“When you get up there, the music melts a lot of the sorrows away.” Khruangbin bassist Laura Lee is grateful to be back on the road since the band released their third album Mordechai in 2020 but is still trying to navigate the new state of touring.
“It’s been a very nuanced time and challenges around making the show happen are difficult, but I think that music is so important,” says Lee. “People need to get into that place right now.”
For the band, every day is different in their interaction with one another and the crowd. “We have a very strict bubble on the road,” says Lee. “We can’t bring friends. We can’t bring family. We only interact with each other and are very isolated, and we have to quarantine before every leg, which is having a domino effect on our lives.”
On Mordechai, everything as conceived and recorded by Lee, guitarist Mark Speer, and drummer Donald “DJ” Johnson in between a heavy touring cycle in 2019 with the Houston trio recording all the individual tracks during breaks, then going back on the road and eventually finishing the album once the tour ended.
Music is typically first for Khraungbin with lyrics and vocals the last piece of a song puzzle. “We’ll come in with ideas for some little things,” says Lee, “but songs don’t get fully realized unless we’re all together.” Speer adds, “A lot of those initial sessions, the main focus was on getting the groove going because we had been so hectic on the road working. What ended up happening is that Lee had all these lyrics and concepts for us to explore and we ended up working around those instead.”
Moving from deeper guitar instrumentals on previous releases, Mordechai shifted into a more experimental state, which segued into Mordechai Remixes.
“We’ve always been interested in collaborating with artists to do remixes because it’s another avenue to explore,” says Lee. Produced remotely, Khruangbin pulled in 10 artists, including Ginger Root, Mang Dynasty, and Natasha Diggs, to reinterpret all 10 Mordechai tracks.
“We are fans of dance music, and I think there was a way that ‘Mordechai’ could be a part of that world,” adds Lee. “It ended up becoming a beautiful thing to have over COVID and created a connection between us with these artists over time.”
Bringing art on stage, and known for donning the most spectacular garb, the band also commissioned artists in each city on their tour to design concert posters. “I wear a different outfit every night,” says Lee. “There are so many clothes in the world to wear, and so many artists in the world to support that we can highlight them through these posters, even in a small way that feels relevant and important to the community.”
Time and memory are common threads of Mordechai, from its earlier inception through the uncertainties of 2020. “It’s these moments all strung together, but I don’t think that was ever intentional going in,” says Johnson. “Sometimes when you’re painting something, you step back, and it becomes even more apparent. Over quarantine, a lot of those songs took on different meanings.”
Lyrically, Mordechai weaves different conversations of memories. “Connaissais de Face” honors a Houston bartender Stacy, who had a great playlist and always remembered their orders. The band later found out that she passed away from cancer and dedicated the song to her.
“All the moments on the album are basically tied to a specific memory,” says Speer. “Some are almost ultra-specific but we want it to sound vague to the audience, so they can come up with their own interpretation.”
Mordechai is another piece of Khruangbin’s story. “Thinking about now versus then, what I love about the way that we come together to create is that each of the albums that we’ve made are always a snapshot in time,” says Lee. “They are not frequent. We let the music tell us what it wants, and that’s how we operate as a band.”
Lee adds, “It’s was so beautiful when I listened to ‘The Universe Smiles Upon You’ (2015),” says Lee. “The quality of that album feels like that time because we had like less than a week to make it, and it’s a snapshot of exactly where we were when we made it. I digest differently because you couldn’t have expected to release it during that time, and we never know what time is going to look like going forward.”
Don’t miss Khruangbin performing at Pilgrimage Festival on Sept. 26 in Frantklin, Tennessee.