Back To The Water Below

Back To The Water Below

In 2021, Royal Blood’s third album, Typhoons, proved that Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher could fashion an entirely new musical chassis from the base materials that had powered their first two albums. Minting a sound they nicknamed AC Disco, the Sussex duo brought new dance-floor swagger to their bass-and-drums assault. On their self-produced fourth album, the pair have blown the very notion of what constitutes a Royal Blood album wide open. The thumping, one-two wallop of lead single “Mountains at Midnight” might sound familiar, but much of Back to the Water Below finds them traversing entirely new musical terrain. From “The Firing Line”’s stripped-back, Smashing Pumpkins-like slink to the sumptuous Beatlesque melodies and wide-screen arrangements of “There Goes My Cool,” singer/bassist Mike Kerr’s songwriting has matured and reached places that few could have imagined while listening to the visceral thrills of their self-titled debut album back in 2014. “In the past, I might have worried about whether or not something was a Royal Blood song,” Kerr tells Apple Music. “At this point, we’ve stopped asking ourselves that because we realized that’s a crazy question. You just chase the song and chase the idea and see where you end up. I think that’s what the amazing process of this record has been. The palette was so much wider this time around, and we didn’t have to worry about how these songs wanted to present themselves. It was so freeing.” Steering the band down new musical vistas yet retaining the high-voltage energy and dynamism that comes whenever Kerr and Thatcher lock into a groove together, Royal Blood have thrown away the rule book and entered an entirely new phase. Here, Kerr takes us through it, track by track. “Mountains at Midnight” “In a way, it’s well-trodden ground for us. It’s not a song we go looking for anymore—but it’s hard to fight it when ideas like that come along. That riff came in a sound check, and I laughed it off and thought, ‘I don’t know how to do that in a fresh way.’ But every time we played it, it just blew the roof off. The songs are in charge on this album, and that song cornered me and was like, ‘You need to finish me.’ The thing that felt fresh was the tempo. We’ve attempted a song that has that punk-rock feel so many times because we’ve been aware that we could do with one, just from watching the live show. There’s a moment at the end of [2014 fan-favorite] ‘Loose Change’ where everyone goes crazy and goes into a mosh pit, and we were like, ‘We need another one of these.’” “Shiner in the Dark” “The drumming approach that Ben has is what makes him a unique rock drummer, because he’s very well versed in classic hip-hop. He knows every single one of those beats like the back of his hand. That kind of low-rider drumbeat comes so naturally to him, and for me, it gives me a platform to dance over. This song was born out of the bass sound. I made that sound and was so excited about it. It just sounded so weird. It sounded so fizzy and wide and kind of piggish. There’s something piggish about it to me and very groove-centric. It had some Typhoons residue to it. It was the first thing we wrote after Typhoons, so it feels like we’ve half slipped out of the jacket.” “Pull Me Through” “My style of piano playing comes from when I was a kid learning Beatles songs. The Beatles always used a piano at Abbey Road Studios called Mrs. Mills, which, at the end of the hammers, has pins put into it to give it a metallic, almost-harpsichord sound. The Beatles were always doing this kind of regal thing that I really love. It’s classical and almost comically so. It was almost like that piano is constantly wearing a cape. We tried different pianos and different piano sounds on this song, and it just didn’t gel the same way, so that piano sound became the glue that held this record together. It brought me back to being a kid and playing the piano.” “The Firing Line” “I tried to turn it into this punk-rock song by putting it in double time and just pulling at it. Not having a producer, you can feel that it’s your job to play with songs and push things because there’s no one else there to do that. Really, it’s a waste of time because the first thing you do is the thing. I learned that from Jack White. The majority of what you got right is going to be in the demo. It’s about respecting that and leaving it be. I’m really happy that it’s in the original state that it was written in because that’s the best version of it, and a lot of the other songs are in harmony with it.” “Tell Me When It’s Too Late” “It was a nightmare getting the bass sound on this. The majority of the bass is from the demo, but we added a section, and I didn’t want the sound to change, so I had to work out how I’d made the sound in the first place. I had to kind of reverse engineer it, and it took so long. I couldn’t fully remember it. There’s octaves in it, and some of it sounds like an organ, but it’s not. Each layer on its own sounds terrible, but when they all come together, it creates this...thing. It reminded me of the intros to those cheesy Hollywood trailers for action movies.” “Triggers” “I was living in New York when I wrote the song, and I was watching a lot of Tarantino movies. Sometimes I put a movie on mute when I’m writing riffs, so there was a lot of grotesque violence onscreen while I was playing. The song doesn’t have anything to do with that, but it can give me a bit of direction or purpose when I’m writing. It just puts your head somewhere else.” “How Many More Times” “Five years ago, if I’d started writing ‘How Many More Times’ at the piano, I would’ve asked that question [‘Does this sound like a Royal Blood song?’] and probably have thought, ‘No’ and then left it. But it’s got my voice on it, Ben’s playing drums on it, so there you go. It’s just about making the best song you can. I love this song. It’s got a lot of sunshine to it and, lyrically, I’m really proud of it. It’s a good example of the song leading the way, and the song being the thing that holds it all up. It feels like a nice break to allow our musicianship to support the song rather than having a riff bashing you over the head for three minutes.” “High Waters” “The imagery in it was really in sync with where I found myself—dipping below and above the surface. That appears throughout the whole album. It’s about saying it in a new way. This song is one of the only ones on the album where the music juxtaposes against the sentiment of the lyrics. I like that sometimes—when the melody is quite euphoric and feel-good, but you get beneath that and then the lyrics are quite dark. It’s nice to do that sometimes.” There Goes My Cool“ “I had that lyric for a while, and it really made me laugh. But in my head, it was this kind of badass line. It was going to go over something like ‘Shiner in the Dark’ and it was about masculinity and testosterone and anger. But then, I had this über-Beatles chord progression, and I sang that line over the chorus, and it hit me so differently. That idea of ‘Does this sound like a Royal Blood song?’—that ship had sailed by the time this came along. We were doing whatever we wanted. ELO are definitely in there, and T. Rex, this whole glam rock thing. We were putting cellos on it and doing things that we’ve never done and finding new tricks. It was really inspiring. You don’t know where the line is until you cross it, so you might as well just keep going.” “Waves” “We were trying to wrap up the album, and it was very obvious to me something was missing. It really was at the 11th hour at this point, and the clock was ticking. I work pretty well under those circumstances. When there’s no time to waste, the decision-making becomes clearer. For me, it’s one of the most powerful moments in the record. It’s about looking inwards and feeling strong enough to be that vulnerable. It’s funny sometimes: These bigger rock songs we’ve written can make you appear tough, but you’re not. There’s an irony to ‘Waves’ where I was like, ‘Oh, I feel invincible now because I’m kind of naked, and I feel able to do this. I feel comfortable.’ The toughest I’ve ever felt in a Royal Blood song is on ‘Waves.’”

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