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King Krule Shares the Secrets of The Ooz

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 22: King Krule performs onstage during day 2 of FYF Fest 2017 at Exposition Park on July 22, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images for FYF)

Archy Marshall is tired. The 23-year-old polymathic English songwriter, who goes by King Krule, is a few minutes late for our lunch meeting, having stayed up too late yet again. “It’s alright, I’m pretty knackered today,” he says, having just done a surprise gig at cult Los Angeles venue Zebulon, and flown to New York for another, at the impossibly hip downtown club China Chalet. The notoriously press shy artist looks remarkably relaxed, with his arm thrown back on a banquette, his baggy cords, camo Supreme button-up, and black suede Pumas giving him a casual air as he asks me for a cigarette.

Marshall has been warming up in smaller clubs for a tour behind his new album, The Ooz, his first in four years under the King Krule moniker. He hasn’t been idle in the time off: He’s released a trip-hop indebted album under his proper name, collaborated with Trash Talk and Wiki, and contributed to songs by Mount Kimbie. But The Ooz is the purest distillation of Marshall’s genius, and his most realized work to date: a 19-track impressionistic hybrid of lounge music and punk, drifting through grimy late nights, his Bermondsey environment, and his own unquiet mind. “The sound of it, the tone of it—it’s really my record this time,” he says, sipping on a lemon soda. “Everything is quite constructed by myself.”

Marshall’s skill as a producer has grown by leaps and bounds, since the 2010 self-release of his debut as Zoo Kid. The vocals are more direct, the mixes are not so swampy, and the arrangements are tighter than ever. The Ooz worms its way deep into introspective moods Marshall has explored since those early days, seen through the lens of a slightly wiser, world-weary young man. But he’s still hanging about his old London haunts, with his dependable crew, often still coming up with the same disaffection that riddles this age of anxiety. “It’s weird when you spend so much time on something and it’s time for other people to experience it, you know,” he says. “When I was coming to the end of it, I was barely listening to it.”

It’s been about two years since you’ve released something. You’ve been hanging in Bermondsey.

I’ve just been bumming about those ends and trapped in a way, you know. When I turned 20, it was still kinda interesting because I wasn’t going to bars as much or experiencing the nightlife as much. I was more like staying in with people and going about to people’s houses when I was younger, rather than going out. I’ve kind of missed it now, so I wanna get back out.

You’ve been staying in a lot?

In a way, yeah. I’ve also been going out, but just to the same spots. It’s become my proper neighborhood, you know. Everyone who I know now lives around me and it’s like, I wanna get the hell out of there.

I’m just tired of the same views. I’m just looking at the same shit, the same walls, the same environment. I wanted to move to the most southeast point of England, which is coined “the only desert in Europe.” This place called Dungeness. Loads of artists went there in the ‘60s and created a scene there, but now it’s just a barren landscape. I wanted to live there for a bit but I didn’t have the means to do it yet.

What appeals to you about that?

I’ve done a lot in my area. The scene got big, and the jazz scene got big, and everyone’s making music, and it’s proper. Peckham got really badly gentrified. It wasn’t a bad thing, because it made it better for people like myself and my friends to experience shit, because there were these weirdos coming to the inns. It was an interesting experience, but definitely as well it was like a pillaging of something of me and all of my close friends grew up in. All these people now claim your ends for their own shit. I felt like almost ostracized by the people coming in. It was better for girls, though.

It felt like my work in the area was done. The venues that I would play and the events that I’d put on have now become the spots where everyone goes to put on events and everyone goes to promote their stuff. So it’s the desire of going somewhere else and seeing if you can make it from scratch again—to start fresh and be essentially anonymous.

Do you get recognized a lot now in the gentrified neighborhoods?

I reckon, yeah. The other night I was trying to go out with this girl that I hadn’t seen for like a month, cause she lives in Paris. She came and met me in a place in New Cross where I’d first met her. It was kind of unbearable, because I’m just with a girl—I’m trying to chat with her, I haven’t seen her in a while, and I’ve got all these dudes coming up to me asking questions. I’m pretty relaxed about it, but the dynamic as well gets to me. They say stuff like, “I don’t wanna take any of your time,” and then they’re just there taking your time. I kind of enjoy it at the same time, but the anonymity is what I miss—being not known.

Are you thinking of changing your sound, as well?

With this record, I felt I changed my sound a bit. I used more distortion. I dried out my vocals a lot. That was something I was quite conscious of after Six Feet Beneath the Moon, because I was working with [producer Rodaidh McDonald]. Roddy almost amplified the stuff that I’d done as demos, which was really ripped, just wetted up, reverbed-out stuff. Some of the greatest stuff I’ve done has been badly recorded, and I hate using the word “lo-fi” and “DIY” because at the time I thought it was sounding really hi-fi. But it adds a certain aspect to the songwriting.

That’s something I wanted to get back into with this record, is where I spent more time just sitting at an instrument, playing it, before I even thought to try and record it. I got kind of wrapped up for a while just going straight in and trying to record something straight, and then have it be a half-assed version of something that could be a lot better realized. I’ve written quite a lot already, after this record. I’ve got quite a few songs. I feel like they’re an extension of the more kind of grungy sound of the record, and the more kind of distorted sound.

It’s funny you say the grungy sound because some of the chords really reminded me of early ‘90s Seattle rock. Were you drawing from that on purpose?

Yeah, for sure. I don’t think I’d ever used bar chords for a long time, since I was a kid. I used them a lot on this record. I guess I’m becoming more mature with my songwriting, whereas before I was trying to throw down all kinds of jazz chords constantly. I think subtlety is something I’m growing into. Also, I’ve been listening more to bands like The Beatles, and their songwriting I just find fascinating.

I kind of wish I came from a time back then, because my stuff would be perceived way differently. It’s nice to come from a time where everything’s kind of been done. It’s mainly songwriting that I’ve been focusing on since completing this record—and when I say songwriting, I guess I mean like straight up vocals and accompaniment, making the accompaniments quite luxurious. But you could still play it on your own, like I used to do. I feel like I got a bit away from that, especially with A New Place to Drown, and that’s the danger about having a lot of time in the studio, is that you can sit on a loop and add to a loop over and over again because you don’t necessarily get this satisfaction with it, because you’re not changing it, and you’re working toward something bigger. But then again, I like loops and I like monotony and this record has a lot of it.

Have you not listened to Beatles records before recently?

No. I listened to more stuff which was quite stylish—punk bands like The Damned and singers like Alan Vega. Stuff which was like quite loopy and quite aggressive, and really based on the aesthetic of the singer. I guess I never really listened to their stuff that much. Recently it’s just been something I’ve got really into, so maybe the next record will be kinda like that.

Tell me about all the horns you have on this record.

This guy sent me a video of himself playing a saxophone under this bridge in East London. That night I was playing a show, and at the end of the show we were gonna have a jam. I told this guy that day to come down to the show, and that’s where I met Ignacio. He’s from Argentina. He was living in London at the time, and he came down and brought his baritone saxophone. That night we got together. We spent a lot of time together afterwards, and I invited him down to come play on some of the work that I was doing.

That was only a year ago that I met him. Now we’re like really best friends, in a way. I found my relationship with him really opened up my record because for years and years all of my friends and myself were just listening to quite a lot of electronic and hip-hop and house and garage and UK garage and two step. I was spending so much time on the computer and producing on my MPC rather than just playing. But he was a breath of fresh air, because we could sit down and I could just play guitar for hours and he could make it sound really good.

We listened to whole records together, in silence. It was good to meet someone like that, who could bring that side out of me again—the more organic approach to music rather than what I was doing on the computer and trying to record shit like that. My relationship with him really opened it up. Most of the arrangements, some of them are written by me, but a lot of them are improvised by him. It just gave me a freedom to the record that I don’t think I could have done. I’m not a good enough musician.

That’s so cool that you’ve met someone who would influence your music in a way that you weren’t even looking for.

Yeah, for sure. At the same time I was really into bossanova. I know bossanova is more of a Brazilian thing, but to have someone from Latin America staying with you—we were listening to a lot of Argentinian records, great records he showed me. He showed me a band called Pescado Rabioso, and it was the singer, Alberto Spinetta—his work almost got me into the Beatles. Ignacio showed me and I don’t know what I’d do without knowing that record now.

I owe so much to our relationship. It’s very pure. I’ve had the same group of friends for about 10 years now who have always been really tight. We don’t let too many people in. Then, to meet this guy and a year later I’m in love with him. It’s interesting.

I know that John Lurie was a big influence for you.

The Lounge Lizards was something that I’ve always been really into—very much mystified by their mystery and the way that he constructed music. His arrangements are so good. I like this idea of faking jazz. I guess it’s the idea of what came out of this city, like the New York no wave. Every now and then on a Lounge Lizards record, throughout the mayhem, there’d be like some crazy, crazy melodic and beautiful pieces. I like that balance of havoc and also romance.

That’s a nice way to talk about the balance on this new record, where you’re talking about guts and mushy brains and all this stuff. But you’re also talking about this struggle for the heart and the moon and all these romantic, poetic things.

I’ve played and treated my performances like a punk. When I was 16, I started to write these songs because I was trying to woo this girl. It’s like rockabilly and psychobilly; it’s like “Dream Baby Dream.” It’s this punk shit, but there’s this sweet element to it.

Stuff like Dirty Beaches was a big influence. Some of my first gigs, when I released a record when I was really young, were with him. That was quite an interesting aspect for me, because seeing this guy who was all about this dark image, but every now and then he’d be this super crooner. I feel like since I’ve made music there’s a lot of kids now who are tapping into the same sounds. It took a long time for me to realize that sound, and I’m not saying I was totally original. But at the time when I came out, no one was really doing that kind of mix, of being vulnerable but still trying to stare everyone in the eye and spit at them. I’m willing to shout at them. And I still think a lot of the kids—especially around my area who are taking a lot of ideas from the way I used to record and the way I set up my sounds, my guitar sounds and my vocal sounds—I feel like all of them miss a point, which is that punk side of it.

In terms of maturing your sound, you’re also maturing as a person. How does that feel to be in the public view and having to develop who you are as an adult?

It gives me power, in a way. I don’t take everything too seriously. I’m living this thing I always wanted to do, and when I come out here, it feels good to be this artist. I wanna be respected for my art—my words, more than anything else, and what I write, more than anything else. It feels quite good, but on a social level, there’s some kind of pressures. I’m in a pretty good situation because I don’t have to get a normal job. What I do instead is make sure that I’m busy working every day.

Are you into politics at all? 

I am into politics. I don’t know if I like to talk about them in an interview so much. I’m still figuring out stuff, but I I’ve always been quite far left since I was a kid. For a bit, I kind of disowned Marxism and socialism because I realized why capitalism works, but I still got a fascination with Marxist writing and Engels.

There’s a really good book by Engels that I read when I was young called The Working Conditions of a Man. It was him walking around London. Their work was based on London, based on a revolution happening in London. We’ve had some terrible, terrible governments, and London’s been really fucked over by it. I come from London, and it’s a shame. London’s so expensive now. The art’s really gone in a weird way.

Then you have someone like Jeremy Corbyn who comes in. I’m not a Labor supporter; I don’t believe in Labor ever since Tony Blair got in. But it’s so refreshing to see someone get on the bus every day, talking to the people and doing interviews. Theresa May, she hid. She didn’t do anything. She didn’t even turn up for some political TV interview. What does that say about your leader? What does that say about someone in control of the country?

Has your environment at all been changed by Brexit?

One of the most upsetting things of my life, so far, politically, that I’ve seen, is to vote ourselves out of Europe. I find it upsetting because it’s proof that the media’s winning. There’s so much power in the media; there’s so much control over a certain amount of people and a certain mindset of people. I think it’s dangerous to have traditionalists like that still about. I find that so fascinating that this idea coming from traditionalists and the upper-class can be so easily relayed and put straight into the brain of the working class man.

I guess the media controls it all. A lot of people are disillusioned by voting and don’t vote, so that’s another concern. But also you gotta bring it down to the fact that that government, the Tory government, called for a referendum on leaving Europe. And halfway through, David Cameron said, “Wait a minute. I don’t wanna leave, what the fuck am I doing?” That just goes to show what’s up. Shot himself in the foot.

You said the arts have suffered in London. Are you finding the people you work with struggling in the city to make ends meet?

The fact is that everyone works for their beds right now in London. I got some friends who, all they do is work. They go to a public house at the end of it, and then they go to bed. It’s been going on in London, years and years, this conditioning. I guess it’s never been as bad as right now—The Victorians, even. The Victorian age is one of the most interesting ages because it’s really a time of political conditioning and getting people to work for this bigger picture, and getting them distracted by stuff like pubs. It’s depressing, man. A lot of people that I love who are from Europe can’t live there anymore as well, and a lot of people can’t live in London because it’s too expensive. I guess that goes back to why I wanted to start living somewhere else. We could be living like kings down south.

You sample the theme to It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia on the record. Why’d you want that here? 

I’d spent maybe four months in a depression sitting in bed just watching that series over and over. It got to the point where I was like sleeping in the middle of the day and waking up to [hums theme song] rain on my window, dark, blinds down, Danny DeVito fucking lubed up, getting knackered out. I watched like every single episode four times. It was a really warm thing for me; I’d watch an episode and I’d feel like I was part of the gang. the characters. It’s weird, that series, because you get to know the characters so well that the jokes start to be just like, “Oh yeah he would do that.” It’s kind of like Friends in a way, but way better.

What are the other samples on the record?

I did quite a bit of field recording. There are some foxes on there. There’s a lot of footsteps as well. Like we were talking about earlier, a lot was based around that time of night—dreams and memories and weird stuff like that. That’s why I wanted different languages. I kinda like that idea that some English-speaking guy can listen to the record and then just have to listen to a voice for its tonality. You don’t understand it. You’re just listening to it purely for what it is physically there for. That’s always been my desire, to make soundscape more than a record.

When you were making those field recordings, were you doing it mostly at night?

Yeah, mostly. I was with these two girls after my gig the other night from Mexico. I was trying to explain to them what a fox was, they didn’t know. I was like “it’s like a red dog, a red dog and it goes ahhhh, ahhh” [makes screaming fox sound] and they scream. When you’re a kid in London, I remember knocking on my mom’s door because I thought a woman was getting raped or murdered because you just hear these fucking terrifying screams from these foxes. So I had to get them in there, because they evoke so much. Some days I spend the night watching them for hours. It’s really interesting, these animals. They have this family and they have this way of moving, this way of looking out, and they also have this confidence. I find that fascinating.