Khruangbin are an exciting nomadic Texan trio made up of musicians; Laura Lee on bass, Mark Speer on guitar and D.J. on drums. Khruangbin's globetrotting antics, and eclectic influences ooze into their innovative and unique indie music. In sound, the band are very heavily inspired by exotic world funk music. They enjoy crate-digging, and host regular shows on NTS called "Cabin Pressure" as well as soundtracking their Flights around the world on Spotify. Now, they're even taking on ours too with: AirKhruang.com, their latest forward-thinking venture.
On Friday 26th Jan, Khruangbin released a genre-blurry magnum opus in the form of Con Todo El Mundo. The new album, is a wonderful celebration of love in all its forms. In Con Todo El Mundo, it feels as though the three of Khruangbin have really come together; with a deep appreciation, connectivity, and gratitude in mind. It’s exactly what can bring someone out of those darker places. Their video for "Friday Morning" a piece of highly emotive performance art, reminiscent of work from the incredible Marina Abramovic. I caught up with the band on behalf of EARMILK to hear more about the album, and all their exciting projects.
EM: For any listeners unfamiliar with your new work.. How would you introduce & describe your new album?
LL: There’s not many lyrics. It’s about love as a bigger concept, so it could be a relationship, or the love of your band, and doing what we’re doing now – giving everything you’ve got & hoping for the best. I think that applies to any kind of love. Hopefully the album reads as one big breath with all the different aspects of our personalities in there.
EM: I read in the press release that it was in part inspired by your granddad Laura?
LL: The title is, and there are bits of him in there. He was really special to me. When he died I was 15 or 16. I always wanted to do a project. I thought it was going to be an art project, I still have all the initial sketches, but then this happened and it was an opportunity to shove bits of things you love, and bits of things from various places into a project, but it’s named for him.
EM: Can you tell me a bit about the inspiration behind celebrating Iranian women in the Maria También video?
Mark: We were throwing around ideas for what we wanted the video to be. First, we just wanted to have footage of people from all over the world to be dancing, and then it was footage of people in the Middle East dancing, because it kind of has the vibe. But, then it was like, really how do we make this mean something more, so it’s more special to us. So LL was up super late in the night looking at all of these YouTube videos, and she found a tonne of Iranian movies featuring women with uncovered hair.
LL: We started working with a Persian creative director on it, and she also had a passion to do something Iranian specific instead of Middle Eastern in general. She was like, let’s show women of colour, and women unclothed, women who are free, and not the way the western world thinks of them. I started combing through footage on YouTube, and found a user that had uploaded like 30 old Persian films. I was looking up the actresses in the films on imdb. They had amazing careers, like 20 films a year! And, then in 1979 it just ended for all of them. It really hit me, and then when I told the director about it.
EM: Middle Eastern music is a new influence on this album, what kind of artists have you been listening to?
Mark: Nazan Şoray, a lot of Googoosh, a lot of Elias Rahbani, the Rahbani brothers in general, Omer Sereen. Lots of Turkish stuff. It’s all funky. It’s like they’ve been listening to funk/disco & rock ‘n’ roll, mixed with their local vibe. That’s what makes it so fun. Because, it’s not just straight-up let’s make a James Brown record. James Brown’s cool, so we’re going to use part of that, but they’re also Egyptian. So it doesn’t seem like it’s trying to imitate.
LL: It’s all funky, it’s like post-traditional. I don’t know. We usually look for funky music rather than funk music.
EM: DJ, do you have any funky drummers that you’re into?
DJ: The funky drummer is Clyde Stubblefield, who’s a huge influence on my playing. Jabo Starks, basically the James Brown guys. And, a lot of other drummers from that time period like Ed Green, James Gadson. There’s a long list, but they’re probably the top influences.
EM: So the NTS "Cabin Pressure" stuff you do, that’s awesome. Who DJs live for that?
LL: It’s really ironic, because it’s basically whenever D.J. isn’t around that we DJ! Mark and I moved to L.A last year, we weren’t putting out any new material, and we weren’t touring in the normal touring style. We wanted to find a way to connect with everyone who listens to us. We found out our record wasn’t going to be put out until now (Jan 26th 2018)
Mark: We miss him when he’s not around, so we feel we need to fill the void somehow. We take requests from him when he’s away.
EM: I really like the idea soundtracking your Flights as well. I’m a really big fan of playlists and personal mixtapes in general. A lot of the mixtapes you have on Spotify are centred on flights that you’ve all taken. Do you have any favourite flights?
LL: I actually really like our NY flight, because it’s not what you think of in a way. Also our Indian one that we just made about Mumbai. Actually, I can probably plug it, but we’re building a website right now, called AirKhruang.com where it’s going to be an airline website, where people can actually book a flight from one destination to another. It will spit out a playlist curated by us that starts in one city, and ends in another.
EM: So you mentioned you didn’t set out to make music with a particular sound, but how did you all form a band together?
Mark: Me and D.J. played in church together for over ten years. We had rehearsals every Tuesday or something, and then we’d go to this spot called Rudyards, which is the closest thing to British pub there is in Houston. It’s got the wood panelling, and it’s kind of dark, and it smells like stale beer, it’s got really good food, and it’s called Rudyards as well. Laura Lee came into the fold because I met her through Lucas Goram & pulled her out of teaching Maths at elementary school.
LL: I was working with our good friend’s roommate at the time. We went on a lunch break to their house, and got a 2$ falafel. I walked in and Mark was sat in their living room watching a documentary on Afghani music, and I was studying ancient Middle Eastern art at the time. I’d never met anyone who randomly watched Afghani music documentaries. I was just like, who are you? We ended up chatting and it was instant friends. He invited me to come out to Rudyards on a Tuesday, and I came every Tuesday after that.
EM: Do you all have a favourite song on the album?
LL: I think our collective favourite song is "Friday Morning". It was our moment where we all knew that we’d made something really good. My personal favourite is the 5th song “Còmo Te Quiero.” It’s a song that’s also actually related to my granddad, I had written lyrics about him (kind of). I sent it to Mark & he wrote the sung melody as a guitar line. It’s become a completely different song to how is started, but it means, “How much I love you.” It really came alive during mixing.
DJ:“Còmo Te Quiero” is mine too. I thought it was strong from the beginning!
EM: Would you say Con Todo El Mundo is more diverse than The Universe Smiles Upon You? I get the feeling its emotionally more intense.
Mark: There are definitely new influences, but to me it still sounds like Khruangbin. We have a very distinct formula. There’s some more instruments on this record. The last record was pretty much just the three of us. I overdubbed some percussion and LL did some vocals, and that was it, and Will, can’t forget about Will. He came back on this record, and a friend of mine Houston, Chase played some vibraphone, and we also had a guy I grew up with playing percussion on some tracks. His wife is a Lebanese belly dancer and he plays salsa music, so he was like, pulling these two things that are very different into it. It really worked for me.
LL: I think there’s stronger notes, or flavours in this album. There’s a little bit more chilli, or sugar in certain parts of this album compared to the last one. The playful notes feel more playful. And, the serious moments feel more serious. It’s grander in that way.
EM: How did the video for Friday morning come about? I really like the idea behind it. I can imagine it being really moving for you all. People just don’t say how important others are to them enough. Even though they feel it deep down. It’s a really nice concept. It seems like that idea is almost what the album is about as well.
LL: It was ultimately, actually quite simple. But, the process arriving to that idea took forever! We talked about it for months, and I was like how do you portray love in a way that hasn’t been done before?! It’s like, an impossible thing! Anyway, we kind of reached the conclusion that it should definitely be at the farm. We all love the farm and the farm is home. But Mark, was rightfully particular about what we showed people of our home. He didn’t want it to be of us, and our full bodies, playing instruments. We eventually decided upon just showing our faces with the idea in the video.
Mark: We all had messages to each other.
DJ: I fought Laura tooth for nail on that video. I did not want to be exposed like that. I knew it was going to happen. She put the camera in front of me, and was like: “whatever happens we’ll just capture it” and I was, like: “I’m going to cry.” But, seeing the finished project, I really appreciated it, and during the process I appreciated being able to hear all those messages from people. I also feel like if that concept had never been conceived then I probably wouldn’t have heard those recordings. So, that was super special to me. Sometimes, it’s the things you don’t want to do that end up being the most rewarding moments in life. I’m grateful for that. Thank you.
EM: Have there been any moments where people have said, a song, has really personally impacted them?
LL: I’m a keeper of the Facebook messages that come in. I mean like, people in labour having the album on that went through really difficult pregnancies. With loads to do everyday, often you’re not always able to check the fb messages, but then you read stuff like that, and it’s like: “Oh god, why was I not wanting to check these?” We get a lot of people that are like: “I love to make pasta to your music, or I love to read, or study to your music” and you get the odd person saying: “I made love to your music!” I think the instrumental aspect of the music, allows it to becomes a lot of different things to people. Whereas, I think if the song is about, dancing, then the song’s always about that.
Mark: Also, after every show.
EM: Ok last question! How important is it for you to be independent as a band?
LL: Yeah super important. We have creative control.
DJ: Yeah, I think the creative control in the most important aspect of it, because when you sign to a major you have a lot of people in suits that tend to what to tell you how to make art. And, that’s not really what art is. It’s not someone telling you what to make, it’s you making what you feel in that moment. And, putting it out there to the world.
Mark: I don’t know if I really feel independent because we have such an amazing team behind us. It’s not just us three, and we couldn’t do it without the people helping us out.
EM: Is there anything else you would like to go into the interview while I'm here?
LL: Only how much I love them both.
Khruangbin EK & EU Tour Dates:
Sat. Feb. 3 – London, UK @ Rough Trade East
Sun. Feb. 4 – Glasgow, UK @ Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA)
Mon. Feb. 5 – Manchester, UK @ RNCM Theatre
Tue. Feb. 6 – Bristol, UK @ Bierkeller
Thu. Feb. 8 – London, UK @ Electric Brixton
Fri. Feb. 9 – Brighton, UK @ The Haunt
Sat. Feb. 10 – Amsterdam, NL @ Paradiso Noord
Mon. Feb. 12 – Hamburg, DE @ Uebel & Gefährlich
Tue. Feb. 13 – Copenhagen, DK @ Pumpehuset
Wed. Feb. 14 – Stockholm, SE @ HOSOI
Fri. Feb. 16 – Berlin, DE @ Festaal Kreuzberg
Sat. Feb. 17 – Munich, DE @ Strom
Sun. Feb. 18 – Cologne, DE @ Gebäude 9
Mon. Feb. 19 – Dudingen, CH @ Bad Bonn
Tue. Feb. 20 – Turin, IT @ Spazio 211
Thu. Feb. 22 – Barcelona, ES @ Sidecar
Fri. Feb. 23 – Madrid, ES @ Sirocco
Mon. Feb. 26 – Paris, FR @ Badaboum
Tue. Feb. 27 – Utrecht, NL @ Ekko
Wed. Feb. 28 – Rotterdam, NL @ BIRD
Fri. March 2 – Istanbul, TR @ Salon IKSV
Sun. March 4 – Dublin, IE @ Whelan's