Setting off on a metaphysical vacation with Khruangbin.
Take Khruangbin to chill, free your mind, let your thoughts wander… No, it’s not a prescription drug, but this Houston-based band does work wonders. Its cinematic-psychedelic-surfer rock is an auditory mind trip—only natural, given their influences hailing from all over the globe. (’60s Thai funk is among the band’s most defining inspirations.)
Since uniting in 2010, the trio—Laura Lee, bass; Mark Speer, guitar; and Donald “DJ”
Johnson, drums—has racked up frequent flyer miles in the -illions. They’ve toured with
Father John Misty, played Glastonbury (twice), headlined US and UK tours, and sold out
shows along the way, including Dallas, New York, London, San Francisco, and Berlin.
We chatted with Speer (a music history guru and the world’s most minimalist traveler)
while on the road in support of the band’s second full-length album, Con Todo El Mundo.
People who listen to Khruangbin don’t like it. They love it. What do you think elicits such strong devotion?
That’s been a surprise—a pleasant one, of course, but we could’ve never anticipated that
kind of loyalty. I think it’s partly because our music is instrumental. That allows the
listener to create their own experience and story to connect to, instead of us telling you
what it means.
So, ’60s Thai Funk—how does one discover that?
In 2006/2007, I was living with a bunch of music nerds and that’s just what we did then:
get in to all types of different, obscure world music. It was a show-and-tell competition
like, “Hey, did you check out this one?”
Awesome Tapes from Africa was one of the big sites uploading music from cassette tapes
in West Africa. They’ve actually become a record label since then. From that site, I found
the Monrakplengthai blog and its compilations of southeast Asian pop, rock, funk…
More accurately, we’re inspired by mid-’70s and early ’80s Thai music, but the limitations
of the recording technology makes the sounds seem older.
That music was what really united the band, right?
DJ and I have been playing in church for forever. I essentially met Laura through a
friend of a friend. She came over with a friend’s little sister while we were watching a
documentary on African music and we instantly clicked like, “Ok, we’ve gotta be friends.”
How did you get started playing music?
Around the age of 12 when I started to get passionate about music. My friends and I started a band because we had older brothers and that was the thing to do. I wanted to play
drums, but couldn’t afford a kit, so that’s how I ended up on bass [laughing]. My first gig
was at Fitzgerald’s in Houston, my hometown, and I’ve basically been gigging since then.
Have your Houston roots influenced Khruangbin’s sound?
Houston is a very multicultural city. I went to school with kids whose parents came from
all over the world, particularly from the East. It’s a richly diverse place to grow up and be
exposed to lots of different perspectives.
You also record in Texas.
Yes, in a remote barn outside Burton. I think that environment gives our sound that
expansive sense of space.
Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo, Desert Daze, Outside Lands, South by Southwest… You’ve played all the big festivals. Do you have a favorite?
It’s hard to say. In the moment, it’s tough to connect and get lost in the experience because
you’re focusing so much on playing. But Love International, this electronic-house music
festival in Croatia, has to be a favorite. We were there during the World Cup and the whole
country was going absolutely nuts.
What’s one of the surprises you’ve had touring?
In our setlist, we always like to include a cover medley from that region. So in Thailand,
it’s Thai music; on the West Coast, it’s hip hop, and so on. In Istanbul, we decided to play
one of our favorite Turkish songs we’d discovered. Turns out, it’s by like, the Madonna
of Turkey. The entire crowd started singing along so loudly. We were totally caught offguard. Amazing.
You pack super light on the road, but almost always bring your sharkskin fabric suit. It’s your signature?
I actually picked it up at El Patron Western Wear in Houston. They outfit all the Mexican
banda bands, so it’s my homage to my hometown. I wanted to look somewhere in between
a banda member and a psychic Turkish rocker.
Place you haven’t been but can’t wait to visit?
I haven’t been to Africa yet.
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