Archy Marshall has been out record shopping in South London. Speaking about his purchases, the one that seems to please him the most is the soundtrack to Watership Down, the classic 1978 animated film that tells the dark, moving and violent tale of a warren of rabbits fleeing their home, with a few gruesome battles along the way.
“‘Bright Eyes’,” Marshall slowly drawls with warm humour, referring to Art Garfunkel’s wistful folk lullaby that became the film’s theme. “That’s what I’m feeling now.”
For someone who frequently looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights in his press shots (albeit a rabbit dressed by Burberry), Marshall’s choice of record purchase is a fitting one. And if you want to drive the metaphor a notch further, you could say that the mix of innocence and worldly smarts displayed by the furry protagonists in Watership Down is also very much present in Archy Marshall, manifested in his King Krule moniker – a name which has been bubbling on various excited music industry lips since mid-2011.
But first take a step back even further to 2010. Marshall was known as Zoo Kid and had been gradually posting his raw, urban ballads onto his Bandcamp page, collectively titling them ‘U.F.O.W.A.V.E’, before leftfield indie label House Anxiety released ‘Out Getting Ribs’, with ‘Has This Hit’ as a B-side, two of the stand-out tracks from the collection.
It did the trick. The fuzzy emotiveness of ‘Out Getting Ribs’ perfectly showcased Marshall’s powerful, overly rugged voice, spitting deeply personal reflections over rough, treble-y guitar riffs, arousing a fair bit of astonishment that this was all coming from a sixteen-year-old.
Fast-forward two years to late 2012. Marshall has changed his musical alias to King Krule and has just released another burning, stripped-down single with a jangled punk ethos, ‘Rock Bottom’, from his self-titled EP on Rinse, the label of former pirate radio station Rinse FM, a pioneering force in grime, dubstep and other dark sounds of the electronic underground. It’s an initially surprising pairing, even for him.
“They originally approached me, and I was quite taken back by it,” says Marshall. But he was also no stranger to pirate radio. “I chose ‘Rock Bottom’ to release on Rinse because the weekend when I wrote it, me and my friend were listening to [the station] quite a lot. There was a good continuity to it.”
Releasing on Rinse isn’t exactly going to harm his credentials, either – not that he needs a boost in that area. It’s fair to say that Marshall has been (rightly) hyped over the last two years, but it’s been of a positive nature, with people expecting him to accomplish big things rather than demanding it.
As you may have gathered by now, Archy Marshall isn’t your average young singer-songwriter. Perhaps it’s not surprising in someone who cites progressive mid-Twentieth Century poet W. H. Auden as a lyrical inspiration, but Marshall wrings more emotion out of every gruff, jagged lyrical passage in ‘Out Getting Ribs’ than can possibly be healthy, making for a quietly outstanding song.
But music is more a cathartic exercise for Marshall than the channelling of an extroverted personality. “I’m quite… dry,” he claims. “That’s why I use my music, I use that as the emotional side of myself. I don’t like to get wrapped up in exposing too much emotion.”
Writing music to expel emotion is one thing. Writing affecting, uncompromising songs that join the dots you never saw between post-punk, dub, noir-ish new wave and jazz, however, is quite another. But this is no empty homage to various hip genres, nor a revivalist at work. It’s simply Marshall’s natural sound, a melting pot of dynamic and varied musical trajectories, thanks partly to his parents soundtracking his childhood with everything from Fela Kuti to ska bands – check the King Krule Rinse FM podcast for a fascinating glimpse into Marshall’s myriad passions, covering everything from New York No Wave to oddball synth-pop to freak-funk jazz to rootsy reggae.
Marshall describes his own resulting sound in a charmingly lo-fi way: “I call it a very big jumble. I call it quite modern, in the way that it is taking a bit of everything that’s happened before, and putting it in one thing.”
This is an excerpt from the January 2013 issue of Clash magazine. Find out more about the issue.
Words: Tristan Parker
Photography: Rory Van Millengen
Fashion: Jayson Hindley