Interview with vocalist and guitarist Ralph Pelleymounter | By Angela Kinzie
Formed in 2009, To Kill A King is one of the most exciting new bands to reach America from “across the pond.” Their debut full-length Cannibals With Cutlery has won critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, a perfectly blended mix of modern post-punk and indie, featuring finely tuned, visceral lyrics and imagery. In the U.K., the band has received praise from Mojo and The Guardian, while fast picking up steam in the U.S., after a seven-week tour supporting longtime friends Bastille.
Just one day after returning home from Nashville on their first tour of the States, vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Ralph Pelleymounter talks with me about the band’s fast found acceptance outside their home country.
“When we were supporting Bastille and Frank Turner, there were a lot of gigs where people seemed to get into it really quickly,” Pelleymounter says. “By about the third song, everyone started to move and really get there! Which was great, but what was very striking, since we had never been to the states, we did some headline shows in L.A. and New York, and they were fantastic. We had a couple of hundred people at the shows. People singing along, they seemed to know all the words and just seemed genuinely excited that we were there. Which was really quite mind-blowing for us, going over there for the first time.”
Sharing with me some of the obvious visual differences the band noticed when coming to America, Ralph added: ” I think we all really loved the States. It’s cool. Some of the places, they’re beautiful… But you go through this sort of epic, sometimes quite bleak countryside where there’s nothing for miles. The GPS will say to turn left in 400 miles. That’s not what happens in the U.K.; there’s stuff everywhere. I think we also found the billboards for lawyers amusing… because we don’t really have that. There was one particular lawyer, around Texas or Nashville. Curt someone. ‘The Lawyer Who Rocks.’ [Laughs] It was quite different.”
To Kill A King adapted their name from a line in Hamlet. Pelleymounter explains, “I like the whole idea of, in Hamlet, the king is killed by having poison trickled in his ear. I just thought that was, [laughs] I don’t know, a nice metaphor for the, sort of, music thing. Dying from the poison tricked in your ear, quite nice imagery. We thought about it a lot, and I think it’s definitely a name that we’ve grown into. It’s a weird thing, band names. You sort of wear them baggily, and you gradually grow into them like hand-me-down clothes.”
Pelleymounter and bassist Josh Platman began playing music together in college at the University of Leeds. After a few lineup changes, the band presently includes drummer Josh Taffel, guitarist Grant McNeil and keyboardist Ben Jackson.
While at the University, Pelleymounter also met long-time friend Dan Smith, founder and vocalist for Bastille. “Dan and I have been friends for a long time. We met the first year at University, and then we lived together while we were [there], and we did a lot of music stuff together. Then he moved to London, and I moved a year after him, and we lived together again. I formed To Kill A King, and about six months later he formed Bastille. And we were in a band together prior to that. So we always used to get together, and it’s just an extension of that I suppose. Except now we go and tour other countries. It doesn’t seem any different, except the U.S., which is crazy. But it’s something that’s been going on for many years. We’ve also done a few collaborations, Bastille and To Kill A King.”
Both writers are planning a new joint project, Annie Oakley Hanging. Ralph explains with anticipation in his voice: “We’re working on a new project together, which is already written; we’ve just got to find some time when we’re both together… It’s not country in sound, but it’s a story, a concept album. It’s like a cowboy revenge story. So each song is a chapter in the tale, and we’re working with a comic book artist to show the story, so you can read it while you listen.”
Explaining his writing style in TKAK, Ralph states, “Some of the stories aren’t necessarily my own, but some are. It’s a combination of that and having an imagination as well. I think it’s the type of thing where you have experiences, but then you expand on them. Otherwise, it’s just like any sort of writer. You’re making the story, so you draw on everything around you. You know?”
The band released Cannibals With Cutlery themselves nearly a year ago, and six months later was picked up by the band’s label Xtra Mile. With the album roughly a year old, Pelleymounter tells me the group is ready to push on to their second full-length release. “I do kind of want to make an effort, with the next one, to be a little bit more optimistic,” he adds. “I think one of the things… I actually love it when people do have a connection with lyrics, but also I sometimes feel like I can be misinterpreted. Like, one song in particular, ‘Funeral,’ which is supposed to be this very upbeat kind of… It’s supposed to be about celebrating life right now because things can be sort of finite and all that stuff… Let’s dance, let’s enjoy ourselves. But I think people interpret it as a little more gloomy. I think it’s on a surface level; it’s called ‘Funeral.’ It’s about dying young and that sort of thing. I think they see it as that, but it’s not really intended that way. So I think on the next album, I’m going to try and be just a little bit more optimistic.”
Ralph says that “in terms of sound, the way I’ve been approaching it is that it’s going to sound bigger. I’m playing a lot more electric guitar. It’s weird the way things change depending on where we’re playing. When we started out, we were playing to like 50 people in a room, and an acoustic guitar felt like the right instrument to be playing for that – because it’s quite intimate. But then we played some shows that I thought we’d never get to play, like 8,000 people or 9,000 people, and in your head, you suddenly start thinking about what would reach them all the best, you know what I mean? And I think electric guitar is more suited to that and more enjoyable to play on stage when you’re playing those bigger places. So the next album has definitely been influenced by playing to more people.”
A fan of ‘60s music and classic punk, Pelleymounter admits that he’s only recently become interested in modern lyric writing. “I’ve got into a lot of new writing. I think it’s only been in the last four or five years that music that’s being written now has struck a chord with me. And it’s people like The National and John Grant and Elbow – people who are writing really good songs that actually mean something… Those people, you’ve got to really work at getting what they’re getting at, but when you reach that, you’re like, ‘It’s fantastic.’ A lot of the earlier people like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan… Fantastic. Paul Simon is a very good songwriter.”
TKAK will be supporting both The National and The Pixies on upcoming festival dates this summer. “I’m still a massive fan of the Pixies,” Ralph adds. “I can’t believe, this summer, we’re playing a lot of festivals with them, but there’s one festival called Best Kept Secret, where we’re four below them on the main stage, and I just can’t believe we’re going to be so close to them. There’s a few things coming up, and that we’ve just done, where you just have to pinch yourself a little bit. Like we just got to support The Flaming Lips earlier this year. And we’ll be playing with The National in Hyde Park this summer as well. Just the sort of people you’ve always looked up to and listened to their music and then get to do something alongside them… It’s just amazing.”