The Cinematic World of King Krule

How George A. Romero, David Lynch, and Jim Jarmusch inspire Archy Marshall’s music

Long before he called his new album The Ooz, before he decided that album would come out on Friday the 13th, and before he released a music video for preview track “Dum Surfer” in which he leads a band of zombie-like musicians, shades of horror always clawed through the curtains of the King Krule world. Archy Marshall has never been too eager to expose the reality of the world or the meanings of his art, instead smearing bruised, raw textures and murky symbolism across the tracks and letting it linger in listener’s’ subconscious. But films, on the other hand, are something he has no problem dissecting. His love of the art form, from slasher horror to existential drama to tear-jerking realism, has inspired his entire artistic life.

In fact, Marshall shares films with others much the way that fans connect with his music. He associates them with people and places, whether organizing a movie night with friends or getting passed a tape from his older brother. Similarly, surreal songs like new single “Half Man Half Shark” follow a sort of dream logic, fusing punk, jazz, lounge, and hip-hop textures into a murky depth full of rough-hewn creatures. Marshall’s songs melt and shift shapes like rivulets of blood down the shower drain in the classic Psycho scene — a favorite of the 23-year-old English singer-songwriter. In fact, the new album oozes just as its name would suggest, absorbing every strand of musical DNA it encounters, while Marshall soaks in everything around him. For Marshall, music and movies share that potential for world-building, for taking parts of our reality and stretching them into new, unrecognizable shapes across massive screens. And, much like life, it’s not always pretty.

So, you’re in LA now, but you’re still living in London, right?

Yeah, I live in London.

Is it strange when you travel to the US? I’m speaking from a foreigner’s perspective, and I find it unbelievably bizarre. 

Yeah, I was going to America a lot as a kid because I’ve got family on Long Island in New York. I guess there’s always a difference between America and Europe. Everything’s bigger, wider. That whole concept is quite interesting.

Yeah. Everything is bigger, the land, the food, the opportunities. There’s just so much going on constantly. London feels a little bit like that as well. I lived there for a while also.

Yeah? Whereabouts?

When I was 18, I stayed on Holloway Road.

I wrote a song about that road actually, once. I don’t actually know if it’s been released yet. It went like, “She walks over hollow Holloway Road/ She beckoned me to follow…”

I mean that place, I know that it’s really dark and dingy, but I felt like it was central enough. I think it was just the people and how nobody really bothered you. You could just float.

That is quite the mentality. I guess you get that in New York as well; it’s that kind of big metropolis thing where people just stick to what they do. They keep their heads down.

Yeah. And I kind of like that. It’s nice to walk down the street and not have people commenting on what you look like or your accent.

Yeah, but there’s pros and cons to it all. You can feel very isolated in a crowd, but it is a melting pot as well. People are used to everything there. When I grew up, there was all types of people everywhere. It was great. But yeah, you can be isolated in a crowd, which is quite a weird effect.

There’s a part of me that feels I can access certain things better if I’m left alone. For the type of art that you make, you must need time to process the world to gain perspective. As such a fanatic, I’m sure film is a way for you to have that experience. You even made a short film for A New Place 2 Drown with your brother Jack, run film nights with him, and put on exhibitions. What drew you to film?

The mixture of audio and visual is the best medium of art, in my opinion. That’s always been a fascination for me. I’ve always visualized a lot of the music I’ve written by picturing the imagery and videos for it. I’ve written videos for myself and worked with directors one-on-one. I’ve got a love for it. I also make my own films. I have a really lo-fi camera, and the films are really low-budget, but they’re interesting.

What is it like walking around with a video camera? You work with photography as well, but is there a large differentiation between the two?

I treat my camera more as a sketch book. I try and shoot straight to tape, so I’ll think about it before, and I’ll cut it where I want to cut it. I took a lot of photos for a book that I made. I guess I’ve always taken photos, but I’m just pretty lazy with developing, so I just have loads of rolls of film that have never been developed. A photograph isn’t as safe as a film. A photographer has to be like, bang. You have to take it; you have to commit to clicking the button, especially on a roll of film. You have to commit to using that section for something.

Have you not gotten the rolls of film developed because sometimes it’s better not to process everything — metaphorically as well as literally?

I guess you could perceive it as a time capsule, in a way. It’s quite interesting. It’s almost like a vault, and one day, if it does get developed, that’s a very particular section of time in your life. There’s a moment from Mystery Train by Jim Jarmusch that I love, where the man of the Japanese couple who introduce the film only takes photos of the hotel rooms and never takes photos of the outside. His girlfriend asks why he does that, and he says, “Because I remember everything else, all the stuff outside and the landmarks. This is the stuff that I will not remember.”

I’m not surprised that you are drawn to somebody like that because your work tends to defy traditional framing and the generic ways that others attach meaning. You look at multiple genres from multiple views in just one song. When you’re writing a song in that way, do you have a visual in mind that inspires words, or do the words evoke an image?

Usually, the music evokes the image for me. At the moment, I’ve been starting mainly with just constructing compositions and creating a complete work, almost like an instrumental, before I’ve gone into the lyric side. But I spend every day writing lyrics anyway, or just writing stuff down. I’m always drawing influence from my diary entries. I guess it’s quite lucid. I’ve always loved Jarmusch’s work because I watched it at a time in my life where I was feeling like I was the coolest cat around. I was about 15, and I got my brother showing me all these films about conversation and imagery. The universe that Jarmusch created with Down by Law, Mystery Train, and Night on Earth, you find characters running throughout that you can draw together. The clothes, the colors, the actors — he used a lot of musicians like John Lurie, Joe Strummer, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and Tom Waits — I found that really fascinating. I was into John Lurie’s music, so it was really interesting to see the guy whose records I’d been listening to in Down by Law — and he’s great in it. I’ve got a lot of love for that.

Lynch has those musical connections, collaborations, and crossovers, too. It’s always been a fascinating and beautiful part of both of their work. It taps into every sense; you feel everything when you’re watching their films. Do you see film and music as inseparable?

Well, some films’ use of silence is what makes the film work. There’s the famous scene in Psycho when he’s stabbing her in the shower, and the strings are really attacking and loud. [Mimics the sound] Then, when she’s actually dead, there’s just this silence, and the silence is what made the fear factor even higher. The use of silence can be quite interesting in film. On the other end of the spectrum, with some music there’s no visuals that you could capture on this planet that would be suitable.

Those quiet moments are always difficult with Lynch as well, where there is not even ambient sound and he leaves you wondering what the fuck is going on. You want to rip your lungs and heart out and scratch your skin off because of that tension.

You know, with the scenes in the Black Lodge, the use of the reversed dialog is also something that he’s really thought about. That again is just another expression of sound obscuring what the viewer is seeing. The universe that’s created is the most important thing for any piece of art. If you can create a universe that you can submerge someone in, whether it’s a socially real universe or a socially surreal universe, that use of sound can submerge people.

Why do you turn to movies today?

With a movie, I can be with a group of 10 people all watching the same thing, and we can each get something different out of it. We can’t sit down necessarily in the space of two hours and read a book. I guess we could read poetry, but whether it’s a documentary or something more obscure, cinema is built for that experience. It’s always been a source of information for me.

I know that your list of favorite directors are all iconic auteurs. Have you watched anything lately that really had that same emotional spark for you?

I’m not going to lie: I’m a bit of a weirdo. I don’t watch that many modern films. I don’t go to the cinema much. One of the most recent modern films I watched was Manchester by the Sea. I was on the plane, crying my eyes out. There was so much subtlety in the conversation, and the acting was so important. That’s why I watch cinema. It’s a display of a brain, and then the brain using its organs: the director’s its lungs, its mouth being the actors. I find it quite fascinating.

Let’s get back to David Lynch briefly. What effect has he had on your music?

The first film I saw of his was Eraserhead. I was 15, and it was recommended by my brother Jack Marshall and his friend, Jacob Reed. Even in 2009, Eraserhead still had this excitement of being an obscure cult classic. I watched it about 20 times and eventually created my own concepts behind it. That’s often the experience people have with my music. I always wrote these stories about myself, but I would disguise them in obscure metaphors. I would disguise them with characters that were reptiles and other animals and replace topics like depression and freedom with the sky and the sea. People take away from them what they will, and so the main thing people take away from my music is the mood.

Lynch makes the surreal completely common and the common quite surreal. He has the darkness of the suburbs as well as spectral monsters and doppelgangers that can be right around any corner. Thematically, those monsters can connect to small, internal ideas like depression, loss, or fear. That’s true of George A. Romero as well. Horror movies can unpack so much in really bizarre contexts.

Horror movies are my favorite genre. Horror always taps into the raw emotion of fear, which is really fascinating. I loved that as a kid. I used to watch Halloween on Halloween, that kind of thing. Most recently, I watched all the Friday the 13th series, and now my record is coming out on Friday the 13th!

I was really into zombies, particularly George A. Romero’s works, when I was younger. I think these hordes of mindless beings can be quite a relevant topic in modern society. The use of the London landscape in 28 Days Later was amazing. One of the most profound things I’ve always noted about George A. Romero’s work is the ending of Night of the Living Dead. The film came out in 1968, and the black guy is the only one that survived in this house. The other characters all are symbolic aspects of America: the stereotypical sexist character, the woman who’s been completely shell-shocked from her brother’s death, the family where the dad’s trying to take control, the girl who goes after the boy and they end up getting blown up. And then you get right at the end, and the only person that’s managed to survive the whole ordeal is this black guy, and he seems like the most cool, sane character. And then, right at the end, he creeps out of the basement, and all of the zombies have been shot down. There’s an angry mob walking around with guns, and they’ve killed all these zombies. The black guy looks out the window, and he just gets a bullet straight in the head and then gets dragged into the pile of zombies. This is the survivor, and you think this is going to be a happy ending, and then — bang.

And then The Day of the Dead, the start of that is sampled in Gorillaz’ first album, which I used to listen to when I was eight. A song on the record I’m about to release is called “The Ooz”, where I directly quote that same line: “Hello, is there anybody out there?” I find that quite fascinating, going about dense cities and screaming, “Hello, is there anybody out there?” Most recently I watched Creepshow, which is adapted from Stephen King short stories. I also revel in trashy, badly made stuff. [Laughs] The aesthetic of it is almost rewarding in a way. The same with Friday the 13th: It’s insane that they stretched that to be about 12 films. It’s like, Jason just doesn’t fucking die.

But that’s the whole point of it! It’s the struggle of human perseverance, revenge, these innate feelings of struggle and familial torture. And that’s what makes horror movies stick with you. Romero was able to tell intimate stories in the face of massive, world-changing events. That’s actually true of Jarmusch and Lynch as well.

I definitely agree with that. In fact, I think most films that I enjoy do that as well. With Jarmusch, you can actually trace the characters across multiple films. Tom Waits’ character is on the radio in Mystery Train and then appears in Down by Law. Roberto Benigni is in Down by Law and Night on Earth, I believe playing the same character, but maybe not.

Do you have a favorite director?

It’s probably Scorsese. Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, and obviously Mean Streets — these films really caught me. But then I loved George Lucas’ approach in American Graffiti. And then the film Badlands is one of my favorites. A beautiful girl showed me that film, and it stuck in my head forever. And then there’s Stanley Kubrick, as well. His vision was so intense. Shane Meadows, Michael Leigh, and Ken Loach are some people I’ve always looked up to, especially because of their use of the north of England. But throughout, all of their stuff is about the narrative.

What do you think about Scorsese’s use of music?

There’s something quite interesting about his use of music in Mean Streets. I was watching it with a girl once, and she walked out after 20 minutes because she said it was too loud. And then as soon as she walked out, he cuts to Harvey Keitel in bed with a girl and there’s complete silence.

That’s interesting. How important is it to stay as open as possible to stimuli, regardless of whether it inspires you immediately?

Everyone deserves each other’s time, in a sense. But if you feel weird, you should act upon it. I think walking out is a big statement, but it’s a good thing. I don’t think you should like everything. Maybe if you don’t like everything, though, you should sit through it to be a better judge of hating something. What’s the best way to deal with something you dislike? It’s to know everything about it — at least in a discussion or an essay. Everyone deserves to do what they want to do … but not if it’s murder or something. [Laughs]


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