King Krule may only be 19, but his debut album 6 Feet Beneath The Moon introduces him as an exciting talent far older than his years.
King Krule by Alasdair McLellan
Archy Marshall walks into the photography studio with a polystyrene take-away carton under his arm. With a brisk grin, he pings it open. From the look of him, with his slacker, you might expect a pile of hot wings and fries, tagged with ketchup scrawls. No, not Archy. It's organic meat balls and pasta, with a fresh mango, ginger and honey tea. He seems to revel in our astonishment. With a gentle laugh, he jokes: "You didn't expect that, did you man?!" Out on the road, he's been living on fast food. "It's the first fucking healthy thing I've eaten in like two months. I'm moving back to my mum's in East Dulwich for a bit, while I go on tour for the rest of this year, so I don't have to pay rent. I just can't wait for her cooking. Jerk chicken and stews and stuff.
That cooking is a fucking dream man." Walking out of Archy's recent sold-out show in Hackney, I overheard someone from the audience say, "I don't get how such a booming voice comes out of such a tiny kid?" His music is defined by his direct yobbish brogue. A surprisingly deep cockney baritone reverberates out of this whip thin, flame-haired rebel. His voice has been compared to the protest-drawl of the likes of Billy Bragg and Joe Strummer. Formerly known as Zoo Kid, Archy changed his recording moniker to King Krule because he's in this for the long haul and he recognised the absurdity of being a "kid" further down the line. Archy wrote his first song at the age of 8. "It was shit," he laughs. He describes the lyrical content as a fable about a "dinner lady going missing and finding her in a bad way." It's clear that even the young Archy was drawn to distinctly shadowy storytelling.
I hated going to school. I was selfish. I just didn't go. It's not my thing. I just used to sit at home, hating the world and making music.
He grew up in south and southeast London; a product of his environment, he became drenched in the luxurious mix of Jamaican and Nigerian cultures - the reverberation of their music resounding in the streets ("Yeah I've heard about Fela Kuti since I was six years old. It was all around me from my family and mates."). With the initial encouragement of his dad and uncle, who were both guitarists (his uncle played with the rocksteady rub of the Topcats), he quickly took up the instrument. Eventually Archy tutored himself using everybody's favourite teacher: "So yeah, I just got a guitar and started playing and using the internet for help. Reading tabs off websites and stuff like that. That's how I got better and better at playing the guitar. The sound of King Krule is a tortured, passionate revue that doffs its snapback to punk, post-punk, reggae, jazz, fusion, soul, afrobeat, rockabilly, no-wave, hip hop and garage. While it draws its influence from these genres, it's expelled as a uniquely haunted trace of their emotion and tone, without being directly reverential or retrogressive. It shifts through a continuum of rebellious soul music from Gene Vincent, Stax to Studio One, Dexys to Subway Sect, The Pop Group to Chet Baker, Coltrane to King Tubby and Nas, sound systems from Wild Bunch to Saxon, and out to Locked On Records and Rinse FM. He sounds like none of them and all of them at once; evoking the sentiment of a Rockers International dub, a Souls of Mischief 12" or A Love Supreme, without ever stealing a note.
Live in Hackney with his band sharp and suited, they have the appearance of young soul rebels - a London gang assured and confident in their performance. He cathartically blends a lifetime of downloading music into his own peculiarly idiosyncratic sound. "I just keep digging," he explains. "I find musicians that I like. And the musicians they are inspired by. And through hip hop and samples. Sampling is the easiest way to discover a lot of stuff. If I love a good hip hop track, hearing that one sample will open me up to a whole genre of music." His latest find is Donny Hathaway: "My new hero. I've been listening to more and more of his albums. He's a fucking insane musician." It's the turn of the millenials to educate and enrich with their take on music history.
My generation is optimistic. There's a lot of positivity and creativity. I'd never want to be involved in economics and politics, but I'd definitely like to lead a creative movement, and inspire the rest of the population.
Archy honed his art and perfected this with the delivery of his debut album 6 Feet Beneath The Moon. But he realised he'd hit upon something exceptional with his U.F.O. W.A.V.E mixtape. "I listen to music constantly," Archy says. "Everything is based around music. Everything. From a young age I was getting influenced by things. I get inspired and it spills out. I've just been listening to more and more. I get into one thing, and then [my] music takes more inspiration from that thing. It started to get real good when I completed the U.F.O. mixtape. Then I realised I'd created something, a nice collection of music. That was where I really found my desire and style, and I got it to that perfect level. The tones and textures of the music were very descriptive and that's what I wanted."
At the core of Archy's being is family. For a time his mum managed the early part of his career, while his brother Jack - who he explains is as much King Krule as he is - is central to illustrating the artwork and visual identity of the project ("He's such a talented person, he deserves to succeed"). His heritage is Czech, Scottish and American. In the 30s his gran moved from Prague to Trinidad ("So my gran is pretty much mixed race"), while his great aunt was born in Peru, which explains his deftly mutli-cultural verve. They moved to London where his gran met his granddad in Shepherd's Bush. Of his dad's Scottish lineage, there is a latent connection between the Marshall clan and a certain 14th century hero of Scottish independence. "My great granddad was called William Wallace," Archy confirms, "and his dad was called William Wallace and his dad was called William Wallace... So I assume I'm related to William Wallace." And it is Archy not Archibald: "No it's Archy Ivan Marshall. Jimi Hendrix's middle name was Marshall. And I always thought they were making loads of amplifiers for me."
It would be easy to mistake the heavy swell of emotional blues, which Archy projects as King Krule, for commonplace teenage angst. It is certainly not that. There is no beating around the bush with him. His lyrics are direct and honest. It is a maxed out physical, mental and spiritual exertion. There is no screen of symbolism or analogy. His delivery is fierce and tipped to the point of insanity and rage. This is powerfully exerted in his track Rock Bottom, which documents a very real and aggressive time in his life ("You're lying dead on the floor, the wounds in your back are still sore, and everyone who watched you, watched on in awe"). This swell of passion is born from his youth. He refused to go to school and resisted authority. "I just hated going. I was just selfish. I didn't go. It's not my thing." Instead, he was "just making music, sitting at home, hating the world." The result was years spent being excluded from school, and not having an education, and entering a rough phase of being shifted from education centres for excluded kids to secure units: "Going to centres with one guy at the start of the day, he'd say 'What do you wanna do? English or Maths?' He'd give you a sheet of paper and that's what your work was for the day. Then more secure units, where it's not so much about education, but about trying to survive, and not get beaten up or get in trouble regularly."
My dream is to get a big room and fill it with really really nice girls, and have them all creating. Some of them are dancing, some of them are painting, some of them are making music... I just look out from my mezzanine in the morning and be like 'Yo, everyone create!'
Archy lays bare the struggle for survival and his fighting spirit. Following an epiphany, he noted that he needed to knuckle down, he was exhausted by the hard times: "Yeah, for sure. I mean I'm not gonna lie, I went through a lot with my family back then, and I was in and out of mental institutions. I went in and out of psychiatry a lot when I was younger, because it was the only advice teachers would give to my parents. It was just really stressful. Well I realised that, shit, I needed to get an education because I guess the law says I have to have one."
After two years of shaky education he was offered a place at the Brit School (the famed London school for performing arts and technology, home to Adele and Amy Winehouse). Music had been an escape, now it was his saviour. "Yeah, I was pretty lucky to get into the Brit school. I had no reference to my past education, because it was so disjointed, but I started to get my act together." Archy is not the archetypal showbiz fame school student. He sighs, "That's because there's a lot of perceptions about it. I mean it's just a fucking school, innit, that's it. Except they don't allow fighting, that's the only thing. It's the only difference from any other school I've ever seen. If you got in a fight, then you got kicked out. I almost got kicked out a lot of times." While it may be a cliché to mark Archy out as wiser than his 19 years, it is hard to ignore. He is a classic example of a kid who has dragged himself up and out of his own cramping mire of depression and chaos. And with music as his benchmark and inspiration, he's striving to exact his own mark, filtering this through an understanding of his generation's relationship with music: "It feels like everything has just been done. We went into the 90s and everyone started sampling music, which had been done before. Then we went into the noughties and mainstream just started ripping off music that had gone before. And now I can't fucking respect anyone in the mainstream. Being this young you're naturally part of the underground. I think it's just that sense that you're gonna search for it a lot of more. And yeah, with the internet we can automatically discover things and watch things. You can instantly feel like you were at that Cramps gig in the mental institute, you can feel like you were at JFK's shooting. You can instantly feel like you're in the moment and watch that imagery. Some minds are just clever though. And 19 is an old age. It's not that young."
It is not likely to be a radical revelation to hear that Archy is not a fan of authority, institutions and the industry machine. He's not particularly keen on press either: "Not much. I wouldn't take it personally, which is why I'm being so open with you. I mean I like writers, but it's just a different thing, because the industry puts pressure on you to do loads of fucking things." He agrees it's a better option than joining the 7am grind to work on a heaving tube: "It's true. It is. It's just a different strain though, because you can't get tired." The name King Krule is a reference to both King Creole and also about "a king who crawls on his hands and knees through the city. I do believe in no sovereignty. The queen brings in enough income, but she takes a lot of it too." Contemplating the summer 2012 riots, he's indifferent: "It was just anarchy, it wasn't rioting. It was good to see. It's good to see collectivism, and see people together and united, but they were robbing each other as well. A lot of the clever people just robbed the looters."
Archy sits parallel with the trending opinions of generation z, a generation who are awash with a paradigm of economic crisis and creative optimism. He is aware of the potential influence he has: "It's a real interesting time to be living in a metropolis and be respected. Now I'm going away to different capitals in Europe, and there's a real need to talk about crisis." This also taps into a more than healthy dose of stoner paranoia: "I'm not gonna lie man. I think they're watching me as we speak. I don't mean right now, but in terms of the government. I don't get how they can let a boy go from the lowest tax bracket to one of the highest, just through a record deal; I don't know how they can let that go by."
Discussing his potential to be the voice of a generation, he explains: "My generation is optimistic. There's a lot of positivity to the creativity of people my age. I'd never want to be involved in economics and politics. But I'd definitely lead a creative movement, and collectivise people creatively and inspire the rest of the population. I'd like to unite artists around the world. My dream is to get a big room and fill it with really really nice girls, and they're all creating. Some of them are dancing, some of them are painting, some of them are making music, and I just look out from my mezzanine in the morning and be like 'Yo, everyone create.' I'm gonna start a cult. I just wanna get rich and share it." If he was mayor of London, he booms, "It would be fucked up. It would be full of slackers and people who don't do what they're told and just sit around and get high. It would be the most subjugated city in the world. And I could feed it. Let's have a party here, let's have a party there." The title of his new album, 6 Feet Beneath The Moon, is a reference to being buried deep under your potential aspirations. He now appears fully exhumed and closer to his ambition, with the target now in sight, he has the will to "keep fucking doing better and better. Working on my art. Keeping it the most valuable thing in my life. It's only the art that really stands above everything else, the only thing in my brain that makes me feel 'Ah, I feel happy now because I'm creating.' That's the only thing. That's my desire and what I'm gonna do."
Text Jeremy Abott
Photography Alasdair McLellan
Styling Max Pearmain
Photography assistance Gareth Powell, Lex Kembery
Styling assistance Natasha Arnold