London-based five-piece To Kill A King have done alright recently. Fellow Leeds University buds Bastille have exploded into the national consciousness with lead-man Dan Smith gracing every hormonal alt-tween's bedroom wall in the country, and brought the orch-folk band along for a tasty support slot on their Shepherds Bush Empire shows. Far from riding coat-tales, the amiable lads have risen to the challenge helped along by their knack for rousing indie-anthems and Smith's convention-bucking penchant for joining the support act to duet on “Choices” first showcased in TKAK frontman Ralph Pelleymounter's web series “Ralph's Balcony”.
ST: So, how did you guys meet?
Ralph: Me, Ian and Josh all met at university studying music and we all briefly met Ben there because he was over in York and we were in Leeds and I think there were a few times that we were at the same party and that sorta thing but… Then we moved to London and the band that me, Ian and Josh were in split up and we were looking for new members and… Actually, Ben was our second choice but I don't know if we should continually say this in interviews. [Laughs]
Ben: Yeah but that's only because you guys didn't think I'd wanna do it.
Ralph: [Laughs] Uh, yeah… Also, Robbie was very good looking wasn't he? But no we were really pleased that Ben joined and especially because he started recording our old band, Kid iD - he'd been working in various studios like Olympia and stuff like that and he'd sneak us in and give us free sessions and stuff like that, which was great. It's meant that, as we've continued on, Ben's ended up producing half the album which is really nice to have someone within the band who can do that because it means that the communication of what you want doesn't have to go down another line.
Ben: Yeah and we can make demos that sound, I'd say, about eighty-percent of the way there. In fact, we recorded one of our EPs called "The Word of Mouth EP" - which was released just before the album - in pretty much the same way that we did all of our demos: just in our rehearsal studio; it's mostly live…
ST: I guess that'd save you guys a lot of time and a lot of money.
Ben: Totally, and also it gives the music a slightly different vibe as well. So that all worked out well so it was kind of a natural thing for me to do a lot of the production on the album.
ST: The music videos for your songs are clearly something that mean a lot to the band. Who does those?
Ralph: The director that we worked with on all the videos - except for "Howling, which actually Ben was very heavily involved in - is a friend of mine that I grew up with called Jack King. We've been friends since teenagers and it's been really nice because I've always wanted to do music and he's always wanted to be a director and the first video he did for us, he actually went to work in Japan for like a year and actually saved about ten grand; came back and spent about five of it on our music video! This is before anything really happened for us and it really helped kick-start things for us because suddenly we had this track and this amazing video for it and everyone was like "Where the fuck's that money come from?" and I just had to be like "My friend…" [Laughs] It was a bit awkward, but since then we've gone back to him for pretty much every video. I think he's got a great style.
ST: What kind of music were you listening to in your formative years?
Ralph: I was into a lot of really heavy stuff... Which is actually where I see the band's sound heading towards. When we play live people say that it's a lot heavier than on record and I think the new tracks that we're doing – like “Howling” and stuff like that – I think it's all gotten a bit heavy, hasn't it?
Ben: Well when I was a kid I used to listen to a lot more dance music. The first records that I was actually into were stuff like The Chemical Brothers and...
Ralph: Were you into The Prodigy? I was into The Prodigy.
ST: I think everyone was into The Prodigy.
Ben: I used to listen to a lot of drum & bass and things like Massive Attack and Portishead... And then I bought a Radiohead record, “OK Computer”, thinking it was a Portishead record and...
Ralph: What just 'cause of the word “head” in it? [Laughs] Amazing.
Ben: I think it was, yeah. I was actually thinking of taking it back but then I realised it was actually really good. I sort of got into bands that way...
Ralph: I would have loved to see you trying to return that and being like, “I thought this was fucking Portishead...” But was “OK Computer” really the first Radiohead album that you got? That one took me a long while to get into... I was almost a bit shocked by it.
Ben: But yeah now I'm just listening to very broad stuff...
Ralph: I think across the board we're pretty broad, I guess. [Laughs] But there're only a few bands that we all really like. Actually, I don't there's ever anyone that we can really agree on.
ST: So what bands came closest to uniting the band...
Ralph: I think Elbow is a four out of the five. Whitest Boy Alive is a four out of the five. Actually, it's always the fucking bass players that don't like them. There's a lot of the band that are really into jazz and at uni I sort of went through a phase of where I used to go along to the clubs with them and sort of just pretend to like it.
ST: I think that seems to be a recurring theme with jazz.
Ralph: [Laughs] I think that now I can decisively say that I just don't like it. I mean, I like the drummers; the drummers are amazing but I'd never really want to just put it on. I think I can admit that now.
Ben: This is an open forum. We're all adults here.
ST: You worked with Jim Abbiss (Grammy-award winning producer for acts such as Arctic Monkeys, Björk and Adele) on your debut album, “Cannibals With Cutlery”: what was that like?
Ralph: He's amazing.
Ben: Yeah he's great. I mean, when I left university I worked in studios he was in and I just kept telling myself “If I keep doing this for three years I'll be at a position to assist him” and twelve months later he was producing our first album. That was pretty weird.
Ralph: It was quite intimidating meeting him. I went along to meet him by myself and we just had a whole day together where he was just pushing and pushing me... Making sure I could perform and sing before he took us on. He did our first single “Fictional State” and again the first day of that was just like military drills. I think he was just testing us to see how tight we really were and this was very early on so we were nowhere near as tight as we are now. Our first meeting with him was very much “Look boys, you need to be better” and to be fair he was right and we needed to hear that.
ST: You guys formed in 2009 and you're only now releasing your debut album. Why the wait?
Ralph: There's been various bumps on the road in getting this album out but it's been one of those things where every six months I look back and think that I was really naïve six months ago – I think the music industry can be very much like that, sometimes. This album has been delayed by quite a bit so we're quite pleased that we've managed to get it out now and on our own label...
ST: Were those delays your choice or was that a thing between you and the label?
Ralph: It was between us and our old label. I think they thought we were going to be something different from what we are. I think they were looking for us to be another Coldplay but we were like “No, we're a bit more 'left-field' than that”. They were constantly looking for something that just wasn't gonna happen. So we had a decision: we either put out this record on our own terms or wait around and keeping trying to write tracks that they thought were more “sellable”, I suppose. I'm glad with our decision; we're really happy with the album.
ST: Tell us a bit about “The Living Room Shows”.
Ralph: Well we tried to do a few different things like that. We started playing literally in fan's living rooms. We just told them “Tell us if you're having a party and we'll come and play a few tunes acoustically”.
Ben: It originated when we were doing our first headline tour of the UK and for the few months before we were really worried because we just had no idea really about how many people actually knew about us in these cities where we've never played before.
Ralph: Especially if you're not getting radio which lots of guitar bands just aren't anymore. I think things are slightly changing now but six or eight months ago radio had no time for guitar bands.
Ben: So to test it out we tried to do a mini-tour by just playing in different places and playing anywhere we could really; just trying any different ways to introduce ourselves to a few new people. We had a handful of fans that were pretty spread out and got in touch with them and just asked to get some mates together and we'll come to their houses and play for them. We went up and down the country and it was a lot of fun.
ST: I can imagine. Did any of the shows not go so well?
Ralph: A couple. [Laughs] It was a learning curve, really, because when we started we'd literally play to anyone, anywhere. We'd just set up in a busy bar, in the corner, and play like three songs. That sometimes went really well and sometimes that went REALLY badly. I mean, to be fair we were inflicting music on people... Oh and also we did the “Guerrilla Gigs”.
Ben: Yeah we also did these shows between tours where we just get in touch with people on Facebook and Twitter and organise a free gig in a space like under a bridge in Waterloo, on the beach of the Thames, in warehouses... We did one on the DLR between Bank and Greenwich stations.
ST: How did that work out?
Ralph: There were these security guards ringing ahead and at the next one we'd see all these guards waiting for us and it was one of those funning things because they'd just be there on the platform watching us, pointing.
Ben: I think all of the security guards knew that if they made it look like they didn't know what was happening until the doors had closed and then they chased after it, they could get away with not having to sort it out but still make it look like they were doing their jobs.
Ralph: I really laughed at one point because it was just classic London: you can imagine it – we were there taking up pretty much a whole side of a carriage with about seventy people with us trying to cram in and there was just one person who was already on there, I guess, with his headphones in. We're all gong for it and he just turned around and looked out the window, pretending that it wasn't happening. [Laughs] And at the next stop he just got up and got into another carriage. It was one of those just great things: London has that reputation where people just wont talk on public transport, you just don't do it. Even if a crowd of people surround you and a band set up and start playing just don't acknowledge it. Never make eye-contact.
ST: So what's next for To Kill A King?
Ralph: Well I quite like the idea of doing more stuff like the “Word of Mouth” EP, so not really an album but just like five tracks and we've got this idea to do more stuff like “Ralph's Balconies” - where we play with other musicians after getting one day to work on the song - which we finished in the summer. But I've been trying to think of something new to do which isn't just exactly the same format and what we arrived on was “Ralph's Sing-alongs” where we just put out a message to anyone who plays an instrument or sings and we packed out this pub with them and recorded our single “Funeral” with everyone singing along and all these trumpets and violins playing, which should be out this month. We've been toying with other ideas for different places to play – an old-people's home, a school – and try and teach everyone the parts and have everyone just singing along. It's always fun to just come up with ideas and be like “Let's see if we can make it work”.