Behind the scenes of 'Diamond Mine'

Rewind back almost six years.

The Fence Collective are entertaining a theatre bar, with King Creosote controlling the stage. Steaming into a Bruce Springsteen cover, he reaches in close to the microphone before purring a cheeky line about ‘the streets of Anstruther’. A joke, for sure, this throwaway remark reveals much about the songwriter’s mindset. Born and brought up in the East Neuk of Fife, King Creosote has always sought out a definable sense of place. Teaming up with Jon Hopkins for ‘Diamond Mine’ it seems as thought the songwriter has found it.

An unlikely pairing, Jon Hopkins is an electronic visionary whose studio credits include little known acts such as Coldplay. Stumbling onto the trail of the Fence Collective through the recommendation of a friend, the producer became entranced by their homespun nuggets. “I went to see Kenny in London and I got hooked on the sound and the whole approach: very non-industry, which was very refreshing. I went up to Homegame (Fence’s annual festival) in 2005, and I introduced myself to Kenny and asked him for a CD with a vocal on it because I just wanted to play around and see what I could come up with, really. He was really keen to see what would happen so he gave me one.”

Ending up as a B-side, the collaboration continued on and off for many years. King Creosote stumbled through a variety of major and minor deals, all the while maintaining a presence at Fence. Jon Hopkins, meanwhile, was being sucked into a whirlwind of work and was eager for something to relax into. “I had always hoped secretly to do more, and as we became friends I started playing a few gigs on the harmonium. I was getting more and more familiar with his back catalogue and in my head compiling a list of the songs I loved the most. It’s a massive back catalogue – I mean, it was thirty albums then but it’s more like forty now. We came to record a few more, and I guess at this point we were thinking that we would start working together and see what would happen.”

Sessions for ‘Diamond Mine’ only began last year. Allowed to handpick his favourite King Creosote tracks, Jon Hopkins must have felt as if he was wandering down a vast songwriting library. “There’s a song on there, ‘Bubble’ which I think is about twenty years old. That’s amazing” he enthuses. “It’s a luxury for me to be able to come along and pick some songs and choose the way to record them. I felt pretty privileged to be given that opportunity.”

Formed on a few sessions last year, Jon Hopkins deliberately kept things very simple. “Once we made time to focus on material he would come down and we would go through songs from his back catalogue. I would record his vocal and his acoustic guitar. In all songs apart from two I didn’t use his acoustic guitar – I would replicate it on something else with the same chords or some other arrangement” he explains. “I wanted to make almost definitive versions of those songs. In my solo electronic work things tend to get quite experimental, but with this I wanted to focus on songwriting. ‘Bats In The Attic’ has guitar, piano, a few bits of percussion and a harmonium but everything else is just vocals and harmony. There are other elements on the record but each track really only uses a few different parts. I recorded them quite simply using analogue as much as possible, just to get his voice out there in the front because he’s such an incredible, incredible singer.”

It seems that on ‘Diamond Mine’ timing was everything. “I was quite lucky with the vocals as he actually took a year off booze and the voice essentially improved with that. I think May 2009 was when we recorded most of the vocals and he was just having an incredible singing day. We did everything in one or two takes each.”

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins - John Taylor's Month Away

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The results are astonishing. King Creoste has such as vast back catalogue that finding something new to focus on should, in theory, be almost impossible. Yet ‘Diamond Mine’ feels fresh, startlingly new. Perhaps the new pair of eyes helped, when the pair would wander around Anstruther discussing how best to approach the album. For King Creosote this was homage to his hometown, whereas for Jon Hopkins ‘Diamond Mine’ became somewhere he could retreat to. “I think I was kind of trying to re-create experiences which I’ve had up there, whilst at the same time trying to present those songs in the way I felt they should be presented. With some of those songs its like those times when you go up for the festival, get drunk for three days and spend all your time hanging around the town with some amazing people, falling asleep in the sun”.

On ‘Diamond Mine’ a sense of place is everything. The album manages to capture the easy going small town spirit which runs through Anstruther, as if someone has stuck a tap into a harbour wall, poured out some honey and released it on Domino. Capturing that idea of location became an intense topic for Jon Hopkins, until he decided to get on the train to Scotland and record the town itself. “I went up to Fife with a field recording sort of thing and went about recording the sounds of the town. I always saw that as a massive part of the record for some reason” explains the producer.

“When you press ‘play’ on the record you can hear some voices talking in a café. That’s a place called the Waterfront café, I think, which is just along from the Anstruther fish bar. I didn’t know what I was doing that at the time, I just wanted something which reminded me of the place more than anything else. Then when I got home I just listened to that on headphones and improvised piano on top of it” he says. “I had this idea of getting the sound of sails flapping against the masts, but after I recorded it I listened back to it later and all that was recorded was the wind. It was just like a low rumbling sound. It was more the quiet things that made it on there, which I then mixed in quite loud.”

The technical aspects of the record are obvious, but what ‘Diamond Mine’ specialises in is an indefinable atmosphere. Each track segues into the next, with King Creosote insisting that the album be listened to as one distinct document. As a result, each song is defined through its relationship with the next, almost like the community itself. “I think if you present it as a whole load of different things it struggles to draw people in. For me, this is an escapist project and although it only asks for 34 minutes of your time it kind of takes you somewhere very different” Hopkins suggests. “I wanted to make something which would really change your mood, slow your brainwaves down and I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of a long, single body which is made up of separate parts. I feel that’s the only time you can really have an impact on mood. It’s a record which is supposed to really quieten your thoughts, put you somewhere else.”

‘Diamond Mine’ undoubtedly succeeds. It is difficult not to be drawn in by the album, imagining yourself sitting by the fishing boats on a warm Spring day. A deeply personal project for both artists, Jon Hopkins reveals where the title itself came from. “It’s actually from a song which was going to be on the record, called ‘Carbon Lives’. It’s on one of his more obscure titles called ‘Vintage Keys’. That lyric had stuck in my mind a bit really, there’s just something about that, like a cave of gems, this place where it requires a bit of work to get something out of. For an album which came together over a period of about seven years that’s kind of relevant. Also the idea of going through his back catalogue and picking out different things, polishing them up - it just seemed to fit.”

With the enormity of King Creosote’s back catalogue yet to be drained, another project could well emerge – by 2018, at the earliest. “I imagine that we’ll probably do more in the future, I just wouldn’t know when. I have a habit of forgetting to focus on my own stuff, which is what I should probably do. It would be nice to have another album ready in seven years, as this has been an amazingly relaxing thing to do. It never felt like work, it never felt difficult, it just felt pure - amazing stuff to work on really.”

‘Diamond Mine’ is out now.

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