In Conversation With…TO KILL A KING

As part of a short UK tour, London-based Folk-Rock five-piece To Kill A King retraced Leeds links to promote their third album ‘The Spiritual Dark Age,’ which has garnered mixed reviews from national press with some interpreting its eclectic nature as sign of insecurity of style.

Broadening the sonic palette of the show with a shot of energy was support from jumpy and fun indie-pop trio FOURS whose funky baselines set the tone for an evening of ever-changing tempo.

If FOURS were for the dancers, To Kill A King was for the swayers. Self-conscious on-stage musings from Ralph Pelleymounter gave way to confident vocals carrying the crowd through the twists and turns of the band’s third album. The eclectic nature of the album gave the performance a stop-start quality, comfortable and at points, muted until revived by the higher energy of tracks such ‘The Unspeakable Crimes of Peter Popoff’.

The most beautiful performance was the bittersweet nostalgia and haunting backing vocals of ‘The Good Old Days.’ The set culminated in Ralph and keyboard player/producer Ben, stepping down into the crowd during the album’s anti-Ballad – ‘And Yet’. A crowd invasion of the most gentle kind, in keeping with the propensity of compassion the band want to instil in their fans.

Speaking with To Kill A King at Leeds’ Brudenell Social Club, we discuss the various reactions coming in for their new record ‘The Spiritual Dark Age,’ how gigs continue to be spontaneous and surprising, and how new collaborations inspired fresh routes for creativity.

Zoe, BSS: Hi guys! How’s the tour been so far?

Ralph (vocals) : It’s been great…quite wild. There was a show we did in Hull and it was like the last days of Rome. I’ve never played in Hull before…it might just be the way they approach gigs. People were getting naked, they were professing love, dragging our drummer off stage, ballroom dancing with him…that was a cage fighter who did that. Hull was surprisingly cool. We’ve been not touring for ages. It’s just nice to reconnect with the fans and play some new stuff.

Ralph, you wrote the track ‘Perfume’ with Rag’n’Bone Man. How does the experience of writing for or with someone else differ from writing for yourself?

Ralph: [When writing with other people] I’d always be saying to the person that I’m writing with -like, making them justify what we’re doing, be it a lyric or a melody. So it’s all got to be playing a part. That was the natural thing that I started doing with people and with this album, I was like “I should probably apply it to myself.” You want to try to convey whatever emotion or thought you have as best you can but with music I think you can very easily be like “Well it makes sense to me.”

My interpretation of the album ‘The Spiritual Dark Age’ is that it’s expressing the feeling of lacking direction, both spiritually and within society. If I was to say “I think the album is about feeling lost” how far off would I be?

Ralph: Particularly with the song ‘And Yet’ I’d say you’re bang on. It’s about this feeling I have – I’m definitely at a point [in life] where everyone seems to be doing the same thing and it’s unclear whether people are doing it because they feel a social pressure to do it. But then I do feel that same social pressure. The one that I’ve been thinking, in terms of the [album’s] overall theme is this idea of compassion, and its use as a tool. The feeling that everyone needs to be more compassionate to each other. [….] People are going mental… like Twitter’s just a horrible space. The slightest slip up that people make, this is just all in general, but I hate the way that people are waiting for –

Grant (lead guitar): -stuff to be completely outraged by.

Ralph: Yeah! It feels like the Colosseum and you’re just waiting for someone to – you know, it’s like – “Kill him!” [Laughs] Though that’s not to excuse huge things.

Has Ben (the band’s keyboard player and co-producer) had as much of a hand in the production side of this album as he has your last two?

Ralph: Every album has more or less worked out the same. Ben’s done half the production and then we’ve got another producer in. Gethin Pearson worked on this album (‘The Spiritual Dark Age’). He’s a lovely mad man. He’s much more used to recording guitar bands (Mallory Knox, The Enemy) [so] he definitely approached guitars in a way that we hadn’t before. I recorded my guitar part more than I ever have done before, so it sounds like one guitar but it’s like twelve or thirteen different version of me playing the same part. When it comes to [his production] I have no clue what he’s doing. I know that the end product is brilliant, but how he gets down that rabbit hole is just mad.

Grant: There was one moment when we were recording the lead [guitar] part in the bridge for [the track] ‘The Spiritual Dark Age’ where Gethin was sitting there and I was playing it over and over again and there was obviously something about the sound he didn’t like and it got to a point where he was just going ‘AAH! AAH!” – I think he was trying to sing the note that he was hearing and I couldn’t!

The songs on this album are all very different, to the point where they could even be considered different genres. (‘And Yet’ could be considered a ballad, ‘The Spiritual Dark Age’ hints more at the band’s folk origins.) I’ve read that you start with the lyrics and build the instrumentation around that, but what do you think is the biggest driving force in what direction a song takes, genre-wise?

Ralph: I think it’s just the different flavour that a track can have. We’re getting the reviews in now…and some people really love [the variation of song styles on the album] and some people seem to have taken offense that it’s like…we call it ‘eclectic.’ We’re all musicians who love loads of different types of stuff and it’s just like the flavour of the lyrics and the energy can vary. I suppose the lyrical content ties it all together but I don’t think when you put it on you’re gonna be like “Is this a different band?” like it’s clearly us!

Grant: It’s just various moods I think and I think it’s crazy that people would expect you to have one mood the entire time you’re writing an album.

Ralph: [Critics] seem to be praising us with one hand saying “They’re the solution to what can stop Indie music being boring! “The Indie music landfill”…these guys are definitely not that! They’re pushing things!” but then at the same time they’re like *mockingly* “But maybe it’s a little bit too different!?” [laughs] It’s like “Well what the f*** do you want?” It’s so weird to me, because what I think is the trouble with a lot of Indie music is that you do get a band and they’ve got one cracking song and every other song on their album sounds like a s*** version of that one cracking song. Though you’re never gonna like someone that’s criticising you, are you?

Grant: We’ve got quite a broad sonic palette with the various things that we all do in the band, so why not use it?

Ralph, you described your 2014 EP ‘Exit Pursued By A Bear’ as “a pit-stop on the road to optimism.” In relation to optimism, how would you describe ‘The Spiritual Dark Age’?

Ralph: I think I swerved off the road! [laughs]. My Sat Nav started talking to me, and I started writing it down.

To Kill A King’s new album – ‘The Spiritual Dark Age’ – is out now, and available to Stream/Purchase here.

Photo Credit: Wolf James

Find To Kill A King on Facebook and Twitter.

Zoe Peck
Music blogger from Leeds

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