King Creosote and Emma Pollock interview
Emma Pollock and King Creosote talk to Doug Johnstone about musical collaborations, life on the road, parenthood and their ambitions to reach out to a wider audience
We meet in Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery Café in the middle of the day. Not because Emma Pollock and King Creosote (AKA Kenny Anderson) are living the rock’n’roll lifestyle and couldn’t get out of bed because of terrible hangovers, but to give both performers time to get here after dropping their respective kids off at school. Pollock has come from Glasgow, Anderson from Anstruther in Fife, those two locations having been focal points for their quietly revolutionary musical activities during the past dozen years.
For those not in the know, Anderson is the man behind Fence, a musical collective and record label based in the East Neuk of Fife. For ten years Pollock was a member of acclaimed indie outfit The Delgados, and she still jointly runs indie label Chemikal Underground, with her former bandmates.
We meet because both artists have just released stunning new albums, Pollock’s solo debut Watch the Fireworks and Bombshell by King Creosote, and they are about to head out on tour together. Anderson and Pollock know each other well already. One of Pollock’s first solo shows was at a Fence Collective event, while some of Anderson’s new record was recorded at Chem 19, the studio run by Pollock’s husband Paul Savage. Both artists also featured on the Ballads of the Book collaborative album, and the two were even locked away for a week in a Borders retreat together with other songwriters for the Burnsong project, more of which anon. As they share a pot of Earl Grey (‘Will I be mum,’ asks Anderson, pouring), we start by discussing the problems of combining life as a touring musician with parenthood.
‘It’s just one more thing to organise,’ laughs Anderson. ‘I’m quite lucky. I’ve got a network of people who help out with my daughter. I couldn’t do it otherwise. If I’m doing stuff around Scotland, I always get back home, so I can see Beth in the morning.’
‘It’s psychologically weird,’ says Pollock. ‘The first time Ben came on tour with us I had a friend to look after him while we were on stage, but he was at the age where he started crying hard when I left him, so on stage I was always thinking about him. But now he’s older, I can leave him at home with his dad. I get terribly homesick, but that’s OK, as long as I know he’s with his dad.’
Rather than release their records on their own labels, both Anderson and Pollock have hooked up with bigger record companies to give their music the chance of reaching a wider audience. Having run their own labels, both artists are in a much stronger position to deal with the vagaries of big labels than they might have been ten years ago.
‘Once you have experience, you know that record labels are always trying it on,’ says Anderson. ‘I think you appreciate it more when they do things right, and you come down on them harder when they don’t. Having done what they do myself, only not as well, I appreciate when they get things happening, but it’s always costly. I do question a lot of the money they spend.’
‘The difference from Chemikal Underground is that now there’s just that wee bit more room financially,’ agrees Pollock. ‘Having said that, there is a large amount of piss-taking within the music industry, especially with major labels. At Chemikal Underground, that’s simply not tolerated, and I’m sure it’s the same with Fence.’
Although Pollock is, to an extent, starting again from scratch, her time in The Delgados has guaranteed plenty of media interest in her nascent solo career. After years of releasing home-burnt CDs and being ignored outside Fife, Anderson finds himself similarly in demand these days, his last album KC Rules OK receiving widespread acclaim and increasing his profile immeasurably.
‘You wind up being really busy doing things you never thought you’d be doing,’ says Anderson. ‘When I put out an album in the past, there were maybe two interviews, and that was it. Now I do that in a morning, and then there are in-stores, radio sessions, press things all over the place. But I don’t mind it. It’s all good.’
Musically, there are interesting crossovers between Watch the Fireworks and Bombshell. Although Anderson comes from a folk background, Bombshell sees him expanding his sound, taking in everything from rock to ambient to lo-fi, while retaining that traditional folk influence. Pollock seems to be moving in the other direction, having come from the epic rock of The Delgados to now also embracing orchestral music, pop and even a little folk into her sound. For this tour, both artists are playing with full bands in what promises to be a full-on show.
‘We played all new songs with the full band at the Green Man Festival recently,’ says Anderson, ‘and totally stunned everybody. I don’t know if it was in a good way or not.’
‘I’m really pleased with my band at the moment,’ says Pollock. ‘In fact, I think I’m the weakest link, easily. It’s all right if I f*** up, the rest of them will carry me.’
‘I love fronting a band,’ Anderson agrees. ‘Like Emma, I think I’m the worst one in the band now; I’m the one that keeps getting words and chords wrong, and everyone looks at me funny.’
At the end of last year, both were ensconced in a Borders house for a week with other songwriters including Sushil K Dade and Squeeze man Chris Difford as part of the Burnsong festival, the idea being to collaborate on songs and play live at the end. Initial misgivings about the project were eventually overcome.
‘I thought it would be a disaster,’ says Pollock. ‘I find it hard enough to write a song with myself, never mind someone else. We were all equally ill at ease to start, but by the end we made a fantastic group and I totally loved sharing the experience with others. It was like being in a band again.’
‘Initially we thought it would be like Big Brother or Escape From Colditz, see who would try to escape first,’ says Anderson. ‘It wasn’t until the third day we began to lighten up a bit. It was great to share ideas with other people, and a similar thing is happening in terms of Scotland forming its own music industry. Now there are musicians, promoters, agents, labels, managers and venues all working together. We’re a wee country. It’s time to share ideas.’
Which is a simple notion that these two artists have been at the forefront of for years now. As a parting shot, I ask what hopes they have for their newly released albums.
‘I just hope we sell enough to not be dropped,’ laughs Anderson in typically self-deprecating fashion.
‘Yeah, that would do,’ agrees Pollock. ‘Sell enough not to make arses of ourselves, basically.’
Trust me, there’s no chance of them making arses of themselves anytime soon.
King Creosote and Emma Pollock play the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Sat 29 Sep. Bombshell is out now on 679, Watch the Fireworks is out now on 4AD.