Karl Culley interview

The Indie world has a new pin-up boy. Karl Culley's music is hard to classify. His dreamy lyrical prose, beautiful voice and rhythmic guitar playing are both instantly recognizable and startlingly new. Fans of Kate Bush, Bob Dylan or Tom Waits will love Culleys story-like songs which all tied together nicely in his stunning debut album, Bundle of Nerves, out on the 10th of February. I recently caught up with him at The Lowry in Salford where he was doing an interview with BBC Manchester. We had a very nice chat about poetry, 80's pop music, and those folkie purists.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself, where you’re from? Are you from a musical family?

Not really…not at all in fact. My dad played a little bit as a teenager, he was in a band called The Whirlwind Trio, playing intermissions in cinemas. But it didn’t go very far. He bought me a guitar when I was 18, and I learned to play it, taught myself to play it.

Very impressive guitar playing. So you taught yourself that? You didn’t have any formal training or anything?

That’s right. It may look impressive, but it’s in fact very technically naive. I don’t know anything about scales or that kind of stuff, I just kind of stumble across techniques.

Where are you from?

From Harrogate, near Leeds.

And is there a music scene, music community there?

It’s a very quiet town, it’s the kind of town where people go to retire, or raise kids. There isn’t a university particularly near by, so there aren’t a lot of good music venues. But it’s a nice community, with some really fantastic songwriters and musicians, a friendly community. But I’ve been playing outside of Harrogate for a while.

You recorded your album on the Isle of Jura in Scotland. A very isolated place. Why did you pick that location?

Well I had a choice of two. A choice of one studio in London and the other in Scotland and I thought I’ll choose the Scottish one. It’ll be beautiful no doubt. Although it was tough to get to. It’s a six hour drive and two ferries. But it’s gorgeous.

Do you think it helped inspire the music? Do you think the music would have turned out differently if you had recorded it in London?

I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t if [the music] was inspired…it was just beautiful and lovely to be there. I’m not sure it inspired my performances. It was so cold though. There was one session, my fingers were so cold I couldn’t play. The bass player was kindly bringing me cups of hot water to warm my fingers. We tried lighting the fire, it’s in an old converted school, tried lighting the fire, but it was really windy and the wind was blowing the smoke down through the fire so the room was filled with smoke. So we couldn’t have the fire on, so I just had to suffer really.

Suffer for your art.

Yeah.

You are a published poet. Is recording songs and music another extension of that? Or is it a completely different discipline?

I think it’s a kind of distant cousin. There are analogies to be drawn but they are different disciplines. You can’t just kind of lift lines of poetry and put them into a song for instance, you have to chop and change. In poetry you have to be very aware of the rhythm, the internal music of the poem, and it has to stand up on the page, whereas lyrics they work with, I don’t know, a moment in the music to create something. You know, it’s like lyrics and the music are together to create a certain effect. There is a difference.

Is there one….this may not be a fair question, but is there one that you lean towards more?

Music definitely. Yeah, because I’ve had success with music [laughs]. I do love poetry, writing poetry, but I haven’t been published in a lot of places, a few magazines and stuff. I’ve just started writing again though. I think I just need a bit of a break from song writing because it’s driving me mental. So I think I’ll try to send out some stuff.

Do you think your songs, your music, are a bit more accessible to people than poetry? Do you think you might reach a broader audience with your music than perhaps with your poetry?

Absolutely, yeah, music is so much bigger than poetry. I mean you can’t walk into a newsagents and pick up a poetry magazine. You have to subscribe to them. There’s lots and lots of music magazines on the scene. Although some of my songs are a bit weird, my music is reaching more people than my poetry ever could.

Who are your influences? I was going to ask musical influences, but are you influenced by writers? Because you are a poet, does that have any kind of influence on how you create?

I don’t know. Yeah, I think it must do. The poets I like are Dylan Thomas and Ted Hughes, they’re very muscular, lots of internal rhythm, fantastic rhythm. Yeah it must be somehow tie into my lyrics. A lot of my songs are quite dark and "imagistic" as well. And my musical influences, I don’t know, maybe they are similar to the poets I like, they do share a certain world view or something. I’ve never really thought about it actually. Perhaps I should! [Laughs]

Who do you like to listen to?

At the moment I love Kate Bush. She’s amazing. But originally I listened to people like Bob Dylan and John Martin, Nick Drake that got me into playing the guitar and singing.

What do you think of the state of British music? Do you feel like you have a a place within it or do you feel like you’re looking in from the outside? Do you think there is a niche for you in the current music scene?

I wouldn’t have thought so, no. I mean just as an outside observer because I don’t really feel like an insider, I feel like a bit of an outsider. I mean, the things that are popular now, kind of Indie bands and retro 80’s thing…

What do you think about that? Are you a fan of that? I thought that was a bit weird. Of all the musical eras to bring back that was one I probably wouldn’t have been number one on my on my list. But some of it has been interesting actually.

Yeah, I would agree. It’s reasonably interesting. There’s one song that sounded really 80’s that I actually really loved, um…I’m probably going to alienate myself from most people, Keane’s single Spiralling Down I think was amazing. It sounded a bit like Magic Dance from Labyrinths, these huge synths, just really brave and bold. But I’d rather listen to good stuff from the 80’s than listen to a refraction of that, which is what this kind of renaissance of 80’s music seems to be.

If you had to put a label on yourself, which I don’t really like, I don’t really like labels because I don’t think they’re always very accurate, but do you consider yourself a “folk” musician? Or do you think that kind of limits you, or labels you?

I wouldn’t consider myself a folk musician. I have played folk festivals and people haven’t been particularly welcoming! [Laughs] The folk people, the real die-hard folkies quite rightly don’t like me. I wouldn’t like me either if I was a folkie. So I wouldn’t say that my songs have that narrative storytelling of traditional folk. So I wouldn’t have said I’m particularly folkie. Some of the rhythms might be. That’s about it.

Do you write from personal experience? Where do some of your themes come from?

Yeah they’re all from personal experience, my experience, my point of view. A lot of them are about me being sport of nervous and afraid of stuff.

Your album is called “Bundle of Nerves.” Are you an anxious person?

Yeah I am. I am a worrier, definitely. I was worrying doing this (the radio interview)! [Laughs] I was pretty nervous and the lyrics did kind of fly out of my head. But yeah I am a nervous person. I need to drink before playing because I get nervous about it.

How would you describe your album?

I don’t know…that’s a really tough question. Good question! I don’t know! I’d say it’s maybe like a dream or something. Maybe something dream-like about it. Strange and dreamy.


Karl Cully’s album will be released on the 10th of February on Triumphant Sound Records.

Last updated: 10/05/2018 22:52:31

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