Every so often, a musician is described as a voice of their generation. Very, very occasionally, this title is bestowed upon someone worthy of it, someone like Archy Marshall. You probably know him by one of his many aliases—Zoo Kid, Lanckslacks, The Return of Pimp Shrimp, Edgar the Beatmaker, DJ JD Sports, and most famously, King Krule.
But whether it’s rooted in truth or not, in many ways, being called the voice of a generation is something you’re better off avoiding as an artist. Much like the infamous Mercury Prize curse, too much expectation, too much pressure, and too much praise can very quickly derail an artist’s career.
Archy, himself a one-time Mercury Prize nominee, was declared the voice of a generation at the preposterously young age of 15. His angry, baritone voice, devil-may-care attitude, and his musical predilection for bleak narratives stood in stark contrast to his appearance; slight, red-haired and barely into his teens. He was memorable for all the right reasons. In the ten years that followed, over three albums and countless side projects, he became revered in a way that artists twice his age could only ever dream of.
But Archy never buckled under the weight of expectation, probably because he never paid any attention to what people expected of him, and it’s this air of unconstrained creativity that makes him so fascinating. Known for being reclusive and sometimes cagey, over the years he’s been vocal about his disdain for the media.
When we spoke last month, he was hesitant to assign any particular meaning to the themes he explores on his recently released fourth album, Man Alive!, and reluctant to discuss how events in his life—he became a father early last year—might have impacted him and his music, instead insisting that he doesn’t put too much thought into these things; that if it feels right, it feels right.
And that’s what makes Archy such an interesting outlier in today’s musical landscape—his total commitment to honesty, an honesty that’s on display across Man Alive!’s 14 tracks. I could rattle through a list of all the reasons why it’s an album worth listening to, but as is so often the case, a YouTube commenter manages to sum up my thoughts in a much more concise manner: “Yr daughters gonna look back at this when she’s all grown up and realize her fathers a musical genius.”
Hey Archy, congratulations on your new album. So your last album, The Ooz, came about after a period of writer’s block. Where were you in your life creatively when you started work on Man Alive!?
Thank you. So I was touring, playing The Ooz live, and actually I really was inspired and was in a really good place. Through nine years of kind of getting used to the process, I kind of realised that I have to capitalise on it and work with it. I was playing a lot with the band. A lot of the composition from the album I was playing with the band and getting everyone involved and trying to figure it out and I just felt really good and positive about music, so that’s where it came from.
I read a few years ago that The Ooz was originally going to be called Man Alive, but then you found a recording that your uncle had made called Man Alive and decided against it. Why call this album Man Alive!?
Yeah, I don’t know, it just kind of felt right. And I think an exclamation point just seemed to kind of fit with how I was feeling at the time.
What were you listening to while you were working on Man Alive!?
So quite a lot of different stuff, I was drawn to bands that influenced my perception of music, like Show Me the Body and Standing on the Corner, Kelsey Lu and Emerson Snow. I was listening to a lot of songwriters like Nina Simone, The Beatles and stuff like that, so it was not the usual stuff that I’d listened to before. But I just wanted to focus on myself, my instrument, the guitar and be able to play the songs by myself I guess.
There’s a lot of moments on the album where there’s sounds or voices that bleed into each other, from one track to another. A phone call that ends one track and starts the next one. I’m curious—do you intend Man Alive! to be listened to as one cohesive body of work?
Well, it’s not conceptual in the sense that I’m trying to tell a story throughout it, the only story that it’s telling is what I was going through and all of my songs are honest depictions of what I live through, what I reflect on, my surroundings, my internal environment, the landscape around me and everything, I mean everything. And I’ve always been injecting soundscapes into songs and new things that are around me. And also with composition, sometimes compositions don’t feel like they can ever end and they just bleed into each other and I do that a lot live. But the narrative in the album is, I guess, just an individual within the world right now.
The album starts on this sort of heavy, post-punk note, but then it moves into a slower, softer series of songs. What made you choose to only use the slower songs from the latter half of the album in the short film, Hey World!, that you released shortly before Man Alive!?
They’re all kind of a depiction of me playing with my instrument. Being able to play the compositions on my own, and with the record it kind of stemmed from those kinds of skeletal moments and Hey World! is a depiction of all those skeletal moments that came later, because we filmed it after the album was done pretty much, well most of it at least. Yeah, I think I’ve always liked changing the way the composition sounds texturally, whether it’s just music or not, and I love the experimental aspect of recording. I think that the compositions can manifest themselves in different temperaments and different emotions by being performed in different ways and being heard in different ways. But I don’t know, I didn’t put too much thought into any of this.
Would it be fair to say that The Ooz was rooted in, I guess, an exploration of your subconscious, whereas Man Alive! is more rooted in your reality?
Perhaps, perhaps. I think the The Ooz is quite clearly like… it sounds like spaghetti, whereas this [album] was just one spaghetti. This [Man Alive!] is a finger of spaghetti and The Ooz was multiple spaghettis. [Laughs]
The Ooz was a whole bowl of pasta. [Laughs]
Yeah, exactly. [Laughs]
One of my favourite songs on the album is ‘Airport Antenatal Airplane’, and it’s also one of the only songs that seems to directly reference fatherhood. Can you talk to me about what that song’s about?
That song’s about Marina [Archy’s daughter] being in Charlotte’s belly, and they’re taking an airplane across the world. And it just kind of stems from kind of the fiction or fantasy aspect of imagining her, my daughter, flying across the world in an airplane, completely oblivious to it and also all that airplanes are, and the travel, and the distance that it is, and it’s a song that I hold quite deeply in my heart and I think that it’s probably the only song on the record which is really for my daughter.
How do you think becoming a father affected the album?
Yeah, it probably affected it hugely, but I won’t know the extent until I’m older.
We’ve spoken about the music that you were listening to while making Man Alive!, but obviously you’re someone who’s also very influenced by the written word. What were you reading while you were recording and how did that inform the album?
I read a book called The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark, and I read that whilst I was out of the city and out of the area called Peckham Rye that I grew up in. It didn’t influence me too badly, but there’s one thing that I took away from the book, which is the history of the area, so there’s a song, well, one song, but some of it is about you know, building up more history for the area.
And place is always something that’s played an important role in your music. You mentioned moving away from Peckham Rye, an area that has featured heavily in your music over the years. How do you think where you’re living now has influenced you?
It was very stimulating. It was fresher. The water was cleaner. The landscape was vast. I could see further and further and further. The people were different. It probably influenced it in all kinds of ways, but I’m not too aware of them.
What’s your experience of navigating your relationship with your fans over the years been like? Your fans seem to feel exceptionally connected to you and your work.
Yeah, it’s manifested in all kinds of different ways. I write honestly about my position, my emotions, my scenario, and I think that’s connected with people across the earth. My relationship with the fans will probably always remain the same, I don’t think about it too much, but when it’s right it’s right.
I think you’re right, people really connect with the way that you explore mental health and emotion through your music. Do you feel like channeling these difficulties into your music helps you sort of resolve or deal with them?
Yeah, more so when I was young I think it empowered me in a lot of ways, and I think empowerment and despair and the lows in life are really important, to appreciate the fact that they’re there for a reason, and that you need to go through them to understand how strong you really are. It’s something that you become more aware of as you get older. I appreciate the lows, and I think that they’re there to really teach you how to enjoy life as well.
Agreed. After all the critical acclaim and adulation your work has received over the years, coming into this album did you feel any type of pressure?
Actually, I’m quite oblivious to the pressure—I guess there is pressure there, but also, I’m also oblivious to it, so you know I’m never really thinking too hard about it. I was writing most of this music whilst I was playing my old music for people, and it didn’t really feel alien, it didn’t really feel compromising or something like that. But as soon as you step away from it, I mean, you get calls and you have to talk about it, and you have to do interviews and then the label has to sell it and maybe that has more of an impact on your confidence with it, but no, I didn’t really feel too much pressure.
Your new single ‘Don’t Let the Dragon Draag On’ references the 1970s animated film Fantastic Planet. How did you first come across that film and how did it inspire you lyrically?
I guess I knew about the film for ages. I’d watched it since probably before 6 Feet Beneath the Moon and I was always aware of the film. Yeah, I mean it [the soundtrack] was sampled by J Dilla and Madlib years and years and years ago. I think I was always aware of that. I was writing a lot of lyrics while I was watching films during this record. Yeah, sometimes, just the concepts in the films and the words come out, like we talk about the blue giants. We talk about the Oms—the Oms are the humans in the film—and the Draags, the D-R-A-A-G, are the blue giants in the film, so I don’t know. I wasn’t really that conscious about it. I think I referenced it. I don’t know. I don’t really care. It just kind of felt right.
There’s a lyric in that song that I keep coming back to: “These blue giants. Do you think they ever feel the same? Do they ever have these days?” Can you unpack that a little bit for me?
Well, the blue giants are the ones in control, right? So the blue giants, the Draags, they want to—you can kind of read it in all kinds of ways. The blue giants of the society that I live in are probably the Tories or scumbags or something like that. So I guess it was just a play on that as well as anything. Do you reckon they ever have these days when they’re what’s causing these days?
And what looks like a Draag is on the single’s artwork, too. I know your brother Jack does all your album artwork. Do you give Jack the album to listen to and then he creates artwork based on his interpretation of your music, or do you have a vision for how you want it to look?
Well, usually I just give him my music to listen to, and he can then kind of come up with whatever he wants, find out what kind of ideas kind of work and what doesn’t, and, yeah. With this one we had a couple of different ideas. I had a big, strong idea about pylons. I wanted to have pylons on the cover because I was getting obsessed with them. And then I was sat in my mum’s living room and he’d left a painting there, and that was pretty much the cover. So I just called him up and I said, “You know what? I think this is it.” The reason I said that was just that I love the image, but also because of the shape of the person’s body. It looks like an M and an A, so I just thought, This is it.
It’s a great painting. Before I let you go, I’ve gotta ask whether you’ll be touring Australia and New Zealand with this album.
Yeah, we are, it’s definitely happening.
That’s great news. Thanks for taking the time Archy, and congrats again on Man Alive!.
No problem, and thank you.
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