Large-scale Asian immigration
to the Houston metropolitan area, particularly during the '70s and '80s, must have played a significant role in diversifying the musical soundscape. Indian, Chinese or Vietnamese immigrants played their traditional music in various bars and restaurants, and this is how the Khruangbin members were first introduced to the music, scales and rhythms coming from South Asia. After years of soaking in the polyphonic soundscape of Houston, they started to explore music beyond their hometown’s horizon.
It seems that the exploration of unknown landscapes always starts with your own playground. The urge to find something different is fed by finding similarities or variations of the things one already knows. All Khruangbin members put on their own individual backbone into the band. Johnson mentions Berry White’s Your Sweetness Is My Weakness (1979)
, as his first significant musical memory: “I was so fascinated by the cymbals crashes in that song. I remember we were listening the album at home with my mom and I was constantly practicing and waiting to play this moment on my drums. Imagine, I was playing on a tiny drum set as a little kid and playing along with Barry White. I still play with Barry White records. That is my background”.
Besides being busy with Khruangbin, Johnson is also half of the Houston hip-hop production duo Beanz N Kornbread, and he used to work with Paul Wall, Slim Thug, and Z-Ro. He sees himself as the “American core of the band”
, while it is Mark Spencer
and Laura Lee
who are said to be the crate diggers. Lee’s very first musical memory is her grandmother singing “La Mucura”
just before her bedtime. “She tucked me in, dancing with her hips and a perfectly still upper body. It used to make me smile so much.”
Lee’s Mexican heritage have been feeding her musical imagination for years. The new album Con Todo El Mundo
is a literal expression from Lee’s grandfather, who kept asking her “Cómo me quieres?”
(How much do you love me?). The only response he could accept was: “Con todo el mundo”
(With all the world). Lee is educated as an art historian, but she has been searching for musical and cultural connections for some time, and it is the exploration of music from Afghanistan that introduced her to Mark Spencer, who was researching Middle Eastern music at the time.
For Spencer, who now delves into records on every occasion, it all started with one of his mother’s albums. Among mostly Western classical music, there was one record
by the Psyche Belarusian folk band Pesniary
which stood out of the collection. Years later he met DJ Sun – a radio producer and record collector from Houston, who made him realise that the Eastern European album from his parents’ house could be a part of a record library of obscure gems and hard-to-find samples.
Sharing music led them finally to the idea of making their own band, and Donald “DJ” Johnson was a natural choice to be drummer. “As a drummer, I’m trying to incorporate break-beat, hip-hop and beats. We take that and mix it with international sounds, scales and melodies delivered by Mark and Laura. This is the sound of Khruangbin.”