Working for a music magazine you’ll get to know plenty of talented newcomers during the course of a year. Tons of albums, tons of potential but also quite a lot of non-existent potential. From time to time a record lands on your table where you instantly feel – of course, there’s potential but also an emotional connection and evidence of musical talent. Cannibals With Cutlery, the debut longplayer by London-based indie folk band TO KILL A KING might be such a record. It was for NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION when we named it ‘album of the week’ back in January.
Back then, the band around songwriter Ralph Pelleymounter released the record independently, in October it will get a proper release via Xtra Mile Recordings and thus the worldwide reception it needs. These nice guys would deserve it. We had the chance to meet TO KILL A KING‘s Ralph and Josh to talk about their long road to the release of the record, the definition of success, how happy they are for their buddy BASTILLE to come into some success and – of course – cannibalism. Plenty of subjects, find the answers right here.
For all those who are not familiar with you, guys… please explain how did you first meet?
Ralph: Me and Josh were in the same course of university. We studied music and it might sound a bit cliché but we talked about BOB DYLAN and how to write songs and once day we just met to jam. And I remember being quite impressed about the fact that he just started to play along to whatever I was playing. Quite naturally. And I clearly was like ‘Damn, I need to get this guy in my band.’ (laughs) Then we met Ian and the whole thing slowly came alive. We had a different band back then which was doing quite well. But then we moved to London and the group fell apart but we decided to continue playing together. Our friend Ben, who later became our keyboard player, used to sneak us into studios he was working at to get us some studio time. So, it was quite logical to ask him to join the band.
Ralph, is it wrong to assume that you are the leader of the band?
Ralph: Well, since I write the songs and lyrics and stuff and I’m also the lead singer. But basically it’s quite democratic. We have a voting system. And if that fails we have a game where we flip pennies to the wall. The closest penny to the wall wins.
Josh: Although we tend not to make any musical decisions that way. It’s more simpler subjects. Like ‘A minor or E minor’ or ‘Who has to drive back after the session?’. Usually Ralph comes to us and says ‘I’ve got a song’ and we say ‘Well, is it any good?’ And then he plays it and usually it’s really good, or sometimes very good, only average in rare moments. (Ralph laughs). And then we arrange the rest between us.
Ralph: And that’s where the debates come in. We always talk to each other about the parts.
So, you’re quite easy to convince?
Ralph: (laughs) I mean, sometimes it’s four votes against one and I have to deal with it.
Josh: But this actually never happens. Everybody is too passionate about and tries to convince the others. And we all come from quite different musical backgrounds as well.
Usually bands hate it to label their music. And in your case I find it extremely difficult. Some people say it’s britpop, others say folk …
Ralph: This whole ‘folk’ thing is because of two things. One is the fact that the songs are about storytelling and fit in that genre. And the second one might be that our first single was released on the MUMFORD AND SONS label Communion Records. And we’re also five guys who are all singing. So for years we’ve stuck with this comparison.
Although you’re definitely filling a gap. How would you locate yourself in the British music scene?
Josh: When people ask me I always say ‘Indie-Folk, BUT…‘ (laughs) We’re not as pretentious as other indie-bands. We don’t play barefoot and in waistcoats. Somewhere in the middle maybe.
Ralph: And our live shows are a lot heavier than the record which always surprises people.
TO KILL A KING: “There is a turning point in Great Britain at the moment”
But did the wide international success of such – let’s call them ’emotionally authentic’ – bands like MUMFORD AND SONS or THE NATIONAL helped you?
Ralph: Oh yes, definitely. Although we don’t have much in common with them, their success got a lot of people to listen to a broader range of sounds and music. I quite like that. I think there is a turning point in Great Britain at the moment and I think a lot of ‘real-band-music’ is about to get a better chance in the radio in the next years. There’s plenty of great new music and for years I haven’t been so excited about new bands and music like recently.
There’s mainly older bands that inspire you, correct?
Ralph: Yeah, obviously. A lot of the classic stuff from the sixties and seventies. But there’s also plenty of new stuff. Like THE NATIONAL you spoke off. Or FRIGHTENED RABBIT, ELBOW and DIRTY PROJECTORS. But also some smaller bands who are on the rise.
Josh: PROFESSOR PENGUIN is such a band.
Ralph: Yes. A lot of young talented acts out there.
You are a quite active live band. I suppose this helps to create a certain fan base.
Josh: I think we play less now since we have a booking agent. But we started we took every chance we got to play live. And now we have more of a strategy on where we play, when we play and to which audience we are playing. It’s not as many gigs as possible, it’s basically ‘each gig counts’.
Ralph: But we still to a lot of surprise gigs, very unplanned ones where we also invite other bands to play. It’s a spontaneous thing that benefits everyone. Sometimes we only play three songs and leave the stage to other bands which deserve the attention. We decided to dedicate our life to music and that’s what it’s about, not the money. Although we’re happy to earn some. (laughs)
Best gig so far?
Ralph: The Scala in London recently.
Josh: Yeah, that was basically the best one.
Ralph: I saw WILLY MASON there a few weeks earlier and he’s quite an idol of mine. I remember watching him and thinking ‘Gosh, how we’re gonna fill this venue?’ And then we played, it was a sold out show and it was wonderful. The album just came out and everybody was singing along so it was very lovely.
Josh: We felt like heroes.
And the worst one?
Ralph: Oh god, we had like a hundred worst gigs ever. (laughs) But the worst one might be the first time we ever played Newcastle.
Josh: (moaning) Oh, yeah. That one.
Ralph: This was our first tour and they booked us in quite a big venue. It was for 400 people I think. And probably just fifteen people bought tickets. So we came down from the stage, set with them and basically just played an acoustic set. Strangely we sold more CDs on that show then on any other gig on the tour. (laughs)
TO KILL A KING: “It’s great to work with people who ‘get it'”
Your debut album has been a while in the making. Can you tell me why it took you so long?
Ralph: Basically, we’ve gone through a few different labels with this one. We’ve been to Virgin Records with it but we didn’t really get along quite well so we parted ways. But we took the album with us – which wasn’t as easy as expected. So, finally we released it under our own label and we took it as far as we could. And now it will be re-released on Xtra Mile Recordings which is quite nice since we’ve been in talks with them for quite awhile now. They are able to push it a bit further, you know. The record now gets the chance to be released in America and the rest and Europe. It’s great to work with people who ‘get it’ – plus, we’re also big fans of FRANK TURNER who’s on the same label.
You are also good friends with BASTILLE, the band of singer Dan Smith, who is currently topping the charts…
Ralph: Yep, he’s about to take over the world. (laughs)
I don’t assume you are jealous, but is there something good in their success, for you?
Ralph: Yeah, we’ve got to support him recently which is fantastic. We definitely got a cross-over fan base right now. He did mixtapes in the past on which I appeared, for example. He also contributed to our balcony sessions. And we will continue doing stuff together. I mean we know Dan since university and we’ve been friends for nearly a decade now. And he’s been working on it as long as we did and he’s been working really hard. And to see him finally break through is a quite beautiful thing.
There’s a fun question left that came to me when thinking about the record’s title, Cannibals With Cutlery. So, in case of emergency, which member of the band would you eat?
Ralph: (laughs) Well, I can’t say Josh ’cause he’s sitting right next to me.
Josh: I would probably say Ben.
Josh: He’s quite lean and not particularly hairy.
Ralph: I might go for Ben as well. He’s the least likely to object. He’s sooo slow in objecting. It would be like ‘Ben, we’re gonna eat you’ and he would reply ‘Aaah.’ And we would be already cutting off his leg before he would reply ‘Guys, well, could I bring up that thing from earlier where you talked about eating me… I’m not sure about this.’
Josh: Haha, exactly.
Final question. We are about nothing but hope and passion. What are your thoughts on this?
Ralph: I have to say when I first read that magazine title I though ‘Well, that’s a good name.’ And I read what you wrote about us so I think you are based around the things you really care about which is a good thing. And less about the whole “Uh, this band sucks…”-thing.”
Well, thank you very much for these kind words. So, you’re more of an optimistic person?
Ralph: No, I’m the pessimistic. Or sometimes I’m more of a realistic person. But you’re the optimist in the band, aren’t you, Josh?
Josh: No, I just smile a lot. (both laugh)
Ralph: I think Ian is the optimist. And he’s got enough optimism for us and the whole human race.
Okay, I’m not letting go of this. To rephrase the questions in terms of hope – was there ever a low point where you thought about giving up making music together?
Ralph: Basically the year and a half before we could release the album was really hard. ‘Cause we had this album and we thought it was really beautiful and worth to put out and we couldn’t. It was hard to get it back and finally get it out. And that might be one of these points where you thought ‘How is that even possible? These are my songs.’ (laughs) Kind of desperate. But since then it’s been a blast. Playing in front of all these people and a lot of them know the songs and sing along.