Khruangbin – Interview – 2016

An instrumental three-piece that play Thai funk-inspired surf-rock – what’s not to like? We are certainly not the only ones who love their sound either as an overflowing crowd at this year’s Great Escape Festival proved, all trying to hear a glimpse of this mystical sound. Releasing one of the quiet gems of 2015 with their debut album, The Universe Smiles Upon You, it’s safe to say we are obsessed. The band grace Komedia later this month for what is sure to be another spellbinding show – we put some questions to them to find out more about Khruangbin.

Where did you grow up?
Houston, TX, USA.

Is there much of a music scene there?
Mark: There is a very creative music scene with a lot of talented players with a strong soul, R&B and jazz foundation in Houston, TX. There’s a big avant-garde, noise, punk and metal scene. The local music scene has done just fine within its own realm. It’s an incubator.

Laura Lee: What we don’t have is internationally recognised labels in Houston. So once you reach a certain point in your musical career, it’s time to go. It’s not a city for upward mobility within the music industry which is a shame. It means the best leave the city. At the same time, it’s also really good, because it means that the best of Houston are on records from all over the world. I mean, the biggest pop star in the world, is from Houston, TX.

Do you think where you lived or live now has influenced your music?
Laura Lee: Surprisingly to most people on this side of the Atlantic, Houston is one of the most diverse cities in America. So we’re exposed to a wide variety of food, music and culture. All walks of life live in Houston, and Khruangbin loves to take inspiration from all of them.

What kind of music were you brought up on?
Mark: Classical guitar on road trips, specifically by Rodrigo, by Brazillian composer Villa-lobos, Tárrega. Jazz: Bossanova, Stan Getz. I used to come home every day from school and listen to Magical Mystery Tour or Sgt Peppers. By the time the 90s came around, I was listening to local bands, grunge, far out stuff, punk, ska.

Laura Lee: We lived on the outskirts of town, and so most of my music was listened to in the car on the way to school, which my parents dictated. My dad used to listen The Beatles, The Stones, The Police and Simply Red. My mom loved to sing along to The Carpenters, Gloria Estefan and old Mexican standards—like that of Trio Los Panchos.

Can you remember the first album you bought?
Mark: The first album I had, I bought through one of Columbia House ten CDs for a penny things, which was Beastie Boys – Check Your Head. I don’t remember the other ones I got.

Laura Lee: I remember the first two cassettes I had: the single for Fine Young Cannibals – ‘She Drives Me Crazy’ and Extreme – ‘More Than Words’

What was the first instrument you played?
Mark: I took piano lessons as a kid. Hated it. My brother, who is six years older than me, stopped taking lessons, I decided I didn’t want to take them either. So I didn’t have any interest in music until I was about 12 and my buddies wanted to start a band. It was cool to start a band.

Laura Lee: I took piano lessons when I was really young, but got interested in other things by the time I hit my pre-teens. It wasn’t until six years ago that I picked up bass, which is 100% home to me.

What drives you to write music?
Mark: It’s all I know how to do. I just want to make music that I want to hear.

Has your style of music stayed the same?
Laura Lee: We tend to mix genres generally, and I think that will continue to be the case—but I think what genres we pull from will evolve over time.

How did Khruangbin form?
Laura Lee: DJ and Mark had been playing gospel together for years, and they’d meet each Tuesday evening for burgers after they had rehearsal. I started crashing their dinners at some point, and we formed a bond between us. A couple of years later, I started playing bass, and Mark helped me land a gig with him on tour playing for Yppah in 2010, supporting Bonobo across the West Coast in the States. It was my first time ever playing on stage. When we finished that run, as soon as we got out of the van, I looked at Mark straight in the face and told him I wanted to start a band. DJ was our natural go to for our third.

Can you remember your first jam?
Laura Lee: I think so. I think the first few times we played all kind of blur together. Mark’s family has a farm in the middle of the TX hill country, and in the summer we started playing together, we were going out there every weekend and jamming in the barn. It was before we asked DJ to join. So, at that time, it was just Mark banging on the drums and me playing bass. For hours and hours in the sweltering heat. It was awesome.

Is there a story behind the name?
Mark: When we first started this project, we were listening to a lot of old Thai funk and psych rock. We also were attempting to learn some of the Thai language, so we could better understand what they were saying on these killer recordings. One of the first words we learned was “Khruangbin”, the Thai word for airplane. We also just really liked saying it all the time. When it came time to name the project, there was no question. It had to be Khruangbin.

How would you briefly describe your music’s ethos?
Laura Lee: The Universe Smiles Upon You.

What are the band’s main influences?
Mark: Roy Ayers, Roots Radics, Roha Band, Sutrak Aksonthong, Takeshi Terauchi, Ersen, Talking Heads.

How do you approach the writing process?
Laura Lee: We play in a barn, usually with the doors open wide, in the middle of nowhere in the TX hill country. It’s just us and the cows.

Do you prefer writing music or performing live?
Laura Lee: Six eggs in one. Half a dozen in the other.

Who would be in your ultimate supergroup and what would be their name?
Delia Derbyshire to make us loops, Pharoah Sanders on sax, Cassandra Wong on bass, Freddie Mercury on lead vox, Lincoln Style Scott on drums, and Ernest Ranglin on guitar, Dorothy Ashby on Harp, and Steve Jordan on accordion. Their name would be Electric Bird.

If you could work with any artist, who would it be and what would they bring to Khruangbin?
James Turrell. Having him create simple and forward thinking spaces. And then playing in them.

If you could give a musical award to somebody, what would it be and for whom?
Grooviest Children’s Song: Pointer Sisters – ‘Pinball Machine Countdown’.

Best Radio Personality in the Galaxy – Ruby Rod from the Fifth Element.

Going Furthest for the Cause – Hedwig (and the Angry Inch).

What music are you listening to at the moment? 
Frances Jolli – Gonna Get Over You.

Bobby Charles – Small Town Talk.

Ted Lucas – I’ll Find a Way to Carry it All.

Asha Puthli – Say Yes.

Do you get to many gigs?
FJM. Still Parade. Earth Wind and Fire. Tinariwen. Paradise Bangkok.

What are your future plans till the end of the year and after?
We’ve got a UK / European tour coming up in October and November. Then we’re almost straight into the barn to record some new songs, and then we’re kicking back and getting some traveling and R&R in over the holidays.