- Tue, 2011-09-20 11:28
London five-piece To Kill A King have been making a name for themselves in recent months with their catchy blend of indie, rock and folk. Favourably compared to artists such as Mumford & Sons, Elbow and The National, they have recently signed a major label deal, with an EP and an album on the way in the near future.
We sat down with the whole band to chat about their inception, their artistic vision, their forthcoming EP, and shared inspirations.
“I Like Music because…Katy Perry does music!” IAN, TO KILL A KING
ILM: How did To Kill A King get together?
Ian: Me, Ralph and Josh started playing up in Leeds in another band when we were at uni there, about five or six years ago. Then we moved down to London and the line-up slowly started to change. We started getting members in, and members left. So, we’ve got John in on drums, who’s a friend of mine from home, then Ben joined us before last summer, and that was the line-up finalised.
ILM: Has it felt like things have moved quite quickly since cementing that line-up?
Ben: It’s felt like it’s moved quickly for me. I’d only been there for a year and then in about three months we’d been signed! I felt very lucky just to have stepped in at the last minute, because this lot have been playing for five years. I felt like I’d cheated and jumped in and skipped the queue!
Ian: It hasn’t felt rushed. Everything feels like it going at quite a nice pace at the moment.
ILM: How do your songs typically comes together?
Ralph: I write the basic structure of the song; the chords, the vocal lines, the top lines and that sort of thing. Then everyone in the band writes their own parts. But quite often people feed off each other’s parts as well, so there might be some synth-lines which were originally guitar lines and vice versa.
Jon: The opening track on the EP, Bloody Shirt, had two generations. We first did it last summer in Cornwall. We wrote it and it was quite folky. It had a really nice acoustic guitar hook in it that sounded really cool. But then after Christmas we thought we’d change it a little bit more, have it a little straighter and a bit less folky, a bit more emphasis on that synth-line. So we reworked it six months after we first wrote it, and that made it more appealing to the mass market I guess.
ILM: Are you writing to appeal to a mass market?
Ralph: I think ultimately we are writing for ourselves. We say large audiences, but it’s difficult enough to get a song going that I really like, and then bring it to four other people who all have very different tastes in music and get them to like and enjoy the song. That’s before worrying about what everyone else in the world is going to think as well. That’s always got to be the first port of call before thinking about anything else. But I think the reason that song changed so much was because that was our first year of being a proper band, and so the four stages of that song really reflect us developing. We didn’t want to lose the song because we thought it was a strong one, so we just reinvented it each time.
ILM: What can we expect from your debut album?
Ian: It’s a bit odd, we’re drawing on songs from such a long period of time. We haven’t even decided on the track listing. We’ve just been getting down our best songs, working hard on them since January. It’s quite difficult to talk about an approach for the whole album just because it’s been so spread out. Also we’ve been working with different producers and trying out lots of different things…just getting more familiar in the studio, because it’s not as if we’ve had loads of experience with it before.
Ralph: The album will be like the EP in that it has a range of different styles. The storytelling and lyrical quality will hopefully be the thing that ties it all together. For the EP we chose those four songs because we wanted four songs that were strong narratives, and that’s the running feature, rather than using four rock songs or four folky tunes.
Ben: One of the things I’m most proud of with the way the album is shaping up is how varied it is. It shows off lots of different sides of us. We can get away with not having such a defined idea of what we do partly because Ralph has got such a distinctive voice. You hear all our songs and as soon as you hear Ralph singing you know it’s us.
ILM: What producers have you been working with? Have you settled on one?
Ian: We settled on Ben Jackson!
Ben: We settled on me in the end! My background is in studios. When I first met these guys I was working in a studio. I didn’t ever progress that far because you have to be working a long time. I was right at the bottom, but you still got to use the studio at the weekends. So I got these guys in and we did some recording, and I was hoping that one day I’d be able to do some more production with them, then before that happened I ended up playing the synth for them, which was a nice bonus! We’ve worked with a few different producers and it’s all been good, but we do a lot of demos ourselves. If you look at the difference between what we were doing in the demos’ verses to what we were doing with top quality producers, there’s not as much difference as we would like to see. It’s not like the producer stepped in and completely revolutionized our sound, it was more a case of getting good performances and capturing them.
ILM: What have been some of your shared musical influences?
Jon: Me and Josh have been playing together for years and years now, but we first met during our first year at uni chatting about Bob Dylan. He invited me back and we played some Bob Dylan tunes and that sort of thing, so that was definitely a bonding thing for me and Josh!
Ian: Me, Josh and Jon always played a lot of jazz together and that’s something we definitely always come back to and enjoy. Radiohead, nearly everyone likes Radiohead. We all really like Local Natives.
ILM: I read that your name is inspired by Shakespeare, that Claudius pouring poison into the ear of King Hamlet related in some way to your music...
Ralph: Well...the pouring of poison in King Hamlet’s ear is quite a sweet death, because he dies in his sleep. A lot of the songs that we do are lyrically quite dark, but the way we represent the music is sometimes quite triumphant.
Ian: It’s quite a subtle way of killing someone, and our music often isn’t in-your-face. There are often subtler elements, and little things that you might not get on a first listen.
Who are some you favourite lyricists?
Ralph: Joni Mitchell’s really good. When I was younger I had this whole sixties thing. I think a lot of songwriters go through that phrase where they love Simon and Garfunkel and Bob Dylan and stuff like that. There are also a lot of modern people now that are very good. Dirty Projectors, who sometimes sing about quite mundane things but the music makes those mundane things really beautiful. John Grant is amazing. I keep on listening to that album. When I first heard it I was a little bit taken aback by how honest it is. Some of the things he says are almost a little bit embarrassing to hear, because they’re so honest…he just lays it all bare. Then when you listen to it a few times you realise there is a real beauty in the way that he says it. I also like the way he'll sometimes just throw in a quick joke or a humorous line in a really dark song. I’ve always been a fan of people that can do that because it’s more what people are like anyway. You can be completely miserable and then find something absurdly funny at the same time. Very few people will do that with music.
ILM: A lot of people are only just discovering you and comparisons are being made, particularly because of your releases with Communion. How do you feel about being compared to bands like Mumford and Sons?
Ian: We’re accepting.
Ralph: We don’t really mind.
Ian: That can be good thing in many ways. Hopefully the music speaks for itself.
Jon: It’s no bad thing that people might think of Mumford and Sons, but hopefully when they listen to it they’ll hear that it has synthesizers and is a little bit darker than Mumford and Sons.
Ian: It’s slightly annoying in that it seems a little bit lazy, but that’s the nature of it I suppose.
Jon: Obviously it’s not an entirely unfair thing because quite often they say Mumford and Sons with a little bit of Elbow, so once you’ve got enough of those names out there it balances out!
ILM: Beyond the tour, the EP release and the album next year what are your future plans? Where do you want to see this go?
Ralph: It’s hard to plan isn’t it? I think it really just depends on how it’s all received. It could go so many ways at this point. It could be that the album sells ridiculously well and we get really big, which would lead us down a different path to if we were well received but still stayed a bit more underground. I think either one of those options is going to send us down different paths.
Ralph: We could get limos.
Ian: Yeah we could get limos around everywhere! We’ll just have to see, we don’t really look that far ahead...It’s such a privilege to be doing what we’re doing at the moment. It would be nice if we could carry on as long as possible…for another few years. We’ll just have to see what happens.