Music Interviews

Interview: King Creosote

It’s been a long day for Kenny Anderson, but he’s still smiling. The man known on record covers as King Creosote has spent the day in sessions and interviews, and before getting the sleeper back to Scotland has a chance to sample the strawberry ale of a rather lush Marylebone pub, opposite BBC London.

The completed session majors on his new album Bombshell, an album that necessitated several visits to the capital. Surprisingly being in the capital for the Fifer these days is not akin to being a fish out of water. He takes a sip of beer before elaborating. “The album was all brought together in London and Jon Hopkins, who I’ve known for a few years, suggested I stay at Docklands, and he said, “oh you’ll probably hate it, nothing goes on there, it does look and feel like you’re in an architect’s drawing, with the people sketched in.” I was like “oh right, that sounds horrendous” but when I got there, I loved it.”

It’s the first time I’ve kind of felt at home here. I used to really panic when I came into London, I didn’t know the lie of the land, and I just felt it to be quite threatening. Home is where the heart is I guess, but if all my friends moved out of Fife I don’t think I’d stay there. I never thought I’d say this but if all my friends and everybody moved to London I think I could probably make a go of it.”

Warming to his task, Anderson continues. “There’s still certain things I can’t get used to though – the traffic situation, pubs shutting early, it’s a city for god’s sake, you shouldn’t be going home at half past ten, it’s just not right! And on a weekend as well, it’s just this thing where you’ve got to plan out where you want to do, and you can’t change the plan, as if you do the night’s over. Where we are a night takes many u-turns and lefthanders, and we end up where we end up. You just don’t get the same chance to get it right here.”

Nights out in Fife usually involve music “at some point. At weekends in Anstruther the main pubs take it in turns to do the karaoke. I don’t keep a map of that in my head, but there’s always like one weekend where you blunder into karaoke.” He elaborates on this unexpected revelation. “It’s weird, karaoke, I don’t know if you’ve noticed but it attracts lookalikes, so we’ve got a Liz Taylor lookalike, an Elvis lookalike, then it’s “d’you think she’ll do an Edith Piaf song?” “Naaah” and then it’s La Vie En Rose’ – who’d have thought?!”

He goes on to talk about his locality. “At a certain age kids go off to high school, and it’s quite rare that they come back. Now the farms have taken on Polish labour, and there’s a real buzz. Even in Craile, my village, there’s a farm near there growing strawberries for M&S, and there’s a profusion of Eastern European languages in the high street. Then there’s golf in July and August, and then it goes back to saying you could shoot a gun down the high street and not hit a soul!”

Inevitably talk turns to the new album, a record Anderson remains closely attached to. “With Bombshell I’m not ready to let it go yet. It was finished in June, and when they tell you it’s coming out in September that seems an interminable length of time. Even though it’s been a long three months I don’t know if I’m yet ready to kind of have it dissected and pored over. In some small way I feel like things could be changed but I have to let it go.”

Given his songwriting profusion, was it hard deciding what to put on the record? “Well KC Rules OK was an experiment, the label boss thought we were going to do an EP but we came back with an album. I didn’t ever think there would be singles off it, and there were no songs on it that were obvious singles. So with this record even before we started we said “we should think ahead, and think of singles”. So that kind of challenge really makes you think about your song choice. So I wanted strong three, four minute songs, I thought if I delivered those I’d have freedom to risk.”

“It was raising a white handkerchief over the trench. I knew I could start with Leslie, it’s not dark but it draws you in, makes you concentrate. Even for Cowardly Custard, folk were saying you can’t have three verses separated by a melodica solo, but when they listen they agreed it made sense!”

Going on to talk about the process of recording, he says, “With every album I’ve put a lot of effort into the sequencing of it. With an album like that it’s so important that it takes you on a voyage, and I know that you’re not going to enjoy every step of the voyage, but it would almost be adverse to the listening experience if you did. I’ve never yet done an album that’s for everybody, and even on Bombshell it’s in certain moods. I go through that album and already there’s some songs that irritate me if I’m in a certain mood, but usually I feel like I’ve been on a journey and want to go back. I’ve always thought that with a really good album, when you first get it you’re like “I’m not too sure about it” and I’ve had that with every album.”

“I really want to have an album that five, 10, 15 years down the line is nudging in Top 10 of someone’s albums”
– King Creosote aspires to a prominent slot in your record collection.

“One of my favourite albums is the Talk Talk album Spirit Of Eden. When I first got it I was like “what the hell is going on here?” But even now I’d go back and play it for something new. And that’s what I strive for, a record that you’d play and say well it had it’s moments – but that there’s enough moments for you to play it again, that’s the trick – I’ll go back to that. I really want to have an album that five, ten, fifteen years down the line is nudging in top ten of someone’s albums.”

Back to Bombshell, and the unusual opening track. “Leslie is a weird album start. It goes with the last track though (Green Man). When I played that a year ago, Jon came up to me and said it was definitely the end of something. And when he played the finished track to me I don’t think there’s anything where I’ve heard my voice as acutely emotional as that, even though I sent him the vocal. He completely rearranged everything around it, and it was devastating and I was like “John you’ve done something pretty incredible here”, and he said “well tonight you opened with Leslie, so I’m going to do something with that, we can open with that.” When I hear Leslie kick in it does remind me a bit of Sinead O’Connor‘s Nothing Compares 2 U in the way it’s unaccompanied but it definitely draws you in, it’s wracked with something you know, and then the album just explodes you get four or five songs in and you don’t know where you’re going!”

Anderson likes his lyrics to evoke pictures, memories, things to make you smile – and he gets to the emotion without leaving obvious signposts in his wake. “There’s a lot of dark stuff in there but I’ve tried to lighten it up. I know when I get too reflective, when I’m self deprecating, I like to throw a couple of things in just to have a poke. Today a guy totally zoned in on Cowardly Custard and how I say “I’m a trifle unhappy” and he said I can’t believe you’ve put custard and trifle in the same song, I said it’s just begging to be used, it’s a funny thing! I hope people do find the twists and turns in there.”

A curiosity of King Creosote is the appeal to fans of electronic music, and I’m curious to know if this is something Anderson consciously taps into. “I’m actually not too sure why that is” he ponders. “There’s a few DJs and things asked for vocals to work with, and I’m not totally sure if it’s something to do with the rhythms of the songs. The tempos of the rhythms are quite close to dance tempos.”

“This goes back to when I had a bluegrass band, and in 1991 and 1992 I remember we turned up in Aberdeen playing original songs but in a bluegrass style”. Tapping out a bass drum rhythm with his foot, he continues. “All these people were going crazy for this kind of music, and I remember this smiley face, there was a lot of that at gigs, and I was like “what are these guys about?” This guy came up to me and said “that’s genius, what you lot are doing, you’ve taken the rave beat but with banjo and accordion. How did you ever come up with that?” And I was like “Er, really?” It was just a happy accident, what they were zoning in on was the bass drum, they were all going nuts for it. They thought we were being really clever and we weren’t!”

Considering the point further, he notes that “Maybe it’s because I’ve not got an obvious sounding voice to use. It’s not your usual dance voice” (he croons), “it is gonna sound different. When I do hear my voice among dance tracks it doesn’t sound as odd as I thought it would. When I first got the recent Menace mix back I thought it was gonna sound like Cotton Eye Joe or something but when I heard it I thought “I’m alright with that”. Then again, maybe the dance fraternity are just thinking “oh that Scottish twat”…

Anderson has been a key figure of the Fence collective, a close-knit folk community in Fife. They continue to work closely together. “The Fence calendar revolves more and more around the Homegame in April, the summer and Hallowe’en. We try and launch things around those three times. Our next launch we’re going to do a thing in Edinburgh with a band called Found. We have a fancy dress party at Christmas, it’s a party rather than a gig though so it’s not the best musically as we’re tanked up, so we’re like “please don’t review this as a gig, it’s a party, just for us!”

Finally he drops a teaser, as he promises that “my next scheme for Fence is quite ambitious, it’s gonna cost a lot of money and be unusual and spectacular. It’s quite odd, even for any label to try!” And with that the beer is drained, another lined up – and a smiling Anderson is happy with his day’s work.

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