“People making heartfelt music, whatever the style, really aren’t so different.” – Siobhan Kane talks with Kenny Anderson, aka King Creosote, who plays Vicar Street on Friday 27th July with Jon Hopkins.
It is hard to know where to start with Kenny Anderson, how can an untidy litter of words do justice to the musician who wrote “Not One Bit Ashamed” from the 2003 record Psalm Clerk, “The Someone Else” from 2005’s Rocket D.I.Y.?, or “Circle My Demise” from the same record, and everything on 2007’s Bombshell…the list goes on, because his gift is generous; on “Locked Together” he pleads for us to “read between the lines”, something he has been doing, musically, for almost twenty years.
In these twenty years, he has produced over 40 records, set up the brilliant Fence label/collective which he runs with Johnny Lynch (The Pictish Trail, Silver Columns), evolving interesting music, an annual festival (Homegame), and a sense of something different – full of heart, glowing amid the wreckage of the broken world. This heart is present on the warmth of the squeezebox and accordion sounds, the emotional focus of his folk-orientated songs, and the humorous, imaginative titles of many of his records (Inner Crail to Outer Space, They Flock Like Vulcans to See Old Jupiter Eyes on His Home Craters, and King Creosote Says Buy the Bazouki Hair Oil, instantly come to mind).
Because he has naturally,but generously, put so much of himself not only into his own work, but into nourishing others’, it was particularly pleasing that last year’s collaboration with electronic composer Jon Hopkins (a rearranging and revisiting of some of Anderson’s work) – Diamond Mine, was sent off into the sky as a little moonbeam, only to return as something of a meteor. Hopkins and Anderson had met in 2004, after a King Creosote concert, and something chimed, with the fulcrum of their efforts becoming that most moving and hypnotic record. The musical goodness and emotional honesty created a stirring energy that challenged time and life’s pace, insisting you stop and consider, with a delicate, but decisive touch.
The world they have created comes from a place of happy contrasts – Hopkins with a more electronic background and obsession with structure, and Anderson with his touchstones of folk and instinct – even their homes speak to certain aspects of their differences; Hopkins lives in London, and Anderson lives in Crail, Fife. Yet they seem to share part of a soul – while Hopkins, like Anderson, often uses live instruments in his work, such as harmonium and organ, Anderson equally shares Hopkins obsessiveness, but for him it is about documenting places, language, and experiences – keen to grasp what can ever only be misty, the temporal nature of life. To hear these worlds crash about on record, like poetic seagulls flitting around is a joyous thing: you are instantly put into the community, living life in a Scottish coastal village; it is there in the clattering of the cups in the cafe, the lapping of the tides of the sea, the rattling sound of a bicycle; and the sound of Anderson himself, that beautiful, unique voice that carries waves of pain and hope in its wake. The record has been renewing for both of them, and was followed up with the Honest Words EP, with more to come. But of course Anderson’s prolific solo creativity continues apace, with the release of last year’s Thrawn, and a flutter of EP’s already released this year, continuing to carve “a hairline scratch” into many a “granite heart”, Siobhán Kane talks to the wonderful King Creosote.
There is mutual respect between you and Jon Hopkins, and this is how you have always worked; respect being such an important part of living, linked in to a sense of decency, somehow. You met in 2004 at the ICA in London at one of your concerts – what was it that connected? The fact that we are both paragons of indecency? Ha! When you make a musical connection with someone then it’s an added dimension to a friendship, and if that someone is female then you’re in big trouble. Luckily, Jon Hopkins is both.
On the surface it appears that there is such a contrast in terms of the musical worlds you are coming from, and your approaches – but is there more similarity between you than one would think? People making heartfelt music, whatever the style, really aren’t so different. Jon treats my voice as an instrument, it just happens to be a reedy one that breathes better with less musical dust around it.
Jon has always been so interested in precision and structure – and you are associated with a more emotional creative instinct, perhaps you take the corners off each other? Did Jon come to you with the idea of revisiting some of your work, and giving it a different kind of hue? I’m very slap dash when it comes to recording, especially when at home, and Jon has honed in on the emotional impact of a few of my recorded songs. I’m pretty sure he wanted to amplify what I, in my haste, dampened. He is musically precise, and it must jar his ears a little to hear my calamitous treatments of quite fragile songs. Jon’s merely wringing out my dish rag of a voice, adding a bit of fabric softener and leaving it to dry up on the pulley.
Was there any part of you that was hesitant, happy enough to leave them where they were? I never think of a recorded song as finished, just like I don’t believe in demos. The recording of a song is so random – you chuck down the chords, muddle them up, fit the words to this new version and then chuck a few things on to see how it turns out. What you have to hand could be a beach ball and a casio keyboard, or maybe a full orchestra and pipe band, but if you throw the pipe band on there you can go back to it at a later date and use the beach ball instead. I learned that at the World Piping Championships in Magaluf in 2001 when a sudden gust of wind blew a beach ball into the chanter of the pipe sergeant.
Was it in part comforting to revisit some of those songs that span so much of your life? As I get older I try to steer clear of songs that no longer resonate in the way they did, or in the case of “Bubble”, try to update them – taking out shoddy lines mainly. The added verse on “Bubble” is all about revisiting the past and trying to alter it using your future knowledge … or something. “Your Young Voice” was tricky to re-do as some recordings are made to not exist outside the original take. On the original I choke up.
Do you feel like a different person to the man who wrote “Your Own Spell”? Yes, the 19 year old me could see his true self in a mirror.
“Bats in the Attic” seems like a coda to “Your Own Spell”,a tipping off point to somewhere else. You know, verse 3 of “Bats” wasn’t at all finished when I sang it for Jon, and I couldn’t write a chorus any better than verse 2, so left it incomplete. In fact, I didn’t think it would make the album. It’s tricky to write an ageing song that doesn’t sound like “Two Little Boys” by Rolf Harris, and verse 3 should’ve done more to tie it all together really. It doesn’t, and to me that version of the song isn’t finished. But then I’m not dead yet.
On KC Rules OK – there were some different versions of some previous songs, what was the impetus behind that, and was it a different impulse from Diamond Mine? 679 wanted a “best of” right from the off. They’d heard some of my early albums, and came to the conclusion that everything I record sounds like two songs running concurrently, and that they had a band on their books called The Earlies that would untangle it all. Hopkins wanted an “averagely-good of” instead, which he turned into an “even-better of”.
It is amazing to think you have created over forty records so far – I often think of your work in relation to the sea, not just because of places like Crail, but because there is a sense of flow, all of these babbling brooks flowing into each other, part of the same dialogue. In an interview last year you said you felt Diamond Mine was the “beginning of something” – was there a part of you just before that, that felt things might have been coming to an end? I’d pretty much given up on the belief that an album was worth the expense, given how much people begrudge spending so little money on music. It’s demoralising when your album sales don’t quite recoup the recording costs, let alone help subsidise a tour, no matter how many corners you cut. I’d already written a live only album My Nth Bit of Strange in Umpteen Years, and the Fence label made plans to release vinyl again. On a music tip I felt I’d said enough on the subjects I want to sing about, so I was right in the doldrums. To hear my voice sitting proud in amongst the lush yet sparse arrangements Jon is such a genius at, well, I quickly got back into the saddle. And healthy reviews of Diamond Mine and then decent sales means I’m cantering along with Hopkins’ tail swishing away the flies.