King Nun – Interview

Cacophonous feedback informed the beginning, the guitarist and singer Theo Polyzoides bent over forwards next to his amp, before the band struck out on a stridently noisy punk rock beat, Theo hopping on to his amp, back facing the cameras, before jumping off and reaching the mic in time to yelp the words to ‘Speakerface’. This was my introduction to King Nun, filmed in lo-fi, recorded live, but released as an accompanying video. It was electrifying. I loved it from the first seconds…

The Twickenham four piece King Nun have quickly blazed a trail since the days of effectively being banned from their local open mic, for being too noisy… Their English teacher at college however said that they were going places. It only takes one sometimes…

American Punk influenced tracks such as ‘Tulip’ (the A-Side to ‘Speakerface’’s B-side), ‘Hung Around’ and the EP I Have Love all caught the imagination, as did their raucous, high energy live shows, including a couple of stints at The Great Escape. This autumn saw the release of their debut album, Mass, a slightly less intense, yet still melody-packed unconventional rock record, full of ambition, and the sure signs of a band flowering very quickly into one of the most essential guitar orientated bands these isles have produced in recent times.

“I’m outside King Nun’s bassist Nathan’s house,”says Theo over the phone, as he takes some time out to chat with Brightonsfinest, post album release, and pre-headline UK tour, which will bring them to Brighton once again, in February of next year.

Bit chilly outside, I ask!? “Yeah, of course. You’ve got to learn to love it, otherwise you’re going to live your life as a misery. So, I’m wrapped up for it. Also, I’m a dedicated smoker, so I can stand being outside in the cold for long periods of time.”

Theo is articulate and full of beans, despite the cold. His love of music shines through, as does his maturing head. He (and they) seems to know what they want, and are capable of delivering it. They are having the time of their lives.

You rehearsing? “It’s a new project we’ve got coming up. We’ve finished the album, and we’re immediately writing for a new thing. It’s all coming together very very quickly. We’re very on the ball about this one.”

Sounds good. Mass must have included a lot of old songs? “Yeah, half of them. I suppose when it comes to debut albums you’ve got to look at yourself, like everything you’ve ever done; which bits are the best bits, and which bits get cut, which bits stay, how you are going to present yourself to the world.”

Songs are the key! “Oh yeah. That’s what I’m told,” he laughs. “It just so happens that I thoroughly enjoy the work.”

The musicality of Theo and band (who also include James on guitar, and Caius on drums) is apparent from the get go on the multi-faceted and coming-of-age Mass ‘Mascara Runs’ drives along an unpredictable melody as Theo sings about young love, while ‘Chinese Medicine’ shows the first signs of arena friendly sing-a-longs; the warped ‘Low Flying Dandelion’ while ‘Cowboy’ is a mix of post-punk angularity, and driving indie-rock. ‘Black Tree’ meanwhile displays hints of early The Cure, a slightly more gentle musical stroll, but which has the dark undertow of that quintessential new wave/post-punk band. And recent single ‘Bug’ is simply another example of their songwriting brilliance, simple yet effective, as it powers along slightly distorted guitars, combining playfulness with an uplifting chorus.

Then there’s the album closer ‘A Giant Came Down’, apparently inspired by obscure German folkie Sibylle Baier. “An ex-girlfriend showed it to me,” explains Theo, “and because of that and partly because I’m a serious melancholy junky, it immediately intrigued me. The melodies are so beautiful, and beautifully shaped. Sibylle Baier recorded these songs in Germany in the early 70s. She recorded these songs to herself on a two-track tape recorder, and years down the line her son gave these recordings to family friends as gifts. And eventually they ended up in the hands of J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr). He thought they were unbelievable, and put them out on his record label. That story wasn’t why I necessarily got into it so much, I just loved the music. It does say a lot about what I think it is. It is so selfless. It doesn’t sound like it was recorded for anyone else. It really does sound like she is pouring her heart out, about everyday life. It’s so down-to-earth, and so relatable in a way that I think is so hard to find. I absolutely fell in love with it, and that song plays as a tribute to that artist, and what is to be learned from her, I think.”

It’s this attitude, this drive to be as selfless as the aforementioned Baier, that sets King Nun apart from many aspiring bands. First and foremost, if you don’t do it for the love, then what exactly are you doing it for? For sure, success and repetition might blunt the desire eventually, but for the moment King Nun aren’t worried about such things. Instead, Theo and gang are learning, experimenting, and loving what they do. It’s there on the oddly titled ‘Sharing A Head With Seth’. “When we did our first few singles, ‘Speakerface’ being one of them, we were considerably more punk than we ended up being on the album. Lyrically, I wasn’t too experienced when we did those singles, and I ended up playing into a character, a character very much based on Richard Hell and all of that American punk thing. It got me thinking after those songs were released, about how careful I need to be with the character I’m playing in music, I think. So, ‘Sharing A Head With Seth’ was a response to the character I was playing, and that character I called Seth, after a necrophiliac in a video game.

What!? I laugh nervously… “I was playing a game called the Red Dead Redemption, and there’s a necrophiliac grave digger in there called Seth, who wears this big ripped clothing, this creepy looking old guy. It’s the perfect name. So, it’s all about that, yeah!”

You mention Richard Hell, and punk. How did you find out about all this stuff, that came out way before you were out of nappies. “We were always attracted to rock music, but why it was we got attracted to American punk in particular I couldn’t really say! I do remember there was a record shop in Kingston-Upon-Thames that sells singles for a quid. So, we would go in there, and buy the coolest artwork. And I remember we came across Richard Hell & The Voidoids. The single we bought was ‘I’m Your Man’, and it absolutely split our heads open. And I immediately went onto Youtube and whatever, and found everything we could by them, and which led on to this bigger scene that included Blondie, Television, The Ramones, Johnny Thunders, and The Deadboys, and all that kind of thing.”

More recently, King Nun got the ‘call’ to support American punk legends Black Flag. “Oh my God, yeah we did! When we first heard about it, the email came through and it said ‘Blag Flag’, so we thought it was a tribute act. But it was actually them. I’m sure when you are interviewing people and you ask them about your achievements, they say this a lot, which is, ‘it’s hard to process these things’. It really is. Until I was on stage and said ‘Is everybody ready to listen to Black Flag!’, that was when I realised we were doing it. Holy Shit,” he quietly murmurs, as if the impact of that moment once again strikes a deep chord within him.

“It’s weird how cyclical these things work. After years of being this band, we’ve managed to come back around and play alongside this band who meant so much to us. It was really incredible, and the kind of venue they were playing in was exactly the kind of venue I would have wanted Black Flag to be in, with the exact same kind of audience. American punk. It was beautiful. And we got on very well in that venue, and with that audience.

They’ve also recently been on tour with up and coming glam hard rockers The Struts, an almost entirely different proposition to Black Flag. Theo obviously revels in the glorious diversity of music, but whose best aspects are universal: to have a good time, but to take it seriously, and give it your all. “They are essentially like a Queenesque, performance heavy band, with an emphasis on stagemanship, and these big sing-a-long songs,” says Theo. We’ve never played with a group like that before. They have a very sizeable audience, so we were playing bigger venues more consistently than we had done before. It was such an amazing learning experience. They’ve just got their shit down. They go up on stage, and they pull out their magic trick. Well, damn! We’ve got to get organised!” Theo laughs.

No, don’t do it! Be yourself!! I implore. “It’s all about clarity, how to voice yourself in the best possible way,” he argues. “And playing with them was definitely a learning experience.”

While not as raucous and raw as their previous releases, Mass still sounds like a pure band – just guitars, bass and drums, with no obvious frills. It sounds both live and alive. How was it recorded, live? “I don’t know how much I want to shed the curtains about the recording process,” says Theo, rather coyly. “I would say it was really important to us to get that natural feel of what a lot of bands we were into when we first got into music. The 70s CBGBs thing, those bands were the ones that initially took our hearts. So, that kind of loose, barely being held together kinda feel was really really important to us. A natural performance from wherever we can get it is incredibly crucial to our band. That was something we implemented. The performance came first. How we managed to get those performances was also down to our very talented producers Joseph Rogers and Rupert Lyddon.

I say to Theo that I think the album is very strong, packed full of great songs. Indeed, I don’t think there is a dud one on there. He’s not for taking praise though. “Yeah, why not,” he nonchalantly replies. Why did you call it Mass? “I think ‘mass’ applies to what music is. It’s a sermon, where people come together, and be in the face of this thing they love, and come together and celebrate. And also ‘mass’ has ties with sacrifice and baptism, which I also think has something to do with our music, in particular having to do so much with catharsis. I think ‘mass’ defines music in general, and more with what we were trying to do with this album; have it be something coming of age, and have it be something as a ceremony. So, it made perfect sense. And it came out of nowhere. These things just show up.”

You MUST be proud of what you have achieved with Mass? “I feel the same way that I’ve always felt. The thing that matters most to me is that I like it, and that we all like it. It’s a wonderful thing to hear praise and all of this, and we have had some of that, and god bless it. We are very proud, but the most important thing is that we care about it.”

Music is obviously in Theo’s blood, whether as a performer, or a punter. There’s that symbiosis between the two, isn’t there? A connection that is really hard to describe, The live visceral experience for many (myself included) is often the best feeling you can get. And the mix of King Nun’s melancholy lyricism with a violent musicality, is indeed, like a sermon, and a catharsis “We have quite a violent approach to these things. The kind of thing I’ll be singing about is melancholic, for sure. But the way it comes out is like a way more over the top catharsis.

“I’ve always been into complete escapism. I couldn’t say why. It’s just something I take to quite nicely. So I see a gig as being a complete escape from reality, where all of your issues can be presented as surrealism, almost nonsense. Everything seems more clear to me, whenever you’re in this state of just breaking away from reality completely. I think that’s my therapy, breaking off from the mundane, and being a part of this ridiculous thing. It makes everything easier to deal with. Or maybe just more clear. Yeah!”

Jeff Hemmings