Music News & Reviews

Royal Blood wants to save big riff rock

Royal Blood will perform at Ace of Spades on Sunday evening.
Royal Blood will perform at Ace of Spades on Sunday evening. BB Gun Press

Nope, Mike Kerr doesn’t know, either. Doesn’t know how or why his band, Royal Blood, has become the latest and greatest saviors of big-riff rock ’n’ roll – in England, anyway.

“I could speculate and think it was a right place, right time kind of thing – as well as people connecting to the music,” the bassist and singer recently said in an email interview. “We’ve been fortunate with the rapidity of things; it’s been a lot to take it, but it’s one damn enjoyable ride.”

As he wrote that, Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher were on the way to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival’s first weekend. After Saturday’s second go-round there (the festival runs two weekends), they’ll head north for Sunday’s show at Ace of Spades.

Before year’s end, Royal Blood will hit festivals in the United States, Europe and South America. They’ll support the Foo Fighters on both sides of the Atlantic. Should they want for encouragement on the road, they can always turn to adoring quotes from heroes like lead Foo Dave Grohl and Jimmy Page.

Or, Kerr and Thatcher could strain their memories back to before Royal Blood existed – which isn’t much of a strain at all. It’s barely a stretch. It was only two years ago, and then two days after that.

Kerr and Thatcher had been in bands together before 2012, when Kerr returned to Brighton, England, from a trip to Australia.

“I was out there for some traveling,” he said. “I got Ben to pick me up from the airport, and we started the band the next day.”

They played their first gig a day later.

Arctic Monkey’s drummer Matt Helders wore a Royal Blood T-shirt during his band’s headlining set at the 2013 Glastonbury Festival, a move that was mildly confusing for those who notice drummers’ T-shirts, because Royal Blood hadn’t released a song.

“I actually then spent a week thinking Royal Blood were a dubstep act, as they share a name with one,” a Birmingham Mail journalist wrote.

In November 2013, Royal Blood released a single, “Out of the Black.” Early in 2014, a second single, “Little Monster,” arrived. By then Royal Blood had already been celebrated as the only rock act to appear on the BBC Sound of 2014 long-list, a buzzy collection of who’s-to-be. In spring 2014, they ran the South-by-Southwest gauntlet.

In July, Royal Blood played Glastonbury, where a year earlier they’d been little more than a T-shirt slogan. A month later, the band’s self-titled debut entered the British charts at No. 1 and was the fastest-selling rock record since 2011 (Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds).

That fall, Jimmy Page – a man who knows of heavy riffs – told NME: “Their album has taken the genre up a serious few notches. … It’s music of tremendous quality.”

Not to mention music of brutal simplicity, the type that most often gets described in boxing terms. Thatcher pulverizes the drums. Kerr matches riff for punishing riff. If there’s a trick it all, it’s Kerr’s choice of a short-scale bass punched through a mystery. “Three amps and a secret code of pedals” is how he chooses to describe his rig. The effect is heavy, and enveloping.

“It’s a lot of experimentation, which is what I love,” Kerr said.

“Being able to get new and interesting sounds out of something, it’s something I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of.”

As it is with his bass, it is with the band. The challenge of limitations, the ways one can find to complicate simplicity is part of the charm of a two-piece band.

Inevitably, success as a rock duo (not to mention a rock duo with a two-word name) means comparisons to the White Stripes and early Black Keys. Royal Blood hasn’t shied from either, and, on the album, Kerr has the vocal ability to howl the way Jack White sometimes does. Queens of the Stone Age is another clear and regularly cited influence. Likewise Led Zeppelin. Slightly less likely: Jeff Buckley.

As a musical equation, it adds up right – especially at high volumes, and especially for an audience constantly being told rock ’n’ roll is dead.

“I’ve always said you can’t revive something that isn’t dead,” Kerr said.

They are, after all, playing stadiums with the Foo Fighters. AC/DC was a Coachella headliner. And the past two years of Kerr’s life have been wild, chaotic and full of living.

“It’s been madness,” Kerr said, “but I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Royal Blood

What: Rock duo headlines a show that includes Life in 24 Frames and Mini Mansions.

When: 7 p.m. Sunday

Where: Ace of Spades (1417 R St., Sacramento)

Cost: $15 (all-ages show)