King Krule - The RFB Interview

28 Mar 2013

RFB sat down with the frighteningly youthful songwriter for a UK exclusive - and he gave us his most revealing interview yet.

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King Krule

An artist’s self portrait can often be their most fascinating piece of work. It can allow a life story to be told within the restrictions of a single image; a narrative idea of the self put to canvas.

King Krule’s body of work serves like a series of detailed self portraits, each song built on different colours, sounds and feelings all designed to be entirely open to interpretation by the listener. It's an approach similar to that of Basquiat, who would take his own ideas of the world and break them down to their essence before using them creatively in his art - a method that meant his paintings would exist in a familiar yet ultimately unknown space. This, alongside near encyclopaedic, cultural knowledge and research, singled out Basquiat as one of the most important artists of his generation and it is the space left by him that King Krule seems most likely to fill.

South East Londoner Archy Marshall began life as Zoo Kid back in May 2008, at the painfully young age of 14. Taking his cues from the dub, garage, and old school hip hop to which he was made privvy via the house parties of his creative parents, Marshall slowly began putting together songs for his aptly named debut, the $quality EP. The nine-tracker saw a release in early 2009 and immediately showed Marshall to be wise beyond his years. Even his voice - deep, broken, and indebted to the likes of Ian Dury and Joe Strummer - seemed to be reflecting the difficulties of a life double the length of his own. Those who heard he original recordings, some of which are near impossible to find, had already began to see Marshall as the potential voice of his generation. His honesty and anger was still fresh, as was the impressive wordplay and inventive song structures seen on tracks like 'Broke' and his remix of Radiohead's 'Jigsaw Falling Into Place'.

Soon after, the young singer-songwriter started putting tracks up online one by one, collectively titling them U.F.O.W.A.V.E songs. It was through these tracks that bloggers started to pick up on the now 16 year old. His talent for production was refined on each recording, whilst his influences bounced between the old school hip hop and garage of his early work through to newer discoveries, such as the poems of W.H Auden and the music of Gene Vincent. The songs felt as much about the state of the world as they did about the human condition; 'Ocean Bed' is a tale of heartbreak, while 'Has This Hit' feels like a damning summarisation of the difficulties of contemporary youth, the reality of the problems facing the young, and the anger that came with these frustrations. The stand out track, though, was 'Out Getting Ribs', released as a stand alone single shortly after - a song that moulded together the political and emotional nature of the set.

A rechristening soon followed, and Zoo Kid became King Krule. The name was accompanied by a fresh batch of material pulled together for a self-titled EP - another collection that showcased his brilliant turn of phrase, exciting structures, and a voice discussing love and hate, power and weakness, anger and complacency, and the idea of youth in the modern world.

The EP served in getting Marshall out of London and on tour around Europe and America. His avoidance of the UK stood as an impressive comment on not needing the island in order to construct the life of a successful artist. The British music industry, with its incessant build-them-up-to-knock-them-down nature, couldn’t get their hands on him, and were only able to look on in wonder as he performed abrasive, empowered, and emotional shows, and gave a few alarmingly insightful interviews in other parts of the world.

An eventual return to London proved triumphant for the King. He released a single on Rinse and started on his forthcoming debut album - at which he was at work when we spoke. We caught up with Marshall a week before tonight's show for Fred Perry Subculture - his first live performance in the capital for over six months and his only show in the UK, the rest of the tour having been cancelled to allow him to finish the record. Over a crackly phone line we spoke at length about his career thus far and his thoughts on the world around him.

King Krule on his forthcoming debut album

I think as a collection the album’s quite a good description of myself, but conceptually it doesn’t hold anything pretty much. But you can say that’s what it is or anything. It’s still quite up in the air, and that’s what I like about it.

RFB: What is the album saying?

K: I guess it is a personal thing; stories of myself. I don’t know what I’m trying to say. I guess it’s just me trying to say this is me. I don’t know what it’s trying to say man. It’s like this is a depressing moment in time.

How’ve you found making the record?

Yeah good, man. I’ve been making it for a long time now, so it’s good to finally get to the final stage.

Why has it taken quite a long time?

I’ve re-recorded tracks sometimes like four times and still haven’t got the right one. And I don’t know, I’ve just been working and working. I keep developing; I keep having new ideas to add to other things, keep going back to old things. I guess now it’s really near completion which feels really good. I can’t wait to get it out. I really want it to be complete and it’s something that I’m really looking forward to a lot.

What was it like choosing the songs for this record and working out the vibe of it and the sound?

It’s natural; it comes naturally to me, like the lyrics for my songs. But I’ve been analysing each one - more of the older ones - more in depth; about the meanings behind them and trying to map out the right order for them to be in and how they can move smoothly into each other and still dictate a story. So that’s what I’m doing at the moment, and it’s been fun. I want it to be a piece of work that I’m proud of.

Where have you been recording it?

I’m all over London. We’ve recorded from Neasden down to Forest Hill down to at the moment, and probably where I’ll finish it, in Bermondsey.  It’s a really good spot.

Why have you moved around so much?

I just wanted to find a space that was really close to me but felt like I was going somewhere else, and that I could get to easily and I could work from whenever I wanted. So yeah it’s been good. I moved to Surrey Quays quite recently and it’s good to have it in Bermondsey because it’s just a walk away.

Do you enjoying being in the studio?

It depends, man. Some days I fucking hate it. Some days I’m like, “Ah I wish I didn’t even book this slot because I don’t have anything to do.” But I’ll still try to push through it. And then the days when it’s really flowing, I’ll get so much done in the day if I’m really feeling it. But yeah, it’s the process. Like when there’s days when I can’t quite get anything out my own head, I can’t put anything down, but I’m still trying to push myself to get something out. Those days make it much easier for the days when I’m really flowing, because everything will just come out like that so I don’t know, that’s how I work. I just push myself when I’m not at all feeling the music and not at all feeling anything to do with it or want any career with it or want anything to with King Krule. And then there’s the days when I feel proud of being King Krule and I feel proud to be a musician. Then it works a lot better, so it’s just a case of whatever I’m feeling really.

And what about the tunes on the record - any favourites?

I treat every song as a single in a way. I want every song to be a single. I’ve got my own relationship with each song. It means a lot to me as a record because it’s going to be the first body of my work that’s really judged.

King Krule

King Krule on London

London’s always going to be like a love/hate thing for myself. Because I hate it to the extent that I feel trapped and I feel like I’m just doing the same old thing, but since I’ve got success with my music here that’s been sedated a little.

What is it like for you being a young person living in London now and seeing it all? Because for me it feels like it’s going through another change.

I feel better about living here because I can do more things. I’ve got my own space now. I guess, if you asked me maybe like a year ago, I would’ve been very angry to the extent where I want to move and I want to get out of this place so it’s always changing, my relationship with this area.

Do you keep creative people around you now to sort of subsidise that feeling?

I think the people that I chill with and spend a lot with are people that I’ve spent a lot of time with for a long time now, so I guess I’ve always just got the roots with a lot of the areas round here. So I know people from them and chill with them I guess. It’s never about surrounding myself in creativity, but there are places in London now that’s really, really, really interesting and there’s a lot of people my age or a bit older who are doing really good creative stuff. And I think that’s really cool and it’s really influenced the final touches of the album. Because it’s been a while since I’ve seen such a nice scene coming up in London. I don’t know, I feel lost all the time and that’s one thing I’ve always felt in London and I guess now it’s sort of coming to a point where I’m getting more success and more fans, so I’m starting to feel even more lost. So what I’ve had before was feeling lost and now I’ve been found, you know?

Why lost though?

If you can go into the back of your head and you can feel like, “Ah shit I’m feeling depressed, I’m feeling down, I’m feeling like shit, but I don’t really know why. And I don’t feel that anyone can get anything through to me that will connect with my emotion. I don’t think I could ever get this emotion across to anyone else.” That’s the sort of feeling of lost that I mean.

Since you dropped ‘Out Getting Ribs’ you’ve been away from London quite a bit and played in America and Europe extensively. Was it your idea to get out of the city and play elsewhere?

Yeah. I mean, I mainly held back from doing London stuff because I wanted to live in London still. I didn’t want any overexposure when I was still developing and my body of work wasn’t complete for me to just get out there in London. I didn’t want my life to be sort of, not ruined, but I don’t want to be recognised everywhere. I wanted to keep an anonymous personality. But playing abroad, I guess it doesn’t matter because it’s not got a London vibe it’s just got this aggression. It’s got this London aggression so it’s got the emotive side of things which people connect and do more so it’s good to play these shows abroad because you get people who don’t understand anything you’re saying but being touched to the level that they’re not crying, but they could be crying. You know what I mean? They’re being moved by the music so it’s good. It’s interesting, yeah. And I love travelling, and I love meeting new people. And I think that’s what life should be about really. And I don’t know, it’s good because as well, I had a different perspective on London myself because I wasn’t spending a lot of time here, but I was coming back every now and then between trips and sort of spending like a weekend here or a few days and yeah, I got a completely different sense of it I guess, because I was constantly comparing it to other places and other cities.

King Krule on ideology and influences

I don’t have a particularly intellectual view point on a lot of things. I’m still finding my own way. I could talk about that, but I don’t think it would get me anywhere and don’t think I’d influence anyone. But I like everything, and I like a lot of creative things. I like the idea of having a lot of strings attached to your bow and that we can delve into a lot of other things. So I don’t know, it’s always come quite naturally to me as just a collection of creative things and I’ve always wanted to get involved in more. I see the main one as film. I want to get more involved with film and stuff.

You do quite a lot in your videos as well, don’t you?

I wrote the original ideas and they helped me put them into a more professional outlet that looks good. When I make music the imagery has always been quite strong in my head and I’ve always seen landscapes and wanted to create atmospheres and almost scenes in themselves with instrumentals and that’s where I really want go. I’ve always had it in me to want to do. So I guess that might be where the sort of atmospheric ambience side things comes from because I like creating emotive pieces.

Has it been your intention to not only create music but also to get involved in other artists endeavours around this project, to build a larger body of work?

Yeah definitely man, that’s what I want to do. I just want to make really good work. I really want to make a very impressive portfolio for myself, you know?

What have been your key influences?

I could go on for days about things that have influenced me but the main one is my brother, Jack Marshall. The art he showed me, and a different way of looking at things - he showed me a different mentality and it helped me grow a lot.

I’ve always felt that your music’s been more about you creating a world to inhabit that takes inspiration from like Basquiat, Lawrence, Kafka…

K: Yeah, I mean it’s just romance, and finding that spark in something quite simple. Romance, you know?

King Krule on music and mental health

It’s just what I’ve experienced over the last 18 years. It’s whatever I feel and express my view on for myself. I need to conclude my own conclusion on the situation in reality and  it’s a way of consolidating emotions and consolidating ideas on real things in reality and it’s good for that, because it gives you a much healthier outlook on things. In terms of real life, reality, it doesn’t really matter. For music, I’m on the way that I want events in my life to be presented.

When you make music is that you separating yourself from the reality that you go through every day, or is it all just one all-consuming thing for you?

I’d like to say I keep it separate, yeah. I like to keep it separate because it’s a lot healthier to have that outlet as a separate thing. But it just depends really. Usually, I think I like to keep it separate just because it’s much healthier for me.

Why is it healthier?  You've said that word a couple of times.

It’s healthier because [your emotions] aren’t locked and it’s a way of letting them out. And it’s sort of, like I said, concluding events in my life and having them documented in different ways.

So when you first sat down and started writing the tunes, did you realise that you were in an unhealthy state of mind?

It was never that dictated, like, “this is the way to do it”. Just over time, that’s how it was. But before my mental health got worse...it was when I was younger and I was still writing music back then, and then I deteriorated a little and it became a good outlet because it became more of a diary or, I don’t know, a sketchbook, rather than music.

Is mental wellbeing something you’ve struggled with?

It was just growing up.

Is there quite a clear thing for you when you look at your body of work and the tunes that you’ve written, and the lyrics you’ve written, more importantly, where you sort of see that growth in yourself?

In terms of documentation, yeah. It expresses that moment so it’s good. I like looking back on everything. Being back in that atmosphere when I first made it, and how the sounds inspired the emotion to come out of me.

So when did you first start developing this particular sound?

It was probably U.F.O.W.A.V.E. that really changed me. That was a big collection of music for me - I was really proud of that.  I came to the end of it and was sort of done with music for the time being in terms of a career. In terms of growing up and actually trying to get a job and stop fantasising about being a musician. But then I got a lot of interest from that mixtape. So it was funny how things worked in that way, because I sort of gave up on it and it became something. It’s been nice and it’s as influential as all the influences ever were.

All that in mind, what was it like first putting your music out in the world?

The first tracks mainly focused on myself and the things happening at that current point in time, which were subjects I’ve related to back in the album and I’ve related to back in the EP. It was good at the time, but I was quite immature - it’s nice to see my development since then because musically, they’ve gone from basic stuff to a bit more complicated and lyrically they’ve just gotten more and more descriptive I guess. Before I sort of just said it how it was. In [$quality] a lot of the lyrics are quite straightforward. They’re about describing things as they are, so I found that when it came to the U.F.O.W.A.V.E. mixtape, I’d read a lot more poetry and sort of discovered a lot more things that would influence me to sort of disguise and just make it a little more vague for the listener, so that I could be describing a very, very dark thing in my life, but somehow it would come across to a listener like it’s just me describing sex or something, you know?

It’s interesting that you’ve chosen to make things more metaphorical over time. Is there an importance for you in creating a world in which the listener can't always know exactly what’s going on, that they have to work it out for themselves?

I guess it is important in a way because I guess only I hold a superior vision of my own work. But I like it because people can work out what they want to work out from it, and get a completely different idea to what I set out in doing. And when people do understand, or maybe when people do somehow click and get my meaning out of it, it means a lot as well. But I just love making music and love people listening to it.

Is it important for you to feel understood then?

It’s about interpretation. I like the idea that it’s anyone’s interpretation of what I’ve written down. I would like people to understand more from my point of view, but I don’t think anyone will, unless they go into depth about my childhood. So I don’t know. It’s cool. I like music, I like making music.

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