The record industry has changed. Gone are the days when bands were discovered by hard-bitten A&R men scouting the country’s indie sweatboxes, whispering in musicians’ ears post set and whisking them down to the big smoke to sign a fat recording contract with a major label. These days, emerging artists have to more than pay their dues; self-releasing material, slogging at the self-promotion game and more or less proving their record sales credentials before a major will come anywhere near.
So what makes To Kill A King different? Emerging as a nucleus from Leeds University and formed from the debris of various other collapsed groups, a few scattered gigs and a sprinkle of songs into the cyber-ether were enough to convince the giant EMI-backed Virgin label to offer them a four album deal. In the old traditional way, a way that most of us thought had died at the dawn of the mp3, To Kill A King had ‘made it’.
Gigwise, ever with its finger on the pulse, had already rubbed shoulders with industry movers and shakers at the launch of their first single ‘Fictional State’ back in May, a release which had gone out on independent folk tastemaker label Communion Records.
So how, Gigwise asked the band’s singer, guitarist and songwriter Ralph Pellymounter, did they get from there to here?
RP: Basically, we met up with the Communion guys and we were playing their nights, and then we were going to put out a one off single with them. But then we got in talks with Virgin, and when we decided to go with Virgin, they said you can still put out the thing with Communion if you like.
GW: So you were already with Virgin by the time you put that single out?
RP: Yeah, we were already in the process of going with Virgin. Even before we spoke with Virgin it was only ever going to be a one track or two track single thing with Communion. I think that’s the great thing about Communion , they’re almost like a wonderful springboard...they’re not doing long term deals where they’re offering people three album deals or anything like that. But they put out one time releases. It’s people they can put their name behind, and it works both ways; they find good people they want to put their name behind, and we have the Communion name, which is good.
GW: So how did you actually get tied up with Virgin?
RP: They just started coming down to some gigs, kind of how these sort of things happen. People start coming to gigs and you get very excited about it, and then you tell yourself that it’s not going to happen, you try and stay calm, and then eventually after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing with the lawyers we ended up with this record contract, which was pretty cool. It’s what we’ve been wanting for a long time.
GW: And was it the traditional thing: some bloke approaching you after a gig with a big cigar, saying “step into my office lads”?
RP: Not quite, no. I suppose that’s the image we’ve always had of the record industry but it’s kind of moved on now. I think when we first started discussing it we went out for a brunch type thing, I think we had Eggs Benedict and a glass of orange juice. It was quite exciting, but for some of us, we’d been through various things before with other bands which hadn’t turned out quite right. I didn’t tell any of my friends, any of my family until about three weeks before when it was pretty much in the bag, because I didn’t want to tell people and then for it to not happen. At the moment it’s so rare to get the opportunity to be signed because the record industry is quite worried, everyone’s trying to work out different ways to make money, so they’ve got to be so certain and so sure. So I think you’ve got to be a bit careful until it’s all absolutely sorted and you’ve signed on the line.
So, record contract in the bag, To Kill A King’s first output on their new label will be the ‘Bloody Shirt’ EP, a four track release on October 17th which comes hand in hand with a series of short films, one for each song and all with an interlinking theme. So where, Gigwise wanted to know, did that idea come from?
RP: We wanted to release an EP, but we didn’t want it to be just four tracks from the album...I think with only four tracks it’s quite difficult sometimes to link things together. A lot of our songs are very narratively strong anyway, that’s the main focus of them, so we went for four tracks that we felt could tell a story, that were each the most complete in themselves. And then from that we had this idea of doing four interlinking videos. So I went away and wrote this script to go with each song, telling what the story was about and also putting fictitious characters into it. And the idea that it was all down one estate...I wanted it to be that everyone was kind of peering into each other’s lives, almost like, there’s no privacy because you’re always peering into each other’s back gardens so you can always see into each other. You’re not necessarily being intrusive, but the fact that you see what’s going on is just natural. And then I approached a friend of mine [Jack King, who directed the films]. He’s done a couple of videos for us before, and he sat down with the script, because I’d never done anything like this before, he kind of told me what was possible and what wasn’t possible, and then budget-wise what was possible and what wasn’t possible. It was very exciting, doing something that I never thought I’d get the opportunity to do, and then seeing ideas on paper become films.
GW: Were those songs linked together in your mind when you wrote them originally, or did you just pull them together and think, they’ve got similar themes?
RP: No, they weren’t linked...I suppose they’re linked in the same way all the songs are, but they weren’t linked intending to have a story. I wasn’t trying to do a concept EP or anything like that. I think the films are a take on what the songs could be about. For example, the second song ‘We Used To Protest’, that’s definitely about a neighbour of mine, this old lady. We used to chat and that sort of stuff, she’s living by herself and you can see her getting more and more withdrawn from the world, and there’s fewer people that she talks to and that sort of thing. So it’s based on that, but then I kind of add this long lost love story to it where she kind of feels that if her life had gone a different way, and she’d got with this one person and they’d grown old together, then her life would have gone a different way, and I think that’s what we’re trying to show in that video.
Though both the lyrical content of the songs, and the scenes depicted in the videos, are slightly more abstract than this description of the storyline suggests, there’s no doubt the emotional power of the songs on the EP, together with the visual impact of the images on film, make for a serious bout of goosepimple-raising . All of which bodes very well for the debut album, due out in Spring next year. How, Gigwise wonders, is that coming together, and will it feature any of the songs we’ve heard so far?
RP: Yeah we’re just finishing the album now. There’s a debate at the moment. There’s one song [from the ‘Bloody Shirt’ EP] that might appear on the album but the rest of them won’t. So there’ll definitely be at least three songs on the EP which won’t appear on the album, but it might be that the EP becomes its own thing and nothing’s repeated. We’re kind of weighing up the order at the moment. Fictional State is definitely going on the album, because it was an independent release. I think it’s a song that we’re all very pleased with. We’re also doing this thing, so, it’s mostly all full band tracks, but then there’s going to be bits where all the tracks kind of flow together, and occasionally there will be a more acoustic tune that kind of ties them together. It won’t be a track in itself, but it will just be kind of a little snippet at the end that will then go into the next song. And at the moment that’s kind of what we’re doing - making sure all the parts flow into each other nicely so that the album’s got a good flow. The label’s been really good in terms of just kind of really letting us do what we need to do, and not phoning us up saying ‘where are the tracks?’ or ‘what are you doing?’. They’ve just kind of left it to us, and it was really nice because then we got to give them pretty much the whole album. And they were really positive with the feedback, but it was nice just to be left alone to do our own thing.
GW: You’re also about to go on tour with Wakey! Wakey! How will that be different to the sort of gigs you’ve done so far?
RP: Its bigger venues than we would normally be playing by ourselves if we were doing a headline tour, because we’ve not really done a UK tour yet on our own. So it’ll be slightly bigger stages than we’d normally be on, and we’re looking forward to the London show at Heaven; that for us will be quite a big stage because we don’t normally play places like that.
GW: And after the tour?
RP: I think we’re doing a thing where we’re curating – at Notting Hill Arts Club, where the Communion nights are - for a month of Sundays we’re going to take over. So that will mean one headline Communion show, and then three nights that we put on in that sort of vein, every Sunday for a month. So I think that’s the next plan once we get back from tour. We’re kind of doing stuff all the way up until the album comes out, and there’ll probably be a single or two before the album comes out.
Busy boys. So amongst all this activity, will there be the time – or the inclination – to do any more films like those that accompany the ‘Bloody Shirt’ EP?
RP: I’d love to do as much stuff like that as I could. I really enjoyed writing the scripts and really enjoyed working with Jack. For me it was a really big rush, I suppose, just doing something creative and new that I’d never done before. I was just really excited, so I’d love to do that again. The sort of people that we are, I don’t think that we would ever really consider just not being involved with the video at all. We always want to be as involved as we can with everything that we’ve done, so I think the next one, I don’t know whether it will be me or someone else, but we’ll definitely be as involved as we can.
'My Crooked Saint' EP is out October 17 on Virgin Records.