London – Edinburgh-based folk-blues band King Eider uses traditional musicianship to craft a comparatively modern acoustic sound, combining fine four-part harmonies, acoustic guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, and violin. Able to switch from soft to loud, welding haunting passages to a driving upbeat vibe, the inventive five-piece has drawn comparisons with the likes of Mumford & Sons and Arcade Fire. King Eider made its full studio debut in 2014 with The Deeper The Water. In 2015, King Eider followed up its magical premiere with The Beast With Two Backs, which features the single “Fire.”
Best New Bands caught up with main man and chief songwriter, Reuben Tighe, who held court eloquently about all things King Eider.
Please tell us when and how you first met and a bit about the band set up.
Sam Chapman [vocals, drums] and I have been playing together for about 7 years. We’re from the same home town in the Lake District, though only started playing music together once we were both based in Edinburgh. After 3 years of writing and small gigs we decided to invite some other musicians to lay some parts on our songs. This is how we met Lucy [violin, vox], Sam Palmer [bass], and Jen Usher [cello]. We recorded a single and followed up with an album [The Deeper The Water] which was a pretty upbeat folk vibe. Following Jen’s dismemberment, we recruited Josh Casali-Bell Linnemann [keys, vocals], also from the Lake District, and have thus far released a single ["Fire'] and EP [The Beast With Two Backs], which is more progressive than the clean folk sound of our first album.
How did you come to name the band King Eider?
We were struggling for a name for a while and couldn’t settle on anything we liked. I was working in a real ale bar at the time, and we were selling a beer called “Yellowhammer,” which I liked for a band name. Unfortunately, it was taken, and so, desperate for inspiration, we decided to look into ale names, as well as UK bird names [yellowhammer is also the name of a bird]. All the ale names seemed wildly inappropriate for our outfit: “Sheep Shagger,” “Dragon Slayer,” etc. But we stumbled on “King Eider” in the bird names, which we really liked. The bird also migrates to the Lake District, so it seemed pretty suitable for our name, and we stuck with it.
So many bands end up heading south, particularly to London. What’s your attachment to Edinburgh, and do you think you’ll continue to base the band there in the future?
It’s difficult for us to know where we might end up in the future. Certainly there are more opportunities in London than Edinburgh, but for now we are happy traveling for gigs, organizing small UK tours, and staying based in Edinburgh, focusing and developing our sound further.
How do you go about songwriting and arranging?
Generally, myself and occasionally Josh write the songs. I tend to start with a hook, usually a finger pick, which gives me a vibe or feeling for the track. I’ll develop that into a few verses and expand from there. I’ll write with consideration of the potential for everyone else’s input, so the songs should feel a little sparse in parts when performed solo. Often I’ll write melodies and harmonies for the songs for the others to play, but these are open to change, and each musician usually develops or changes the parts into something of their own. Usually the structure and vocals are finalized before I bring the songs to the band, but everything is open to change and we always explore different avenues before settling on what we think is the best version of the track.
How many original songs do you now have in the repertoire, and do you ever play covers?
I’d say roughly twenty-five songs. We don’t play many covers. Although, we have finished developing our own version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Big Love,” which we’re really excited about.
How would you describe your sound, and are you happy to be labelled as a folk band or whatever?
Our sound began as quite a contemporary folk sound. Heavily string based with some classical influences, our first album was upbeat and full of three part harmonies. Once Josh joined, however, we started carving out a more developed sound, with a more diverse range of instrumentation, and four vocals to play with – still maintaining our love for harmonies but establishing more of a groove and synergy between us.
You’ve released an album and EP so far. Do you feel your recorded work still represents where you are artistically now, or have you moved on?
Although we’re pleased with our recorded works, I definitely feel as though our newer music is more sophisticated and progressive than our previous tracks, which is for sure a positive. I also feel as though we are still developing our sound and haven’t landed on a total finished product yet, but somehow hope that it is a thirst which is never quenched, so we’re always pushing to explore more complexities within our compositions.
Do you have day jobs? If so, what do you all do, and can you see a time when you can give them up?
Well, both our Sam’s have PhD’s in the sciences, and are involved in various interesting projects developing their studies. Sam Chapman also part owns two of Edinburgh’s coolest cocktail bars, Panda and Sons and Hoot the Redeemer. Lucy is the director of a company called Vegware, leading in the industry for compostable packaging products, and Josh and I, well, we just wait tables! For sure, I think a time will come where we will at least take some time off for half a year or so and tour and gig as much as possible, see what kind of waves we can make, fully committed, and see where we’re at from there. We’re working on an album at the moment which we are due to release early next year, so perhaps it’s just around the corner?
Which artistes are you listening to right now?
I’ve been listening to a lot of modern Indie and synth pop at the moment: Wild Beasts, Metronomy, Alt J, Tame Impala, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Half Moon Run, etc. I’ve also been revisiting some Steely Dan, Pink Floyd, Supertramp. I heard a band called Retiree from Australia recently, who has some amazing grooves. Check out “Gundagai,” such a track!
What kind of things inspire you lyrically when writing a song?
I’ve become more and more interested in lyric composition during my time songwriting. Although I do write about certain circumstances, events, or people which are specific to my life, it is much more important for me to convey a mood and paint a picture with lyrics than it is to be detailed on anything. I like there to be some ambiguity in the meaning, and like to use a lot of word play and metaphor to keep the verses interesting. If a verse can really put you in a scene or evoke some emotional response in the listener, whilst leaving room for interpretation, it’s done its work.
King Eider is playing some festivals this summer, including the Isle of Wight and Glastonbury. We’re told you were personally invited to play Glastonbury by Michael Eavis. How did that come about?
We did indeed get a personal invite to Glastonbury from Michael Eavis himself. It was such a blessing to meet him! So, we were chosen to play an audition gig in the village of Pilton for the opportunity to play “Pilton Party Festival.” This festival is run by the organizers of Glastonbury and can be a bit of a stepping stone to playing Glastonbury Festival. The gig was hosted in Pilton’s Working Man’s Club, and although teaming with enthusiastic locals keen for a live show, was a pretty humble setting for a gig. It seemed difficult to comprehend what opportunities loomed if we could smash out a decent set – though, as it turned out, a good portion of the audience had something to do with organizing Glastonbury. As we’re getting ready to play, Michael Eavis waltzes in and parks himself right at the front. No pressure then. Game on. Luckily for us, he was keen on our set and approached us immediately with an offer to play Glastonbury this year. Needless to say, we are super excited, and very grateful!
Beyond the summer, what is next in store for King Eider?
We have just finished recording a new album, and have ignited a relationship with a producer whom we intend to work with on the album for the next few months. We’re really excited to have some fresh ears and an unbiased professional input to help us develop the music further than we might be able to in our own. It’s the first time we’ve worked with a producer and are excited to see what we can cook up. In the mean time, we’ll be working on a music video and other promotional material for our release. Then a tour is planned for 2017. We’re looking to release early 2017, so keep your ears to the ground folks!
King Eider is hitting the UK festival trail this month with appearances at Eden Festival (Main Stage – 11 June), Isle of Wight (Hard Rock Stage – 13 June), Glastonbury (Avalon Stage – 25 June), and Kelburn Garden Party (Main Stage – 2 July). For more information, visit the King Eider Facebook page.
Photo credit: Suzanne Heffron
Tony’s great passion in life is music and nothing gives him more pleasure than unearthing good, original new music and championing independent musicians. His association with Best New Bands brings great opportunities for this. He also writes for Consequence of Sound and is a judge for Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition.
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