INTERVIEW: King Champion Sounds | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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“What if Can played Ghanaian highlife? What if Ennio Morricone had scored Spaghetti Westerns in a Moroccan souk? What if The Fall had garnished their rockabilly grooves with swing-era horns? King Champion Sounds recombine canonical influences in new contexts.” Stewart Lee, The Sunday Times, December 2013

Only just on the shelves and already making a play for album of the year, the second album from King Champion Sounds is a bass and brass-fuelled punk jazz gem that manages to build on their Different Drummer debut and somehow take things much further.

To some extent, the band is one man’s vision: Ajay Saggar served times in the Membranes-related trenches of the late 80s Manchester indie scene before finding himself in a series of bands in the Netherlands, part of a creative hub built around punk collective The Ex. While most of the band live in and around Amsterdam and Saggar’s home in Krommenie, two are familiar North East faces – Oli Heffernan and Dani Johnson (of Year Of Birds and a dozen other projects). I asked Saggar how this distance affected the recording process.

“I basically record all the songs myself, demo all the instruments – every part – and then send them through to everybody so they know what’s going to happen when they arrive. Then I’ll get everybody in my studio and engineer and produce it myself. People have their inputs but I’ll have the final say. I have a vision, I know exactly what I want and where I want it to be. If people are looking two steps ahead, I’m looking ten steps ahead, because I know exactly what I want from the whole thing. Even before the last record came out, I already had this one planned out. I knew exactly what I wanted, I knew it was going to be a 10”. By the time I’d written the songs, I already had a running order and it was all really firm in my head. I’m already working on the new one.”

While everybody’s musical input is essential, it’s clear how much of a personal vision King Champion Sounds is – Saggar’s immersion in everything from Krautrock to Sun Ra, dub to the Fall could lead to an over-referential mess, but his clarity and sense of purpose keeps it on track. “Some bands are so focussed on having this multifaceted sound coming through on their records, but they think about it too mathematically and don’t use their hearts. And when you make music, you have to do it with your heart and have a vision and push that to the limit. Otherwise it’s really not worth doing and you might as well be in a pub covers band.”

Songs From The Golden Hour is even more rhythm driven than its predecessor and this was clearly Saggar’s intention. “I always start with the bassline, that was my first instrument. When I was a kid, The Stranglers were a huge influence, and [Jean Jacques] Burnell’s bass sound is why I picked up the bass, that growling sound. And then Hanley [Steven, from the Fall] took over as my bass guru. The rhythm section for me is super important, I wanted to really make rhythm-inflected music and build our temple around that. So when I picked up the bass and was playing around in the studio, I found myself thinking, ‘If Steve Hanley heard this, what would he think of it?’ I’ve played the album back and thought, ‘oh man, this record’s for Hanley’.”

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This is also the first time Saggar has worked with vocalist Jos Kleij (aka GW Sok, formerly of The Ex) despite knowing him for three decades, and Saggar is keen to explain how essential he is. “He’s got an open canvas to do whatever he wants, say whatever he wants. A couple of times I have had to be critical about his lyrics but not often, they’re such a vital part of the whole thing.”

Saggar’s explanation of the album’s gestation – from writing to mastering to the careful programming – is further proof of his need to be involved at every point, and it helps that his decades in the business – as a sound engineer, a musician and the rest – mean that not only is he well qualified to do so, but also that his years of building connections pay off. “It’s musical karma in a way, you try and keep your nose clean and don’t be an asshole, just be a decent human being, that’s just the bottom line. If you’re a dick it’ll come back and bite you so hard, I’ve seen it happen.” I wondered if – given his long standing connections with the Membranes and John Robb – it was inevitable that the album would end up being Louder Than War’s second release, but Saggar seems as surprised as anyone.

“No, it was never something I would ever have thought about at all. He’d heard the first record, and we met somewhere and he just threw in a curveball, and offered to put it out. I was a bit taken aback because I didn’t think it would be his thing. I took it with a pinch of salt, but when push came to shove I brought it up and he put it out without even listening to one track. He totally trusted me. John is a true believer in rock music, he’s like a soul mate, a brother in arms, who truly believes in the power of music. And he’s doing everything he can to make sure that this record gets heard by the world. And I can’t ask him for more than that.”

 

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