How Did We Get So Dark?
It took getting to the end of their second album to remind Royal Blood what they loved about being in a band. The huge success of their self-titled debut in 2014 had thrust bassist and singer Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher into a world of rock stardom they hadn’t planned for, and now they had to follow it up. “We were terrified,” Kerr tells Apple Music. “Suddenly, what we thought was a bit of fun, something our mates would hear, had become this traumatically amazing experience. It was awesome, but after every high, there’s a low.” “Daunting” is how Thatcher remembers it, and as people around them began to bandy about the phrase “difficult second album,” the duo struggled to generate momentum. “It became like a self-fulfilling prophecy,” recalls Kerr. Propelled by a breakthrough in the form of the gnarly rock groove of “Lights Out,” they found forward motion.
Their second record’s title might give some insight into Kerr and Thatcher’s warped mindset at the time—“I was in a pretty mad place,” says Kerr—but the songs here chart a thrilling evolution, expanding their drum-and-bass setup with subtle flourishes of keyboards and Rhodes while retaining the epic minimalism of their debut. How Did We Get So Dark? cemented Royal Blood’s status as a new rock superpower. “It’s almost like we had to remind ourselves who we were,” says Kerr. “As soon as we put the chemistry of the band as the priority, that’s when the songs began to come to us.” Kerr and Thatcher put themselves through the wringer, but they got there in the end. Here, they guide us through their triumphant 2017 album, track by track.
How Did We Get So Dark? Mike Kerr: “I think we probably mixed it and finished it days before the deadline. It wasn’t until it was on the record that we had time to sit back and go, ‘Oh. This song is actually really good.’”
Lights Out MK: “I was doing some writing with a friend of ours, John Barrett, who’s in a band called Bass Drum of Death. I showed him a few ideas I was working on. One of them was the groove of what would become the verse of ‘Lights Out.’ He was like, ‘This is amazing. This has got something to it.’ And I was a bit like, ‘Has it?’ It was nice to have someone who wasn’t in the band, to give us that sense of relief, basically giving you a bit of a hand. This song, for us, was a big slap in the face, like, ‘Wake up. You’re really, really good. Now fucking finish.’” Ben Thatcher: “We were trying to find the blueprint, and when ‘Lights Out’ came, we knew it was a good song and that we just needed to follow up with nine others.”
I Only Lie When I Love You MK: “I wrote this in an Airbnb in Brighton. I think I was trying to write songs that sounded like The Hives, a mixture of The Hives and a Jack White song. Someone told me this quote: ‘Women fake orgasms, but men fake relationships.’ I was like, ‘Oh my god. That’s brutal.’ I thought of the phrase ‘I Only Lie When I Love You’ and it was so horrible. I paired it with the riff and I was like, ‘Actually, this is really, really sick.’ It was different for us because the song is made up of, essentially, the same riff throughout. We were listening to a lot of songs that did that—hip-hop does it all the time—and we were like, ‘How do you write a song that’s essentially the same the whole way through?’ We realized how much more complicated it actually is. There’s lots of tricks to keep it interesting.” BT: ”It’s quite bold, too. Straight away, it’s in your face. We hadn’t got a song like that, that starts with the words.”
She’s Creeping MK: “I became really interested in the vocal melody and the bass melody doing two different things and creating two countermelodies. Before, I played riffs and sung over them, whereas this is when I was really getting really into the idea of creating harmonies with the basslines. It was the first time I was singing more falsetto, and I guess that really comes with confidence, and allowing more of my voice to be heard, and more of your influences to be heard. Just getting a bit more comfortable in your own skin.”
Look Like You Know MK: “This is one of those songs that was trying to reveal itself in loads of other ideas. And it was really the rhythm and the groove of the song that helped it come alive. We started adding keyboards to it and suddenly it felt almost like a James Bond ballad, which was cool. We’d made a whole record with just a vocal and a bass and drums, so adding keys felt fun. But we were very cautious and tried to remain as tasteful as possible, as to what purpose it’s serving.”
Where Are You Now? MK: “This was written on the road. It was for a TV show called Vinyl, which Martin Scorsese was producing. They sent us the trailer for the first series and it was just mayhem in the ’70s music industry, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, trashing shit. I realized that I’m quite stimulated when I see something. It was the first time I’ve written a song with a real brief to it.”
Don’t Tell MK: “This was another leftover idea from writing ‘Lights Out’ with John Barrett. We were listening to a Beck song called ‘Debra.’ It has a ridiculously high vocal, and John was like, ‘Can you sing that high?’ I said, ‘At karaoke, I can, yeah.’ I think we were writing a song for John, because he was like, ‘Oh man, I want to sing that high on stage.’ But I called him and said, ‘Hey, remember that idea we started? We’ve actually made it a Royal Blood song, believe it or not.’ The solo section was just desperately trying to sound like Jimi Hendrix on a bass and tremendously failing, but I gave it a shot.”
Hook, Line & Sinker BT: “This was one of the first songs to be written. At that stage, we didn’t know what the second album was gonna be like. When you go back to writing an album, you just want to do the craziest thing you can do. And it was just really heavy. I think the end of this song is the heaviest thing we’ve done.”
Hole in Your Heart MK: “‘The Keyboard Song,’ as it’s known on tour. ‘Hole in Your Heart’ and ‘Sleep’ were two songs that kept borrowing from each other. We tend to write in puzzle pieces and we wait until we have enough pieces that come together to make a song. And we couldn’t work out which chorus was for what song. At the time it seemed crazy, but we were just like, ‘What if we had most of the track on Rhodes and used a Fender Bass Rhodes?’ Playing different instruments, suddenly you prove to yourself you can actually change quite a lot and it doesn’t change quite a lot. You can actually be more varied and you can’t escape the band’s sound.”
Sleep MK: “The lyrics are so comically dark. I like the idea of it ending and someone being like, ‘Oh. There’s no hope at the end.’ We already thought the album title was funny, because why would you want to listen to an album called that? What possesses someone to put that on? Finishing it on this is like, ‘Remember: You wanted this.’ This was one of the last songs we recorded. You can probably hear that I’m like, ‘Thank fuck it’s over.’”