To Kill A King

author HES date 02/04/15

I discovered To Kill A King at a Bastille show, and while this probably does not go for the teenagers on the front row, for me personally the band stole the thunder. Since releasing a self-titled album this month, the band has been touring busily and are moving towards the end of a European run. But when we meet keyboardist Ben Jackson and composer/lead vocalist Ralph Pelleymounter in the backstage area of Lille Vega they may seem worn, but with eyes still lively and gleaming. You just played 02 Sheperd’s Bush. Giant show?
Ralph: It’s strange, ‘cause it feels like a lifetime ago. Because we have been touring for a while. A distant memory – but a fond distant memory. Ben did his best ever stage dive all the way to the back and then all the way to the front. And you didn’t crush anyone?

Ben: Not to my knowledge, but I may have kicked a few people. They deserved it.

Ralph: Yeah sometimes we invite people we don’t like, put them on the guest list and then send Ben out to kick them in the head. (laughs)

Ben Jackson on keyboard, Ralph Pelleymounter just visible in the back

(Live photos in the article courtesy of Well speaking of stage diving: I know you toured with Bastille – they are very much a “performance band”. Have you learned any tricks from touring with them?
Ralph: Anytime you see any good band perform, you kind of take notes on what works and what doesn’t. But I think at the same time, what works for some people - doesn’t work for all. So you kind of take what you can.

I think the way they interact with their audience is just fantastic and they’re so energetic on stage – so I think those are the things [I would take away]. But if we tried to do that we would look silly. I love seeing bands like Fleet Foxes, as he [Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold] did a show in the Roundhouse, which is a big venue and the control he has over his audience is just amazing. So you are taking pointers, but you are also very much doing your own thing? And you’ve been touring a lot recently?

Ralph: Yeah we just did England quite a bit and now we’re doing Europe – so it’s coming to the end of this tour. Tired?

Ben: Yeah, but we don’t have much more. Only two more shows. I think as you get towards the end of something, you grow really tired of it. If the tour was another month long I wouldn’t be as tired. But it’s just like when it’s the end of school, you know the end of a term and you’re like “fuck this”. So it’s actually not the length of it that makes you tired, it’s just knowing that you’re almost done?

Ralph: Yeah. But I do think we would still be quite tired. You know you just mentally prepare yourself for how long it’s going to be.

Ben Jackson I read somewhere that the way that you did this album, you wanted to achieve the same sound that you have live?
Ralph: Yeah I think it’s definitely gone heavier, for a few different reasons. We’ve always found it a challenge to try and capture what we do live on record. I think we find it hard - I think a lot of bands find it tough, and we do have some light production in there, but what we were doing was to capture that live sound and I think it’s hard, because in order to make things sound bigger, as we did on this album, you end up with more production, but then as soon as you go down that path too much, you end up with something that sounds manufactured and less live.

I think the thing we try to do to combat that, was to flip old demos into new productions, which then gives it this sense of scope. So it’ll be just one mic in the room and a rough recording like on “Grace of the Party” where slam! - you’re into this very heavy drum set! I think that makes it more personal as well.

Ben: I think with the first album we did find, especially when we’d done a lot of touring, that people were often surprised after hearing our records, in contrast to how energetic [we are] when we’re on the stage. And I guess we have taken that to the next level. But has it been working live then?

Ralph: Yeah I think our set now is much better than it has been. But I guess you’ll see at the show later. But yeah the ones on this tour, especially in Germany have been amazing.

To Kill A King – Funeral (Live) You said you'd gotten heavier for a couple of reasons, and one of the things I noticed when listening to the new stuff was that it’s also a lot more electric? Is this because of different influences, or?
Ralph: Yeah I think I started enjoying playing electric a lot more, so as I sat down to write for the new album, a lot of it started with me sitting down by a piano or electric. There’s only like two songs on there where I play acoustic. So that naturally makes it sound heavier. I think it’s also playing bigger stages: Playing electric is just a lot more fun. Personally I find it a lot more fun at the moment.

Also listening to a lot - some of the albums like the Pixies that I used to listen to when I was younger: I think I sort of got into - listening to a lot of those bands when I was writing this album. Like Green Day as well and Foo Fighters - It’s slightly heavier guitar music. Yeah so I’ll just ask you one of the classics: Which song from the album is your favorite from the new album?
Ben: I would probably say the song called “The Chancer” that I really love. That’s actually quite different from a lot of the other songs from the new album. I like the mood of it I guess, it’s one of the slower ones and it just sort of grows naturally, just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. And I don’t feel like there’s any time where it doesn’t pick up pace. It just kind of stomps away, all the way through the song. And it’s really fun to play live, mainly because at the end of the song - aside from probably the drums I am making the most sound. I just have this massive organ sound coming out, which is really fun.

Ralph: I find it really hard to pick. I am really, really, really proud of this album. I like the way it sort of changes halfway through. But I think my favorite playing live is “Friends” at the moment. I feel like we’ve achieved something as a band with it - it’s pretty tight - I hope we’re not going to fuck it up tonight now! It’s got stops and it’s just a feeling of “it’s good that we got those down”. If we fuck those up then it’s really going to mess up that song.

Ben: There’s a song called “Musicians Like Gamblers Like Drunks Like Me" which is the other way around. I really like it for the lyrics - and I am allowed to say that as I didn’t write them. But I sometimes wonder, because it’s written from the perspective of a musician: If I wasn’t a musician whether I would still like it. But I do relate to it. I was actually wondering: This is generally applicable to bands I find, that when they write their first album they draw from a huge amount of ideas that they have had in their lives, as being something other than musicians. Do you find that it’s different to come up with inspiration for songwriting, since you're now actually full time touring musicians?

Ralph: It has actually been a lot easier with this one - just because we didn’t really know necessarily what we were doing with the first one. So that was definitely trial by error. We had lots of songs at that point too, and it was kind of tough to will them down. This time we knew what we wanted the album to be like. So we could write the songs around that. I never find myself particularly stuck finding material to work with. There is generally more that I’m writing than gets used. I am also writing for other people now, too. So I think with this one [the album], it kind of flipped into being more personal album. That might be what you were talking about - because with the first album it was definitely more about writing other people’s stories. You reflect more on yourself, because you’re not really spending that much time working with other people.

Ben’s favourite song, The Chancer I find that one of the songs that I like the most is “Good Times (A Rake’s Progress)” and that song, as well as the rest of the album, seems to be a lot more positive? Is that intentional?
Ralph: Yeah I think so! I think I am slightly more positive than I was back then - at the first album. But “Good Times (A Rake’s Progress)”.. Yeah, sometimes I think it’s the more depressing song. “Oh My Love” is supposed to be kind of optimistic [note: but is soundwise melancholic], with “Good Times” it’s actually the reverse. It’s based on this series of paintings by Hogarth that tells this story of a young man who comes into some money, and then he wastes it all and becomes this boozing gambler. And he has to marry this girl, who is really quite hideous, but is very wealthy.

So he marries her, but he returns to the whorehouses so she divorces him and in the end he is in the madhouse, about to be lobotomized. It’s this series of paintings and “Good Times” is mostly trying to do that story, as this guy not really knowing where he is going. But it’s also a big party, so you can definitely dance to it. If you ever get a chance you should see them in London - it’s like eight huge paintings that tells the story quite clearly.

William Hogarth. The Tavern Scene. (A Rake's Progress) Do you think that you have discovered something with this new electric sound that you’re going to stick to for a while or have you found something else that’s going to wind up characterizing your next record?
Ralph: The new album kind of got finished off right before Christmas and in that time I did say to the band that I wasn’t going to do any writing for To Kill A King, because I like the fact that the first and the second album have really moved on in sound and I really wanted to do the same for the third one.

But as of yet, I don’t really know what that’s going to be. And I don’t want it to be really forced like “Let’s do a synth album!” I think it happened quite natural this one, but I think if we just started writing as of right now, our heads would be very much in this album and this sound. So yeah. We’ll see… It sounds like you’re trying to kind of reinvent yourself? Like you want to do something new instead of using the same old formula?

Ralph: I think sometimes fans say that they want the same album again, but I really don’t think it’s what they want - they want something new. I mean the reviews have been kind of mixed, but I rather like that. Some people are loving it and some people are really disappointed. But those people are disappointed mostly because they were all into how the old album sounds - but I think that’s just what happens. You can’t please everyone. I know personally that if there’s a band I love and they did do the exact same album the next time you’d be like “but why?” and it gets a bit boring.

Ralph Pelleymounter Your music is very complex both musically and lyrically - do you ever wonder if you expect too much of your audience?
Ralph: I don’t think so. I think we make music so you can enjoy it on whatever level you want to listen to in on. If you want to get really deep about it, then you can do so. But if not then you can listen to it on another level. Also I think we’re very into music and the depth that music can give. But we’re not really writing for anyone else than us - and it’s really, really nice that some people do like it and that connection, especially when we’re doing stuff live and people are singing back the lyrics that’s great - but ultimately we write music for our own satisfaction. So we’re not going to do something that doesn’t feel…

Ben: …If we were ever working on a song in the rehearsal room and we end up simplifying something, it’s not because we feel like the audience won’t get it, then it’s just because we feel like there is too much going on. But we try not to second guess what the audience is going to be looking for.

Ralph: I could imagine it would be a very worrisome situation, if you were trying to guess what people are going to like or not like. I would be quite terrified. that is good to hear because you do hear about these constellations where people end up not writing for themselves.

Ralph: With me it’s quite nice that I have this constellation where I write for other people actually. So that’s not for myself. But that has a strange satisfaction as well because you don’t have to express something that is actually your own truthful outlook on something. So you’re helping them write their own - which is quite relaxing in some ways. We do try to not write too much about love, although this album is very much about it. But not necessarily the straightforward kind of love song, that you have been thinking about. But then you write it for somebody and you can throw in those lines and you think “I wouldn’t do that. No wait. It’s okay. You can do that”. If they’re happy to do so of course!

The band's recent single “Love Is Not Control” Your single from this album, "Love Is Not Control", you’ve had pretty good success with getting it played on the radio right? Do you feel like there is a lot of support for bands of your kind, or is it hard to break through?
Ralph: I think it’s incredibly hard. But that’s just because of the market in the UK, especially in London you can throw a stone out your window and you will literally hit a random band. It’s also why, when we’re playing venues in Europe we get much better treated and it’s great - this is lovely (suggests towards the spacious, well-tended backstage of Vega)! So I think it is hard and I think we’re very fortunate that for whatever reason that single, BBC got behind it. But it is tough especially for guitar music in England at the moment. There is definitely a market for it, ‘cause people are coming out for the gigs - but bands are not necessarily getting radio play. Yeah it’s hard to know whether it’s because our music takes a little bit longer to listen to…

Ben: (Joking) because it’s too complex…

Ralph: No but it just takes a little bit longer to listen to. Also there are just barely any bands played on the radio compared to like “dance music”. Every year they do the print outs of artists that are on the top 50 and every year there are like 3 guitar music artists. But they’re not even you know… bands. They were things like Ed Sheeran or Ben Howard - who are very good, but they’re not quite the same as a band. They’re more like singer/songwriters. I am actually surprised to hear this because I feel like in Denmark a lot of bands complain that it’s so hard to get on Danish P3 which I guess is sort of like your BBC1. And bands we know are worried if they sound mainstream enough, or how will they ever get through this bottleneck and get airplay. But I see bands like you guys and some of the younger bands like Mallory Knox getting into BBC1, and ok they’re kind of a commercial band, but you would never hear it here! [/iview-q]

Ben: I think that in comparison to a lot of other countries, BBC does play quite a lot of indie stuff, but most of the time you will find that it’s all late at night. Especially if it’s BBC1. But I suppose daytime that’s the gold. You know night time is good, but it’s not the same.

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