Roger Robinson and Kevin Martin share and discuss their new album, a meditation on loss and loneliness
King Midas Sound release their new album on 14 February. Titled Solitude, it's a meditation on loss following a break-up – a drone and spoken word piece that delves deep into the group's melancholic psyche. “You draw your own conclusions about the protagonists. The protagonists may not be particularly nice people. Maybe they were left for a good reason. Maybe they are the victims of circumstance. Or the victims of a person that didn’t treat them well,” says Kevin Martin about the release.
Solitude was recorded in Berlin. This time around Kiki Hitomi does not appear on the record, making King Midas Sound a collaboration between Roger Robinson and Kevin Martin. Ahead of the release, The Wire's online editor caught up with them over Skype.
Daisy Hyde: Apart from the Fennesz collaboration in 2015, this is the first King Midas Sound release since Without You in 2011. Why now?
Kevin Martin: To be honest the record was recorded a couple of years ago. There was a meltdown after a show: we had a big heavy discussion at some remote venue in Poland and it just seemed like we were all operating on different wavelengths and all mad busy. We were all going through big life changes too. There has always been an unusual chemistry in King Midas Sound, but at that particular point it just felt like we should concentrate on our own projects.
Ironically I remember bumping into Kiki [Hitomi] in Berlin and her asking what had happened to that record Roger I had done. I said nothing was going to happen to it and then about a week later the album started playing on iTunes when I was at home with my wife and we were both riveted by it and let it play through naturally. I called Roger immediately to see what he thought about it and we agreed we should try and get it out. Is that right Rodge?
Roger Robinson: Yep, that’s right.
DH: What was the recording process?
RR: I went to Kevin’s in Berlin. There was no grand plan. I was actually singing songs. Amongst songs I was doing spoken word pieces to add variety. Then we decided to do a couple more. Then we had half songs/half spoken words. Then Kevin made his executive producer decision [Kevin laughs], he said it was all going to be spoken word and I was like, “whaaat”. We recorded this spoken word stuff and it was pretty good. Like everything else with Kevin there is physicality to it. Kevin often has me doing something that for me is completely against the grain. It makes me tap into weird things. We were in the hottest studio in the entire world, and I was in a vest doing something like 98 takes of one song, to the point where I wasn’t there anymore. It was my psyche talking.
Kevin works in the dead of night, and I am really not a night person. When I am falling asleep he’s like “you ready? We’re going to the studio”. I’m like “What?? Now!?” Four o’clock in the morning and he’s saying it’s great, but wants to do an hour or so more. The sun is coming up. My eyes are bulging and red. “What the fuck is going on?” I can’t even think. It is funny because the night began to bring a different type of work in me. The album feels like it was written at night. You sleep and block out all the windows in the day. It taps into a different part of your brain. When everybody is sleeping, there are different thoughts you tap into.
I had a couple of notes on the phone but the language evolved. King Midas Sound is always some take on lovers, love or the depth of love. The grief of love. The melancholic side of love.
KM: It’s a magnifying glass to melancholy. We have a habit with King Midas that if left is expected, we are always going to go right.
The album was originally meant to come out on Ninja Tune. But by the time we’d actually patched things up to discuss how and where we could find a home for it, Ninja Tune had decided against it. Which is fine. Roger and I had already moved on psychologically somewhere else. I felt when I discussed it with Rodge, and we worked on sketches, we should again surprise people. We still had further to go out into a wilderness zone on our own. Roger and I talked a lot about Samuel Beckett being very unforgiving, and very relentless in his vision with no commercial thought whatsoever. It was a purity of art form. I said to Roger, “look, let’s basically hone in on this concept even more. Find out where melancholy ultimately leads to that absolute feeling of loneliness. Complete desolation. Let’s explore the terror space of desolation.”
DH: I had a dream about this interview a few days ago. We were in this massive warehouse and I couldn’t hear what either of you were saying and everything was going wrong. I woke up and I was like “what!?”. I think that was because this album is so uncomfortable. When I first heard it, I sat and listened to it about five times in a row, and it was a really intense experience. It had a big effect on me.
KM: An MC I work with a lot called Miss Red messaged me last week. It was a single line message and it said “Why is this King Midas Sound album so fucking creepy? [Laughs] She said she loved it but she finds it like terror.
RR: It is funny because the content isn’t creepy, I don’t think. I don’t know.
KM: What interests me when I hear it is that obviously people are going to be drawn into thinking this is autobiographical. People always want autobiography. When actually, it is a testament to Roger’s writing skills. For me, there are several different protagonists. You draw your own conclusions about the protagonists. The protagonists may not be particularly nice people. Maybe they were left for a good reason. Maybe they are the victims of circumstance. Or the victims of a person that didn’t treat them well. But what I like about it is that it’s a mystery in itself. There are no logical conclusions to these sketches. It is capturing moments in time. I love the fact it encourages question marks when everyone is so desperate for answers.
DH: I think that is why it is such a disruptive listen. You can hear all the different kinds of relationships forming.
KM: I remember listening to it with my regular soundman Goh and with my wife Mori. They were both laughing because it was so intense.
DH: I was on the tube in London the other day and I could hear you, Roger, going “Alone. Alone.” I was thinking “this album is in my head! And I am alone on the tube!”
KM: Mori said exactly the same. She was saying to me, “Alone. Alone.” I am always encouraging Roger to push himself to ultimate limits and break free from his comfort zone. In the same way that I do, musically. For me, when we made the first King Midas Sound album, it was really a reaction to London Zoo and me not wanting to be sucked into the wake of dubstep. And I wanted to talk about and deal with something intimate – I was going through some heavy intimate shit at the time. The club music didn’t seem to allow for that sort of intimacy and I felt a craving to deal with that.
It’s an honour to work with Roger. Always has been. The fact of the matter is his command of tone and flow is incredible. I felt personally we had neglected that a bit on earlier King Midas Sound stuff.
DH: Roger, how did you feel when you heard the album again?
RR: I was like, when did we record this? I didn’t remember a thing about it. I remember recording it, but I don’t remember half the things at the time. There is a point that you are so weak and tired and you start talking from your psyche. Like in a Francis Bacon painting. Was he like, “OK I have to get this out, this is a part of me that I can’t talk. It can only work in paint”? I have pieces of work that could only exist as a poem. To me this is a story. It feels complete and compact. So I was super impressed by it, but also weirdly removed form it. Because it is not actually my life, but it is something in me that I had to say.
DH: You are on The Bug albums Pressure and London Zoo. You two go back a long way. How did you meet?
RR: Do you know Acyde? I was apart from the spoken word scene. But I used to hang out with a lot of poets that were music obsessed. We heard Kevin’s mix on Virgin and we used to play it all the time. Everyone was like “yo, we should try and contact this guy”.
KM: The Satellites thing? [1996’s Jazz Satellites Volume 1]
RR: Yeah. We thought we should try and contact this guy because he was on the same wavelength that we was on. Kevin had heard my first vinyl which was a poetry album and I think it had an Alice Coltrane loop on it. I was in town hanging out in the West End and Acyde was walking with Kevin. I was like “Oh Kevin, Kevin Martin. I heard Satellites”. He said he’d heard my EP.
KM: The Chocolate Art project?
RR: Yeah the Chocolate Art EP . Which was the first poetry recording I had done. I had coordinated a bunch of poets, including Antipop Consortium, before anybody really knew who these poets were. All of them were on this one vinyl. We started talking from there.
KM: I have always been a big fan of spoken word and sound together. I tried to set up an arm of a label I had called Pathological. The only release I managed to get out in the end was a solo Lydia Lunch album called COW (Conspiracy Of Women). At the same time my main objective was to try and get JG Ballard to do a spoken word album with Jim Foetus to do the music. At first they were both up for it and then I made the mistake of saying to Ballard – to encourage him – I made a connection to the William Burroughs album that had come out called Dead City Radio. Instantly he said he wasn’t interested: “If William has already done it I don’t want to do it.” The door was closed abruptly.
RR: JG Ballard, man. That would have been ill! Oh my god.
KM: Yeah. I met him at a bookstore in the West End. I went there with my ex-girlfriend and I was too shy to go up and get the book signed. So she went up to him and I had brought a cassette of God, my band at the time, that we had done in a basement in Dalston in the squat we used to practice in. This cassette was the most disgusting lo-fi noise. She grabbed the cassette, said “I’ll get the booked signed”, handed him it and then pointed over to me and I was bright red in the corner of the bookstore. He signed it: “This is for the voice of God” and I didn’t think anything about it until a year or so later and someone said “Yo, have you seen the new JG Ballard annotated Atrocity Exhibition?” In a new annotated part of the book he mentioned how he’d met the voice of London pop band God.
KM: For him to call it a pop band from what he heard of that cassette shows you how left he was. A heroic figure to me, JG Ballard.
DH: How do you feel personal anxieties or issues as individuals manifest when you collaborate together?
RR: When you collaborate with different people you get different thing. With Kevin it is definitely about subtext. Something that might be considered intense or dark doesn’t necessarily create darkness in the person. In fact, we’ve had many people and many shows when people come up after and say “man, you got me through an entire winter”. And I was like “what those songs? Wow”. So I had to challenge the idea that dark things don’t necessarily bring darkness into peoples lives. In fact…
KM: It is an irony for me. I have always hated that expression ‘dark’.
RR: I mean dark in terms of a short hand that people use for intense things.
KM: I generally don’t like self-consciously dark anything. I find it too theatrical. I spend so much time at The Bug interviews talking about things being dark when actually it’s about fire. It’s about energy. It’s about electricity. For me it’s different from intensity. My take on this record is that it’s extremely intense. It’s extremely personal. It addresses the ultimate. It addresses emotions that may not make us feel comfortable. Global emotions. There was one label interested in releasing this record who I ended up in a heavy discussion with. I am not going to name who it was but I remember at one point he suddenly got cold feet and said “well, actually I’ve decided maybe this isn’t right for the label because too many of the characters seem to be women who are causing problems and I think in the current state of art and music I feel uncomfortable about that.” I was flabbergasted. I said, “Look, this is about a global emotion. Solitude cuts across class, colour and sex. The characters and protagonists could be either. It is not in any way, and could never be in any way, interpreted as unjust towards women of any kind.” When we first discussed King Midas Sound, from day one it was how to explore melancholy. How to explore solitude and desolation. Surely that should be more important than whatever topical discussions are happening in the art world. For me I feel like this is an extremely personal record. Although the irony is Roger’s part is written in character. The bizarre thing is we’re both happily married. But we’ve both been there. Virtually everybody alive has been, and those emotions can scare you for life.
’What the fuck’ is something we always aspire too. Roger found a quote from DJ Premier about how his ambition was to shock, excite and amaze. Whilst this album may not be an exciting album, I think the intensity is overwhelming.
DH: I think it is a pretty exciting album to be honest, in terms of what it offers the listener. I haven’t heard anything like this in a long time.
RR: Literary-wise, and word-wise and art-wise, there is a lot of precedence for this work. Exploring melancholy. Especially in English poetry. People like Sylvia Plath explore melancholy in an alternative way. Plath’s poem The Moon And The Yew Tree talks about standing up in the cemetery – a metaphor for how terrible her life is going with Ted Hughes. Those poems provide me with a release. You know what I am saying? I can read a happy poem but it is not going to do anything for what ills me.
KM: Ironically enough, I remember the first ever interview I did. It was with Chris Bohn for The Wire many years ago. Unfortunately I was a vegetable that day because I'd played a show and got virtually no sleep. And luckily Eugene Robinson from Oxbow was with me because we were hanging out at the time, and he answered a question about how the music at that time was to address the horror in a Joseph Conrad novel or Apocalypse Now, and in a way when you address intense philosophies there is an attraction to the intensity, but also the fact of the matter is that there’s that ocean of emotion that’s buried.
RR: In England there is a thing where people don’t say what they actually feel. [Kevin laughs] But it is true.
KM: I didn’t think it wasn’t true.
RR: If you really start mining English literary traditions you see things and you’re like, holy shit! The melancholy actually comes out.
KM: There is one poem on the album that’s a reinterpretation of a Charles Bukowski poem.
DH: Which track?
KM: That is Roger’s reinterpretation of a poem we are both fascinated by. Bukowski is always seen as this macho and very questionable guy, and rightly so in many ways. But there is this incredibly sensitive poem he wrote which takes apart his machismo bit by bit.
DH: Why release on Valentine’s Day?
RR: [Laughs] Is it not obvious?
DH: Not big fans?
RR: I love Valentine’s Day!
KM: That was my idea. It put a smile on my face.
DH: Yeah it’s funny! Are you touring the album?
KM: Yeah! One hundred percent We’re talking about how we can try and present this live. I’ve got a very bad reputation. Lots of promoters won’t come near me.
DH: Because you blow up sound systems?
KM: Well supposedly that’s the case! But the reality is I don’t, but people expect me too. People think I always want people’s ears to bleed. Which is far from the truth. It is not even remotely what I am an interested in. When me, Roger and Kiki decided to fuck being cosy with King Midas Sound and opt for an avalanche of sound, they were the ones who most likely to suffered. This time I really want Roger’s voice to have maximum impact.
RR: You know we were down with the sound, believe it or not.
KM: I know, but people thought I was just out to drown you in sound. That wasn’t the case. I don’t know how we’re going to pull this one off. It’s going to be a challenge. It may not be to everyone’s taste, and it may surprise people, but we want to make it an experience that has the intensity and the intimacy of the record. It’s going to be a tough one.
Solitude is released on 14 February by Cosmo Rhythmatic.