Kenny Anderson: Tortured tales of seaside folk

As King Creosote, Kenny Anderson is on a major label at last. Alexia Loundras meets the former mentor of KT Tunstall
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Emerging bleary-eyed from the harbourside Ship Tavern in Anstruther, King Creosote - aka Kenny Anderson - plays the part of the jolly Scotsman to perfection. Ruddy-cheeked and cheery-grinned beneath his scruffy sailor's beard, the unassuming songwriter and star of BBC4's Folk Britannia is unperturbed by my late arrival in his home town. "I've been enjoying a swift half listening to some of the unluckiest fishing stories ever," he says.

Anderson is something of Anstruther institution. Ambling along the village coast, he's greeted by pretty much everyone we pass. He is the founder of the cult independent label Fence Records and its ramshackle offspring, the critically lauded collection of nu-folk musicians known as the Fence Collective. Even beyond the peninsula, Anderson has become a cult figure; famed for nurturing the talents of the Domino-signed James Yorkston and the crossover-queen KT Tunstall.

But now Anderson's own stirring, dusty songs are reaping wider acclaim. After putting out his scratchy, home-recorded albums through Fence for the best part of a decade, he was picked up last year by Warners' imprint, 679 Recordings. "I never thought I'd get signed," says Anderson as we drive to the nearby coastal village of Crail. "I don't have that kind of luck."

With a major label in his corner, Anderson, now in his late thirties, has made his first album in a proper studio, the blistering folk-pop gem KC Rules OK. Recorded with the psychedelic popsters and his new label-mates The Earlies, and featuring old pal Tunstall on backing vocals, the slow-burning album has received critical acclaim.

Anderson has always written and performed music. So have his father (a fixture on the local folk scene) and both of his brothers - Gordon helped found Scotland's idiosyncratic popsters The Beta Band before going solo as Lone Pigeon, while Een toils under the moniker Pip Dylan. But when Kenny's first band, The Skuobhie Dubh Orchestra imploded, his life fell apart. "We'd literally spent a decade trying to get signed," sighs Anderson. "All that effort, all those close calls, all for nothing." He shakes his head, the disappointment still raw. "I wasn't even 30 and I found myself in the midst of a crisis. All I'd had was a band, and suddenly I had no band; nothing."

He shrugs softly as we leave the car and head towards the striking Crail coast. As the sun breaks through the clouds we settle on a stone bench high up on a hill overlooking the sea. "This is one of my favourite spots," smiles Anderson. "But 10 years ago, I could have sat here and wanted to hurl myself off because I would just see the bad in everything. I'd look out at the sea and I'd see rubbish floating about, boats flushing oil out into the water. Yeah, I'd see bad in everything."

After the dissolution of his band, Anderson fell into a deep depression. But he learnt to let go: "I'd spent years hoping that people would like me," he says. "But I was at such a low frame of mind that I just didn't care what they thought any more." Relieved of his inhibitions, Anderson poured his deepest (and darkest) emotions into visceral songs, flooding them with brutal honesty, unbridled passion and new life. Desperate, he gave himself an ultimatum. "I told myself, either get your life in order or give up on music. But I soon realised that the second option wasn't possible. I had nothing else. So I had no choice but to make my music work."

Anderson embarked on a course of antidepressants. The pills made Anderson feel energised and that, he says, gave him hope. "I came to realise my notion of success was all screwed up," he says. "Up until then, I thought success was about being signed and, with no band, I'd felt like a failure. But I was still making music after all these years, and that in itself was a kind of success. I had a complete change of perspective."

Buoyed with self-esteem, Anderson took matters into his own hands and Fence Records was born. "I thought to myself: 'I come from such a beautiful area and I'd been travelling to these awful cities to just end up with parking tickets. What am I thinking?'" says Anderson. "I decided that I would put out my songs on my own label, play locally and just try to enjoy making music for the sake of it."

Anderson's sumptuous melodies clearly prove how much he's enjoying crafting his music, yet his songs continue to be inspired by his emotional upheavals. KC Rules OK features songs written over that tumultuous, turbulent period, and it's an emotional tapestry. Anderson purges himself in his songs; dissecting doomed relationships, berating himself for being an absent father to his young daughter, Beth, and picking over his descent into depression. But despite the heavy themes, his wry Scottish humour and the warmth of his cracked, smouldering voice ensure there's nothing maudlin about his music.

His songs are so unguarded that he sometimes struggles to play them live. "When you write a song, you just don't think about the repercussions," he laughs, playfully scolding himself. "You forget you'll have to play them to an audience and sometimes I don't want to sing a song like 'Favourite Girl' - I don't want to sing about missing my little girl when I'm missing my little girl. I'll be like, I'm not going to get to the end of this song, never mind the end of the set."

He is wise enough to realise that his depression still hovers around him, but, he insists, he's much happier than he has been for some time (and he's off the pills).

"I've gone from seeing the bad in everything to seeing just a little bit of good in most things," he says, smiling.

'KC Rules OK' is out now. King Creosote plays the Green Man Festival, ( www.thegreenmanfestival.co.uk), today and tomorrow, and Bestival ( www.bestival.net) on 9 September

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