FPSF Preview: Khruangbin

If I were to have to write up a list of the most absolutely intriguing bands to ever come from the Houston scene, well, it’d probably be a fairly long list, but also, Khruangbin would be up there near the top.

From the very first time I ever heard them, the Houston/London band, I was struck by how utterly different they were from anybody else I’d heard, from here or anywhere. They merge chilled-out retro-psych rock with cheerful-yet-mellow soul, then take that mixture and immerse in a vintage ’60s Thai funk.

Yeah, you read that last part right: the music this band makes can be traced, at least in part, to the music being made in Thailand in the 1960s by musicians obsessed with the American funk, pop, and rock albums that had started coming over the Pacific. Thai musicians took that music and made it their own, and now Khruangbin has brought that same sound back and mutated it even further, into something that’s simultaneously familiar and new.

I’ll admit that I didn’t fully get it, not at first. It wasn’t until I caught the video for “Two Fish And An Elephant,” from the band’s first full-length, The Universe Smiles Upon You, that I really felt like I could understand what the band was trying to do.

The video itself is gorgeous, a Tarantino-esque snapshot of the aftermath of a supremely violent fight that is also somehow truly beautiful, and the music fits it perfectly — if you haven’t yet seen it, yeah, you really should.

There’re bits of vintage jazz, large helpings of funk, little chunks of prog-rock, a whole lot of psychedelia, and serene soul, all making themselves felt and heard. It’s heady, trippy, and wonderful, so upon finding out Khruangbin were playing FPSF this year, SCR reached out to see if we could chat a bit with bassist Laura Lee before the festival hit.


SCR: Okay, so the thing that’s been burning in my brain since the first time I heard about Khruangbin: how the heck did that happen? How did you all end up forming a band to play post-war Thai pop music?
Laura Lee: [laughs] Well, there wasn’t any specific plan to make Thai-influenced music. Mark [Speer, guitarist] had stumbled upon a blog that focused on funk music from Thailand and made some mix CDs that ended up becoming our soundtrack of our summer 2011. When it came time to start playing, that summer influence became apparent in our playing. So, we named ourselves “Khruangbin” to pay credit where credit was due.

Tying into that previous question somewhat, what does “Khruangbin” mean? How did you come up with the name?
“Khruangbin” means “airplane” in Thai. Other translations we like are “engine fly” or “electric bird.” After our obsession with Thai music, I started to learn Thai, and I really liked saying the word “Khruangbin.” Plus, “airplane” seemed fitting. We “fly” all over for music that inspires us.

I remember reading somewhere that you rehearse and record in a barn — what’s the story behind that?
The barn is the fourth member of Khruangbin. Mark’s family has had a house out in Burton, TX, since he was a kid. There’s a barn on the property that used to hold equipment, but since they traded in tractors for cows, it was a shell until we came and made use of it. I can’t imagine making music in any other place.

The video for “Two Fish and An Elephant” is utterly amazing, both in its beauty and scope. Where did the vision for that come from? And is there an actual story to it? It definitely seems like the viewer is coming in at the very end, after everything’s already fallen apart.
Aw, shucks. It was a really big undertaking, and we’re all really proud to be a part of it. One day, I think it would be incredible to score a film, and this was a baby step in that direction. I was working for a creative agency, W+K, in London at the time, and a friend of mine there had the idea of directing a short film to our song — sort of scoring in reverse. As for the story specifics, we like to leave things a little open-ended for the viewer.

I know you made the move to London a year or three ago now? Why the change? Has the band ever talked about relocating there completely? Not that I want y’all to do that, mind you…
I’m always on board to mix life up a bit. I never had any intention of quitting Khruangbin, but I definitely didn’t think it would have grown the way it has. I’ve actually just recently moved back to the States to be closer to everyone — Los Angeles to be specific. And Mark has joined me in the move. DJ [Johnson, drummer] will be representing us down in Houston. So we’ll be going back and forth. Easier than shooting across the Atlantic…

Speaking of that, I imagine it must be difficult to organize shows and tours these days, with band members separated by the Atlantic Ocean. How have you dealt with that so far?
The thing about tour is…no one is at home. So, I think for the most part, that never felt like a challenge. There’s always a sense of joy reconnecting at every start of tour, and I think that energy comes through in our performances. The biggest challenge is the cost of plane tickets.

Most of what I’ve heard from the band, at least, has been instrumental, with no lyrics to speak of — why did you go that route when forming the band? Was it a conscious decision, to say, “okay, so we’re definitely not going to have a real singer”?
I think we’d always imagined having a singer, but none of us really wanted to sing. After the first recordings out at the barn, we weren’t sure if the music really needed it. Then, when it came to tracks like “White Gloves” or “Balls and Pins,” it seemed appropriate. So, we all sing in unison on those. But in both cases, the vocals come last.

It’s been great seeing the band get some attention lately; FPSF isn’t the only festival you’ve played or are playing this year, or even the biggest-name one, is it?
We’ve got quite a few festivals lined up this year. Glastonbury, Outside Lands, Bonarroo. Nice to be kicking off the summer in our hometown at FSPF. If you could have told me a few years ago I’d be having the summer I’m having this year…

I really like the “Flight” mixes you’ve been putting up on the Facebook page, by the way — what got that started?
It’s fun. That’s kind of it, really.

What does Khruangbin, as a band, have planned for later on down the road? Any major plans in the works?
We’ve just finished mixing our second album. So we’ll be touring and doing our Friday Flights until that little guy makes it way out into the world. END

[Khruangbin is playing at 2:50PM on 6/3/17, at the Saturn Stage of FPSF 2017 in Eleanor Tinsley Park, along with a whole big pile of other awesome bands & musicians.]

Interview by . Interview posted Friday, June 2nd, 2017. Filed under Features, Interviews.

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