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interviews-dec/jan 2005/6

King Creosote

King Creosote aka Kenny Anderson has been a bright light in British music over the past 12 months. When his first album of this year, Rocket DIY, arrived in my sweaty palms in March I was knocked sideways by its subtlety and beauty. It was packed full of music with honesty, humour and genuine emotion and sounded like no-one else out there. As the year progressed we were blessed with yet another record, this time with The Earlies, and with some national touring allowing us to bask in his live audio warmth we were truly spoilt. But what on earth is ticking away inside the wee Scottish chaps uber-creative noggin? Well I emailed off a few not particularly taxing questions to try and tease out the facts and put all our minds at ease.

You musical output is pretty prolific between that on your own label and that on others like domino. How do decide what songs won’t make the cut and what goes on what release?

From 1997-2001 I’d recorded over a dozen CDR titles on my own fence label. They were very self-indulgent collections of demos I suppose, but you have to realise fence had no fanbase to have to please, and certainly no fear of industry criticism. I didn't care about sales at all - this was more of a creative hobby really - and I wanted my music to eventually find its own ears. James Yorkston had passed compilations of kc tunes to the various labels he approached, and so it came about that my first release proper was a collection of back catalogue cdr highlights on the fence/domino labels. With "Kenny and Beth’s musakal boat rides" I knew i had a few hundred fans, so i began to think differently about the way i put albums together. I approached domino with "rocket d.i.y." knowing that it was more of a commercial sounding effort altogether, and was delighted when it made the grade. "kc rules ok" is another compilation of highlights from the CDR back catalogue, but this time re-recorded in a studio, and with the knowledge that the labels 679 and names were about to commit some hard cash to the project. You always try to do better when it's someone else's money and reputation on the line.

Your music has a definite Scottish identity to it. Is this a conscience decision you take when making it?

My musical background has everything to do with the way i sound - my father is a well known and respected accordionist, who taught me music in the first place, and my first band proper was a busking bluegrass skiffle outfit. I’ve combined these influences with the music that i preferred to listen to all along - a right embarrassing mix of the more leftfield chart contenders from 1981 to 1989 - and here i am. I’ve made music that sounds Scottish for 20 years now, and it's only in the past year or two that it has had much in the way of recognition ... hardly a game plan for success!! Nah - from the off i did exactly what i wanted with music without thinking about sales and cred. I sound the way i sound, and it is probably less Scottish now than it was back in 1985 when i fist tried to sing a chorus.

What made you decide to withdraw from traditional music circles and retreat to fife and start the Fence Collective?

I had a band called "skuobhie dubh orchestra" which started out as a busking band playing trad tunes and songs, then it morphed into an original sounding acoustic band playing original songs. We got signed to a small label, we found an agent, we toured and toured ... we got nowhere. We had large audiences in Scotland, but no apparent "success", and this took its toll. The band left when my sanity did. For a year i moped about lamenting all the travelling and all the concessions we made in order to "make it", only to question why i did music in the first place. Once i had the answer to that, it was easy peasy. Sit tight, write decent tunes, record my music at home, play locally, let an audience find kc if the music was good enough. Other songwriters and musicians found fence by having to look and listen a little harder, and to prepare themselves for a long haul with not much in the way of rock 'n' roll perks either. It takes a rare person to want to work harder for less, but that's what makes the fence collective such an unusual group of individuals.

How do you recruit members for Fence? When can someone describe themselves as a member of Fence?

We’ve never had a recruitment drive. The first few bands were family, friends and friends of friends. When we started playing music out of our hometown, we'd meet other bands, and some of those would become part of fence. They’d have friends themselves. there's bands in the collective now that I’ve known a long time, have themselves had various tragedies with the music business, but who now realise fence is something big enough and positive enough to be a part of. Someone who's contributed to a fence collective show, or who has submitted a picket fence title is pretty much already tarred with the fence brush. We don't sign bands, and we find bands who move onwards and upwards are keen to remain card carrying members. Fence folks all have certain personality traits, and we're a collective which varies considerably in musical styles, as well as having collective members that don't play music at all! It’s like being in the best class at school when the teacher is off sick.

What are your long term goals for Fence and KC?

Fence will hopefully become the first rung on the musical ladder for the collective bands wanting a career in music. to do this we need to build up a fan base large enough to allow us to put out the minimum run of cds, or vinyl 7" singles, and not become broke in the process. The minimum run is 500. We very much believe that the music should sell itself, and that good music doesn't need a fortune spent on press and publicity. Alas, it seems it does, but then we're prepared to sit it out. We have about 10 or 20 new diehard fence fans every year who stay with us, and who end up experimenting a little with the collective output. Our collective shows are incredible events. Of course, this is all very time consuming, and in order to get from one year to the next, fence needs a bit of cash. Kc’s goal is to cast the net further a field, and earn some of that much needed cash. Kc and fence are one and the same really, and although progress is slow, it is very steady. We’re very small fish, but it turns out that the pond ain't so big after all. We’re now at a stage where we're looking over into other ponds, with bands like king creosote, James Yorkston and u.n.p.o.c. making the first salmon-like leaps...

Fence are real advocators of the CDR and all who sails in it. With it being relatively cheap to produce music and getting it out in this format, everyone and his mum seems to have an album out. Do you think there's a fear that this could result in music becoming more disposable or artists being lost in the audio mass?

Fence firmly believes that the value of an album is down to the value of the songs, not the plastic they're pressed onto. whether it's tapes, cds, vinyl, cdrs, mini discs - 10 original songs by a band committed to write and record those10 songs, on a label that's committed to the overall album package - that is what you're paying for. It has a value. A piece of artwork is no more or less expensive if on canvas, ceramic, glass, plastic, even waste card, so why should music be any different? Yes the cdr is cheap in that you can make them one at a time, but we make great efforts with original music, home made artwork and then the packaging of the music, it is very time consuming, and there's way less waste by way of leftover albums in boxes under beds. Downloads and mp3s have no value whatsoever, and are treated as such. CDR or not, fence releases albums that are every bit as worthy as a shrink wrapped cd. In fact the shrink wrapped cd with 8 page booklet costs way less than a cdr with hand made artwork, but its value comes from the fact that so much is spent trying to sell enough of the thing.

Whether an artist becomes lost or not is down to the expectations of the artist. If you believe you are doing something good, put some artwork and a title on it, have some pride in your work, and be prepared to have to work very hard to find your audience. No label can do that for you. Yes, there's labels who have large budgets, and can offer a shortcut or two, but the longevity of a band is up to the band and no-one else. 

How did your collaborations with both the Earlies and Magnetaphone come about?

Geoff dolman who runs static caravan has known of fence since our first ventures into split 7" singles and the like. He became a fan of our music and our ethic. Static caravan is further up the label league table, and is very much a label that fence aspires to. Static caravan released 7" singles by magnetophone, and they were kind enough to release a single by the fence band gangplank. When the magnets were recording an album for 4ad, they wanted collaborators, and had heard the voices of kc, the pictish trail and hms ginafore from the gangplank 7". Cdrs were posted north, vocals were added, and posted south again! Since then, I’ve played live with the magnets a number of times, and love it.

Billy Campbell works in the rough trade shop in Notting hill, and has his own label names as part of 679 recordings. having stocked many of the fence cdr titles, he had a king creosote best of in mind, and thought it made sense to put kc into the studio with his only other signing the earlies to see what might  happen. None of us realised how well the collaboration would turn out, musically and as friendships.

Am I right in thinking that KT Tunstall was once in the Fence Collective? How do you feel about her new found success?

Kate was a singer in the skuobhie dubh orchestra, and recorded the album "a new cat" with us. "A new cat" is fence's first release, and the sdo attitudes are very much the blueprint for the fence label. She decided early on in her career that hanging around in fife wasn't the best way to get her music heard, and made the big bold move south. I’m delighted she did - not only is she in the major league at a relatively young age, she's very much a card-carrying member of the fence crew. James Yorkston, king creosote, u.n.p.o.c., Kate, and bands like magnetophone and the earlies are all helping the fence cause in the same way. Long may it continue.

Folk music in all its guises seems to be very much the flavour of the month. Do see this as being a positive thing or is there this fear of a sort of raping, pillaging and band wagon jumping that can result in the majors adopting of a genre?

I think you'll find that folk music is already the dirty word of the month - in London anyway! the folk tag is a short cut for so many attributes - the acoustic quality, the diversity, the song content, the audience even - regardless of whether it's accordions or laptops. It is a shame that so many have crowded in under the folk umbrella, but it's the attitude of the bands that ultimately count as folk. Those last in will no doubt be first out, but that shouldn't alter people's interest in this type of music. Rather the folk tag than any of the other tags surely? Can the majors adopt a genre? They’d no doubt sanitise it, bland it out and release just in time for Christmas stocking fillers. If folk music's a success, you'll find that it's bought mainly by people who hate folk music.

Since Creosote is no longer available have you considered changing your name? King Creosote substitute perhaps?

Who’d have thunk it - creosote the evil-smelling foul-tasting tar-based fence preservative turns out to be carcinogenic! For everyone of my generation and above though, the mention of creosote brings to mind dads, summers, ruined paint brushes and a suspicious lack of insects in the close proximity of the tin.... happy days for most of us! I am very happy with that association, so no changes here.

Thanks, Luke

No, thank you from kc!

Tender Trap
How happy are you with the new ep? Do you think it represents a new turn for the band?

AMELIA: I think we are all very happy with the EP, but I’m not sure it really represents a ‘new turn’.

ROB: It’s got four pop songs with bittersweet lyrics, really catchy choruses and loads and loads of backing vocals. So, probably not a new turn.

AMELIA: If anything, I think the EP sounds more like Heavenly than anything we have done for a while. So more like an ‘old turn’ than a new one.

ROB: ‘Old turn’ is the new ‘new turn’.

Are you aware of the impact that your previous bands have had on the indie pop scene, or is it something you tend not to think about?
ROB: Quite often you read stuff in the indie press and on the internet that suggests our bands have been responsible for an entire generation of nerdy anorak-wearing boys. I don’t believe this. Those boys were going to find their anoraks with or without us. But I do think we’ve probably been responsible for at least some girls thinking they could start bands without having to resort to rock-chick behaviour. If that is true, I’d be proud.

AMELIA: So would I! Actually, I love the fact that we have played some sort of role in an indiepop lineage that is still giving rise to some great bands today.

Fans of Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Marine Research etc have often complained that the Tender Trap sound is 'too clean'. What would you say to this, and is it a conscious decision?
ROB: The ‘Film Molecules’ LP was nearly all recorded digitally at home. At that point we weren’t thinking of playing live so didn’t have a drummer. Anyway, we decided it would be better to go with that digital home-made sound rather than to fake dirtiness and ‘grunge’. (It’s not very hard to fake analogue dirtiness – you select ‘grungy’ on your digital guitar amp simulator and - hey – it sounds ‘authentic’.) What we were trying to do was to keep an indie aesthetic with digital equipment – trying to be honest about what we were doing. Where we went wrong was taking the opportunity to fiddle endlessly with individual sounds. If you’re doing it all at home there’s no studio bill to pay so you can mess about for hours. I suspect that’s why the songs on the first LP didn’t sound as immediate as they should have. But with the new stuff, we were able to go back in the studio with Claudia (Magnetic

Fields) Gonson playing drums. We didn’t have very long, because she had to fly back to New York and we had to pay studio bills. And the results are probably better.

Do you think you take as much inspiration from bands who take inspiration from you? Or is there something totally new that defines the TT sound?
AMELIA: One band that never influenced us before, and definitely influenced the first TT album, and the second one a bit too, is Magnetic Fields. We all really like the games they play in their songwriting and arrangements. But apart from that I think that our influences have not changed that much over time. The only real difference between Tender Trap and our earlier bands is that Rob and I are writing songs together, whereas in Heavenly and Marine Research I was an evil songwriting dictator. So I guess Rob’s influences now get a bit more of a look-in than they used to.

ROB: I like Wire and The Fall so my influences are very well buried.

Is there any chance of a Heavenly Peel session ever being released?
AMELIA: Um... I doubt it. I can’t imagine it would be particularly attractive to anyone, since most of the stuff came out sounding better on the proper recordings. We wouldn’t have any concerns about people swapping MP3s of the session tracks though. In fact, it would be nice to have the tracks on MP3 ourselves!

What's the story behind Oh Katrina being used as the theme tune for NY-LON?
ROB: I was the producer on that programme. In the edit suite, the writer put ‘Oh Katrina’ over the title sequence as a joke. But then everyone liked it. It still makes me shudder slightly.

AMELIA: I actually think it sounded really good. I also found it strangely exciting to hear our music on TV. John Stanley (the other member of Tender Trap) actually does music for TV programmes on a semi-professional basis, and I am mildly jealous. Although he does tend to get told things like "I want this to sound a bit Jamiroquai-ish", which can't be so much fun!

Is there a new album to follow the ep? If so, how happy are you with it?
ROB: There is. It’s going to be called ‘Talking Backwards’. I’m very very happy with it and do honestly listen to it for fun sometimes. I think ‘Inuit Beauty Queen’ and ‘I Would Die For You’ are my two favourite Tender Trap songs so far.

AMELIA: That makes it sound like we never listen to our stuff for fun usually!

Do you continue to find it frustrating at the lack of UK labels putting indie pop out?
ROB: I do miss the time when it felt like each decent-sized British city had a healthy indie label, which you could only properly discover if you went and visited that city… Now, you can download the newest indie band in Australia before they’ve even played one show and then send them friendly emails. That’s all great, of course, but it means that indie labels have become placeless mail-order operations. And it doesn’t matter whether they’re in the UK or not. Thankfully people like Jimmy Tassos of Matinee (hi boss!) and others have managed to create their own strong, independent identities despite being thousands of miles away.

AMELIA: I am actually mildly surprised (although very glad) that there are ANY labels left putting indie pop out. Not because it is unpopular (the scene seems pretty healthy at the moment), but just because it is so well suited to the Internet. The DIY ethic in indiepop means that loads of bands have their own websites, with real audio and free MP3s, and fans seem pretty good at tracking down bands they think they might like and having a listen. On top of that, there seems to be tons of MP3 sharing going on. All of which makes it pretty hard for labels to make money. I have huge admiration for the labels that carry on regardless!

ROB: Now I realise that I am very old.

What new stuff are you listening to at the moment?
ROB: I just bought the Field Music LP because I liked the video I saw on 120 minutes.

AMELIA: I have been listening to a whole bunch of Swedes: the Envelopes, Sambassadeur and The Concretes. I am also a bit in love with new Stars CD (and especially the first song ‘Your ex-lover is dead’) even though the cover of the CD is horrible! Apart from that, I have been rotating listening between the new Architecture in Helsinki album, the Cannonball Jane album and the last Saturday Looks Good To Me CD. Oops...I have just realised that I haven’t mentioned a single UK band. So let me mention Lucky Soul, who I have only heard via their website (, but look and sound great, in Sandie Shaw sort of a way!

Is Tender Trap the latest in your long line of ace bands, or is it here to stay?
ROB: I think that’s it now. But there is always the chance that Amelia will take another look at Madonna and think ‘I’m younger than her; anyone can buy a pointy bra’ and embark on a second solo disco career.

AMELIA: Ah but I still don’t have her thighs! Come to think of it, I never had thighs like that...

Sam Metcalf