With their third album out now, Al Mills discusses Third Space Theory, travelling and their transcendent new record with Khruangbin.
Khurangbin are a band of perpetual dream states. They’ve just released their third studio album Mordechai, at a time in which the world’s wings have been clipped. And the trio’s ability to balance cultural influences internally, whilst remaining creatively reflective of all four corners of the globe and everything in between, results in this ten-track bridge to a boundaryless state of mind.
Beautifully traversed and groundbreakingly ‘Khruangbin’, Mordechai seeks to nurture memories and in doing so, encourages instrumental eternity. Whilst creatively channeling retrospect can for some, manifest as a spiritual home for romanticised sentimentalities, here, the Texan three-piece prove once again that in lifting the time-tinted-frames of collected consciousness, and actively slowing down to experience life again, growth can truly transcend.
If ever there were an era for ingrained escapism it would be the present, and with Khruangbin in the airwaves, it’s ‘Time (you and I)’ took flight.
You’ve just released the playlist series: ‘Shelter In Space’, what’s the story behind it?
L: We had an older version of it which came out when we released the last album; based on DJ sets we started where we would quote-on-quote ‘travel to a country’. But when lockdown happened, we wanted to revamp the site in general and decided to change the scope of our playlist to match activities instead- and make it fun!
Mark did the playlisting, but there’s a pool of songs there we’ve been gathering over the years.
Have you been using it personally?
L: I made one for cooking and really liked it. The songs we collected for this project I mostly already know, so I’ve been trying to find new material as well.
M: Same. We have requests for mixes all the time, so we have to keep looking for more goodies.
Have you ever come across the Theory of Third Space?
L: I think we’re in it without realising. We see music as a place where people can come together regardless of where they are, who they are… that’s been our mission throughout.
M: The city [Austin] that we grew up in is one we want to reflect on. In that city, you’ve got everyone living together; not necessarily always in harmony, but certainly together amongst each-others art, food, language, culture… all that stuff.
L: We’ve always been interested in the connection within cultures via art and music; and how different cultures can influence other cultures within the same areas.
Where do you stand on Khruangbin acting as an accessible companion, to other’s musical and cultural discoveries?
M: I know a lot of people aren’t necessarily willing to go down that rabbit hole. Some might see it as stealing music from somewhere and re-packaging it into the simplest way possible but, really, all we’re trying to do is introduce people to music they wouldn’t normally go to.
It’s pretty niche so I’m specifically trying to put songs on our mixes that’ve been released by companies doing amazing work. A lot of this stuff wouldn’t come out without someone unearthing it, re-releasing it, and making sure the publishers/original writers get credit, who in some cases then go on to new careers. Either way, it’s better to share music than not.
When incorporating lyrics, how do you navigate between literal and narrative language?
L: We’re writing words to the sentiment of a song. Music comes first and then after we have that material, we decide what songs need an additional texture.
With languages, there’s no one way we’ve done it. Some things sound better in other languages and because the music comes first… we always want to use words that sound good singing. You can get away with it more in a ‘songwriter-y’ context- singing words that don’t necessarily sound pretty… but because our vocals are textural, it’s important they sound good.
Do tracks in an instrumental album name themselves?
M: Usually it’s something to do with how, when, where the track was made. Our first song ended up being called ‘August 12th’… subsequently, on the next record, we had an ‘August 10th’ . I know a lot of people are expecting to hear an ‘August 8th’ or an ‘August 14th’. I’m not gonna say whether there is one or not…
‘The Infamous Bill’, was named after a drum-loop we used from a Bill Winters song. Everything’s named for something, when you give it its own identity and story then regardless of what it means to you who named it, the audience will have their own interpretation. I like leaving it ambiguous; I have a way of naming songs where I immediately avoid calling it whatever we sing in the chorus.
Where do life experiences and travelling fit into the timelessness that’s so prevalent throughout your work?
DJ: It’s really all about the journey, and the things that happen along the way. The beautiful thing about music is how it attaches itself to memories- it’s transporting. An instrumental in itself is powerful enough to sway you in a certain direction; depending on the tonality, the colours, palettes, space used… It can literally put you in a space without the help of any lyrical content.
L: It was a real challenge for us when we were writing the words for Mordechai. We wanted to make sure we still left enough blank canvas for people – that the lyrics were non-specific enough to allow people to still go on that dream-journey.
You’ve touched on Mordechai acting as a record of memories: ‘holding on to them, naming them, letting them go’. Has lockdown affected these memories at all?
M: What’s wild is we finished the record in January but for some reason, when I think about it, it seems like aeons ago. Time now is so weird. I can’t remember what I did yesterday… the memory I have feels so distant and intangible.
DJ: The completion of Mordechai, for me, represents how things were before everything changed on the planet. It will always hold this place.
L: Associating certain memories with songs- for our last two records, those memories filled and evolved because we played them live. So you have an associated memory with the recorded version, and that changes based on having to learn them for a show, or tour experiences.
What’s interesting with this album is we’re not touring indefinitely, so the only memories we have are what’s within the writing and recording of songs.
DJ: I imagine if someone were listening to this conversation from the past… to hear us talking the way we’re talking it’s like: “What in the heck happened?? Before the world changed??”
M: Life really is so weird.