Interview: King Creosote

king creosote
This article originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on December 27, 2013, under the headline ROYAL RENAISSANCE SPARKING CREATIVITY FOR KING CREOSOTE.

It was the worst of times, it was the best of times. It was the spring of despair and broken branches, it was the winter of hope and new beginnings. It was the epoch of births and rebirths, and the age of misreported deaths. Fife alt-pop seducer King Creosote has had quite a year.

There are signs of a turbulent 12 months as our Mercury-nominated bard, aka Kenny Anderson, arrives in Dundee Contemporary Arts. First off, there’s the trace of a limp – a reminder that, in February, a boat-building accident almost cost him his foot. When it finally started to heal, in August, he knocked an amplifier atop the thrawn appendage and broke his toe.

Then there’s his postbag, stowed with orders for hand-made CDRs, squeezebox sets and fanzines (replete with a surprise KC covers album) – all of which refute, in day-glo print, this summer’s unfounded rumours that Fence, the label Anderson conceived two decades ago, had turned to dust.

If he appears slightly weary as he crosses the room, that’s thanks to the sleepless East Neuk idyll wrought by his new-born baby daughter. And if he looks happier than he has done in a long time, well, that’s because he is.

It is fair to say that Anderson is enjoying a creative renaissance; that this year’s parting of the ways between KC and erstwhile Fence label manager Johnny Lynch (The Pictish Trail) has afforded the latter a new flagship endeavour (Lost Map Records) and the former a sense of liberation and renewed enthusiasm: this year has been prolific, even by Anderson’s standards (he has recorded over 50 albums in two decades). Oh yeah, it’s been amazing,” he says. “I’m loving making CDRs and ‘zines again [under the Alter Ego Trading Company banner], just doing stuff a bit more under-the-radar. It had come to a point where Johnny and I couldn’t be in business any longer, so now it feels like the yoke has been lifted.”

Anderson’s 2013 releases include an EP collection entitled That Might Well Be It, Darling (Domino); Experimental Batch #26 (a Dewar House collaboration also starring Raghu Dixit, FOUND’s Lomond Campbell and Slow Club among others); and Sure and Steadfast (whose proceeds go to his local boats club) – as well as a single with Heidi Talbot and a raft of vinyl treats. He also played a starring role in Songs in the Key of Fife, Vic Galloway’s recent, colourful tome about KC, The Fence Collective, The Beta Band and the kinships therein.

Anderson has a further three new albums ready to go, and has plans afoot for East Neuk shindigs including February’s World Tour of Crail and Easter’s Yellae Deuks. That’s not to mention a mooted second long-player with Jon Hopkins, or the soundtrack he has just completed for film-maker Virginia Heath, which is set to premiere around 2014’s Commonwealth Games. “I’m amazed at how epic it sounds,” he says of the film score. “Along with the KC band, I got Pete Harvey [The Leg] to arrange the strings, and Kevin Brolly [Admiral Fallow] on woodwind, and we had this six-part choir that included Jill from Sparrow and the Workshop, Jenny Reeve and Louis from Admiral Fallow. I’m really excited about it.”

Anderson will see off 2013 with a party set at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, and he’ll celebrate the new year at Edinburgh’s Scot:Lands, where King Creosote and The Fence Collective will helm Lobster:Land, having ferried creels and ye olde briny artefacts down from Anstruther Fisheries Museum. “I’ll play an accordion-led set, because it’s January 1st and I want it to be really calming,” he offers. “Withered Hand’s playing too – my band can maybe back him on a couple of songs from his new record.”  It’s a fitting way to kick off an anniversary year for Fence – the DIY label he launched with a four-track EP in 1994; and one so intrinsically linked with Anderson that it begat his pseudonym. (“What do you put on a fence? Creosote.”)

The first “official” CDR from King Creosote, and Fence, was Queen of Brush County, in 1998. It’s been extremely rare for years, but Anderson has been hand-crafting CD represses in small batches of late, and the rest of his singular (and single-minded) back-catalogue will follow throughout 2014. Queen of Brush County’s track-listing highlights the endurance, and evolution, of KCs songs, which he often revisits, rejigs and re-records. “There’s stuff on that record that’s still in the live set – Russian Sailor Shirts [which you can hear at the top of this page], Homeboy, Leslie, So Forlorn,” he offers. So Forlorn would become his debut seven-inch, on Bad Jazz in 2002; Homeboy would feature on Kenny and Beth’s Musakal Boat Rides (2003); Leslie opens 2007’s Bombshell, produced by Jon Hopkins.

Anderson and Hopkins would go on to create 2011’s Mercury-shortlisted Diamond Mine, and that album, too, was a field trip in pop-archaeology; a lesson in the lives of songs. Its title came from Carbon Dating Agent, a psalm Anderson originally penned (and shelved) for his bluegrass-punk rabble the Skuobhie Dubh Orchestra in the mid-90s, recorded for KC’s Vintage Quays (2005), and re-visited (then discarded) for Diamond Mine. “Jon never got it to fit in with the other Diamond Mine tracks,” recalls Anderson. “But we used the title anyway. I thought that was the end of it, until it turned up on the ultimate track [Immunity] of Jon’s new solo album.”

Diamond Mine also features Bats in the Attic, which first appeared as part of 2009’s My Nth Bit of Strange – a King Creosote live-only album (he still tours it), which forms part of Anderson’s ongoing, and ingenious, crusade to (re)assert a value on recorded music. “I’ve spent the last 20 years trying to get the message over that records are worth it,” he offers, lugging his stash of hand-crafted Fence swag back onto his shoulder.

You could offer to carry his bag to the car-park. You could tell him you know of a short-cut which might lighten the workload on a limb that is on the mend, yet still giving him gyp. But it suits King Creosote better to go his own way. It always did.

King Creosote plays the Frederick St Stage at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, and curates Lobster:Land, part of Edinburgh’s Scot:Lands on January 1st. For records, fanzines, information: http://www.alteregotradingcompany.org

Factfile: A Short History of King Creosote

Skhubhie Dubh Orchestra / Khartoum Heroes

In the early-mid 90s, Kenny Anderson helmed a couple of hi-octane bluegrass-punk combos – the Skuobhie Dubh Orchestra, then Khartoum Heroes. He still performs with myriad comrades from those days – Captain Geeko the Dead Aviator, Uncle Beesly and Vic Galloway among them.

The Fence Collective

The turn of the millennium saw Anderson and a rabble of like-minded DIY pop jesters (not least psychobilly sidekick Gummi Bako) hijack Aikman’s Bar in St Andrews, and start performing and recording as The Fence Collective (whose alumni includes KT Tunstall and James Yorkson).

KC Rules OK / Bombshell

King Creosote’s home-made albums on his Fence imprint became progressively better known and loved, and this provoked a major label dalliance in the mid-2000s. The ensuing albums were terrific (2005’s KC Rules OK and 2007’s Bombshell), unlike his experience: he was back on indie-powerhouse Domino for 2009’s tellingly-titled Flick the Vs.

Diamond Mine

In a just world, King Creosote and Jon Hopkins’ sublime collaboration would have won 2011’s Mercury Prize.

All the Threes

King Creosote has three new albums in the pipeline, three East Neuk festivals in the 2014 diary, and three collaborations on the cards – not bad for a man who broke his ankle in three places earlier this year.

*

Related King Creosote articles:

King Creosote and Gummi Bako interview, The Quietus
King Creosote and Jon Hopkins interview, The Quietus
King Creosote, My Nth Bit Of Strange live review, The List

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