Fence Winter Tour - King Creosote interview
King of wishful thinking
Not one to be put off by the rise of digital sales in music King Creosote has come up with a novel way of keeping music alive, as Nicola Meighan finds out
It transpires St Andrews Woollen Mill has kind of saved the music business. While the global pop industry bawls to the tune of millions relinquished to digital pilfering, a quiet revolution is being devised by a micro-indie label in Fife.
The mastermind is King Creosote – folk-rock vanquisher Kenny Anderson – and his vanguard enterprise is Fence: a much-loved DIY imprint and empire whose annual Anstruther brouhaha, Homegame, recently sold out in an hour. Fence’s nascent funding came from Anderson’s time spent peddling lambswool while working at the Woollen Mill.
His brainwave is called My Nth Bit of Strange in Umpteen Years, and it pans out thus: during March’s Homegame (less a music festival and more an idyllic parallel realm), King Creosote will perform a brand new album, several times, to tiny audiences – on the proviso that each attendee must record the show. No one gets in without a dictaphone, mobile phone or recording device. KC won’t release these songs commercially. Audience members, however, have his blessing to share our personal copies.
If this appears to signify a royal volte-face from an artist and label, who’re stridently anti-MP3, (no Fence titles officially exist in this format, as the label believes it devalues our experience of – and engagement with – music), then it’s also one of the best ideas yet to rise from the online pop quagmire. Its celebration of community, intimacy, exclusivity, rarity and physical artefact – and the confidence that any bootleg will always sound much better live – knocks Radiohead’s pay-what-you-wish dirge for six.
It’s a high-five and fuck-you to digital music. It’s a device that redraws the audience as artist. Mostly, though, it’s a brilliant idea that’s never, ever been done before. Has it?
‘I don’t think so, no,’ smiles Anderson. ‘It’s a first! Unless I’ve psychically tuned into something done by one of those brainiacs up in Iceland,’ he laughs.
‘Since 2005, I’ve watched my profile go up, my record sales go down, and my live audiences go down – despite there being more copies of my records on computers. I realised I had to make a stand, and I came up with an album that people won’t have to buy, but will have to hear live to fully appreciate. I’d love for the songs to become popular, and for me to take the show further afield, but because the album will change from one rendition to the next, I’m also hoping to attract the collectors. Plus it’ll test whether copying music for free really does make for larger audiences.’
Anderson’s Fence superintendent Johnny Lynch – alias choral stud The Pictish Trail – raises the bar. ‘What Kenny is doing is really important, because it makes people question what it means to own music.’
While Anderson downplays the suggestion that My Nth could be widely exploited as a marketing model, Lynch agrees that the future of independent labels lies in similarly imaginative feats. ‘It’s all about ideas, the more outlandish the better. You should encourage interaction, collaboration. Force your audience to pay for your product. We promote most of our shows [including this month’s shindigs, see below] and often work the cost of a record into the ticket price.’
Creative enterprise notwithstanding, Anderson dreams of legal reform. ‘Ultimately I’d love it if Domino and the few remaining worthy labels put their collective feet down and demanded proper legislation against piracy, or pushed for a copy-proof medium. Pie in the sky, I know.’
Yet here’s a serendipitous coda: we’ll hear more of King Creosote thanks to the digital music era. ‘These new songs are more personal, and there’s lyrical freedom in knowing they’re not going to be pored over [as with a commercial release],’ he concedes. ‘The unexpected thing when we first performed My Nth [he unveiled it to 20 people at last year’s Hallowe’en Homegame], was the heightened concentration in the room. It was very powerful, a very charged atmosphere. No one talked or clapped. A few did cry. I nearly had a greet myself.’
One sublime recording from Hallowe’en is out there, thanks to codename ‘Wirralgirl’. ‘Your ears so full of stolen, compressed tunes,’ KC deplores on the opening track. If you’re happy to dig, you can find it online. Needless to say, it would sound better live.
Fence Winter Tour: The Three Craws (King Creosote, James Yorkston, The Pictish Trail), OLO Worms, The Caves, Edinburgh, Fri 22 Jan; OLO Worms, FOUND, Onthefly, Captain’s Rest, Glasgow, Sat 23 Jan. www.fencerecords.com