Tramlines headliners Royal Blood's transformation - thanks to sobriety, lockdown and Josh Homme

Brighton duo Royal Blood - who are one of the headliners at this summer's Tramlines festival in Sheffield - have undergone a radical transformation in recent years. Alex Green finds out more.

Royal Blood will be one of the headliners of the Tramlines festival this summer.

Mike Kerr is remembering how, aged around 15, he performed with his then-band Hunting The Minotaur covered in gold paint in the style of Goldfinger, wearing a faux fur coat with a keytar strapped to his chest.

In hindsight, this was something of a prophecy.

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Now, some 15 years later, the singer and bassist is embracing the kitsch and drama of disco in Royal Blood, the volcanic rock duo who have earned two number one albums and a clutch of industry awards.

A number of factors have been behind this left turn – his decision to go sober, the positive influence of lockdown and of close friend Josh Homme, of Queens Of The Stone Age.

“It felt like we were painting from the same palette… it felt like we had two colours and we had done a thousand pictures,” he explains from his Brighton home.

“This record is like someone handed us a palette with the rainbow on it.

“It was just inspired, rather than sustaining a sinking ship.”

Typhoons, their third album, is the first time Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher have truly looked outside the bass-drums-vocal template that has sustained them since forming in Brighton in 2011.

The duo instead incorporated the sound of the Bee Gees and Daft Punk, all while retaining the bite of Led Zeppelin.

“Before we found this direction and had this vision, things just felt stale,” Kerr says of the past few years.

“I don’t think we really found our mojo until we got where we are at.

“It just took a couple of songs to sail off into the sunset without capsizing.”

Album opener Trouble’s Coming was one of those moments.

“It opened up a portal into a new world,” he recalls.

“On paper it’s not particularly different.

“For us, it takes very little to have any reinvention. We just got more confident as we were making it because the songs felt so good.

“The main vision that Ben and I share is always about the songs really. Genre is an afterthought.

“These songs were just best suited to this style. It wasn’t made in fear. It was made from a very fun place.”

The recording of the album was framed by Kerr’s journey to sobriety.

During sessions for their 2017 sophomore album, How Did We Get So Dark?, he sank into a malaise, encouraged by the hard-living demands of being a touring musician.

The fact he was able to “function” both on and off stage in spite of his drinking only made the situation worse.

“It is very easy to be falling apart and live an unmanageable lifestyle if you are the lead singer of a rock band,” he says with a laugh and a hint of incredulity.

“In most other industries you would get caught a lot quicker.

“It is a job title where it is not only accepted; you are praised for doing it.

“I don’t believe that is the cause of why I got into that place in my life.

“It perhaps just worked as a catalyst for what was already going on…”

Kerr is reluctant to address the cause itself, but suggests he is still working out the answer.

“I don’t want to take up the whole interview,” he says, chuckling darkly.

While the music of Typhoons is dynamic, playful, sometimes even uplifting, Kerr’s lyrics tackle his lowest lows.

“I guess it is easy to use the feel-good music as something of a mask,” he reflects.

“But in all honesty, I have never been able to write a song about someone I have never met in a place I have never been.

“I’m horrible at making up songs about nothing. I have to draw from personal experience.

“The state I was in when I was writing this, I was in a very euphoric, feel-good place in my life.

“I feel like I had come out of some really dark times.

“So I felt great, but all I had to really talk about was where I had come from, so that was why the lyrics are f***** up and the music is party time.”

Homme may have only produced one track on the album – the feral centrepiece Boilermaker – but evidence of the enigmatic musician’s influence pervades the record.

Royal Blood have toured extensively with Queens Of The Stone Age in recent years and become close friends with the band.

Kerr is effusive. “It was life-changing for us as a band because it was just a masterclass.

“We see them as the best live band in the world.

“It was a crash course in how to nail it and it just made us raise our game massively.”

Queens Of The Stone Age have what he describes as a “complete disrespect for genres” – something Royal Blood have inherited on their latest album.

The lockdown actually offered Kerr a chance to work on songs and crystalise the idea of Typhoons without distraction.

Being unable to assess the tracks in front of an audience mattered less than expected.

“There is always a part of us that fantasises about these songs on stage,” he extols.

“It’s the reason we make records.

“It’s a little bit like doing your homework so we can go out and play with our mates.

“Before we record anything, that’s the test drive really.

“Does it feel good to play together? Is this something we want to play every night for years?”

Fans may be surprised to discover Kerr is an amateur illusionist who caught the bug at the age of 10.

He is, by his own admission, a “horrible, horrible card magician” but “kind of obsessed”.

“I was obsessed with David Blaine, I have seen Penn & Teller in Vegas, I have seen David Copperfield.

“I’m all over it.”

But it is no surprise the frontman of a band such as Royal Blood enjoys such theatrics.

“The most impressive card tricks I have learnt have the dumbest secret; just laughable secrets,” he explains.

“And I am obsessed with simplicity. I’m obsessed with outdumbing rather than outsmarting.”

Typhoons by Royal Blood is out now.

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