With origins in Thai-funk, Middle-Eastern psychedelia, and classic soul music, it's no wonder both fans and critics alike find it a somewhat strenuous task putting their finger on a definitive description of Khruangbin's music. Considering they've cultivated a diverse and vehemently loyal global fanbase, I suppose it's an entirely irrelevant exercise.
Championed by Father John Misty, Bonobo, and Massive Attack, artists that themselves have achieved ongoing mainstream success, the Texan three-piece look to welcome a similar trajectory. Despite the regular struggles to pronounce their band name that is; admitting that if they had the foresight to anticipate their fortunes, they'd have chosen a simpler moniker. Personally, however, I'm utterly pleased they didn't as it's entirely indicative of their genre-bending and melting-pot aesthetic that initially tickled my fancy.
The release of Con Todo El Mundo earlier this year pushed Laura Lee (bass/vocals), Mark Speer (guitar/vocals), and DJ (drummer) firmly into the spotlight, with the trio embarking on their biggest UK headline tour to date. Before their sell-out show at London's Roundhouse in October, I caught up with them to natter about their influences, cover versions, collaborations, and potential forays into fashion.
So, to start us off, how did Khruangbin as a band come about?
Laura Lee: Mark and DJ had been playing in church together for nearly a decade. I'd met Mark through a mutual friend and bonded immediately over a love of Afghani art and music. He invited me to join he and DJ in one of their weekly hangouts on a Tuesday after their church rehearsal, and I never left. The three of us had dinner every Tuesday night for three years before I'd ever picked up a bass. Once I did and decided I wanted to start a band, it became clear that it was going to be the three of us.
You’ve carved your sonic niche out over each of your releases, but still, a fair amount of critics and fans find it somewhat difficult to categorise your sound. Was this an intention, or is your sound purely an amalgamation of your individual influences and unique instrumentation?
LL: The latter. We never intended to sound like anything but us.
As you cite a wealth of global musical influences as inspiration, would you say specific music influenced each respective album or EP?
DJ: Each album or EP is influenced heavily by what we are listening to at the time. So, in a way, they are time capsules of our collective listening journey.
The Infamous Bill is completely instrumental and noticeably differs from Con Todo El Mundo as the latter is peppered with vocal parts throughout. Did it feel like a natural progression to include more vocals?
Mark: I think we decided to use vocals as another tool in the kit. The Infamous Bill is about as stripped back as Khruangbin gets, and with this record, we added more textures and instrumentation.
Can you envisage the live band growing the larger the venues get?
DJ: I think a big part of our sound is the ability to do what we do with just three people, and I foresee us keeping it that way.
Photo by Ryan Muir
Do you feel like playing (and selling out) London’s Roundhouse is a watershed moment for you? It seems like the UK embraced you from early on - I, in fact, saw you in Brighton in 2016 and you’d made a huge impression even before then.
M: Although we approach every show with the same vigour and intensity, absolutely. We played there supporting Father John Misty, and just over two years later, we were there headlining it. It was a huge moment for us.
The video for ‘Como Te Quiero’ is beautiful, and is clearly very personal to you. Do you have a creative hand in all your music videos?
LL: Thank you. We do. The songs are a reflection of us, and I think it's important to be a part of everything we put out because the videos also become a part of those reflections. That one, in particular, is very personal to me.
The collaboration with Maribou State was immensely popular and kept relatively under wraps until its release. Do you have any plans to write and record with any other artists in the near future?
DJ: Yes we do.
M: We'll let you know when it's done.
Which artist would you love to collaborate with?
Having covered tracks that have influenced you thus far, such as Yellow Magic Orchestra’s ‘Firecracker’, are there any other tracks you think you’d do a good job of covering?
DJ: There is a part of our live show that includes a medley of songs we love and cover. They have included: 'Summer Madness', 'The Sweetest Taboo', and 'Apache'.
Air Khruang offers a glimpse into your diverse tastes, so do you have plans to continue this series?
M: Air Khruang is a big part of what we do. While it's the "DJ" side of Khruangbin, it's the tool we use to discover new music and influence new material.
John Lennon, Cocteau Twins, The Ramones, Mariah Carey, Run DMC, Elton John; you’ve now joined this illustrious list of artists to release a Christmas song. What inspired the festivity?
LL: Our label texted me when we were in the studio and asked what a Khruangbin Christmas song would sound like. I read it out loud, and Mark responded with "Well I love Vince Guaraldi", and DJ and I both said, "me too". In 15 minutes, the song was done. It was one of those magic moments in the studio that you can always hope for but never count on.
The band’s style has garnered plenty of admiration - Laura’s Instagram following has shot up over the past year as people love what you wear. Is fashion a territory you’d ever venture into?
LL: Fashion is part of the show. Khruangbin isn't just music to me. To me, it's one big painting - the songs, the records, the show, and the clothes. There are clothes that are meant for the stage, and I'm honoured to give those clothes a life. In short... I'd 100% venture into fashion.