drummer, checking in on Zoom from his home, also on the South Coast. “It was between him and himself. It was eating him up and only he can make the change. That’s the way it works, you don’t want anyone else telling you what you’ve gotta do, even though he might have wanted that. You’ve got to step up your game and do it yourself if that’s what you want. And he did.” 

For his part, Kerr is glad it was Homme he was in the studio with whilst his personal problems came to a head. “He’s given me some really wise and sometimes stern nudges in the right direction,” he says. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I had to go and do all the hard work myself…” 


That was over two years ago now. The snarling Boilermaker has made the cut for Royal Blood’s excellent new album Typhoons, due next month, but it’s the only thing that wasn’t done in the wake of Kerr’s sobriety. Everything else has been built upon a clean slate. 

The band sound revitalised by it: Typhoons is a thrilling, push-it-forward rock record that sees the duo anchor their sea monster riffs with driving beats and nods to their love of French house dons such as Daft Punk, Cassius and Justice. The title is no coincidence: it is a record steeped in emotional turbulence. They might as well have called it Mike Kerr’s Stormy Weather.

That Kerr wanted Royal Blood to improve upon everything that had gone before is quite the statement when you run the numbers. Royal Blood are the biggest breakthrough rock band of the past decade. They have amassed over two million global album sales and shifted 300,000 tickets around the world. In the UK, they hit No.1 with their self-titled 2014 debut (which has 636,941 sales, according to the Official Charts Company), and repeated the trick with 2017 follow-up How Did We Get So Dark? (206,107 sales) and have won a BRIT Award to go alongside their NME and Kerrang! gongs. Their biggest single, Figure It Out, has 616,248 sales. There is a lot for Typhoons to live up to, let alone top.

Warner Records president Phil Christie tells Music Week that Royal Blood have emerged with a record that can take them to the next level. 

“The album is genuinely brilliant, which is the most important thing,” he says, happily. “It’s a progression from the style of the first two records and lands with a whole new energy. We have already matched their career peaks at US alt and rock radio. We have a chance of connecting with a broader audience than on album two.” 

Mike Kerr giving up booze didn’t mean he sprung out of bed the next morning and material came pouring out of him, either. It was, he says, a long process of putting himself back together. It took a short summer tour in 2019, a run of dates that Kerr used to “refresh myself of what I do and who I am in my sober mind”, for everything to become clear. “I came off the road and it was like a clarity had descended on me,” says Kerr. “And that’s when the record began.”

The members of Royal Blood are two nice, solid blokes, the sort of people you can imagine don’t leave the pub without getting their round in. But whilst there has always been an exhilarating edge to their live shows, Kerr and Thatcher have never given anything away in interviews. They have been devoted students of the ‘we make music for ourselves and if anyone else likes it, that’s a bonus!’ school of quotes. Kerr knew as they were making Typhoons that he was all wrapped up in the new record and it was all wrapped up in him. To talk about the songs, he would have to talk about himself. And he wanted to talk about the songs. 

“I was really back and forth in my own head about whether I was going to expose myself and talk about what’s been going on in my life,” Kerr says. “But as we came closer and closer to the end of making it, I realised that censoring what’s been going on in my life is just lying about what the album is about. I can’t talk about the record without talking about that. I realised that they just go hand in hand.”

Both members pinpoint the future-disco swagger of Trouble’s Coming as a breakthrough moment. Kerr says it held the key to the record they wanted to make. Thatcher agrees. 

“It was a great blueprint of what we should do next,” states the drummer. “From that point onwards, it just got better and better.” 

The band’s team concur, too, that it was the perfect beginning for the campaign. 

“It was a clear first step,” says Phil Christie. “It has the trademark Royal Blood bombast and also introduces the style of this new album.”

“It caused a lot of excitement when it was first recorded and received the same enthusiastic reaction when we first began to share it,” says Ian McAndrew, who manages Royal Blood through his Wildlife Entertainment company. “While it incorporates the heavy style the band’s reputation has been forged on, it also reveals the new direction they are exploring. It felt like the natural starting point.”

And with 15,223,865 streams on Spotify (where they have almost four million monthly listeners), it’s hard to argue. 

Such success is the product of proper planning. The band had a torrid time making How Did We Get So Dark? over long stints in Belgium in deepest, darkest winter. 

“We knew, ‘Let’s not do that again,’” says Kerr. 

“It was cold. We were in Brussels, away from family and friends,” explains Thatcher. “After going a bit too hard, we did dry January and got a personal trainer. It was bleak.” 

This time, they opted for home comforts. 

“There’s something about being in your own house and making songs,” says Kerr. “There’s pictures of us when we’re young, family are around. You’re back to your roots and you can’t run away from who you actually are. You can buy nice leather jackets, but you’re still the same.”

Thatcher thinks that Royal Blood work best making albums in batches rather than one long slog and Typhoons’ stop-start creation echoed the fragmented creation of their debut. 

“It’s almost like you’re making EPs. It’s unusual, but it gives us time to reflect on what we’ve done,” he says. “Like a tester.” He admits that, to some extent, their records are really just an excuse for them to play live. “Playing live is where we’ve really thrived,” he says. “We do the studio stuff because we want to play in arenas.”

For a band whose rise has been built on their potent performances, the lack of live activity gave their label something to think about.

 “A live plot would normally be integral to a band like Royal Blood and finding a substitute for that experience is not straightforward,” says Phil Christie. “The other elements of the roll-out need to be that much more engaging and memorable. Firstly, I would say that there is more onus on the concept of the album and what the body of work represents. Secondly, it’s about challenging ourselves to find new places for people to discover and engage with the band. We have found an increasing affinity with the gaming world and have something very big coming that goes beyond standard sync.” 

Christie says it is important to the label to bring the band’s personality into the spotlight. 

“We’re looking to encourage more direct interaction between the band and their fans. We also want to increase their streaming run rate, while super-serving the demand for great, varied physical products.”

A mammoth offering of CD, cassette and various vinyl options – including exclusives for Amazon, HMV and indie retail, plus a deluxe edition limited to 8,000 copies – back up the president’s point.

McAndrew notes that, although the band’s “power and intensity” really hit home live, the team feels blessed by the songs at their disposal. 

“Mike and Ben are very gifted musicians, but as artists they have continued to challenge themselves in exploring what they can do with just a bass guitar and drums,” he says. “Evolving within those self-imposed confines has helped them define a unique sound and identity.”

McAndrew adds that, with live shows off the menu for the time being, he anticipates the band spending more time in the studio, together as  always.


Mike Kerr describes himself as a “cold atheist” but even he admits there is a “spiritual connection” between the two members of Royal Blood. Their bond is unbreakable. 

“We’re such different people, we’re two different personalities but the bond is so deep,” he says. “We can understand each other without saying anything.” 

On their new record, while Kerr was leading them down blind alleys and into rabbit holes and the odd embarrassing sonic diversion, Thatcher was with him throughout. “Ben didn’t strangle any creative processes, which is amazing,” he says. 

Kerr often wonders what Royal Blood would be like as a regular rock four-piece, with members growing impatient while their singer-bassist explores every sonic avenue that pops into his head. “There would be people that wouldn’t have it because it would be too tiring,” he says.

 There’s no room for silent stewing when there’s only two of you. Thatcher says that’s why Royal Blood work so fast. It’s also one of the reasons why they produced Typhoons themselves. There are only two people in the world fluent in Royalbloodese, and they are already in the band. Would you really want to be their third wheel? 

“It’s always difficult for a third party,” opines Thatcher, “because Mike and I have been on a journey together and we’re so musically connected. We’ve done and tried so many things, so just hopping on the Royal Blood train sometimes doesn’t work.”

As they were making Typhoons, Kerr and Thatcher talked a lot about what it means to be a rock band in 2021. Kerr realised that being one of the genre’s bigger contemporary bands had almost backed them into a corner. 

“When we started writing this record, there were so many rules to break,” he says. “There are so many things where you think, ‘Oh no, we can’t do that,’ or, ‘These types of fans won’t like this’, and suddenly you realise how small a box rock has been pushed into or simultaneously put itself in.” 

The frontman looks at other genres and thinks that they are lawless compared to rock music. When contributing to pop writing sessions in the past, he was shocked and excited by the anything-goes approach. “I was like, ‘In terms of ethos, this is the most punk rock, rock’n’roll experience I’ve had,’” he says. 

Kerr says Josh Homme laughs at him when he invokes the phrase “rock’n’roll”, telling him that, ‘Rock’n’roll is only something journalists and record store owners say’. 

“Part of the reason rock isn’t progressing,” continues Kerr, “is because it’s become a Preservation Act and people are preserving music that was made in the ’70s but failing to realise the music that was being made then was breaking rules and trying new things. We listen to quite modern music. Obviously, we love old-school rock’n’roll but we’re not drawing inspiration from that all the time. I grew up with that music when I was really young and it’s now just in my body.” 

Instead of trying to channel Rage Against The Machine or
AC/DC in writing new material, Kerr says he’s been trying to introduce the inventive alt-pop sheen of bands like Glass Animals into his songwriting. “And then, suddenly,” he says, “we end up with something weird and different.” 

“If you don’t progress and take risks,” agrees Thatcher, “then you play it safe. And we’re not a band that wants to play anything safe.”

There was a version of Typhoons that existed when the
Covid-enforced lockdown swept into everyone’s lives in March, 2020. But instead of hurriedly finishing what they had, the pair used the opportunity to tweak and remould. Working from their base at Brighton studio The Retreat, extra sessions birthed the anthemic, spiky hooks of the title track. 

“The song was written in lockdown,” explains Kerr. “It’s probably the fastest song I’ve ever written. What’s mad is how that song is the demo. Ben tracked all these drums and took it to another level but I didn’t re-record anything.”   

“Making records should be fun and inspiring,” says Ian McAndrew. “Working during a pandemic doesn’t exactly help provide those conditions but we found a great studio and engineer, which allowed the band to work alone and productively in their ‘Royal bubble’. Mike and Ben were both super-focused.” 

“I think we found something in ourselves,” says Thatcher of their renewed creativity. “We had a lot more direction of what we wanted to do. The key songs came once we had to stop. It was just such a pleasure to be creating again and not having a deadline because no-one knew what was going on. It was like, ‘Well, let’s just keep writing for the sake of it’. I think that’s shown with the outcome of this record.”

Whilst Kerr and Thatcher used lockdown as a positive force, they are all too aware of the threats it has brought on. The duo served their apprenticeships in formative groups in their local scenes in Worthing and Brighton, playing venues that have had their shutters down for almost a year now, some permanently. 

“Most of them are gone, to be honest with you,” says Thatcher grimly. “But there’s a lot in Brighton that we would go to – the Green Door Store, Hope And Ruin, the Concorde 2. They’re not in a great position right now. But there’s not a lot you can do if we can’t go there and can’t play shows.”

Kerr sees the problem as twofold. Firstly, he says there’s not a chance for young bands to play and then, there’s all the kids who had just formed their first band only to have it taken away. 

“It sucks,” says Kerr. “Playing shows is the environment you need in order to become a band. You need to suck in front of all your friends. Without that, you have no chance. Some of the best memories of my life as a musician were when I was 14, starting my first band and playing round each other’s houses and writing songs about dumb shit. You don’t realise it at the time, but that is when you are cutting your teeth and learning 10 times the amount you actually think you are.”

Royal Blood could have sat on Typhoons until they were able to play proper live shows to accompany it, but Kerr says it couldn’t wait. 

“I feel so in it right now, I’m really excited about what we’ve made, I’m still listening to what we’ve made. The fans have been waiting for a long time. I would rather put this out and revive the band and be heard.” 

They have already started thinking about what’s next, reveals Thatcher, with their set-up at The Retreat giving them a safe space to record and jam whenever they want. “We also want to give this record a good run,” he says. 

“There’s something quite emotional about making Typhoons because I genuinely felt inspired to make more music,” adds Kerr. “The end of the second record weirdly felt like a dead end, it felt like closure. But with this one, I’m like, ‘This is no way near over’. Creatively speaking, who knows what’s going to happen?” 

Phil Christie simply calls Kerr and Thatcher “a one in a million musical proposition.” 

Royal Blood have put a full-stop on everything that’s gone before. Typhoons is the sound of one of rock’s most exciting bands revving up for a fascinating next chapter.

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