Archy Marshall has the sort of red hair and milky skin that seems vulnerable to sunlight. He often wears wonky, oversized aloha shirts that hang from his narrow frame, and if you were to catch the 19-year-old crooner lumbering through the dim streets of London, you might rightly guess that his name is indeed Archy. He’s still a teenager—by the official definition anyway—but under the guise of King Krule, he makes introspective, broken jazz music that defies age, as if it’s been pulled from a dusty milk crate resting in the corner of a forgotten record store.
Marshall’s upbringing was as unconventional as is his atonal guitar playing. Raised in South London by offbeat parents, he grew up accustomed to skipping school and crashing gigs put on by his uncle’s ska band, the Top Cats. Some of Marshall’s earliest memories are of watching the group perform. “They were insane. They really instilled a sense of rhythm into my bones at a young age,” he recalls. Soon enough, his father bought the boy his first guitar, a Fender Stratocaster (he sports an off-white Telecaster these days). He picked up the Strat and learned “a few Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix numbers,” songs that, like many a young strummer might, he calls his foundation.
Fast forward. Though already distinct from his fellow indie rock contemporaries, Marshall can find frustration in further developing his own guitar style. He’s unfamiliar with traditional chord structures, modes, relative keys, and the technical constructs of sonic dissonance—though there is no shortage of discord in a King Krule song. He believes in forming his own sound; he finds a rhythm only to see what emerges.
King Krule’s swing is heavily influenced by the signature 70s Nigerian funk of Fela Kuti, whom Marshall regards as musically brilliant. He also likes Kuti’s broken English (a funny thought given Marshall’s mumbling cockney drawl). Marshall develops his own words, many of which he himself considers naïve and self- indulgent, based on little more than his own lived experiences, styled in the color of his favorite musical and literary influences. He’s latched onto Franz Kafka’s ideas of existentialism, e.e. cummings’ use of punctuation and pronunciation, and Fela Kuti’s straightforwardness: “[Kuti’s lyrics] are so raw, so pure in a way. He’s not trying to over-intellect anything.” Marshall, in turn, tries to keep his lyrical ideas simple, speaking only to what he knows as he hones his own voice. “I’m too young, I’m not clever enough,” he says self-deprecatingly, “and I’m not trying to tell people what to do.”
Before the days of King Krule, Archy Marshall released his early tracks under the name Zoo Kid on the independent music website Bandcamp. Ahead of Marshall’s first EP, the identity King Krule was brought to life. Marshall considers the name change an evolution, a clean slate for both himself and his music: “I wasn’t a kid anymore. There was more darkness to my music.”
Our conversation was suddenly shaken when his dreary demeanor was overcome with aggression as he gripped and demanded: “I created King Krule. It’s about power. You take the aristocracy down to the level of cruel, and put it on its hands and knees.”
He slinked back, and with a lowered voice withdrew, “It’s up for interpretation. People can read it as cruel, as in a cruel person, or—It’s just always something I wanted to do, and it was a better name than Zoo Kid, I felt.”
After a few years of dropping singles online, it was finally time for King Krule to release a proper debut album. He did so this autumn on his nineteenth birthday. “From birth to now. I wanted to document the whole period of time,” he says of the 14-track autobiography. The title, 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, speaks to the feeling of being buried by ambition, and looking to the moon to consider what lies ahead.
“I have been, and always will be, submerged in trying to create. Sometimes it gets a bit hectic and feels like a coffin. Sometimes you feel like you can never touch it, you can never quite get there. But I guess that’s also a positive thing. It’s nice to be looking up.”
Marshall wavers between self-actualized, melancholic, and aggressive. “The streets of London are really tense right now,” he says. “I love aggression. I love tension. It’s always inspiring people and brings them to an honesty that they wouldn’t find without it.”
Treading through a swamp of emotions, Marshall in the end views himself as an optimist. He is especially positive about the creative aspirations of young people. While he appreciates the interconnectedness provided to his generation by the Web, he still yearns to connect with people on a physical level. “Global collectivism is on the rise. I don’t know if it will be militant or creative. But it’s happening.”
Marshall found a musical identity in King Krule, but the persona doesn’t necessarily consume him. “As Archy, I have to hold it down a bit more. I can’t be as loose,” he concedes, coughing from lungs one imagines have already tanned from nicotine. He often smokes during interviews, a show that has a way of curiously shaping an outward image. It leaves us wondering if who we see is the young squire Archy Marshall or the crowned King Krule.