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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

An interview with Lupen Crook about new album British Folk Tales

Medway born and now London based artist Lupen Crook describes the making of his new album British Folk Tales.

Written by Amelia Gregory

lupen crook by chris brake
Lupen Crook by Chris Brake.

Outsider artist and musical savant Lupen Crook returns with his 5th self produced album, created for only £600 at home in Camden. I first came across him some years ago when I introduced Lupen Crook to the world via the print pages of Amelia’s Magazine: alongside his unique talent I admired in him the DIY ethos that chimed so well with my own. Since then he’s remained on the fringes, a place he inhabits well: here his idiosyncratic take on life is able to manifest in acerbic, angry but always exciting songs that walk the space somewhere between folk, indie and grunge. Lead single Treasons To Be Beautiful is an anthemic refrain about the state of the UK today. It kicks off new album British Folk Tales with a brilliant animated video that showcases the collaged artwork that Lupen has become equally well known for. Despite his occasional pessimism life is looking pretty good for Crook.

Lupen Crook treasons to be beautiful
Lupen Crook treasons to be beautiful
Your current single Treasons to be Beautiful features some of your inimitable artwork – can you describe your artistic process in creating a video such as this? 
I’m not trained at anything, and my experience in video making is by far the thing I have the least experience in. There’s always a risk in everything that it could go a little sideways, but then it’s the trying and finding out for myself that appeals to me more than the result. I enjoy trying to communicate things, and this animation is basically a visual extension of the lyrics. Felt tip pens and patience for the most part, and not worrying too much about the things I don’t have, instead using my limited experience and the little resources I have as best I can.  

lupen-crook
What kind of art and music training do you have?
Well, nothing in terms of education. I can’t write or read music. I couldn’t tell you what paint stroke or technique I use when I paint. I’m a person who just does things, sometimes stubbornly and with little thought to whether or not I am capable. It’s not that I can write songs or paint pictures, it’s that I’m compelled to do so. I guess my training has been the experience of what I’ve done, and continue to do. There’s not much I know other than what I’ve found out by myself.  

Lupen Crook treasons to be beautiful
YouTube Preview Image
What inspired Treasons to be Beautiful?
The dreadful fucking corruption that exists, and worse still the cheap knock off versions of events that are so blatantly paraded around right in front of us, though it comes from such a great height it seems a wasted energy to worry about it for the most part. If I do get drawn into it, for all my efforts I end up paranoid, anxious, full of self loathing and despair. There’s a very real danger of growing hateful and bitter with this world. Thankfully, I have been working on avoiding the negative, am training myself to cope with these symptoms of living, not by ignoring the bigger picture, but by reducing it, and doing my best to ensure it doesn’t enter into my personal space, or my mind. Blissful ignorance is a dangerous illusion, but on the flip side if you look too close, your eyes will burn. It’s about moderating the things you allow into your reality. 

Lupen Crook British Folk Tales
Your new album comes out on a proper label – what was the decision behind this?
Self releasing was a learning curve. Of all the things I learnt, I learnt that I do not enjoy the selling, or the business stuff that has to be considered when self-releasing. Some people are brilliant at these things, they are as enthusiastic about selling records as I am making them, and it’s those people that should be selling music, not me. At the start of 2012 I made a decision to be positively selfish toward the things I wanted to do, and avoid anything that was in the slightest bit opposed to that. I like creating things. I like ideas. I like painting, I like writing, and I like music. Luckily this label, and Neil Burrows in particular, approached me, and were enthusiastic about releasing the album. They stick to their side of the fence, I stick to mine. We meet in the middle for a catch up, but otherwise I just get on tending to my side. So far, it’s working. 

Lupen Crook by Fran Marchesi
Lupen Crook by Fran Marchesi.

Why British Folk Tales?
Ha, it sounds like a fucking Mumford and Sons record doesn’t it? But it’s not, obviously. Well, the truth is my last few albums have, for want of a better word, been almost conceptual, in the sense the songs have had this very strong theme and message running through them. This time, it felt more like just a collection of songs. Of course, there are themes that run through the songs, because themes run through me, but it felt quite a relief not to be dealing with something that was trying to define itself, to solve something bigger and beyond the actual music. That’s not to say I feel anything less for these songs, but there was less of an overall ‘thing’ to contend with. The title itself, I fell in love with very early on. I love that it’s so simple, and almost traditional, and so non-crooked. It amused me, but also it just felt right. The trouble was, as the album progressed, it started to feel very wrong. Throughout the whole recording process, I referred to the album as ‘illogica‘, but after the album was finished, I randomly stumbled upon that old photograph in a box of other stuff, and suddenly it all made sense. 

lupen-crook
What is the folk tale that has touched you the most?
My friend Bob Loveday, who played Violin on the album, compared something that’s been happening in my life to this tale … A man and goes out to work, in the hope of providing for his family. Their fields are dry and nothing grows. The future is bleak. He is gone for months and months, maybe even years. He tries his hand at everything. He mines for gold, oil, whatever else you can mine for. But he finds nothing. No luck. He has failed. And so, with nothing more to do, no hope or choice, he returns to his family a broken man. One night, sitting outside in his back garden, looking out upon the dry and lifeless field on which his dilapidated house stands, he kicks the ground. Under the moonlight, he sees a slight flicker of light from the dark dirt at his feet. He reaches down, and there he finds a diamond, and then another, and so on. This story really struck a chord with me. In essence a story about home and family and what’s really important. I love that this bloke had gone around the world searching for something that all the time was right there, under his nose, where he least expected it to be.    

Lupen Crook treasons to be beautiful
lupen-crook treasons to be beautiful
Are you hopeful or fearful for the future, or maybe a bit of both…  and where do you think we are heading?
We? I can’t answer that. Where I am heading is nowhere beyond my next idea. Along the way, I’ll be keeping an eye on myself, cleanse a little more of the rotten guilt that weighs on my mind. Self awareness to an extent, but not self obsession. Awareness of my surroundings, but realising that my surroundings are an illusion, and a changeable one, changeable by myself and everything else in the world.

Lupen Crook album launch party
What were the main things going through your mind when you made this album?
Probably that this was the last Lupen Crook album I would be making for a while. 

Lupen Crook treasons to be beautiful
Lupen Crook treasons to be beautiful
Who were your cohorts and collaborators?
I didn’t work with a band. I invited my friend Chris Garth to play drums and we both laid down the album in 2 days, basically live – vocals, guitar and drums. Other than that, I done it all in-house. A few people came round and played some stuff, very improvised. Tom Langridge, John Whitaker and Bob Loveday all visited my flat. I pretty much made them a coffee and asked if they’d have a go at playing something over whatever it was I was working on at the time. Sometimes I’d just let them jam stuff out and then edit it later, rather than work on actual parts for the songs. It was a way of keeping things natural, even if the structures were set. 

Lupen Crook treasons to be beautiful
At the end of Treasons to be Beautiful you seem to float off with your family – how much has being a dad at a reasonably young age informed your work?
Yeah, my crooked family. They allow me to be the way I am. We’ll float off one day. 

What is the best bit about being a dad?
Laughing. 

Lupen Crook treasons to be beautiful
Are you still based in Kent? What is the music scene like down there nowadays?
No. I live in North London. We moved up here and I left the wicked side of myself back there. I left him walking the length of Dirty Mile. We speak sometimes, now and again. But no, I like my sanctuary in the chaos of this capital. Strange, but in all the madness of Camden, I feel peaceful and able to concentrate my efforts on the things that need most. I do visit Medway though, and there’s plenty going on. The last few years have seen a real effort by artists and musicians to promote what they do and what’s happening, which is great, the stuff happening is really worth checking out. 

Lupen Crook festival-of-light
Lupen Crook, Festival of Light.

Any bands we should be looking out for from down that way?
Loads. A lot you can see, a lot more you would never hear about unless you saw it for yourself. The 2nd November gig I’ve put on in Rochester goes some way to celebrating this, but for sure there’s a whole load more to Medway. That said, it’ll be great and no doubt a little crazy getting 8 of my favourite bands in a building for one night only. I’ve also made these punk style booklets, hand-made fanzine type things, which I’m distributing with the help of a few independent shops in the lead up to the gig. I was lucky to get contributions from a few great artists, including Wolf Howard, Scott Jason Smith, and Wolfgang Riot. Not to mention the bands that have agreed to come together and play on the night. Come along, find out for yourself. 

Lupen Crook murder-by-medway-council-2009
Lupen Crook, Murder by Medway Council, 2009

What do you hope for in the coming year?
I’ve got an exhibition that opens on January 10th in Kentish Town. A brilliantly original gallery called Flaxon Ptootch. I’ll be showing new paintings alongside artist Joni Belaruski, which I’m really excited about. Other than that, I’ve got some writing I might try to publish, and other musical things in the pipeline, but nothing set in stone. Open waters, which is exactly how I want it. 

Lupen Crook treasons to be beautiful
Lupen Crook treasons to be beautiful
British Folk Tales is released on 29th October 2012 via license from Crook’s own Beast Reality label to UK Indie label The Preservation Society Presents. Alongside CD, Vinyl and Download, the new album is presented as a Limited Edition vinyl with hand-painted sleeve art created by Lupen Crook. Available via indie stores and mail order from The Preservation Society Presents. website.

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