As far as visceral instrumental vibes beyond jazz, musique concrete and electronica goes, the deeply grooving, rock-funk jamming Khruangbin takes all cakes, ices them each and eats them whole in one bite. Dare to find out if I’m lying about the full-bloom poetry in motion three people can make? See them at The Met Philadelphia on March 19.
A torrid Texan trio renowned for its beautiful instrumental soundscapes, its tricky takes on Thai-inspired rock from another generation, and oddball pop forms such as dub, psychedelia and surf, have – as of late – added smoky soulful vocals into its mix (primarily those of the lovely mod R&B singer and fellow Texan Leon Bridges). But don’t let their recent use of the human voice fool you. The true power of a spare, unified Khruangbin – drummer Donald Johnson, Jr., bassist Laura Lee and guitarist Mark Speer – is the purity of its instrumental-only aesthetic and its often serene, but mostly sinisterly freaky-deaky soundscapes.
“We all grew up in Houston, which greatly influenced our sound,” says drummer Johnson of the trio’s Texan roots and how their slow-stewed mix was developed.
“It’s not known to most who live outside of the city, but Houston is a melting pot of many different cultures. People migrate to the city for work, medical treatment, and many other reasons. We often speak of going to a variety of culturally authentic restaurants in the area, and inquiring about the music that’s being played in the dining area; or being at a friend’s house and asking their parents what they’re listening to, because it’s intriguing. Occurrences like these ultimately shaped who we became as people, musicians, and as a band.”
Honing in on any distinct influences where Khruangbin is concerned is an often-futile exercise as blips of other-peoples-music fly by at speed of light, or slither through their molten lava-like mix without warning.
“Our inspirations definitely change with time and age,” states the drummer. “Over the past few years, traveling the world has afforded us the opportunity to gather inspiration from many places. Sometimes you have to reach a level of maturity to notice or appreciate things that could potentially inspire; particularly those that are subtle in nature. Time and experience hone the creative eye, which imparts the ability to see more, and less simultaneously. What the audience sees on stage is left up to each of their individual interpretations, but above all, we just want everybody to have a good time.”
And for a band who, like the rest of the live music world, had to take two years off due to the pandemic, the touring monster that is Khruangbin is now bursting at the seams, and raring to jam.
“There’s nothing that gets us back into touring shape except touring,” says Johnson. “Early on, we rented an empty venue to work out the technical aspects of our show. When artists perform live, energy is released into the room, and the crowd gives that energy back throughout the show in a continuous feedback loop. In an empty venue, there’s no one there to receive it, so it dissipates into the air.
“The cohesion that happens on the road while playing for a live audience on a nightly basis, isn’t something that can be staged in a practice facility. We did the best we could to get our hands and collective muscle memory back into shape, but it really doesn’t start to feel good until we’re able to get in front of people.”