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Drake's viral hit "Hotline Bling" has been viewed by millions and has launched meme after meme on social media, but when asked about the rapper, Archy Marshall pleads ignorance. In fact, it seems safe to say that the relationship between the London singer, songwriter and producer better known as King Krule and popular culture in general is a one-way street. His songs have earned plaudits from Beyonce and have been covered by Willow Smith, but the red-headed 21-year-old with a distinctive baritone shows little interest in the world beyond his neighborhood in southeast London. That fact is on vivid, street-level display in Marshall's new mixed-media project, A New Place 2 Drown, his first major release since his 2013 debut album, 6 Feet Beneath The Moon.
Reflecting the Internet-wary Marshall's preference for tangible experiences, the core of A New Place 2 Drown is a 208-page coffee-table tome of artwork, poems and photographs assembled in collaboration with his brother, the visual artist Jack Marshall. "This book is a scrapbook of our relationship and how we see the world," Archy told me. Another piece of the effort is a short documentary (which you can watch here) directed by filmmaker Will Robson-Scott. Crucially for King Krule fans, there's also a 37-minute set of music, this time attributed to Archy Marshall rather than one of the performer's several aliases.
ADVISORY: This video contains brief illustrated images of nudity.
In a nearly hour-long Skype conversation from Archy's smoke-filled bedroom in his mother's East Dulwich home, the brothers interacted with each other in a casual, roundabout way that naturally suited their work's candid feel. The two confirmed plans for a second King Krule album, revealed they won't tour behind the music on A New Place 2 Drown and unveiled at least tentative hopes for, naturally, a musical inspired by the 1991 film Slacker.
Why a mixed-media project this time instead of a conventional album release?
Archy Marshall: I like the physicality of it. I like the fact that you can touch it and lick it and do stuff to it. I like that side of things.
"Physicality" was a word that occurred to me, too. How do you feel about streaming?
Archy Marshall: Streaming's cool, but... It's hard to get a sense of the artist nowadays. And the Internet's taken over. People can — not wing it, but they can kinda wing it. They can just be out here, having their whole persona online. I'd say gigs is the main way I like to listen to music. I like to feel the performance.
And the art side of it — art I feel is hardly accessible for just normal people as well. Nowadays you gotta buy pieces for mad amounts of money to get into an artist, or to feel that you're a part of that artist's career. Whereas this book, you can just buy it, and it's got a lot of art in it, and a lot of poetry.
It's a family affair, too. You're brothers, of course, but Archy, you studied painting in school, and your grandfather was an artist, and your uncle. And your mother is in design. How did your family influence this project?
Jack Marshall: When we were kids, there was a lot of emphasis on, instead of watching TV and stuff, it'd be like, if you're bored, or if you don't have anything to do, or if you need to calm down or something, you go and draw, or you listen to music.
Archy Marshall: Yeah, creativity was just always like...
Jack Marshall: ...It's always completely present. And also, yeah, in a practical world we were taught it could be something that you did...
Archy Marshall: Something you can sell... (Laughs)
Jack Marshall: ...something that you did to feel better about stuff.
Archy Marshall: It was put into my skull at a young age that it was an extension of yourself. Not in a cheesy way but in a way that just, when making a mark, it's a physical mark that you made. So stuff like writing on a wall or carving something into something. You'd know that that was always you who done it. That always fascinated me. And with music, it's this crazy thing you can't see, but you hear it, and then with art it's this thing that you feel. I've always been obsessed with trying to incorporate both things madly together.
Jack Marshall: Art featuring a lot around the house and music being played a lot made us want to do project like this, where the book is an accompaniment to the music, and the music is a soundtrack to the book. And you have this immersive experience that you can enjoy on your own.
Archy Marshall: Our family was always just taking us to gigs casually. Not making us dance, but dancing was a big part of it. Say it was outside, we'd be drawing with chalk on the ground. That whole lifestyle was mad romantic to both of us.
It feels like the book, the music and the documentary all captures where you live in south London.
Archy Marshall: I've always made music about myself. I get so much influence from New York and L.A. and stuff like that anyway that I don't think it's really necessarily about this area, but it's like, it just has to be, you know what I mean? Because otherwise we'd be lying.
What's the area like?
Archy Marshall: The area's just same old London, really. London's changing as well. The area were live in is getting gentrified, and that's happening worldwide in a lot of cities, especially in New York.
Jack Marshall: Something that does inform the work that is in the area is not so much gentrification, but a lot of new buildings, and old buildings being destroyed. Because there is very limited space in London in general. At the moment there is a trend where a lot of people just destroy whole buildings and places that have a lot of history and that have housed a lot of people, and just bring in luxury flats.
Archy Marshall: A lot of the lyrics are written about growing up in this area, and almost the web of creating relationships with other people and how incestuous it starts to get. A lot of lyrics are about the lighter side of life, but in a dark way.
Musically, with 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, it seemed like reviewers seized onto this idea of a guitar-playing troubadour. And that's only one tiny part of what you do. On this, there's no song like "Baby Blue." There's more rapping and it feels more atmospheric. Is that what you were going for?
Jack Marshall: With the poetry, it would be difficult to turn that into song lyrics. It's more like words over music and a soundscape. I wouldn't say it's as straightforward as making songs.
Archy Marshall: Yeah, it's mad electronic. It's not really the same stuff. I wanted to call it under a different name. I wanted to separate it from King Krule, essentially. Because I've been working on my next album, which is similar to the last album, and this one is the stuff that I do on a day-to-day basis. I had to get it out somewhere. I like the idea that everything has its own little context.
How is this project related to Inner City Ooz, your art exhibition from last year?
Jack Marshall: While we were working on one, we'd be working on the other. Archy did a lot of art for that exhibition, but he also did a soundscape.
Archy Marshall: Those mediums merging together was what we wanted to do. With the music at the exhibition, that's music that's never going to come out. It was like four hours worth of music. This is a homage almost to that, in a way, and the idea that we want to expand on this worldwide and we want to keep it going and get more people involved. We make stuff every day, so it's just a constant thing.
Also, around the same time as the art exhibition, Willow Smith covered 6 Feet Beneath the Moon song "Easy Easy." What was your response to that?
Archy Marshall: Yeah, I think like, fair enough, man. She covered it well. It's good. It was funny hearing her talk about "same old bobby, same old beat" and stuff like that. (Laughs) London terminology.
Jack Marshall: The context of the music's still very much in London.
Archy Marshall: And talking about Tesco! That's hilarious. I think it was cool, man. She done her thing.
Who do you see as your peers at this point? It feels like you could live in that world a little bit more if you wanted to, but you do your own thing — you're putting out this multimedia project.
Archy Marshall: Everyone! (Laughs) Ratking are deadly. A lot of young people are making good stuff at the moment. There's a lot of good young filmmakers, like Frank Lebon. All these kids who are just constantly doing stuff. I'm really digging Glenn Astro at the moment. He's really cool. Just, everyone, man! (Deadpan) Mainly crackheads and people from the underside of society, I prefer to call my peers.
For this project, why did you want a documentary too?
Archy Marshall: We've always been fascinated by stimulating the eyes and the ears together. We got to work with someone I was a big fan of for a while, called Will Robson-Scott. He's very cool. He got the two of us and basically got to see us doing nothing for a bit.
How did you end up working with the guest on "Ammi Ammi," Jamie Isaac?
Archy Marshall: (Calling to someone outside the room) Tom! He lives with me.
Jack Marshall: He's downstairs right now.
Archy Marshall: His music's real ambient. We went to school together and just ended up living together eventually, and I'd written the lyrics out and I didn't want to sing them myself so I just got him to do it and I thought it sounded good. He's about to do a project which I've got a few tracks I've made for, as well.
One thing that occurred to me, with the mix of rapping and singing, and working with your close friends, and the late-night, atmospheric, jazzy aesthetic — it all brought to mind a little bit Drake's whole OVO Sound thing.
Archy Marshall: What about Drake? I don't really know him.
We include a lot of people that we roll around with, because that's the only way to do it, I guess. I mainly just work with people who I smoke with, drink with, get f***** up with. I feel like you've got to live in their life to work with them, to make it natural and to make it make sense. For me, at least.
Even working with Mount Kimbie, I spent a lot of time with them. They were a bit older than me, so they would — not mentor me, but just were keeping me cool about my own personal s***. And vice versa. I feel like that's a good relationship to have if you're collaborating with an artist. Like, a real relationship.
(To Jack, laughing) And this guy, I don't know who he is.
Well, what was it like working with your brother? This question can be for both you.
Archy Marshall: We do it every day by accident.
Jack Marshall: It's a natural thing.
Archy Marshall: Jack came up with the artwork for my records and stuff anyway, so it was cool. We've always been doing it. He would send me some photos of some work he's done and I'll send him some tracks.
Jack Marshall: This was different, because the music was done afterward. Generally when we work together I've done the artwork for Archy's releases and they've all been done and the last step is to do the artwork. So I can feed off of that as an inspiration, which makes my role extremely easy. This is different, where we kinda it did more as a collaborative thing.
Archy Marshall: Yeah, more back-to-back, throwing s*** at each other's face. Our flow was just constant. I'm glad it's done.
Do you have any plans to take all this on the road? Or is it, as you said, "done"?
Archy Marshall: I want to do some art shows, yeah.
Jack Marshall: We want to move on to the next thing.
Archy Marshall: Yeah, as well, but doing some art exhibitions is always what we kinda wanted from it.
Jack Marshall: With work from the book, you mean?
Archy Marshall: Well, anything. With work from the book, or more work. I'm not looking to play this live, I'm just, this is just how it is, I guess.
Jack Marshall: I don't think a live-music environment, it would benefit in any way what you can get from the book. You don't really read a book with other people. It's a personal thing. It's something you do in your bedroom or something. And the music reflects that, I think. It's a soundtrack. It's not meant to be a big grand or like proper — but your King Krule stuff is meant to be more personal and more direct.
Archy Marshall: I've had ideas about doing it live, and it would be a surreal set, and I'd be wearing a hella big suit. And I'd probably have an iPod and I'd probably be playing it off my iPod and just singing. Which would be funny. I might do it at some point, but I like that idea of trying to be like...
Jack Marshall: For the anniversary in 20 years.
Archy Marshall: (Laughs) ...be like a TV presenter, you know?
Jack Marshall: This Is Your Life.
Archy Marshall: When I play live, I like playing guitar. I like the physicality of that. So it's strange because I wouldn't be playing an instrument for this stuff. Or I'd be playing a sampler.
You mentioned "physicality" again. You've managed to be somebody who is recognizable on social media but without having to really have a social media presence yourself. Why do you stay away?
Archy Marshall: I think it's dumb as hell, man. (Laughs) I'm a narcissist anyway, man. Why would I need — I mean, I've got an Instagram now, so I'm slowly doing it.
Jack Marshall: How many followers do you have?
Archy Marshall: I've got so many followers. I've got like a million followers. But no, I don't know how many followers I have. That's a stupid question.
Jack Marshall: That is a stupid question, which is why I shouldn't be asking questions.
Archy Marshall: I don't really have an iPhone, so I can't really use these things to their advantage. But I've got a lot of mates who do that stuff. It's whatever, man. It's definitely changed the world.
Jack Marshall: I think the Internet's a good thing. (Laughs, indicates the Skype window) Otherwise we wouldn't be doing this.
Archy Marshall: Yeah, exactly. So we get to chat. I think it's kinda silly. It takes you away from the reality of what you're doing if you're an artist, maybe. All of our close family members, all of them do art.
Jack Marshall: They grew up without that, so we were taught how to relate to art and music by them and it was never, obviously, social media.
Archy Marshall: Saying that, I love websites like Bandcamp and Soundcloud. Platforms like that is what got me and Jack out there in the first place.
Jack Marshall: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and stuff like that, they're not really the same thing. Their express purpose is not for art.
Archy Marshall: I don't know, man. You can use it for whatever you need. I know people who sell good s*** on Instagram constantly. Whether it's weed (laughs), or T-shirts, or art. But yeah, I think Twitter's a bit weird if you think about Twitter being people's thoughts constantly. I see some people's Twitters and they're all day and every hour and that's just like, "What the f***, man? Who are you talking to? Why?" I like privacy, as well.
In past interviews, there had been, maybe when you were younger, some personal challenges that you didn't feel like talking about. Do you feel comfortable talking about that now? Are things better?
Archy Marshall: Life's ever-changing, man. I think it's the hardest thing everyone has is that they realize that it's not going to drastically change ever. I mean, getting more money changes stuff. You feel comfortable with living a bit better and you can eat better and you can pay bills and s*** like that. Which is cool. But you know, problems are just problems. They're always there.
With this book, as well, we're trying to encapsulate a lot of, you know, that s*** you feel, man. That emotional s***. It's interesting just growing up and being kinda young when I got into doing interviews and s*** like that, and now I'm like, this age, and I'm not even that much older, but you're still searching for something to make you feel better every day. That's not going to end necessarily ever, anytime soon. And it's getting over that idea of expecting something like that to happen that I guess is growing up.
What else do you really want people to know about A New Place 2 Drown?
Jack Marshall: You can only really experience it properly if you buy it. (Laughs)
Archy Marshall: This book is the start of a lot of stuff to happen. We're just going to be constantly working. We want to get stuff done in terms of making I guess cartoons and animations. That's where I want to go with working with Jack. I want to get into making musical cartoons. I watch hella lots of cartoons anyway.
Jack Marshall: We talked about maybe doing a feature film. (Laughs)
Archy Marshall: I've been writing scenes for a musical about the area.
Jack Marshall: Yeah, a musical, yeah.
Archy Marshall: It's not going to be a vaudeville musical, but it's going to be an interesting take on musicals. And I've been writing scenes for that for a while, but I haven't really got a proper narrative because it's kinda hard to make something that doesn't make you want to cringe. At the moment, it's just kinda like, inspired by Slacker. It's Slacker meets West Side Story or some s***. (Laughs) Or Grease, you know.
We've got mad more stuff on the horizon to make. And that's what's kinda exciting for both of us.
Any hints as to what we can expect from the next King Krule album?
Archy Marshall: It's kinda grunge-y at the moment. It's hella distorted. And dark. But I'm trying to write that hit, so don't worry.