A place where individuals leave the frustrations of their domestic life at the front door, where poets, musicians and workers gather to drink their worries away. The 23-year-old wordsmith looks so at home in this dishevelled pub in Peckham; a South Londoner through and through who vehemently defends his postcode as a way of life, an area where his best and worst formative experiences made him who he is today.
He sees the world from an angry and confused vantage point but that’s why he’s become the voice of a generation, whether he likes it or not. Upon the release of his tour de force sophomore record The Ooz, King Krule gives us a brutally open and honest account of how he sees the fractured world we live in, the women in his life and of course turning down Kanye West. All with a pint in his hand.
Are you sick of interviews?
Yeah I hate interviews, they’re mind-numbing. It’s not natural to talk about yourself so much, especially when you write all the music, it’s such a personal thing. I’m the only representative. It would probably be easier if I was in a band.
You’re Australian, right? I was with a Kiwi girl last night actually.
How was that?
It wasn’t like that, I’ve got a sort of girlfriend at the moment. It was more because I really like her music.
Would I know her?
Fazerdaze? She’s really great. She’s so polite, I was really taken back by it. The girl I’m seeing at the moment is kind of rude to me and I enjoy it. It was all professional, but I wish I had more time with her because she obviously lives in New Zealand so we almost never cross paths.
Are you dreading going on tour soon? It must be hard on relationships.
Well, it’s pretty interesting because I’m kind of used to having to let go of something, I’ve done it all my life. I’ve never been split up with, I’ve only ever split up with people. Maybe it’s about controlling myself and understanding that I’m young and want to experience more I guess.
"Most of the time I’m almost longing for a girl to break up with me so I don’t have to do it."
You wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of a break up though, so maybe when you feel like things are starting to get a bit shaky you just make that decision?
Well, it depends. Most of the time I’m almost longing for a girl to break up with me so I don’t have to do it. You know what I mean? I’m terrible at leaving things, I usually leave them quite open anyway.
Have you had many serious relationships?
To an extent, I think the longest relationship I’ve had was for 2 years. I’ve had an open relationship for about 7 years now, but that’s obviously way different to what you’d call monogamy I guess.
You’re still quite young though right?
Yeah exactly, I’m 23 so I understand that, but every human being is complex.
Do you think we are that complex?
I think there is complexity in everyone. I got to a certain point in life where I ended up hating people because they hadn’t experienced what I had experienced, and then at some point, I realised that pain is something that you can’t measure. Some people feel it a lot deeper than you will ever feel it, whatever the circumstances or whatever you have had to deal with.
But does that make that person better because they have more empathy and understanding?
I think it’s just about understanding that everyone feels pain in their own way. I don’t have an answer or explanation for analysing people, but I do understand that everyone is complex, whether you like it or not. We’ve all got these little mazes within us and that shit is pretty interesting to me.
When I was younger I was a lot worse with women, in the sense that I was a lot more free with what I was doing and I ruined a lot of relationships that could essentially have led to marriage.
"I was fucked off with the way things were going, especially in that period of my life, and I still am."
I didn’t know you were with September management, that’s really interesting. They’re one of the biggest but I thought that would have been the antithesis of you?
Yeah, they’re good management. I had a really good connection with the management I started with, they took me all around the world and put loads of money into it. But at some point, it just fell apart. I burnt through them in the sense that I had to move on at some point. After that, I guess I got managed by a dude from the local pub around here, and that was very interesting. It was around the same time that I was signing a record deal, so that was pretty interesting and I had to get out of that.
Basically, I got to a point where I heard this quote about the Rolling Stones that my dad relayed to me that, “We just got a dude there to deal with that kind of stuff.” So September seemed like the easiest thing so that I didn’t have to deal with a lot of that bullshit, they could just throw it at me when they needed.
I think as well the freedom of having a big artist like Adele on their roster gives me the freedom to do what I want.
Would you ever collaborate with Adele if she came to you?
It depends. I mean, we come from a similar place, we both went to the Brits school.
Yeah, that was quite interesting to hear you went there. What was that about?
What’s interesting about that is that I guess a lot of people get into this mindset that something like that tarnishes them because they come from a school that is perceived as a private school. It’s not, it’s free and they basically facilitate a lot of young people to do stuff. When I was going there it was still very much about the theory of music and understanding the way the industry worked. So it was very vocational. It gave me so much freedom, and I’d never been to a school where the girls were so pretty.
It is funny, because whenever you hear that someone went to the Brits school it’s like, ‘Oh so you wanted to be like Robbie Williams’.
Well that’s the thing, there are all these perceptions. When I was going there it seemed like the people in the years below me were really into this kind of fame catalyst and that going there was going to propel them into it.
When I came out I was very aware of the alumni that were put to it, and to be frank it wasn’t the kind of music that I wanted to be associated with. The only people that stand out were the great musicians like Dexter Hercules or Amy Winehouse, who wasn’t even there for that long.
The thing about that school was it gave me freedom. It was school so I was back in a system and institutionalised again but this time I could wear my own clothes, focus on music for a certain amount of time. I eventually dropped out of music and started doing art there, dropped out of that and was only doing history instead. I was nearly kicked out a few times, just because of dumb shit that I was doing.
But it was also a place where kids from literally fucking Highgate to Brighton would come, so growing up and making friends with someone in Brighton fucking got me out of the house. I was getting up and going down there, to North London, which I had never experienced. I’d bother going to East London but never anywhere else, so I met a lot of weird motherfuckers who I am still friends with today. They’re still the core friendship group that I have.
Let’s talk about your music. What I like about it is that it is emblematic of the time we are living in. This is such a delirious political/apolitical, anxious, post-truth time and this is just a 23-year-old trying to make sense of it all.
Yeah, well the fact is I write quite honestly, I write about my experiences and from my own perspective and at the same time I am very introverted with my perspective. So I guess naturally that spills into my music. I’ve always been aware of trying not to preach or be too political because I feel like I’ve got a lot more to learn before I get into that. The social realism in it just comes from experience. I was quite young when I started to write all this stuff that was socially real, talking about walking down the street, and Easy Easy was a song I wrote when I was very much into Mike Lee, Ken Loach and Shane Meadows, people like that. These were people who were super socially real, documenting stuff and their acting was so improvised it was almost to a T of what a normal conversation would be like.
I know you’re a film fanatic. What do you like to watch?
Anything really. I watch a lot of trash and I enjoy trash films. I run a film club that I set up with another guy to give people something like this scene from the 1980s called Exploding Cinema. It was a place where people could come, watch films, smoke and talk about cinema. For me personally, the concept of cinema is one of the best visual and audio stimulants that you can get. The whole idea was not to freak people out but educate people in a sense, to show them what they weren’t gonna watch, from Salaam Bombay to Threads. Some of them are heavy and hard to deal with, and those films usually get the best audiences but then those people never come back.
There’s something about culture in general that gives people life.
It is life man. For me, the role of an artist, as a general term for any creative, is to take people away from the fucking monotony and at the same time reflect on the mundane and what life is. But the role is essentially to take people away.
If you were in your 30s you would be called bitter if you put music out like this, but because you are in your 20s you’re considered a poet or edgy, someone who senses the bitterness of his generation.
You’ve got to understand that I started making music when I was 8 years old. So I started when I was really young and I didn’t have a conscience about it, I was just doing it for the sake of it. It was my favourite thing to do when I came home. Eventually when I was 12 I got this Roland VS 8-TRACK, so I recorded everything on there and it was so physical for me with the faders and I had each individual track.
What I would say is that when I started to get noticed at the age of 15, it was interesting because there was no music out there for people in my situation, people who were young, to relate to. That’s how I feel, there probably was but I wasn’t aware of it. At that time, across the world people like Odd Future started to blow up, and I think the internet helped with a lot of the communication aspects of music.
I remember in an interview I did with The Guardian about 6 years ago, they said, “this is the voice of a disillusioned generation.” The fact is that I’ve never been aware of that I just speak honestly, and yeah I was fucked off with the way things were going, especially in that period of my life, and I still am.
"There’s a side to me that comes out every now and then, I guess you could call it schizophrenic or bipolar."
How old were you then?
I was about 16.
It’s very rare for someone to make music from an age as young as 8. To have that musical literacy already.
It’s interesting because I’ve got a young sister who is 7, and I think wow, a year on I was doing this. When I look at her, she was more intelligent but I guess my expression was different as well as the circumstance I was in.
At the time I was 8 the only reason I started writing music, or pretending to write it by recording songs, was that my mum had this tape deck, and her boyfriend had brought it round so everyone in that room was constantly recording. So I was like, ok fuck it, when they leave let me have a go. I kept having a go, then I got more into football for a bit and stopped playing the guitar as much, but I’ve always had that side of my life. It was always something I wanted to do, it’s weird.
Do many people comment on your expressive voice?
Yeah, I think delivery is important, and not a lot of people talk about that. I think the first line of a song is really important if you can take a listener straight away.
When was the last time you were impressed with someone’s delivery?
Obongjayar, he’s fucking awesome. Frank Lebon did his video as well, who I’m friends with. This dude is gonna be fucking huge, no doubt, because if I wanted to encapsulate something he has done it for me. When I see his stuff I’m like, damn that’s fucking amazing.
Show Me The Body as well, that’s a great band, and I fucking love the singer Julian.
I want to talk about anger because I think it’s quite prevalent in your music. You don’t seem like an angry guy meeting you but you’ve talked about the fact that you had a stressful adolescence. Would you say you have a lot of anger?
When it comes to people and personal relationships, not at all. I’m a pretty mellow guy, especially in relationships with girls and stuff. There’s a side to me that comes out every now and then, I guess you could call it schizophrenic or bipolar, where something drives me, and in doing that I guess my anger is expressed through doing fun things.
Are we talking illegal activities?
More when I was young, for sure. I like to destroy things. I remember once I was walking home, I was really into graffiti but I hadn’t painted for a long time because I’d cut it out of my life because it became a bit of an obsession for me, so this one time I was somewhere in London, I won’t tell you where, but I just drew penises on every single fucking car. I just do dumb shit all the time.
The aggression side of it is just something that just happens, it takes over you. There’s a lot of wrongdoing and pain that I like to keep quiet about.
Do you think you could be the musical Franz Kafka?
Yeah well I love Kafka. I’ve got family from Prague and the Czech Republic. Czech One is kind of a reference to that, but also to The Sopranos. There’s this scene where Tony’s nephew kills the Czech guy in the first series and then he has this dream sequence, and the first line in Czech One is something said in their conversation in this dream sequence.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
I don’t know. I believe that once you spend a lot of time somewhere you become a part of the things around you, so like the brickwork and the pipes still speak and there’s a mood in the house.
I believe in ghosts to an extent, I believe in spirits, but I don’t know about an afterlife.
Are there any other cultural figures you admire?
I love Ingmar Bergman. I think the concept that he pulls out in The Seventh Seal is very interesting, this idea that all these knights are coming back from a religious experience or crusade, you’ve got the squire who’s playing with atheism and thinks, ‘why should I believe in God when I have seen what I’ve seen and I’m coming back and the Black Plague is spreading through Europe? How is there a god if so many people are dying?’
"We had this experience in a bar where this guy walked in with a huge slash in his head, loads of blood pouring out, and he just came and sat right next to my girlfriend."
I’ve been to Sweden a couple of times, Gothenburg and Stockholm, and it’s quite a weird place. Iceland is also an interesting one. I went to Reykjavik with a girl once, I guess I took her on holiday, and we went to the hot springs. We had this experience in a bar where this guy walked in with a huge slash in his head, loads of blood pouring out, and he just came and sat right next to my girlfriend. I was on the opposite side so I was just like, what are you playing at, trying to chat to my girlfriend? He was fucking delirious, that was really weird.
So here you are making music, you’re on your second album as King Krule, but you’ve had many other monikers like The Animal Club [KK looks embarrassed]. You’re expressing yourself and you seem to have a really genuine, engaged following. Surrounding yourself with people like Frank Ocean and Kanye West, it seems a little bit like opposites attract. How do you make sense of it all and engage with the world?
I’ve got so much respect for Kanye though because he just doesn’t care what he does. He does it honestly and when it starts to escalate and escalate, he’s still doing it. Then there’s Frank Ocean, he’s more of a freak than I am. I’ve never met anyone like Frank, he’s pretty interesting. You say opposites attract but they have just been recognised on a bigger scale and thrown into it more. Being thrown into these things, you get all kinds of bullshit that follows it.
I like to live with who I work with, I like to sleep with them and be in bed with them.
So did you really turn down Kanye?
Well yeah, but I guess I didn’t turn him down, it was just sprung on me. It was like, ‘Oh do you want to do this? You have to do it tomorrow.’ I was like, I’m probably not gonna do that because you know, I’ve got other shit to do.
But you have met him?
No, but that’s the other thing because maybe a whole aspect of that was nothing to do with him. I think that’s how a lot of people work nowadays, with producers and other people a lot more involved than the actual artist.
"Then there's Frank Ocean, he’s more of a freak than I am."
You seem quite perceptive and observant. I can imagine you just sitting on the street watching people, and it’s all just fodder for your music, right?
Yeah, for sure. I mean, I like to live it because if I don’t live it I can’t speak about it. I like to be down and out, everywhere. I spend a lot of time on my own.
Does that fuel your creativity?
Yeah, I carry a sketchbook with me all the time. I used to come here on quiet nights, certain bars, and literally sit and write what I saw. In doing that, I’ve got a lot of funny arse stories that I can put into creative work.
If you go through some of my books there are stories like these 3 old geezers sitting behind me talking about paedophilia, and I’ve got all of their conversation written down. I’ve got a great one from when I was in here that influenced a lot of the stuff on A Great Place 2 Drown.
There’s one line I’ve got written down from A New Place 2 Drown, ‘Slipping into filth…’
[King Krule reciting part of the song]
I love that. Who is that about?
That’s me with this girl that I just met. You know that moment when you feel like it’s just the two of you against the world? That’s what it was.