Talking Music: Alan Nimmo of King King Discusses Exile & Grace
King King are back out on the road from April to June as part of a new UK tour incorporating two South Wales shows in both Pontypridd and Newport.
The band released their fourth studio album “Exile & Grace” in October 2017 which features the singles (She Don’t) Gimme No Lovin’ and Long Time Running, both of which gained airplay on Planet Rock radio in the UK.
Alan Nimmo – singer and lead guitarist of British blues rock band King King – talks about touring and the new album Exile & Grace (out now) and much more.
What's your favourite venue so far?
One of my favourites and boyhood dream is Glasgow Barrowlands, I watched bands like Gun, The Cult, Big Country and other great Scottish bands.
To get to play Wembley Arena, words can't describe it so I had to write a song about it! (“Tear It Up” on the new album) which describes the incredible moment King King are announced and take to the stage, a great feeling to have which I wanted to share with people.
You've played in many countries.
Yes we stretch ourselves far and wide. In the early days travelling an hour outside of Glasgow was a big trip, nowadays we're travelling to the top end of Scandinavia, far side of Germany, Croatia, and Canada.
There's no better experience in life really, and we're very privileged to have this life which we all realise and appreciate. It's not often you can tell your friends that you were in Budapest last night and back in Scotland today! People who are not in this life find it hard to comprehend.
You're often driving the van. Are you looking forward to putting those van days behind you, and what's the longest van drive you've ever done?
You can spend 12 hours driving 5 miles at times, it all depends upon where you are and what time of day. That can be really, really tiring especially when you're also the one setting up the gear and doing the show for people too.
If you're sitting on the Antwerp Ring and it's a Friday, bring a sandwich – you're going nowhere! At times we've sat there for 5 or 6 hours at a time. Driving through the night too, where you keep going and until it's daylight again arrive at a festival and then getting your head down whilst you can.
As a boy from Glasgow is there a particular country which you've enjoyed or has surprised you. Any particular stand out moments from travelling?
Of all the places we've been there've been too many great experiences to mention, and have all been fantastic in their own way. One great experience was getting to Canada and visiting so many different places, One of the surprises was I always wanted to visit Toronto and it was great but also places like Montreal and Ottawa were utterly amazing places to be.
With the way things have gone for the band the last couple of years with our profile being raised a little bit, some of the best experiences have been right here at home and in particular we did a fantastic show in Glasgow when we recorded the live album. It was one of the best nights of my entire life which I will never ever forget, everything just seemed to come together. So one of the best experience was at home which I never thought would happen!
What's the best gig that you've been to, or has inspired you the most?
In 1993 I went to The Cat House, a Rock Club which used to be on Brown Street and I went to see a band called Cry of Love – the same month as I saw my hero Paul Rogers at The Barrowlands. To this day in that small club I've never seen a better show in my life, never watched a better gig, the energy and excitement and the notes he was making he hit every single one of them and it was phenomenal.
The guitar player Audley Freed was out of this world, there's still stuff now I cannot comprehend he did then, and I'm still trying to play them now I wish he would come round my house and give me a few lessons!
Do you have a sound check song?
This has changed a lot, we used to play a lot of blues Robert Cray's Phone Booth etc. but now we always start with Waking Up from Reaching For the Light album using the Stratocaster because we can access each instrument for the sound engineer to balance properly as it builds up.
We'll try some other songs like “(She Don't) Gimme No Lovin' “with the Les Paul, sometimes jam some new stuff and play around. This is quite often how new songs come along at sound checks – trying out a new riff, with our touring schedule when else are we going to do it!
You mentioned that you're so busy it's hard to get any time off, if you did get a day off how would you like to spend it?
I love to get out on the motorbike as often as I can, because when you get the weather in Scotland the roads and places you can get to are so beautiful there's such an amazing beauty when you see it in the right light like Loch Lomond which is only 20 minutes from Glasgow centre and it's so beautiful.
I love walking the hills, it's really peaceful to get away and get some exercise too. It's great to be alone with your thoughts and this is a great time to write lyrics – especially with smartphones, I often sing and record onto it, then go back and find a bunch of stuff later in the year and wonder what I was doing!
What inspires you to write a song?
Inspiration comes from anywhere. I can come up with a few chords and build around that, or I can have one or two lines of lyrics to build on, and idea for a title, inspiration can often come from other songs, not in a plagiaristic way but listening to other lyrics and how they're worded for everyone to understand and to appeal personally to people.
There's no formula, or set way to do it and it can come from anywhere whether sitting looking at the sky, in a cafe overlooking a river, anywhere. Most of the songs I've written have been about times in my life and things that have happened and have affected me personally and emotionally.
What guitar player inspire you and why?
When I was a young boy my mother and my older brother Stevie were both massive Blues fan which had a huge influence on me in terms of the music I heard.
I remember hearing the needle on the record and Free's Fire and Water for the first time, and the guitar tone alone on an old LP was enough to stop a young boy in his tracks and make me stare at the record and listen and even many years later when I picked up a guitar that's the sound I wanted to emulate.
Paul Kossoff was probably the main influence on my playing, but there were other guys like Peter Green and even Gary Moore, Brian Robertson from Thin Lizzy was a guy from where I was from playing in one of the biggest bands in the world. If he could do it – why couldn't I!
What was your first guitar, how many do you now own, and which guitar would you reach for when going to write a new song?
Well my first guitar, which when you have an older brother who also plays the guitar and is 6 years older than you – you got the hand-me-down, it was a great old Hondo Les Paul copy which was unbreakable and I really tried it came flying off tables and amps it and hit the ground more times than I can remember but it just wouldn't break, and just kept working. A great great guitar.
Then when I was 15 my Mum decided if I was going to take this guitar thing seriously, and took me to an old guitar shop in Glasgow and bought me my first Les Paul which is my wine red Les Paul standard I still have and is my Lucile, my baby and the sentimental value is worth everything to me. My favourite guitar and I'll love it forever, and it's actually quite a good guitar too!
I have 2 almost identical Stratocasters and another Les Paul all of which I love too, and I do get around all of them and it's great to have so many options.
Guitarists are often known for being loud, but you're often known as the quietest too...
Well it's probably because I have a loud band, the draft from Wayne's bass drum alone blows my kilt on stage!
When I was younger I have Marshall Stacks and turned my Les Paul up to full, but as you get older you become more experienced and don't need to hide behind the volume.
People can often misunderstand controlled volume, this is one of the great things about King King that we all understand how to use the dynamic of our sound. The biggest influence where dynamics is concerned where we've all learned this from Buddy Guy the master of dynamic.
I remember listening to him at a UK gig and phoning my brother Stevie during the song and saying “listen – Buddy Guy's doing it again” he could control the volume so naturally it was amazing to watch with such finesse. This is a lesson to be learned for so many bands.
What inspired you to write “Broken” from the new album Exile & Grace?
Let me start by saying that I'm not a political person and that kind of thing doesn't interest me. If you listen to the lyrics in the song Broken I am expressing an opinion and a fear for the state of the world, from a humanitarian point of view the devastation of war and what we're doing to each other as a human race. That this is a beautiful world we live in but we're ruining the planet and each other, and this is how I feel from a spiritual and human and artistic perspective. Leave the politics to the politicians and I'll just make the music.
“Betrayed Me” has been picked up in some reviews about being the new anthemic song, possibly the new Rush Hour.
One of the inspirations behind Betrayed Me is my desire to play slide guitar. I tried it but I'm just rubbish at it! But this is the idea behind the riff for it. I'm not sure about the Rush Hour connection but I can see how the chorus might be discussed as anthemic.
I wasn't happy with how it was going so we called it a day, came back to the studio next day and immediately thought yep, that's the one – much better.
If it turns to be a great anthemic song, a crowd-pleaser and one of those songs the crowd sings along with then fantastic and I can't wait to get it in the set. It's one of those songs which has just been on the album, but it's turned out to be one of my favourites.
Tell us about “Long Time Running”.
I tend to sing about love, loss and relationships and sometimes I sing about playing in a band. I don't tend to be overly clever with what I write about in lyrics because that's not what interests me, I try to write about what affects me, what I feel about, what's troubling me, what's in the future and what's happening right now. So this is what I'm singing about, a relationship that's great but coming from the background of being a bit of a lad and how it changes your life. It doesn't have to always be bleak!
It started out in a Rolling Stones kind of way, but then headed towards a Black Crows kind of idea with the boogie guitar and southern vibe, as I got the vocals sorted and relaxed into the song.
As the song progressed I took it back to how I would sing it rather than someone from a southern rock band would sing it and how I've been influenced as a singer. As I got my phrases sorted it started to sound like a British rock song, it sounded like a Whitesnake tune to me and it's amazing transformation of sounding like 3 different bands and how it progresses over the weeks and changes so much, which I'm really glad about as it now sounds like a King King song which is what we've achieved.
Tell us about “I Don't Wanna Lie”.
I Don't Wanna Lie is one of those songs which came out of jamming in the studio.
There was not only a Stevie Wonder influence but also from bands like Toto and we wanted to have a straight drum beat but with a bit of a shuffle going on too which really worked and we got this great tune out of it by bringing the guitars back out for a big King King chorus.
So hopefully that's what we've achieved and time will tell.
King King play the following dates in South Wales during their May-June 2018 tour:
- Friday 4 May 2018, Muni Arts Centre, Pontypridd. Book Online: www.seetickets.com
- Saturday 2 June 2018, Rock & Blues Festival, Newport, Book Online: www.newportbluesfestival.co.uk/tickets