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
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
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
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.
No, thank you from kc!
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
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
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
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 (www.luckysoul.co.uk),
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