Ellie Harris and I caught up with To Kill a King at The Joiners, on the penultimate date of their UK tour, as they launch their new sophomore album To Kill a King. Arriving at the venue, we were collected from amongst the already-gathering fans by bass player Peter Hakola, as tour manager Dave was busy with sound checks. After a promising glimpse of the night’s set, frontman and songwriter Ralph Pelleymounter, and drummer Josh Taffel (“Taffel”), joined us in the bar for the interview.
So how are you guys doing, how’s the tour going?
Ralph: Yep we’re good; we’re nearly at the end of the UK tour, tonight and then Shepherd’s Bush tomorrow, and then onto Europe; but it feels good it’s been a really good tour so far.
How are you feeling about Shepherd’s bush [their biggest venue to date]?
Ralph: A mixture of excited and apprehensive, right? EA.
Taffel: Exactly [both laugh]
The last time you were in Southampton was for your 2013 tour, how does it feel coming back, when obviously so much has changed for you as a band?
Ralph: Well this has had a lick of paint hasn’t it?
Taffel: One or two brushes
Ralph: It’s always been a really great venue and the sound system’s still the same. We’ll see tonight, we’ve previously had amazing gigs here, so I hope it’s still the same.
You’ve recently released your new album so that’s a big change for you guys, how long has it been in the making?
Ralph: It was almost as soon as we finished the first one that we started writing this one, 2 years really; but I feel it’s been slightly delayed, in the fact that we self-released the first album, then we got picked up by Xtra Mile so we re-released that, then things were going well so they decided to release it in the States; so it’s kind of had 3 releases. For a lot of last year we didn’t actually really come back to the UK, we were doing Europe and the States, which was great, but now we’re catching up with the UK and releasing this 2nd album. So this album would have, in the normal cycle of things, been released earlier, but I’m glad it’s come out where it has cos I feel it’s all come together really nicely and I’m really pleased with the result.
And you released your EP ‘Exit, pursued by a Bear’ at the end of 2014…
Ralph: Yeah that was sort of… there’s only one track that’s repeated from the EP onto the album, which is ‘Oh my Love’, I feel like that’s got one foot in the old album and one foot in the new one, it’s a nice little bridge for the fans, but that was quite a soft release, it was more just for the fans really.
You described the EP as “a departure from where we were” but you called it “a pit stop on the road to optimism”, so do you think your old album (Cannibals with Cutlery) is more pessimistic in tone?
Ralph: I think the first album was definitely a collection of me writing a lot of other people’s stories and I suppose quite a few of them ended up being more negative than positive, or at least certain songs were misinterpreted, like ‘Funeral’, a lot of people saw it as quite a downer song …
Ellie: [shaking her head]Nope
Ralph: That’s good cos It’s meant to be a sort of seize the moment thing, similar to what we’ve done with ‘Oh my Love’; but I think a lot of the stories, like ‘Wrecking Crew’ and ‘Fictional State’ and things like that, they are slightly darker stories. But I think it’s also that you write about what you’re doing and that album was written a lot about work I did in Leeds, like community work with alcoholics and people like that, so a lot of stories came from them and were their stories. And then with this album, it’s been on the road; I’ve been travelling a lot more than I ever did, which is great, and I think it just gives you a slightly different view of things.
So do you guys like writing on the road more than in studios?
Ralph: It’s a process isn’t it [To Taffel] so I’ll write stuff and then bring it to the band and then we’ll play and people will swap around ideas. The great thing is now it’ll be online, so I’ll send them to Taffel
Taffel: Yeah we never actually have to be in the same room.
Ralph: Which is good.
Only for this kind of stuff
Ralph: And then there are two of us! [laughter]
Taffel: I really like the process, I think it’s difficult to write properly when you’re on the road because there’s just too much happening all the time. Sometimes it doesn’t get in the way and we can just bust out an incredible track.
Ralph: But it is very much like you’ll plan to do a bit of writing each day, and it might be that one day in a week you’ll get a couple of hours to do it in.
[Josh laughs knowingly]
Ralph: It’s bizarre how quickly your time gets taken up on the road, but still I think it’s more a thing of necessity than anything else. I think the ideal would be that we go away together, to some amazing country house and just write there, but necessity means that you do a lot of writing on the road. I think a lot of ideas come when you’re on the road as well, which is nice.
Do you enjoy the performing side more than the production, writing, recording side of things?
Ralph: I enjoy both loads. I think it’s nice that you do a switch of things, like if we were constantly in the studio together then you’d get bored but then if you were constantly on the road you’d get bored too.
Taffel: They kind of balance each other out because the writing side is your creative outlet and then the actual show is putting it all into action and I guess reaping the reward.
Ralph: Yeah because you do get that amazing feeling when people are connecting with a song that you’ve written. You get it over the internet but it’s not quite the same, like someone going ‘That’s amaze-balls’ [laughter]
Taffel: Thanks dude
Obviously after tomorrow night you’ll be heading on to the European part of your tour, from your experience, how do audiences in the UK and Europe differ?
Ralph: Quite a lot, I think audiences around the UK differ quite a lot, I think there is a North South divide sort of thing. Same with Europe, I mean Germany and Switzerland got behind us well before the UK did, like for our first ever tour of Switzerland I think 4 out of the 5 gigs sold out and we’d never been there before, not really done much there. Same with Germany, we did a couple of support tours there and then suddenly we were doing headline shows and there were big audiences.
I think first we did rolling stone festival out there, and we played our first song and it was crazy, the clapping just went on and on and on, and I had to say ‘we’ve only got a 25 minute slot so stop clapping now’, we kept on trying to start the second song and it was like ‘wooooooah’, it was just, it was crazy.
So I don’t know, it is different, but then even amongst Europe, like Paris, France, we’ve just cracked it, like we’re now getting a good amount of people coming. The first couple of times we played Paris, it was a bit like London, people were not interested, it’s a very fashionable cool city and I think, sadly, part of what is deemed cool is not looking like you’re actually bothered about anything. Which London certainly does quite a lot! [Taffel laughs in agreement]
I’m a Londoner [I say – defending my city, and music tastes – to laughter]
Have you had a good reception of your new album so far then, considering it’s only 11 days old?
Ralph: It’s great! We were worried about whether people would know it at all, but people have been singing along to tracks and it’s been really good. It’s quite a new-album heavy set, like it’s more new songs than old songs, which is what we wanted to do because we wanted to play the new ones, and we were a little bit apprehensive, but it’s gone down really well so we’re just keeping it as it is really.
Do you have any classics that you always play?
So like ‘Coldskin’ and ‘Choices’, they always get played and ‘Funeral’. Those are probably the three main old ones, and then there are a few that we switch around, so it’s sort of varied.
You decided to self-title this album, which is your second one, why self-title this one and not ‘Cannibals with Cutlery’?
I think we had the thing of trying to work out what to call it, and with ‘Exit, Pursued by a Bear’, and then this being self-titled, the idea was that [chuckles]‘Exit, Pursued by a Bear’ was a cheeky reference to the fact that 2 band members had left, and they hadn’t written that EP, it was the new ones, Taffel and Grant. Then the self-titled album, we thought it would be nice for it to be a bit of a statement about it being, almost like a new start, not erasing anything we’d done before, but just being like this is kind of a new band, and it’s a new sound; so self-titling sounded like the way to go.
You described it as being like a “year zero” for To Kill a King, is that bad news for fans of your old stuff?
Ralph: I don’t know. I think it feels for us like, you’ve come back with this album, but we did stuff the maybe less conventional way with the first album, so because we literally had no radio play we just played loads of people’s living rooms and all over like that, whereas for this one we’ve come back, and instantly, what we were hoping was that it would have this pick up, and it seems to have done. Huw stephens, we were his single of the week, which is great, and Fearne Cotton played us.
Taffel: Annie Mac on her first show.
Ralph: and Zane Lowe. So it seems to have that BBC Radio 1 support, and XFM are behind us as well, we were in their top 5 tracks and that sort of thing – which I suppose is the more conventional route for making it in a band. So I think it’s not so much, as I say, erasing what we’ve done before but more being like this is a fresh start for us, a new way, and we’re going to see it through.
When you started out as a band was this the sound you were aiming for, that you wanted to characterise you?
I think a lot of compromises were made on the first album but I think when we were starting out we were definitely just finding our feet in terms of a sound. I think that first album, I really love it, but I love it for its flaws, it definitely feels to me like a debut whereas for this, it feels like a band more in its stride, knowing what it’s doing. It’s a weird thing being like ‘let’s make an album’, it’s quite overwhelming; whereas for this one, obviously we’d had experience in doing it before, so we knew a little bit more of what we were going to do.
You guys started up, in part, at university so do you have any advice for bands trying to make it at university?
Well actually the openers (Bel Esprit), so they’ve supported us twice now and we were just chatting to them, it sounds like some exciting stuff’s happening for them (meaning their success in winning a place at Southampton’s Common People festival). Hmm any advice? [Turns to Taffel]
Taffel: I never went to university
Ralph: Don’t go to university, rule 1 [we all laugh]
Even if it’s a good place to start up great bands?
Ralph: Maybe, I don’t know, I always think the main thing is just keep on writing and that sort of thing.
Taffel: Yeah cos no matter where you are, if you just keep writing, trying to be a great musician – you can surround yourself by whatever you want, it’s not going to make you what they are.
Ralph: I think surrounding yourself round other musicians. I think one of the things I gained most about university was being surrounded by people who were a lot better than me and then trying to get better. Same with anything, like if you’re surrounded by people who are like ‘You’re amazing’ [we all chuckle] you’ll probably stay kinda shit for ages. [laughter]
So, for any of the readers of ‘The Edge’ who perhaps haven’t heard of you guys before, what songs would you tell them to listen to?
Taffel: The album!
Ralph: Yeah the new songs off the album
Taffel: We’ve got 11 songs for you
Ralph: I mean they’re at Uni; they’ve got time [laughter] But, ‘Love is not control’
Taffel: ‘Compare Scars’
Ralph: ‘The Chancer’
Taffel: ‘Schoolyard rumours’
Ralph: We’re just going to name them all aren’t we. Just give the new album a play, it’s on Spotify, I know you students like cheap things.
Taffel: It’s less than an hour, so there’s definitely time to listen to it.
[We all laugh and conclude the interview]
So you’ve been told what to do!
To Kill a King are touring around Europe until April 1st so if you’re in the vicinity, or fancy a trip over Easter, tickets are available here.