In Conversation: Tall Kingdom

The alias of Stuart Thomas and Richard Meller, Leeds-based electronica group Tall Kingdom joined us at Yutaru HQ to chat about everything from how the band was formed, their favourite Leeds venue, upcoming plans in the future and more.

Maddi: Thanks for joining us today guys! How are you doing?

Rich: Good. How are you?

Maddi: Very good thank you. So I know you both had solo projects before you started. How did Tall Kingdom come about?

Rich: So it’s actually through work. It’s kind of a little bit boring I suppose but Stu was working for the company that I was working for. Then he moved back from London to Leeds and kind of went from there really. It was never the intention to start a project or form into a band or anything like that. Just kind of stumbled into it and started writing music.

Maddi: I feel like a lot of the best things happen like that.

Rich: Yeah.

Stu: Yeah.

Maddi: So that’s nice. And also the name of the band itself, where did that come from?

Stu: Tall Kingdom is a lyric from a song by The National. The band The National from a track called ‘Brainey’ off the album Boxer. I don’t know, I like the way it looks, I like the way it sounds.

Photograph: Amy Heycock

Maddi: Fair enough. That’s a pretty cool way to come up with a name. Was that the first one you stumbled across or was there a lot of brainstorming that went into it beforehand?

Rich: Well we were actually called Amber before and the first idea was to release under Amber but it turns out everybody in music is called Amber. 

Maddi: I was going to say… I’ve heard a band called Amber Run and stuff like that, right?

Rich and Stu: Oh yeah, that’s right, yeah yeah.

Maddi: Well I’ve never heard of anyone called Tall Kingdom.

Stu: Yeah. We couldn’t Google search it so it was a winner. Nothing came up so yeah.

Maddi: So I know your EP Frames came out in July last year. What’s the reception been like for that?

Rich: Yeah. The reception has been great really. We’ve been quite fortunate. I mean the way labels work these days… you don’t get the backing like you used to, especially as new artists and being a complete unknown. But obviously it’s a little bit strange because myself and Stu used to write under different projects… this is done virtually anonymously really.

Stu: From the ground up. But I mean that has its benefits as well. You end up the first releases are always I think the most true to yourself because there’s no influence yet. You don’t know what people are going to like or dislike about anything that you do.

Maddi: Yeah definitely… I guess when you’ve built up a reputation from working on your own, people sort of expect you to produce something a certain way; whereas, when it is a new project you literally can just do whatever you want and no one can really say anything.

Stu: Yeah this doesn’t really sound like either of our previous projects.

Photograph: Delayed Pleasure

Maddi: So would you say that your music is sort of if you are on one side and you’re on the other… meets exactly in the middle? Is there more of an influence from one of you or is it fairly equal?

Stu: Yeah I’d say it’s pretty even by the time… from not having anything to having a finished track. I would say that we have a 50/50 input on it. I think a lot of the way the sound is shaped and a lot of the production is definitely all Rich. I’m not good at layering the track kind of stuff but then you know the early process is a lot of session bouncing back and forth. Like I might start something, Rich might start something and then all goes into Dropbox, then we just pick sessions out whenever we feel like writing and developing them over months. By the end I’d say we’re pretty evenly split on what comes out.

Maddi: It sounds like a good partnership. So going back to the EP, do you have a favourite song off it or is that like telling someone to choose their favourite child?

Rich: I don’t know about favourite per say but I reckon the vocal track with Leo is probably the most accomplished thing we’ve ever done in terms of melodically and also delivering something as a finished thing because the vocals were actually written to a completely different song. But then we kind of knew the vocal was amazing but the music behind it was not what we wanted. So to actually deliver that and it kinda come out how it did in the end was probably the best thing we’ve ever done I think.

Stu: I would agree. I still listen to that track. I can’t really believe that we wrote it. But I mean that’s part of having a great vocal. I mean… I’ve never really worked with vocalists before in the old project and neither has Rich. It’s… you’re listening back to something you wrote but with someone else really performing it. And that creates a nice detachment I’ve never had before, so whenever I listen back to that track, it’s almost like I’m listening to it the same as everyone else because really it’s just listening to her.

Maddi: Yeah. So I know that two of the four tracks from the EP had vocalists on them. Is there anyone that you’re sort of dying or dreaming to work with in the future? I mean if you could choose anyone.

Rich: Yeah. I don’t know.

Stu: I would like to work more vocally, I think.

Rich: Yeah. I think so.

Stu: I think something that’s missing… something that really helps tie a lot of this kind of electronic music together are vocalists… guest vocalists… or having a vocalist, so I’m always keen to work with vocalists. It adds something else. I don’t know who though. I mean we can’t sing so… anything’s better than… Yeah, anything that’s not me. 

Maddi: I mean, do something experimental and give it a go, try distorting your voice maybe?

Stu: Oh we’ve tried… there’s no amount of effects that can fix…

Maddi: Oh you’ve tried? Fair enough, it is what it is… So I was going to take us on a completely different track now from vocalists etc. to Leeds itself. So I’ve been on your Instagram and seen you played Hyde Park Book Club quite a lot, which is a gorgeous venue in the basement downstairs. Is there anywhere in Leeds that you’d like to play?

Stu: I mean my number one venue in Leeds has always been the Brudenell and we were really lucky in that the first show we ever played as a band… a live band was there at the Brudenell.

Maddi: That’s pretty good going to the honest.

Stu: It was. It was lucky, yeah we were spoilt. I guess, I just think it’s such a great venue. I mean… I suppose the other room in the Brudenell would be nice to play too.

Rich: It’s just history though isn’t it. I would even say, for both of us it has been at least for a long time. Stu went away for a little bit and came back but seeing shows in there for the last ten years, it’s always been pretty amazing.

Maddi: I was going to say… who is the best person that you’ve seen at Brudenell? As I’m sure you’ve seen quite a few.

Rich: I saw a band called Silver Mt. Zion there which is Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s other band. And that was amazing. It was the quietest but loudest gig I’ve ever seen. It was to a point where they were playing guitar and you could hear the guy picking the strings on his guitar really quite. So yeah it was pretty… it was pretty intimate but also quite aggressive.

Stu: Yeah I mean I think it’s a good venue for aggressive music weirdly.

Rich: Yeah.

Maddi: Yeah.

Stu: I saw a band called Health there. It was the same. It was punishingly loud and that room just seems to take it, it’s crazy. Yeah. Health. Gold Panda was really good as well; that was a pretty good party. Brudenell spans so many genres, you can see the side project of someone from Godspeed to artists such as Lapalux, or even Tokimonsta which was quite a good one a few years ago. But that was quite a legendary… the dateless Tokimonsta gig.

Photograph: Delayed Pleasure

Maddi: Yeah definitely. And I think, like you say, because people know of the history and how iconic Brudenell is… I think the energy there, it could be anyone and it would always be amazing just because of the venue itself, definitely.

Stu: Yeah yeah yeah I think it sells gigs. The venue. And people… I know people that will go regardless of whether or not they know the artists. They’ll just go because it’s pretty cheap.

Maddi: Yeah yeah, cheap pints, went there yesterday myself. So I was just going to round up by asking what you’ve got in the pipeline basically, any festivals, gigs, music plans for the future? I know it’s quite a big question.

Rich: Yeah. Well we’ve been pretty quiet because of obviously the name change kind of slowed things down a little bit but we’ve got to a new EP out in a month I believe it is via Finest Ego again. So that’s all been rounded up and mastered and finished. So that will be quite nice. And then just a ton of writing really. Kind of figuring out what the next stage is I suppose, and trying to kind of develop the sound I suppose so it is exactly where we want it to be. Yeah it’s been two EPs of experimenting a little bit. They still sounded great but they’re never quite where you want them to be really.

Maddi: I think it’s nice to be at a point in the process where you’re not exactly decided on what your sound is. As you said, it gives you a chance to play about doesn’t it, before you say this is us.

Rich: That can be the negative of having a ton of influences though. If you got so many inspirations it’s constantly getting into new things and then you’ll say yeah this is what it’s going to sound like, and then you do it in two months later and you’re like no.

Stu: I think that is a big part of electronic music as well. Generally you know. I suppose unlike a lot of other genres still, with electronic music you’re in control of every aspect of the music. Neither of us specialize in any one instrument.

Rich: Yeah.

Stu: You know… complete control over the beats, the music, the production, everything and then… I mean we’ve been writing pretty much non stop now for maybe three or four months just piling up tracks, ready to start whittling down to what it is exactly we want to do with them.

Maddi: So it’s kind of like judge’s houses on a round of X-Factor with the little photos…

Stu: It might come down to that at this point.

Rich: It gets pretty aggressive. Yeah.

Maddi: I imagine. I think it’ll be nice to look forward to being able to condense it and finally come up with that final piece but I imagine quite scary as well.

Rich and Stu: Yeah. Yes.

Stu: Yeah I mean committing to things is pretty intimidating and also committing to a timeframe can be so important for us. I suppose one of the beautiful things about EPs are that they really only capture a point in time, you know, it’s only four tracks you can kind of put together your four favourite at any point and it’s not too much of a commitment; whereas, bigger releases later on maybe… but even then they’re still only a marker. It’s where you were at that point. What you were listening to. What you were doing. So I guess trying to capture that is tricky. Because you can go on and on and on.

Maddi: Yeah. Wow, fair enough. Well it sounds like you got a lot of sorting and whittling to do so I’m going to let you crack on but thank you for talking with us today. It’s been a pleasure and all the best for the future.

Rich and Stu: Thank you. Cheers.

If you’d like to find out more about Tall Kingdom, you can follow them via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Their Frames EP is available now on Spotify.

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