“Oh maaaan, all the graffiti’s gone!” King Nun drummer Caius Stockley-Young says, exasperated. He scours every corner of a rooftop carpark in Richmond, south west London for the scrappy tags he and his bandmates placed here in their earliest days. As it turns out, this distinctly unremarkable mass of concrete is instrumental to the existence and evolution of King Nun.
“We wrote all our songs up here,” frontman Theo Polyzoides excitedly recalls. “We could’ve written them in our houses but that didn’t feel dangerous enough.” If they came here after school and it was raining, they’d pitch an umbrella and start scribbling anyway, despite the best efforts of the elements. “I used to bring all my girlfriends here,” Theo continues as we head down a grimy back staircase out of the building. “In my head it was a fucking paradise,” he winces.
Beginnings such as these make perfect sense when listening to the vicious, vibrant early songs the band emerged with. They’re a band able to glean significant feeling and bombast from things so drearily everyday, with Theo as their madcap, twisted leader. As he leads us out of the car park, the next stop is – of course – the graveyard.
He marches over to a particular grave before beginning the story of the night he walked through this spot to find a man who had cracked his skull on the pavement. A twisted version of the story forms the basis of recent single ‘Chinese Medicine’, where Theo sings of “looking down at the crimson flower on the ground”.
“Some of the fondest times in my life is just sneaking out and walking around the streets when I was younger, and I think that every King Nun song, in a way, pulls from that,” Theo says as we sit down at local pub, The Mitre, after a predictably heated debate between the four-piece of which local watering hole is, in fact, the best (as childhood friends tend to do). “It’s escapism, finding your place in the world and claiming your own freedom from what’s expected of you,” he says.
After achieving this space and freedom through yelled vocals, screaming guitars and the sonic equivalent of running through a brick wall on their early singles, the band arrive at their debut album ‘Mass’, a record that matches a significant musical progression and a reckoning with their past selves. There’s still an intensity of feeling on the record, transmitted via an instrumental cocktail that plays out like a highlights reel of guitar music’s transformations across the past 40 years, and fronted by Theo’s deliciously British yelps.
Theo points to the song ‘Sharing A Head With Seth’ in particular, a track in which the titular character represents a past version of Theo, one who wrote lyrics he probably wouldn’t still stand by now. “[Seth is] responsible for doing all of our early punk shit,” Theo explains, “and the song is a conversation with him, saying ‘if you’re singing all of this stuff, that’s the person you’ll eventually end up becoming’.”
For a band so young and driven by such intensity, it’s an impressive and noteworthy reckoning, and across ‘Mass’ the band bring every ounce of energy that they always did, while dialling down some of the near-dangerous recklessness of their past selves.
“I think our ambition has always been insane,” Theo says. “We’ve just always wanted to be like the teenage dream of what a band is, and that idea is very much have in our hearts – to be the most colossal fucking band that ever stood on the face of the earth.”
We’re imagining that the ‘teenage dream’ he speaks of would look pretty similar to the year the band have just had. As well as recording the debut, they’ve supported Black Flag (“when the email came through, there was a typo and it said ‘Blag Flag’ so we thought we were supporting a tribute act…” bassist Nathan Gane laughs) and Foo Fighters (“I accidentally got nervous and called Dave Grohl ‘David’ in the most absurdly British accent ever,” Theo winces), getting a taste of the big leagues while not losing their delightfully ramshackle selves. “I think I love being on a bigger stage,” Theo says. “We’ve done plenty of gigs by now where we can hardly move on stage. I want to need binoculars in order to see Caius on the drums. We’re ready for it.”
The album has been preceded by first single ‘Black Tree’, a chillingly dark song about the all-encompassing and inexplicable cloud of depression, a disease that gets “stuck in your shoes” and “under your clothes”. “It sets the table for the album,” Theo says. “It’s an exorcism, and the album doesn’t get much bleaker than that. “I had to call my parents a few times before I sang some of the songs. There were some songs that got cut from the album that went even deeper… far too deep.”
“I think we all just have this thing where we just cannot keep our feelings to ourselves,” the frontman continues, and ‘Mass’ exists as the flag in the ground of a band who emerged as – and remain – brutal and brilliant in their honesty. “[The album is] me nailing myself to the cross, and saying ‘Just take everything’,” Theo says. “I truly believe my purpose is to see these things and then spill them out. I really want people to have everything, and to put it in as beautiful a way as possible so they can learn from it, and just fucking pin myself to the wall.”
King Nun’s debut album ‘Mass’ is out on October 4 via Dirty Hit