Interview – Koto Kill

Koto Kill

London based, Somerset-raised Gabriel Ralls (A.K.A KOTO KILL)  fits the classic “small town boy” paradigm – but defies expectation with big ideas and an eclectic approach to music. Being brought up on a healthy mixture of Michael Jackson, Kylie Minogue and the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, his teenage discovery of metal, electronic rock and the IDM (Warp Records) scene proved a fundamental step in shaping the producer’s discography today. Promoting the release of his latest musical endeavour, ‘Téléphone Party’ will reach audiences on the 18th April with a high production video to accompany, proving an exciting yet unpredictable glimpse into Koto Kill’s latest album entitled ‘Fromage Et Fashion’ – slated for release on 28th April 2023.

Indie Midlands: Who is Koto Kill & what does your music stand for?

Koto Kill: It’s a collaborative project where I helm as a producer; working with any musician or vocalist I want (or that I can afford, anyway). While I do work with a set amount of musicians for each album, each song has a different vocalist. It allows me to work with genres I’d otherwise not. I also set “rules” for myself when writing an album to help keep the creative direction in focus.

As for what it stands for? Absolutely nothing. Nothing in this world will be improved or made worse by listening to this. But do enjoy the music for music’s sake.

Indie Midlands: Can you describe the album concept and how collaborations have helped your vision come to life?

Koto Kill: The concept was to write a multilingual album. It started with ‘Téléphone Party’, which was a track I had intended to write for my last release [2018’s ‘Fight Us All’] but I knew the song had to be in French and it didn’t really fit with the other tracks written. Also, this has more of a sense of humour to it than the others (which had none).

So I chipped away at the idea of possibly doing a release where every track is in a different language. I very slowly wrote songs during the pandemic but by the time I met Louise [Devismis – vocalist and actress for ‘Téléphone Party’] at the end of 2020, I felt I had locked a direction to truly finish the album and hone down this vague concept into something that’s finally being released now.

At the time all this was going on, the UK was in the final stages of filing its divorce with the EU and, being from London myself, most of my friends are from the EU. So it helped me round down the languages I’d feature in on the album – one track to represent the language of each country in the EU I’ve visited to date. Except Austria. They can share the German track and I don’t care how different it is (Sorry people of Austria, love you really).

And so I reached out to friends and also found some very talented people online to help. Each of them were given a level of freedom to write what they wanted (or follow key beats I had set for them) but it had to be something that they wouldn’t normally write about. Something that would make the listener do a double take.

Basically, I wrote an album by asking half the EU to do it for me.

Indie Midlands: With so many languages featured, are their any cool or interesting phrases you’ve learnt?

Koto Kill: I know how to pick up girls in Hungarian now [Referring to the track ‘I Want To Be Sexy And Mysterious. Also I Cannot Shut Up’] but my friend who wrote and performed those phrases for the track told me they’d only make sense coming from another woman… so it’s only useful if I’m prepping any lesbians planning to visit Hungary. It’s specific. It’s unexpected. Just my kind of useless knowledge.

I also know how to tell someone I bought a Nicholas Cage body pillow in traditional Irish [‘Troid na Scéalta Ólta’] – absolutely vital IMO.

Indie Midlands: How different is each track from the last, and which was your favourite to produce?

Koto Kill: Oh, from a musical standpoint the tracks vary considerably. I venture to atmospheric instrumental, cinematic / experimental jazz, hyper pop and my ol’ favourite – Industrial. The hardest thing to do was to make the songs feel like they had their own identity but also belonged together as a single body of work. It’s absolutely an album best listened to beginning to end and very much a grower (I think it’s too heavy for a single listen) – in other words, it’s gonna be a massive commercial flop but still valid for a Mercury Prize. 

As for favourite tracks to produce, I had a lot of fun recording the live drums, bass and sax (mostly for the Jazz-inspired tracks) which my good friends and I recorded in a studio in Kent. We were former bandmates (now of the band Yur Mum [SIC]) so it really felt like old times. We spent the weekend in a remote farm with a great engineer and a super cute puppy.

I also loved producing the track ‘Save Room’. It’s the only instrumental on the album and I wrote it in a single night. When I finished writing the song it was 4am and it noticed it snowing outside and I truly felt at peace at that moment.

Indie Midlands: ‘Fromage Et Fashion’ has a quality music video to accompany the single – how do you think visuals aid the listening experience?

Koto Kill: The song was written as an excuse to make the video. When I found Louise, I asked her to help me with the dialogue to my key beats but I also wanted to make sure she’d be happy to feature on a video for it too. We didn’t get to make the video for another year after recording it (and it’s been released another year still).

I feel the song stands on its own two feet – if you speak French – but the video does indeed allow for subtitles and to really dramatise the whole thing, exactly as I’d hope someone would picture it in their heads… However, Louise and I share a dark sense of humour so maybe it’s just us.

Nat Greener