Kenny Anderson (aka King Creosote) & Jon Hopkins talk us through their album, Diamond Mine. Described by King Creosote as a "soundtrack to a romanticised version of a life lived in a Scottish coastal village", the record weaves in slices of Fife life - bike wheels, spring tides, tea cups and café chatter, featuring lyrics and vocals from King Creosote sung over musical backdrops arranged and recorded by Jon Hopkins.
KC - Other than the title, and some inane chatter about family allergies, this is Jon's baby. He taped us jawing away on a sunny cafe terrace in Anstruther one day in early May, and made a thing of beauty, local accents and all. Jon even claimed the receipt!
JON - I was up in Fife staying with Kenny, and we were driving around the towns and countryside collecting field recordings. We were in Anstruther harbour and i had wanted to pick up the sounds of the sails hitting the masts in the wind, but in the end the wind itself was all that got picked up. So we went into a cafe on the shore, and i recorded what went on in there, picking up the voices of the girls serving us, a bit of the conversation we were having, and the noise of cups clattering and hot drinks being made. Disappointingly, you can just about hear me asking for a receipt.
When i was back at the studio, i played this recording back whilst playing the piano. The piece that came out was slow and simple but had a weird melancholic dreaminess to it, which when combined with the cafe sounds, had a kind of nostalgic or emotional effect that i liked. The intention of this track ended up being to present the sound of "real life", then have music come in over it and give you the feeling that you're drifting into a dream or tripping out, to kind of open the way for the album. The piano and voices all start to echo and feedback until they become one big haze of sound, and the first proper song starts over that. I like the total lack of urgency in this track.
John Taylor's Month Away
KC - I live in a small fishing village called Crail in the North East of Fife. It's a bit of a misnomer - steadily growing second homes and retirement village would be more apt - and for years I counted only 2 lights on during winter for the whole of the Shoregate, and those belonged me and my gran.
There are few fishermen in Crail. One day I popped outside to discover I had a neighbour after all, sitting on the kerb coughing for Scotland as black reek billowed out of his flat. He told me he'd fallen asleep pissed and set his couch alight with a cigarette end. We got talking, and within a half hour he'd shattered every romantic notion I'd ever had of a life at sea.
Touring with a band and being periodically skint didn't seem such a bad deal after that.
JON - The sadness of the story and the beauty of Kenny's vocal melody meant that arrangement-wise, everything just suggested itself. I based the main part of the track around his acoustic guitar part and my harmonium, then this big instrumental section just kind of grew out of what was there.
Following this, which i hear as the closest the record comes to sounding anything like a "band", i wanted to really make the point that this is an album that is in no rush to grab you and force traditionally structured songs up your arse but is in fact something slower and more of a "complete experience" instead of 7 hit songs in a row. A bit like a piece of antique furniture rather than something made of plastic. So rather than snappily wrapping up this track and starting a new one like i should have done, everything dies away apart from some dictaphone-recorded seagulls and then waves of female vocals wash over you, taking ages to die away and allowing things to almost come to a complete standstill.
Bats In The Attic
KC - This is the newest song on Diamond Mine, and it's a fairly straightforward description of the early 40s blues, with a bad diet, expanding waistline, greying hair and all being about as good as it gets. Okay, it's maybe a little bit more poetic than that. It is very middle aged though, not at all rock n roll - I even get into the mind boggling realms of planning permissions and home improvements by verse 3. Play loud indeed (but not too late!).
JON - The first version of this song appears on Kenny's live-only album My Nth Bit Of Strange In Umpteen Years. You can hear the guitar part from his original version at the beginning, but i played it back through a mobile phone speaker simulation to decimate the quality, so that it retained its rhythm, but none of its notes, giving me freedom to change the chords of the song completely. Arrangement-wise this is the simplest - i wanted everything to centre around 3 elements - piano, drums, and the dual vocals of Kenny and Lisa. Everything else is there to serve these parts. There's so much melody and lyric packed into this vocal that any complexity of arrangement would make the song feel congested.
Running On Fumes
KC - Squabbles with family and friends, especially when it's you yourself that comes off worst, are great inspiration for songs. Not only do you get the last word on the subject, you can twist it around to suit, and in this case I took several argumentative threads and knitted them into one big fighting vest. Except I came off worst after all - must've worn it inside out.
JON - Definitely the darkest, most subdued song, this one was built around a one-take recording of Kenny singing and playing guitar simultaneously. I layered a lot of field recordings under this - you can hear the cars driving past, as well as the streams and birds we encountered whilst blundering around Kilrenny churchyard looking for things to record, as well as the car indicator, which ended up being a kind of rhythm. There are a few background harmonies and some Nord bass but not much else.
The instrumental section at the end was built around an accordion part Kenny sent me. I found when I massively turned up the trebles on this recording you could hear what Kenny was actually recording over, bleeding through from his headphones. You can just about hear HMS Ginafore's singing, plus bits of acoustic and the creaking of the accordion. The echo that comes in on top is the accordion, pitched up an octave and a half, and played through a massive echo. I let this droney section last just slightly too long, so when it suddenly cuts into Bubble the re-appearance of the vocal wakes you up.
KC - This is a fairly old song, and a reject from one of my earlier bands in the 90s. It even appears as an old song on an album I put out on fence in 2001 called "king creosote says buy the bazouki hair oil", my 16th title in fact. The original song is simple enough - boy does bad, promises to do better, big sentiments and commitments if and only when desperately needed.
Jon asked for a second verse, many years after those particular emotions had long been transferred several times over, so I tried to pen something that not only illustrates the fact that many years have indeed gone by in the writing, but to bring in some older cynicism to counter the naivety in the original. Oh, and to try and not spoil it in any way. I'm proud of the wordplay in the new verse, and in particular "harl abuse at the wall".
JON - I made most of this backing track back in 2006, whilst i was still working out of an attic studio at home. The drums were built out of recordings of me rubbing and flicking a bit of paper, plus drumming with my hands on the carpet. I wanted to give the song a very small, handmade sound, almost like something clockwork, or something toylike. I made this music-box sound to add to this which i played in quite a random way, and mixed into the distance. Harmonium, organ and my old Casiotone make up the chords.
Kenny's original version of this song (from the Fence album Buy The Bazouki Hair Oil) had this amazing banjo part on it, which I got Leo Abrahams to play. Then this, with Lisa's harmonies, form the peak of the song, when the main theme comes back in. Then a piano part recorded through a simulation of an old gramophone speaker leads the instrumental section. Kenny sent me a recording of him turning his bicycle wheel, which you can hear over this. I liked the way it kind of sounds like it's winding up the piano.
Your Own Spell
KC - Jon bought one of the kc squeezebox sets in, um, august 2004?, and picked out this song as one he wanted to work on. This is the first thing we recorded together I think, and there was no plan other than to just start recording together. This is also the oldest song on the album - I wrote it when at university in the late 80s - and the lyrics got tweaked a little over the years. It's a "careful what you wish for" scenario written from the point of view of a frustrated and rejected 20 year old, whoever he was. I certainly don't remember the thought processes that went into it. It's vintage KC meets vintage JH.
JON - This first appeared on my favourite of Kenny's albums, Psalmclerk, a Fence release from around 2004 i think. It was also the first song we recorded together from scratch. Again very simple, with piano chords and the vocal right at the front. I mixed in a very long echo under his voice, but one that was very filtered so you can sense it more than actually hear it.. the aim of this was to give the song a kind of "glow" and blend the vocal totally with the sounds behind it. Emma Smith's strings became a central part of this song - i fell in love with the sound of them on their own, and it seemed natural to have an instrumental section at the end based around that.
Your Young Voice
KC - My daughter Beth had moved out of my flat in Crail by the time she was two years old. Yup, an independent wee thing even then! I used to tape her as she learned to speak, and then I'd torture myself listening back to it all in the long days between one weekend and the weekend after next. Idiot. She moved back to Crail aged 5, but camcorders were already in vogue.
JON - I can't remember which KC album this appears on but i fell in love with it instantly. Not many singers can get away with writing a song which has one line, one melody, one lyric, but the effect on this one is devastating, and hypnotic. I doubled the guitar part with a piano played with the soft pedal, putting microphones right up next to the hammers so you can clearly hear the sound of them tapping the strings, making it a bit like your head is inside the piano or something. When the guitar fades out to reveal this, a long, filtered echo of the lead vocal joins it, and then dies away, leaving just the vocal and the sound of the piano's hammers. I only just resisted the massive temptation to end the album with the sound of either Kenny or me getting up and walking away from the microphone.
Diamond Mine is released on March 28th on Domino.
King Creosote and Jon Hopkins play the Union Chapel, London on 25th May.