Royal Blood Singer Mr Mike Kerr On Drink, Drugs And… Recovery
Mr Mike Kerr is the lead singer and bassist in Royal Blood. Since forming in 2011, the British rock band have recorded three number-one albums, headlined festivals across the globe and gained Mr Dave Grohl, Metallica and Mr Josh Homme as fans – the latter of whom produced a track on their latest album Typhoons, released late last month. Through it all, Kerr was struggling with alcohol and drug abuse and his mental health. Sober for two years almost to the day, we caught up with him from his home in Brighton on the south coast of England to discuss his experience, and the tools he used to recover. We then spent the day with him and took some pictures. His words have been edited for clarity.
I can remember the moment I quit alcohol and drugs. We were recording a track in Los Angeles with Josh Homme. It was February 2019 and we had the weekend off, so I went to Vegas, and I was just on one. I was at the bar, with my now girlfriend, and I was sick of talking about the idea of getting sober. I was so drunk, so I can’t fully remember what I was saying, but I remember thinking, “I’ve got to do this; I think it has to be now”. It was a euphoric moment. But, as I had this very clear realisation, the barman handed over an espresso martini. So, I downed it in one and I was like, “I’m done”. I think I’m one of the only people in the world who got sober in Vegas.
Before the band kicked off in 2011, I had given up on my original idea to be a chef. I was taking shitty jobs, but I had a pretty normal life laid out in front of me. So, to go from that and then a year later I’m in Rio playing with Metallica, touring the world and going crazy, it can be quite an isolating experience. Knowing what everyone thinks about you is extreme. I’m not surprised that I ended up in the trouble I got into. The truth of it is so shocking and full-on, I have to [sugarcoat] it a bit. I realised that if I keep doing this, I’m going to die. For some people, that isn’t enough of a wake-up call.
After our second album, we’d basically been touring six years non-stop. That lifestyle is crazy. It was almost like a six-year stag do. I got sick and tired of being sick and tired. I needed to change; my life was becoming unmanageable. From the outside, being in a band doesn’t seem like a real job but there are lots of people relying on me to deliver.
It’s a bit like the analogy of the frog in the water: if you gradually turn the water temperature up, the frog won’t sense it and will eventually die in the boiling water. It was hard for me to detect when [things got bad]. But the music industry… The first gigs you do, you’re paid in beer. It is literally the currency of your job. And the ride that we were on was incredible. There was something to celebrate every single night and we were meeting all of our idols and getting to go to America. I noticed I was coming off tour and continuing at that pace, and I could drink everyone under the table.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: the model of the frontman of a rock band. You’re given a script and you become a cliché before you know it. Suddenly you’re in a leather jacket, off your head – sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. We toured with the Foo Fighters and we’d hang out with Dave Grohl – he was exactly the same [on and off the stage]. I realised there was something much more powerful about not changing and putting on a mask.
“To be suddenly hangover-free, to be up first thing in the morning, it’s almost like I felt alive for the first time”
[When you’re touring,] it’s normalised to be absolutely fucked. It can become monotonous. It’s basically flat and then for one hour it spikes catastrophically high and comes crashing back down again. I think, for anyone whose mental health wavers, that’s extreme. Alcohol and drugs helped me. The more I’m learning about mental health, I realise it’s the same as physical health. Everyone experiences highs and lows. I think how you deal with them depends on a lot. You can self-medicate feeling down very easily. There are times when you’re feeling stressed or anxious and you have a beer and it’s like, “Perfect, it’s gone”. But obviously it comes back even worse. I’ve experienced depression and anxiety. I still do, I still will. It’s something everyone will suffer from at some point.
If I consider my recovery in terms of a 12-step programme, I guess my higher power would be my friendship group and my family and some of the people I work with who, collectively, are much more powerful than I am. I know that in NA, you say, “I can’t, we can”. But it was my own responsibility to get sober. Part of that is not being afraid to ask for help. There is a huge misconception about asking for help. I’m quite a stubborn person. I can put my mind to things and make them work. But it was a hard one for me to swallow. It required an incredible amount of strength to ask for help.
After getting sober, I had to relearn even just walking into a room full of people I didn’t know. My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to be creative and put on an entertaining show. It’s not like you stop drinking and all your problems go away. You actually start working on your problems. I always think of it like having a house that’s been destroyed. The first week of getting sober is like day one of cleaning. As time goes on, you start to see the carpet, you start to redecorate.
[I’ve been sober for] two years: no alcohol, no cigarettes, nothing naughty, just coffee. After a couple of months of sobriety, I saw my body change, felt the clouds parting. In terms of my mental health, I got very used to feeling like shit. To be suddenly hangover-free, to be up first thing in the morning, it’s almost like I felt alive for the first time. It gave me a lot more confidence as well. I recently ran my first marathon, just on my own, for fun. There is something innately in my makeup that means I don’t have an off switch, I’ve noticed that even more so from being sober. I like to push things to the limit. I’ve been boxing a lot and sea swimming. People started asking me, so when are you going to start drinking again? Going back to the house analogy: why would I want to live in that squat again?
One of the most off-putting things to people is the idea of never drinking again or being sober for a month. You can’t achieve anything of magnitude by thinking of the end goal. If I had thought of 26.2 miles on the first mile of my marathon, I would have quit. You have to think of it like two miles at a time. For sobriety, it’s one day at a time.
“I have the greatest job in the world. It doesn’t need spicing up”
We recorded most of our new album in lockdown. There’s a studio off the seafront in the middle of the countryside. It’s like a little cabin. I’d go for a swim and a run, then I’d go into the studio, treat it like a nine-to-five. My stamina from being physically fitter and healthier comes onto the stage. Previously, I would come off after an hour’s set and be pretty drained and drunk. That last tour we did, I would do the set and I would get straight into boxing gloves, there was a bag up in our dressing room, and do an hour of training. There’s a whole new energy to the show and it’s real.
It’s strange that I’m now the odd one out on the road. I’m the outlier. I feel so fortunate to be in the position I’m in. When I play on stage now, it’s hard to remember why I was getting so fucked up. I have the greatest job in the world. It doesn’t need spicing up.