Meet Ross King

Friday, 15 January 2016

Back in September, before winter had stolen all that is sunny and good, I met up with singer-songwriter-student Ross King. Back from a year in Jordan and a summer in India and Hong Kong, he was spending a last few days in London before returning to Oxford for university.
We walk down from Holborn to Somerset House and sit in its vast courtyard, empty and almost eerie. A nearby church strikes 8pm and its bells bounce off the walls of the quad.

"I'm going to clam up", he laughs. At twenty-two, he's only now reaching the point where he feels "okay enough about myself as a person" to give music a real shot. He launches into the topic, ardent and unprompted:

"It’s the easiest thing in the world to be a cynic. It takes so much more strength to actually create something."

He gets heated; his message heartfelt: "There are so many naysayers in the world. Your music 
should speak for itself, really. Just because you wrote one folk song, it doesn't mean you're a folk singer, it doesn't mean that's who you are".

Ross grew up in France and moved to the UK aged sixteen. On arrival, he was badly bullied: "I arrived as an outsider and unfortunately one of the things that made me stand out was my music". If to survive at school is to keep your head down, then music means shouting from the rooftops. "People are quick to make judgments, to spread things about you that aren't true. I arrived singing Jason Mraz and throwing myself into everything and unfortunately people misconstrued that as arrogance". He pauses and shrugs, adding: "Perhaps they still do".

Burning with shame, he deleted his page, his Soundcloud, everything. Slowly he started to re-upload songs under the guise of different names, always with the nagging thought that people from his past might find his music and "drag him back down to the mud". Now, he uses his real name.

Though his family "aren't musical at all", he learnt the piano young, and then the saxophone, falling for music by happy accident. Literally. He was "super into rugby" but tore a ligament aged twelve so couldn't play any sport for two years, until he was old enough to have surgery. He needed something to do - so in stepped music. He moved onto the bass at fourteen, and then the guitar. "I can play anything really and I want to play everything".

I ask him about inspiration. Recent loves include Leon Bridges, Jacob Banks, PHOX, and the Arctic Monkeys: "There's a reason great bands are considered great bands and go mainstream. I think maybe I'd overlooked the Arctic Monkeys, but there's an art and a skill to making good pop songs." Indeed. It's very easy to define yourself by negation, by the people you don't like and the songs that you hate (that everyone loves). Snobbery usually comes from a place of insecurity and music snobs, if you ask me, are the worst snobs.

Noticing that he writes his best songs when "it's for someone else", he admits that it's hard to be open and "easy to be a bit awkward about your own feelings". He wrote 'See You On The Other Side' for a friend who was going through a terrible break-up, and found the experience gratifying, more so than getting lots of listens on Soundcloud. Another he wrote on a beach: we agree that travel is a stimulus and an escape from the everyday distractions of Wi-Fi and phone signal. Technology spares us from boredom, yes, but with it comes procrastination, mindless scrolling and the Voldemort of creativity: auto-pilot.

I press him for the master-plan. When he's in Oxford he sings and plays the sax in Millie Is A Boy, a band taking the city's music scene by storm with an eclectic blend of funk and hip hop. "At the moment I've got dreams of renting a studio for a weekend and getting some of my own stuff down", he says. A few months have since passed and this weekend, he was in the studio.

"If there's one thing I've learnt about songwriting, it's that you don't say anything unless you mean it", he says. Bullies have the cheap jokes, but never the last laugh - and I mean it. Because there's one thing Ross can't do, and that's idle.

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1 comment :

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