Photo: Mads Perch
How Do You Follow Up A Blockbuster Album? Let Royal Blood, Who Just Released 'Typhoons,' Explain
Faced with following up their major-label, self-titled debut, Royal Blood made their second album while looking over their shoulders. For their third album, 'Typhoons,' they applied the lessons they learned—and now young bands can absorb them, too
Ever hear of the "sophomore slump" phenomenon ? As a rock band, it's a formidable boss to face down. Often, with the first breakthrough album, there's been years of thinking, woodshedding and commiserating involved. With the second, you might have 25% of the creative and production time you had for your debut, if that. And you've got to write something better in every conceivable way.
For the British rock duo Royal Blood, their second album, 2017's How Did We Get So Dark?, had the potential to fall into the sophomore slump trap. Fortunately, they swerved around it: The album reached similar commercial heights as their 2014 self-titled debut album. Still, singer/bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher, who just put out their third album as Royal Blood, Typhoons, last month, recall the experience of recording its predecessor as anxious and self-conscious.
"It was quite daunting," Thatcher tells GRAMMY.com over the phone from his Brighton bedroom. "We put all this pressure on ourselves to write something that's new, but still has what made Royal Blood, Royal Blood at the core of it."
So how did Royal Blood regroup afterward and make Typhoons, their most kinetic and self-assured album to date? For Thatcher and Kerr, concocting tunes like "Oblivion," "Million and One" and "Mad Visions" came down to clearing their heads, getting back to their original artistic thesis, and writing for themselves, not others. In the process, they uncovered some poignant advice for young bands who aren't sure how to outdo themselves in the studio and want to do so without driving themselves mad.
To mark the release of Typhoons, here's what Royal Blood did to make recording the album a pleasant, joyful experience, which, in turn, led to their most inviting and rewarding music to date.
They Cleared Their Heads
Everyone's relationship to sobriety is different, and Royal Blood offer no prescriptions for anyone's lifestyle. Regardless, Kerr feels he couldn't have had the wherewithal to co-create Typhoons if he hadn't given up drugs and alcohol beforehand.
"I went from one extreme to the other, really," Kerr admits to GRAMMY.com. "The first extreme being living that party lifestyle and doing that for eight years on the road without letting up at all. It was pretty consistent and it just got more and more intense."
In an effort to stop "letting chaos into my life," he, with Thatcher's support, made the decision to become completely clean and sober.
"Honestly, I didn't really know what was on the other side," he adds. "It was stepping out into the unknown. It took a long time, looking back, to find familiarity. Addiction starts with feelings and it ends with feelings. There were a lot of pieces to pick up and a lot of reflecting to do. I had to rebuild myself from scratch. I had to relearn life from scratch."
A little over half a year after cleaning up his act, "A great sense of clarity descended on me,” Kerr said, “and, suddenly, these songs were coming out of nowhere. I felt sharper and smarter than ever."
"The lyrics are all so personal and so revealing," Thatcher remarks. "They're quite dark, in a way. It was a big life change for Mike in the process of this record. As he came out the other side, he had a lot of things to write about. That crashing with the upbeat, euphoric music, I think it's a marriage that works really well."
"Life is hard when you're losin'/Nothin' easy's worth doing," Kerr sings in "Hold On." "Save yourself, don't throw in the towel."
They Returned To Basics
At its core, Royal Blood work with the simplest of palettes: bass and drums. This made their 2014 a relative breeze. But with limitations comes freedom. So, did How Did We Get So Dark? have too many chefs in the kitchen?
"No, I think we had the option of getting too many chefs in the kitchen," Thatcher says. "And we didn't know how to write a second album. I think it's got some great songs on it; I just remember the process was a lot harder than this one."
For Typhoons, on the other hand, "It kind of went back to how we wrote the first one," he notes.
The making of How Did We Get So Dark? was leaden with the knowledge that people would hear it; Typhoons, on the other hand, consisted of two guys trying to come up with parts the other would like.
And they only did this by sloughing off thoughts of how the public would perceive the results.
"You can't make music to please people," Thatcher says. "Nothing ever comes out well if you go in with that mindset. It's got to be a mix: You feel excited, and that's sort of how you can gauge it. Luckily for us, there's two of us in the band, so if something is rockin', we both connect to that and know instantly that we should pursue it. And vice versa: If one of us is not feeling it, then we leave it."
They Wrote Without Fear
By blocking out the imaginary naysayers, Royal Blood made an album full of joyful, interpersonal moments. Thatcher particularly loves the ending of "Million and One" ("It's just brilliant when that synth comes in"), the hook in "Mad Visions" ("When the chorus drops on that, it's just brilliant"), and the transition from that tune into "Hold On" ("Such a sweet mistake").
Typhoons emphasizes a four-on-the-floor disco feel, which both Thatcher and Kerr consider to be a natural, if unexpected, development. "Our unique spin on it is that we sped it up. We used the ethos of having the guitar as the karate chop over the straight beats, like Angus Young does on those four-to-the-floor beats," Kerr adds.
And if some fans don't follow them into this next phase, it doesn't matter, as long as Royal Blood are authentically themselves. "It's about being what we've been shooting for," Kerr says. "It's about being fearlessly ourselves. We haven't attempted to change direction. This is a direction we were always going in."
Thatcher agrees, and touches on the simplest yet most philosophically bulletproof reason to ever sing or pick up an instrument. "I think this record has been written out of the joy of creating music for us," he concludes.
Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More
The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'
In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.
"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.
Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.
"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."
Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American.
"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."
Photo: Harmony Korine
Iggy Pop Announces New Album, 'Free', Shares Title Track
"By the end of the tours following Post Pop Depression, I felt sure that I had rid myself of the problem of chronic insecurity that had dogged my life and career for too long. But I also felt drained… I wanted to be free," the Godfather of Punk explained
Today, GRAMMY-nominated punk forbearer Iggy Pop revealed the details for his forthcoming 18th solo studio album, along with its short—at under two minutes—yet spacious title track, "Free." The 10-track LP is due out Sept. 6 and follow's 2016's GRAMMY-nominated Post Pop Depression.
"This is an album in which other artists speak for me, but I lend my voice," Pop explains in a press release.
The statement notes jazz trumpeter Leron Thomas and L.A.-based electric guitarist Noveller as the "principal players" collaborating with Pop on this exploratory new project. On "Free," Thomas' horn and Noveller's guitar add layers of depth, somberness and exploration, as Pop's echoing voice cuts through twice to proclaim, "I want to be free."
Pop adds that his last tour left him feeling exhausted but ready for change, and the shifts eventually led him to these new sounds:
"By the end of the tours following Post Pop Depression, I felt sure that I had rid myself of the problem of chronic insecurity that had dogged my life and career for too long. But I also felt drained. And I felt like I wanted to put on shades, turn my back, and walk away. I wanted to be free. I know that's an illusion, and that freedom is only something you feel, but I have lived my life thus far in the belief that that feeling is all that is worth pursuing; all that you need—not happiness or love necessarily, but the feeling of being free. So this album just kind of happened to me, and I let it happen."
Post Pop Depression earned the former Stooges frontman his second GRAMMY nod, at the 59th GRAMMY Awards for Best Alternative Music Album. It was produced by GRAMMY winner Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and as a tribute of sorts to David Bowie, Pop's longtime friend the producer of his first two solo albums, and was released shortly after Bowie's surprising passing.
As the press release states, "While it follows the highest charting album of Iggy's career, Free has virtually nothing in common sonically with its predecessor—or with any other Iggy Pop album."
Fleetwood Mac in 1975
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Poll: From "Dreams" To "The Chain," Which Fleetwood Mac Song Is Your Favorite?
"Dreams" experienced a charming viral moment on TikTok after a man posted a video skateboarding to the classic track, and now it's back on the charts, 43 years later
In honor of Fleetwood Mac's ethereal '70s rock classic "Dreams," which recently returned to the Billboard Hot 100 thanks to a viral TikTok skateboard video from Nathan Apodaca, we want to know which of the legendary group's songs is your favorite!
Beyond their ubiquitous 1977 No. 1 hit "Dreams," there are so many other gems from the iconic GRAMMY-winning album Rumours, as well as across their entire catalog. There's the oft-covered sentimental ballad "Landslide" from their 1975 self-titled album, the jubilant, sparkling Tango in the Night cut "Everywhere" and Stevie Nicks' triumphant anthem for the people "Gypsy," from 1982's Mirage, among many others.
Vote below in our latest GRAMMY.com poll to let us know which you love most.
Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images
The Making Of Paramore's "Ain't It Fun"
Hayley Williams and Taylor York recall the creative process for their first GRAMMY-winning song, including an unexpected emotional element
(The Making Of GRAMMY-Winning Recordings … series presents firsthand accounts of the creative process behind some of music's biggest recordings. The series' current installments present in-depth insight and details about recordings that won 57th GRAMMY Awards.)
(As told to Chuck Crisafulli)
Taylor York: This song was a complete surprise. I came up with a lot of ideas that I thought sounded like what we were supposed to write — big rock guitar riffs that would have fit on our earlier records. As I played each idea for Hayley she'd say, "Yeah, that's cool but what else do you have?" I went through everything I had until I got to the last idea — one that I wasn't planning on showing her because I thought she'd hate it. But it was all I had left. She got excited about it and from there the song just built organically and naturally. It all came together in a sound and a style that we had never really explored. The fact that "Ain't It Fun" came together so easily and worked so well really was the turning point for the writing process of the whole record, and it helped us fall in love with the writing and recording process at a new level. The music was something that I had felt connected to, but I didn't think it was Paramore. It turned out that whatever we feel connected to absolutely is Paramore.
Hayley Williams: I remember walking into Taylor's hotel room one of the first days [after] our move to L.A. to make our next album. He played that little marimba part on a loop. I thought it was so cool — I went straight back to my room to get pens and a notebook. By the time I got there I already had a melody, and by the time I got back to Taylor's room I already had the first few lines of lyrics.
We started demoing vocal parts in Taylor's room and when we got to the bridge we felt like we needed to hold on a root note and let the tension build with a lot of voices. Taylor and I stacked our voices about 10 different times and it sounded unbelievable — but not in a good way. We decided that we needed really good singers to come in and get it right. A couple of months later we're recording at Sunset Sound and a local gospel choir comes in, and by the second practice run-through it was perfect. I welled up with tears because I've loved gospel music all my life and to hear a choir singing our parts — belting out that harmony — it just felt insane to be in a band that could have that kind of amazing moment as part of our song. All of a sudden we felt big, like we had really made it. Yes, we've got a gospel choir on our record. This is really happening.
(At the 57th GRAMMY Awards, Paramore's Hayley Williams and Taylor York won Best Rock Song for "Ain't It Fun," marking the first GRAMMY wins of their respective careers. Paramore are scheduled to kick off a U.S. theater tour on April 27 in Augusta, Ga.)
(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based journalist and author whose most recent works include Go To Hell: A Heated History Of The Underworld, Me And A Guy Named Elvis and Elvis: My Best Man.)