“Who doesn’t love riffs?” ponders Mike Kerr of the British buzz band Royal Blood. It seems everybody is digging Kerr’s riffs these days, and he seems to be everywhere cool, from Coachella to the Howard Stern Show. Royal Blood has been around only since 2013 and consists of just Kerr and drum pounder Ben Thatcher, but their aggressive sound is gargantuan. The duo’s stripped-down format, Kerr’s Jack White-like vocals, and his propensity for rough rock riffage draw frequent comparisons to the White Stripes and Black Keys. While those comparisons are valid, the big difference is that Kerr conjures his brash overdriven tones on four strings instead of six. Royal Blood’s eponymous debut is simply stronger than hell, in an AC/DC Back in Black kind of way. The riffs just keep on coming, and the tunes are tough and tight.
Who are your favorite riffmasters overall, and what bass riff in particular had the most influence on your playing and songwriting?
Jimmy Page is undoubtedly my favorite riffmaster, and Andy Ghosh from Turbowolf is another. When it comes to influential bass riffs, I’d have to name three: Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” and Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” I think people will find it difficult to argue with me.
Distortion and octave effects are keys to your sound. Do you track through effects in the studio, or do you play raw and tweak tones later?
I track with the effects because I like to keep it all in the moment and record the sounds as I’d play them live. Minimal tweaking goes on
Why do you choose to play with a pick most of the time?
I take good care of my fingers and hands in general. I regularly moisturize. Using picks is a precautionary measure. I use .73mm nylon ones—they just feel right.
Have you always been a riffmonger, or did you develop into one when you found yourself playing in a two-piece band?
I grew up playing piano, and then had an ill-fated short stint playing a few shows on a keytar before I sort of fell into playing bass. From then on, it was experimentation. I found a way to achieve the sound I wanted to achieve through trial and error.
What generally comes first during your creative process, the riff or the lyrics and melody?
The riff generally comes first. Something will either pop into my head, or I��ll find a riff while I’m playing around during sound-check or on the tour bus. The melody and lyrics follow. However, I don’t follow any formula or prescription. I do what comes naturally for each song, and what’s creatively satisfying.
Royal Blood, Royal Blood [2014, Warner Bros.]
Bass Gretsch Electro-matic G2220 Junior Jet Bass II
Rig 2 Fender Super-Sonic 22 Combos, Fender Super Bassman head & Bassman 810 Neo 8x10 enclosure
Effects Boss LS-2 Line Selector, Boss PS-6 Harmonist, Z.Vex Vextron Series Mastotron, Electro-Harmonix POG2 Polyphonic Octave Generator, Strymon Flint Tremolo & Reverb