The most well liked new band in years is Khruangbin, the Texas-based trio whose music stretches from dub through nation to cinematic soundscapes and past. Anchoring the band philosophically and musically, bassist Laura Lee has knowledge for us all about making a band work whereas basing it on a stable set of ethics.
Let’s face it, you’d by no means count on a largely instrumental trio who play wilfully uncommercial music to get pleasure from thousands and thousands of Spotify performs, over 20 million views of a dwell stream, slots at main festivals, and common exhibits at giant venues.
The Texan three-piece Khruangbin have finished simply that, although, incomes props from artists akin to Flea – an enormous fan of their bass participant. What’s extra, Khruangbin are an actual band.
Lately, we dwell in a world the place solo artists reign supreme. Should you play bass guitar, you’ll possible be a aspect participant, employed gun, or weekend warrior. The notion of taking part in music and happening adventures along with your finest associates will shortly dissipate, changed by the belief that what we carry to the desk is proscribed and dictated by whoever employed us.
As we be taught to just accept this, we’ll stand beneath vivid stage lights whereas concurrently dwelling within the shadows. Except, after all, you’re Laura Lee, aka ‘Leezy’. She’s one of many fortunate ones. She’s bought herself a band.
Hailing from Houston, Texas, the musical trio often called Khruangbin has spent the previous decade making information, taking part in sold-out exhibits, and reminding the world of what it’s prefer to be in a band.
The brainchild of guitarist Mark Speer, drummer ‘DJ’ Johnson Jr., and bassist Lee, Khruangbin’s music is constructed from the underside up. Regular drum beats, trance-inducing bass-lines and melodic guitar riffs replicate numerous musical influences from all over the world.
Their dwell present options neon lighting and large disco balls, a drum equipment nestled in an elevated spaceship, and three distinctive characters who transfer concerning the stage whereas the viewers sways forwards and backwards. It’s a fastidiously curated scene that speaks to each the aural and visible aesthetic. Imagine it or not, when Leezy steps on stage, she’s nonetheless utilizing her first bass.
“My predominant bass is an SX J-Bass that I bought in faculty. Mark bought it for me and adjusted the pickups to DiMarzio humbuckers. It’s a fairly commonplace knock-off Jazz and the headstock nonetheless seems to be like a Fender headstock.
“My back-up bass is a knock-off Hofner Beatles bass, a hollow-body brief scale. If my predominant bass fails me for no matter motive, the backup is definitely simpler to play than my predominant one.”
For the reason that studio could require one thing completely different, Lee would possibly seize one thing a bit unconventional.
“I even have a Fender Bass VI, which is type of an unloved, under-appreciated bass,” she says. “That bass has a chunky midrange sound that I actually like. My favourite bass tone is from the period of Serge Gainsbourg. Whoever was taking part in bass on the Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg LP  had a really peanut-buttery sounding tone.
“I’ve been making an attempt to get that tone my entire life, and I do my finest on the J-Bass. I observed that tone after I performed a VI for the primary time. I additionally would possibly play a P-Bass within the studio if I would like that earthquakey growth – and I play flatwound strings and haven’t modified them in 12 years. That’s my factor!”
Enjoying in a trio can create sure challenges from a tone standpoint, so amps, results and DIs come into play.
“On stage, I play by way of a Fender Bassman 10, which is extra of a midrange-sounding amp. It’s not often used for bass, and I’d at all times confuse sound engineers after we began out as a result of I’d ask them to chop the lows.
“I additionally use the Simplifier Bass Station. I like to listen to the excessive finish of my fingers on stage, and it offers extra definition. As a result of there’s solely three of us, the interaction between the bass and guitar is so necessary.
“If the sound of my bass is just too muddy or too massive, you’ll be able to’t hear the interaction as a lot. I’ve a compressor that we’ve switched up a couple of occasions as a result of I are inclined to play actually arduous after I’m taking part in dwell. I’m going by way of the Motown DI and I carry that within the studio with me as effectively.”
Khruangbin places quite a lot of thought into the creation of their dwell efficiency, particularly on the subject of improvising and creating dynamic moments.
“We begin with the framework of crafting a present,” Lee explains. “There are particular songs which have stretchable components, the place one or all of us may improvise, and it’s often Mark who does that. Inside the three of us, he’s actually the singer, so to talk, together with his guitar. DJ and I spend quite a lot of time constructing his improvisations up and down, relying on the power. It’s improvisational however extra supportive.”
In between songs like White Gloves or Maria Tambièn, the band strings collectively eclectic medleys comprised of traditional pop themes and hip-hop grooves.
“Once we play medleys, they’re very particular and crafted, however the improvisation will generally come throughout soundcheck when one in every of us performs a track and we learn to insert it. So, in a present, we is perhaps taking part in it for the primary or second time.
“Loads of the construction comes from this evolving, respiration, and generally improvisational place. You must let the track do what it desires to do – and you realize what that’s while you’re in it.”
When requested concerning the viewers, Lee has excessive hopes for what individuals take away from a present.
“I hope individuals really feel like they bought slapped within the face in one of the best ways doable. I actually wish to be impactful so that they actually really feel one thing. Each track we write conveys some type of emotion, and we design the units to construct up and depart you on a excessive. The band itself is a illustration of individuals coming collectively to make music.
“Our exhibits have individuals from completely different walks of life that come collectively to expertise 90-plus minutes of music, and I hope that they really feel the ability of what which means once they depart. I hope they get so sucked into the present that they expertise some type of out-of-body rollercoaster emotion and depart with a bunch of different people that felt the identical factor.”
Absolutely that might occur after acting at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, often known as the ‘Mom Church of Nation Music’. Lee chimes in, saying, “Yeah, as a result of a present is like church. It’s about the identical period of time, it’s individuals coming collectively who consider in the identical factor to some extent, and hopefully they depart feeling lifted. If the Ryman is church, then I’m hoping to have a non secular expertise.”
Recording is kind of an ordeal for the band. They convert a mud ground barn in the midst of nowhere into a totally functioning recording studio.
“It’s a mission,” she says. “We don’t simply pop over to the barn and play – it’s a pilgrimage with three U-Hauls. We carry gobos [acoustic panels] to attempt to have some isolation, however we’re by no means going to get actually remoted sound: We just like the bleed and what the bleed does. It’s magical on the market, and also you’re away from all the things. There’s barely telephone service or wi-fi, so it’s a spot the place we will actually dig in and get deep into our heads.
“Once we get there, we’d have a couple of concepts or bass-lines crafted, however not fully-formed songs. We use the isolation and the time collectively to have the ability to construct. It’s simply simplicity and utilizing limitations to our benefit. The barn is a lot effort, and there are tough pure parts that come into play, nevertheless it does whittle issues right down to bass, drums, guitar, and area.”
This technique actually stimulates the artistic course of, however Lee brings one thing significantly particular to the desk.
“My contribution is my naivety, in a very stunning manner. Once we first began taking part in, I used to be actually arduous on myself and actually nervous, and I nonetheless really feel like an imposter more often than not.
“Mark and DJ have been taking part in since they have been tiny and so they know their devices a lot extra in-depth than I do. On the flipside, I come at it with out worrying about the entire stuff that you concentrate on if you happen to’re somebody that is aware of all the things.
“Mark gave me the guide Zen Guitar [by Philip Toshio Sudo], which I extremely advocate to anyone, even if you happen to don’t play guitar. It’s a very stunning manner to consider any passion or artistic course of. Your white belt is simply as necessary as your black belt.
“You’re not pondering outdoors of the field, you’re simply pondering – however to a complicated participant, it would really feel such as you’re pondering outdoors of the field, as a result of it is perhaps less complicated than one thing they may ever consider. Mark will take a look at the guitar and see infinite prospects. I nonetheless take a look at the bass with out that.
“I’m nonetheless going to pentatonics, as a result of that’s what feels good to me. Once I mess around with little variations outdoors of that, it’s me increasing quite than feeling like I do know the world. I’m nonetheless discovering the world. So, I believe my contribution is the playfulness of a kid. I’m actually pleased with that now, and it was once one thing that I used to be actually insecure about. Now, that’s me – I’m going to be the person who doesn’t know all the things and I’ll carry one thing superior as a result of I don’t know.”
Taking time to experiment and discover is the hallmark of how they compose new materials.
“Mark will discover snippets of issues to carry into the recording course of,” Laura explains. “He has me play to a drum loop for hours and I often go someplace on my own, with out anyone watching, so I don’t have the stress of somebody seeing what I’m developing with.
“He makes me promise that I’m not going to edit it or delete something that I don’t like, as a result of they could like them. And DJ loves my errors; he says that I make the best errors on the planet, and these errors keep on the document.”
Laura is keenly conscious of how distinctive it’s to really feel snug, accepted, and supported throughout the context of the band.
“In Zen Guitar, there’s a chapter about forming a band and the relationships and dynamics of it. Typically it really works and generally it doesn’t. You may have a supergroup of all equally superb, gifted people and it simply doesn’t work. It was very clear to me early on that the three of us simply actually labored.
“We have been associates for therefore lengthy earlier than we began the band, and our friendship existed outdoors of all different friendships. We didn’t hang around all along with teams of individuals, it was simply the three of us. Our friendship leads the entire thing; it’s like we’re all married.
“It makes me emotional fascinated by it, as a result of I notice, particularly after I see competition line-ups that we’re on, that there aren’t any extra bands. There are solo artists and so they tour with a band, however the dynamic of what a band can signify for individuals could be a lot higher. Nonetheless, it’s a money-driven society and it’s costly to be in a band.
“It’s less expensive to be a DJ or a solo artist, and it’s additionally a lot simpler. Once we’re working with labels, for instance, we’ve to succeed in an opinion that every one three of us agree with. As a solo artist, it’s a lot simpler to search out that factor.
“For dwell efficiency, it’s a lot simpler to have a DJ come and play good songs with no errors, and so they solely journey with a USB stick or a bag of information – not with amps, gear, a entrance of home particular person, a monitor particular person, and all the things that it takes to man a working operation.
“I’m an actual champion and a believer in it. What you’ll be able to create in a band is a lot greater than you might be – and what you obtain within the viewers from watching a band is basically highly effective.
“Plus, the three of us every have our completely different, particular person issues that we carry to the desk. You usually don’t notice that while you begin a band, it’s additionally a enterprise, and you must run it and handle a crew. It’s a giant factor, and every of us play our components.”
A visible identification
Not only a commander of the groove, Laura takes pleasure in curating the visible aesthetic of the band.
“It’s so bizarre, as a result of I went to highschool for structure after which switched to artwork historical past, and I labored in museums for some time, however my objective was to work in curation, greater than the rest. I discover the entire poster artists and it’s one in every of my private initiatives throughout the band.
“I spend quite a lot of time looking earlier than I’m going to mattress, often on Instagram or visible blogs that I observe, and I’ll hound artists that talk to me indirectly. I give them the temporary of the present poster: I often need Khruangbin as our characters to be represented. Now we have such sturdy visible identification as characters, and that has been an necessary facet of our present and aesthetic.
“Even with out the posters, what we appear like doesn’t appear like every other band. The posters additionally attempt to reference the town or venue we’re taking part in, in order that there’s a shout-out to the place we’re. I believe that despite the fact that each poster we’ve is from a special artist, you at all times understand it’s a Khruangbin poster, as a result of we’ve created a sure universe.”
She additionally brings lots to the crew when it comes to trend and curating outfits.
“It’s in the identical area because the poster artwork. I see myself able to champion younger artists that may not have a reputation on the market. I believe with designers, it’s the identical. I are inclined to put on super-independent, younger designers.
“Going again to Zen Guitar, in the way in which that you just’re following your artistic path, the youthful gamers or designers are typically slightly wilder as a result of they haven’t gotten to the purpose the place they’re pleasing individuals for his or her enterprise. So, I’m a giant supporter of ‘How can we carry up as many individuals as we will?’ with our place as Khruangbin.”
One factor is for positive – Lee really believes in creating the very best artwork, and is on a mission to take action.
“On the finish of the day, I wish to really feel one thing from any type of artwork. It’s not concerning the artist having to have a selected model or working in a style, it’s about asking, ‘Does it transfer me?’ There are 12 notes – and it’s about re-contextualizing them in a manner that makes them really feel completely different.”