Kenny Anderson Interview: Coming home again

KENNY ANDERSON'S MUSIC HAS always had a bittersweet edge to it. Even when he's obviously having a ball on stage as his alter-ego King Creosote, playing his most uplifting, triumphant tunes and surrounded by the friendly faces of his Fife-based Fence Collective, there's still a just-perceptible tinge of melancholia – a background hum of heartbreak.

On new album Flick the Vs, however, this latent sadness often creeps out from the shadows and takes centre stage. On Coast on By he sings candidly about the disastrous impact his on-the-road lifestyle is having on his homelife; on Camels Swapped for Wives he references the psychological illness suffered by his brother Gordon, formerly of the Beta Band and now recording and performing again with The Aliens; and on the most tear-jerking song of all, Curtain Craft, he is uncomfortably honest about his state of mind following his split from long-term partner and fellow songsmith Jenny Gordon.

In the latter track, a delicate waltz with sensitive backing from folk-psychedelia outfit, The Earlies, Anderson sings: "I don't want you seeing me broken / I don't want that, I don't want that / I can't leave the room eyes all swollen / I can't have that, I can't have that." The trademark happy/sad ambiguity is long gone, in other words – this is as straightforwardly tragic and confessional as music gets.

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"It was a very new song and it was a very raw song," Anderson says. "I hadn't had time to go through it and either de-sensitise it or make it a bit less – what's the word? – weighty.

"Sometimes with these songs I leave them a while, until the emotions have blown over. Then with a bit of distance I can go, 'ach, that's all right, I'm over it now'. But that one was brand-new. It was just lifted straight off my Dictaphone and I was still in the same space, so it was kinda like 'ooof, this is a wee bit of an ouchy moment'."

The last couple of years haven't been easy for Anderson. In 2005 his career seemed to have taken off when he was signed to 679 Records, a subsidiary of Warner Music, but his second release for the label, 2007's Bombshell, wasn't the Radio One playlisted breakthrough everyone had hoped for.

"My relationship with 679 ended just after Bombshell came out," he says. "Instead of renewing their contract with Warners, the owners of the label sold it to Atlantic. The guys at Atlantic are proper businessmen – they look at the bottom line – so they probably went down the 679 roster and went 'hmm, this Streets guy, he's selling a lot of records, let's keep him … er hold on, who are these duffers?' and I was one of the duffers.

"It was weird, cos I was trying to be really enthusiastic about Bombshell, but knowing that it had a very short shelf-life right from the word go. The album was out in September 2007, and this was all happening in November and December. By January last year I knew that that was going to be it."

Anderson bounced back with a self-released album entitled They Flock Like Vulcans to See Old Jupiter Eyes. Then, following his split from Gordon (aka HMS Ginafore), the pair released a joint album about their break-up entitled Love + Hate > Hate. Flick the Vs, however, marks Anderson's return to the mainstream. He's back with Domino, the label that released his 2003 album Kenny and Beth's Musakal Boat Rides, and he seems happy about this return to his roots.

"It's great being with the guys at Domino," he says. "I've known them a long time and they listen to me. They understand I'm not comfortable in front of a camera and they understand that I just want to get on with things. That's what's so refreshing now, and it wouldn't be that way if I was still with Warners. I would still have been working with people who …" He trails off.

"There just wasn't that same bond. I didn't really know them and I didn't quite understand why they had to do things they way they did. I still don't. But, you know, Domino is very grounded and it's been superb so far. I'm back with the gang – that's what it feels like – coming home again."

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In addition to working on his solo career, Anderson has continued to develop the record-label-cum-mutual-appreciation-society known as the Fence Collective, of which he is a founder member.

Based in the fishing town of Anstruther in the East Neuk of Fife, the collective is run – if it can be said to be "run" in any conventional sense – by Anderson and his right hand man Johnny Lynch. Its members perform under a range of pseudonyms that make them sound like characters in some psychedelic 1970s kids' TV show. Anderson is better known as King Creosote; Lynch goes by the moniker Pictish Trail. Other notable Fencers include Gummi Bakko, Uncle Beesly and The Red Well.

Fence could be described as a cottage industry record label, in the sense that it regularly puts out music recorded by its members on next-to-no budget. However, it's unlike any other music label in the UK – or probably the world, for that matter – in that all its staff are musicians, all its musicians are staff, everyone seems to play on everyone else's records, and live performances featuring one Fence musician can include various other Fencers – or none at all. Even Anderson himself struggles to define exactly what the Collective is.

"The easiest way to describe it is to describe the personalities of everyone involved," he told me in 2005. "They're all really self-effacing. There are no egos, well, not many – we're all really keen just to help the thing grow."

The history of the Collective, and Anderson's involvement in it, is somewhat easier to nail down. After spending almost a decade touring with a number of different bands, including the brilliantly-named Skuobhie Dubh Orchestra, Anderson set up a music shop in St Andrews called Fence Records. The business folded, but he decided to hang on to the name, and was soon producing DIY albums with a few like-minded friends living in and around Anstruther.

Things trundled along for a while without the outside world taking much notice, but then veteran collectee James Yorkston signed to Domino, the home of Franz Ferdinand, and from that point on the genie was out of the bottle. Musicians from all over the UK and beyond got in touch with Anderson, asking if they could get involved with Fence, and the London music press began despatching correspondents to Fife to find out what all the fuss was about.

Then KT Tunstall – a friend and erstwhile collaborator of Anderson's who had once dated his brother, Een (Pip Dylan) – hit the big time with her debut album Eye to the Telescope and started talking about Fence in interviews. Suddenly, most people had heard of the Fence Collective, even if they weren't sure exactly what it was.

Meanwhile, the Fence Homegame – an informal music festival featuring Fence acts and their friends, had started to gain cult status. First held in April 2004 in various makeshift venues throughout Anstruther, it has attracted its fair share of controversy over the years. In 2005 it was threatened with closure after a solitary resident complained to the council about noise, and in 2006 it almost had to be cancelled after a suspected bird flu outbreak in nearby Cellardyke.

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Traditionally the Homegame has been held in April, but recently Anderson and Lynch toyed with the idea of capitalising on the event's popularity by moving the 2009 shindig to the summer and putting it in a giant marquee. In the end, though, they felt that this would compromise the Homegame's unique atmosphere and make it feel too much like other summer festivals, so this year's event will be business as usual – in April, in the pubs and school halls of Anstruther.

This refreshingly anti-commercial decision seems to be symptomatic of the way Anderson is heading these days, away from the glare of the mainstream music business and back to his roots. He's aware that his fans fall very definitely into two camps – the old guard, who have been there since the beginning and who prefer his lo-fi, folky incarnation, and those who were introduced to his music via the more polished pop offerings on Bombshell. At this stage, however, he seems more inclined to cater to the former group.

"Are all the people who bought Bombshell going to take Flick the Vs straight down the second-hand shop?" he wonders. "There's a part of me that wants them to do that. That's really stupid, because of course I want more people to like my music, but this is a record I made for myself. I didn't really make it for the Fence lot and I didn't really make it for a label either. It's just a record that I made. It's been a real galvanising project. I'm really happy with it, and now I'm ready to move on to the next thing."

Has he ever considered splitting himself in two, as a way of pleasing both sets of fans?

"Yeah, I'd quite like to start again with something new, something that doesn't have any expectations," he says, "but I'd have to keep it quiet, otherwise it wouldn't work."

• King Creosote plays the Fence Homegame, various venues, Anstruther, 17-19 April, Flick the Vs is out on Domino on 20 April

Acts to seek out at Homegame 2009

NAVIGATING your way around the Fence Homegame can be a tricky business. Plus, Anstruther isn't exactly a sprawling metropolis, but the venues don't always look like venues and chances are you won't have heard of half the acts on the bill. Oh, and there's usually some deliberate ambiguity over the programming, just to keep everybody guessing. The best approach is to treat the Homegame like the Fringe: just wander around town and make your own discoveries. If you're really struggling, though, here are a few must-sees:

HMS Ginafore: The first lady of Fence (pictured) is painfully shy and is rumoured to battle her stagefright with strong drink. When she gets the measures of alcohol and adrenaline just right, though, her live act can be a thing of delicate, otherworldly beauty.

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Gummi Bakko: Frontman Alan Stewart's vocal style was once described in this newspaper as "like Yosemite Sam trying to out-holler Screamin' Jay Hawkins". Bakko's anarchic live act at this year's Homegame may or may not include a cameo appearance from King Creosote, way, way out of his comfort zone on drums.

OnTheFly: Living proof that there's a whole lot more to Fence than laid-back alt-folk strumming, this laptop DJ is as free-thinking and experimental as they come.

Pictish Trail: The master of the apparently shambolic (in fact, painstakingly crafted) live set. Recent debut album Secret Soundz Vol 1 – a bewitching blend of wistful balladry and glitchy electronica – identified him as a real force to be reckoned with.

Eagleowl: Achingly cool soundscapes, with throbbing double-bass at the mix's heart.

Candythief: Forget everything you thought you knew about Candythief. The Homegame stalwart's new album, Technicolour Wilderness, has seen her undergo a deliciously louche, cabaret-style makeover, and she's now backed by a full band, featuring the lovely, skittering violin-work of Jason Dickinson.

The Red Well: If new album Amid Storms We Arrive is anything to go by, this year's appearance from The Red Well should involve much gleeful, unapologetic rocking out.