For the longest time, it felt like pretty much every city had a music festival. There would be nothing wrong with that if any two were discernible, but many had the same lineups just in a different place. When we stumbled across Marfa Myths, it was exactly what we wanted, a festival about music not about marketing beer and autos to ticket holders. The festival curated by NYC label Mexican Summer is a feast for the eyes and ears, with lineups that are really for anyone who cares about music and not the perfect Instagram post. This year is no different with a lineup that’s made for music heads, especially in that Khruangbin will be at the top of the performers scheduled to appear. For a minute we could have caught the trio in small spaces whenever we wanted, though it was their latest album Con Todo El Mundo that really captured our ears and the globe’s attention. With a sound that’s familiar but not stolen and a live set that’s chill but not without an energy, we decided to chat with them about how it all came to be and what they have in store for the future.
With some bands, the way the got their start is either through their youth or through some epic tale, though with Khruangbin it was more just from friends hanging out. “Mark was working at Rockin’ Robin (a Houston guitar shop) and we let Robert Ellis hear some jams we had worked on in 2010, and he had us open for him. We had merch for that show, seven inches and T-shirts, but there was no thought of how it would go. When people ask us about starting off, playing in the barn in Burton, we always just say that we were playing to cows. I liked the music we were making and the band, so I made time for it,” says Laura Lee.
When you listen to the band’s music, it is more complex than it first appears. With Mark Speer playing guitar against the chord progressions as the band adds melodies that pretty much no one else in modern music today adds, it makes you wonder how they ever saw it fitting in to today’s crowded music landscape. “Yeah, melodic dubby bass, funky break beat drums and reverbed guitar. Laura plays 1-4-5 and I just wanna’ play around what she’s playing and make it sound hypnotic. I’m just ornamenting what she does. The bass line is the song,” remarks Speer.
“No matter what we do, it sounds like us. We approach it all playfully. We had a writing day yesterday, actually. I started playing bass when we started this band. I play melodies and Mark adds other melodies against me to create the sound,” says Lee.
The band’s first album, The Universe Smiles Upon You has a grittier sound than their most recent record. With hints of psych and touches of the blues, it’s a very different sound from Con Todo El Mundo. So much so, it made us wonder how the band goes about putting their music together. “That record is a miracle baby. I was living in London and I had a week off to do it. We weren’t ready. The last day of recording out at the farm, we felt defeated. Steve (Christensen) packed up and went back to Houston. With this band, we like the natural feel. I think that’s why the jam community likes us, because these songs all started out as jams. When we record, it’s the first time for us doing them as songs. I learned a skill being out on the road, there’s no “normal sandwich.” There are just elements there to make something, so you make what you make. We do music the same,” remarks Lee.
“The post-production is important because we want it all to be instant. We want the third take, not the fiftieth. We’ll edit and pull from other takes. All of the instruments are recorded live without overdubs, we work with A and B parts with a new C part. We try to go back and find inspiration from something recorded in the past. Maybe it’s something I recorded on my phone a year ago. So we just learn it and put it in. The same is with lyrics, I’d use bits from what I’d written in the past year to make something cool from the scraps. Once the editing is done, it should all sound right,” explains Speer.
With Con Todo El Mundo, Khruangbin released one of the prettiest albums of 2018. The writing is more involved than what you may notice on the first listen, it has so many light touches that it has the quality of so many moving pieces, that it’s hard to believe that it even exists. “We had one song and a notebook with parts in it. We had two weeks to record. We went to the barn to jam and that didn’t work and after three days, Steve left and went back to Houston. DJ left as well, and Mark and I felt defeated. Then forty five minutes later “Maria Tambien” came. DJ returned and we just saved the record together. Steve said it’s either time or money. We can only write a record in a block at a time, and we’re booked for the next one already,” states Lee.
With all of the praise that came with the album’s release, the fact that the band was being noticed from larger outlets and playing on festival stages and larger rooms across the globe, they started to get new requests from new places. Without digging too deep into it, the band’s “Rig Rundown” video may be the most intriguing one of the series. The band uses a sparse rig for live shows and it seems to give them more freedom. We were curious if the band had added more to their rig since the video was taped and what they had planned for the festival in late April, or if attendees would hear any new songs. “I’m trying to get less gear, I want less. I was in so many bands in the past where I had to have so much gear. For this band, the production we use has added to the gear, but having too much would confuse me. As far as plans for Marfa, sometimes it’s tough. At a festival we wanna’ play hits and up songs. For Marfa I think we can get slower and trippier than we typically play,” says Speer.
“I haven’t added more gear, but I wanna’ learn more with pedals. I agree with Mark on a festival set. You wanna’ play more up songs especially because you might be playing to people who’ve never seen you before. I think we try to play a winning combo and we can play around with it a bit. We just play to the room. I don’t know on any new songs though. We would have to get them written first,” replies Lee.
Con Todo El Mundo is available to stream on all streaming sites, it can be purchased in all digital music shops, or physically directly from Dead Oceans on multiple formats. Marfa Myths is set to take place April 25 through April 28 in Marfa, TX. Khruangbin is on tour tonight at Fox Theater in Pamona, CA until August 15 at Green Man Festival in Brecon Beacons, UK. A complete list of their upcoming appearances can be accessed here.
Image Credits: Photo by David Salafia.