Mount Kimbie are on stage sound-checking in the bowels of New York’s Bowery Ballroom on day one of their US tour. It’s a furnace outside – a late May heatwave – but inside the A/C injects a sense of peace. Cinematically lit and in command of a stage full of gleaming gear, Mount Kimbie’s Kai Campos and Dom Maker look just a shade off majestic. Later they’ll make good on that promise with a set that brings the house down, but even when they scramble down to break for this interview that air remains: they have that quiet confidence that comes from doing what you do a billion times and getting really, really good at it.
You can hear that confidence bubbling beneath the surface of their deeply rewarding second album ‘Cold Spring Fault Less Youth’; it is the work of a group who have learned to relax into their instincts and find joy in the places it takes them. It’s not a case of risk-taking but of open-mindedness and it’s that sense of freedom that strikes the most about the record, whether it’s in the pop glimmer of Made To Stray, the country twang of So Many Times, So Many Ways, the jazz leanings of Fall Out or the way they tease a thrilling pace from King Krule’s poetry on Meter, Pale, Tone. Clearly, a lot of learning has flowed into the making of this record. To get under the skin of the journey they’ve been on since the release of ‘Crooks & Lovers’ in 2010 I wanted to ask them about that learning. Specifically, what they’ve learnt on a number of levels: personal, professional, technical, musical and – no giggling at the back – spiritual. As amiable as ever, Mount Kimbie were game and what they had to say provides an insightful and inspiring glimpse into the workings of one of the UK’s best bands.
Kai: I’d like to think that I’ve learnt how to find time to reflect on the good in my life. Letting myself be a little bit more relaxed and a little bit bit happier about everything going well.
How has that new outlook impacted on the music?
Kai: In some ways, willing to let stuff go on the record that maybe I would’ve over-thought to the point of ruining it before. Not necessarily mistakes but things that I would’ve wanted to control more on the record I’ve let go a bit. Also, feeling a bit more confident; not necessarily in that I think the music’s fantastic but more confident in the sense that I know I’m going to make another record after this.
So you’ve let the pressure off yourself a little?
Kai: I feel like when it started going well on this record, it was like, oh, we’ve taken a different tack, changed the direction somewhat, and stopped making music in the exactly the same way as we did before and I still feel like it’s good. That gives you the confidence to carry on.
“I’ve learnt that it is as bad as I thought it was, in terms of the actual music industry…it’s just a question of making your career as such that you are around that as little as possible.” Kai, Mount Kimbie
Dom: Obviously we’ve learnt a lot since we’ve been doing this. It kinda ties in with what Kai was saying about the fact you feel way more comfortable in your place, where you’re sitting, and you know that you’ve got a career. I think maybe letting go and devoting myself 100% to this as a job was quite a big learning curve. Just trying to absorb as much information as possible and learn continuously from being away. The main thing was letting go of seeing it as a fun hobby; I still enjoy every now and then sitting down and making music but now that it’s become a bigger project it’s way more encompassing. Having to let go about being concerned about not seeing family and friends that much anymore. You have to let that stuff go and appreciate it way more when you do get to see those people. That’s just one part of it.
Kai: I think that I’ve learnt that it is as bad as I thought it was, in terms of the actual music industry. It’s just like every other creative industry in that sense, in that the further along you go the more people you have to deal with who for them it’s about making money essentially. Not that we have to deal with a lot of those people, we just encounter them more. I think that at some point I thought I could reconcile myself with that but I really can’t. So it’s just a question of making your career as such that you are around that as little as possible because I don’t think I have the answers to completely reject it and suggest some new model – and to some extent we all play our part in the system and the game even by releasing a record or selling t-shirts or whatever. At times I sometimes feel uncomfortable with aspects of it but that’d be the same with any other job. I haven’t got the answer for it so I can’t outright reject it but just make it so you can say no to things. It takes a while to realise you are in control of things, you’re the one making the decisions so you’ve got an opportunity to make whatever kind of life that you want just by making the right decisions that you feel good about.
Dom: I want to echo what Kai said about embracing certain parts of the industry and seeing it as a really positive tool to use and then rejecting things that are kind of a covered trap in a way. You don’t really notice that at first but then as time goes on you start to hear other stories from other artists. So just being a bit more savvy about the whole thing.
“Overnight I changed from seeing it as something that was about an individual’s inspiration to being more about a craft. I changed from working at one or two in the morning to going in at nine and leaving at six.” Kai, Mount Kimbie
Kai: Also, with this record, there was a big change about halfway through with my treatment of the writing process and in a way it was more professional. Overnight I changed from seeing it as something that was about an individual’s inspiration to being more about a craft. Something that I had to go in and work on every day. I don’t know how important it is but I changed from working at one or two in the morning to going in at 9 o’clock in the morning, working all day and leaving at six. That was a huge thing. In a way, going in and making music when you don’t feel like doing it is a less romantic idea but it was something I learned about productivity and if I wanted to get the best out of myself musically, the thing driving it forward was a complete change in attitude about where ideas come from. All music already kind of exists and you’re just channelling it and putting it into context; all the notes have already been played. Especially once you’ve done it and put it out, it’s very much less your possession because it’s just sound and it’s something other people own just as much as you because when they hear it differently, you can’t own something that is different for every person, y’know?
Yeah, it’s a dialogue. I love hearing about the process of craft. I’ve been reading so many Paris Review interviews with famous writers and that is always the focus: when they write, how they write.
Kai: I read a lot of books about writing, actually. About the process of writing. Really cheesy, on the verge of self-help books but they were really good.
I can’t recall who but one writer said you have to reject the idea of waiting for inspiration and instead work at your craft and then sift through the results.
Kai: I think it’s craft that allows the inspiration to happen. You’re physically in there doing your craft when something that is beyond explanation happens and you’re in a position to make the most out of that.
Kai: I’ve learnt more about EQ that I did before, just in terms of taking stuff away instead of adding stuff. Also, I don’t know whether it’s technical or not but with songwriting, I’ve learnt somewhat more about that just through trial and error. You don’t want to learn too much because I’ve probably come to the same conclusions as a lot of people in that you have to find it by yourself. Technically I’ve learnt to hand over some aspects to people who’ve been doing it for 20, 30 years. I was fairly adamant that we didn’t need anyone to mix the record and I now know I am technically nowhere near good enough to mix. It’s a completely different craft and some people dedicate their whole career to mixing records so why not work with them. I thought mixing would be us giving them the tracks and them sending something back, while in fact we were there making decisions with Dilip [Harris] and all the knowledge that he has. It was learning that I don’t need to have my hands on the bars for everything.
“I think to be honest a lot of what we enjoy the most has come through a bit of naivety about what we’re using and not really understanding the processes too much.” Dom, Mount Kimbie
Dom: Technically, I think we learnt a lot going through the mixing process and the way things sit together in tracks and stuff like that. I think to be honest a lot of what we enjoy the most has come through a bit of naivety about what we’re using and not really understanding the processes that are going on inside the equipment we’re using too much. But, yeah, we spent a lot of time with Andy Ramsey in his studio, and just being around that much gear and somebody else who has a very sound knowledge of what’s going on with a piece of equipment was great. Going back to the previous question of soaking things up as much as possible, it’s really important. With this record we used way more instrumentation so just being a bit more open to whatever the hell was lying around as opposed to maybe before thinking let’s just keep to Fruity Loops or whatever we’ve got.
Mount Kimbie – Made To Stray
Dom: I think, for starters, for me one of the key things was the fact that since I left university I’ve had a lot more time and a lot of my thinking has gone into what we can apply…maybe not apply, but I think I listen to music in a different way. I listen to it way more intensely that I did at university. Naturally that filters through when we’re sat in front of the drum machine or whatever. I think that’s the first thing, I had a lot more room to think about the whole process a lot more. Again, having more instruments at our disposal was really important. To be honest with you, there was a time at the beginning where we were trying to find something we were excited about in terms of the sound of a few ideas or whatever. It wasn’t happening at all. Then immediately after that we had a really fertile period where we started to feel the way the record was going to go. Musically, just digesting way more material.
What kind of stuff?
Dom: Less dance music than I’ve ever listened to. A lot of Tame Impala. What else? The Fall. We went through lots of stages of different things. I downloaded loads of ‘50s and ‘60s stuff like The Kingsmen, which was really cool. Just taking things back a bit rather than the current stuff, I think that was quite important with the sound of this record. Obviously having the idea of Archy [King Krule] being involved from the beginning was really important. Pretty much everything we made we thought he’d sound amazing over.
How did the collaboration come about?
Dom: It was a weird one because the whole thing felt really natural. We didn’t at all think we were going to work with someone who was in a different [world]. To us it sounded very similar. I just think the marriage was always there and when he came in and it worked out it was such a kick. It made the rest of the record writing really easy. Just having him around and him involved was really important. It felt wicked when I heard from Andy when we’d finished up that Archy was coming to his studio now. It’s quite nice having those sort of footprints and sharing certain bits; it was good.
“It’s strange, I thought it would’ve been the last thing to come out of this record but in the mixing process it came up three or four times: ‘that sounds a bit country’.” Kai, Mount Kimbie
One of the things I felt when I saw you at Field Day was this real country vibe.
Kai: I think the country thing can be traced back to the fact we listened to that White Denim record ‘Last Day of Summer’ probably more than any other record a couple of years ago when we were touring ‘Crooks & Lovers’. Out of any particular record or artist you can hear us being influenced by, that’s probably the closest to being just a rip-off. On the bassline to Break Well, that’s fairly heavily influenced by White Denim and that record in particular. They’ve got a country thing. There’s no country music that I can say “that’s really good” because it’s not something I’ve ever really listened to but I guess they’ve got that in there somewhere, that country element. It’s strange, I would’ve thought that would’ve been the last thing to come out of this record but in the mixing process it came up three or four times: “that sounds a bit country” or “we should rein that in because it sounds a bit too country”.
Dom: There was one track that got cut.
Kai: Yeah, we cut a track that had a guitar line that was so country.
Dom: I can hear it now in my head. Fuck, I’m so glad we didn’t release it.
Kai: That’s going to be one of the headlines for this article, isn’t it? The country thing.
Kai: I think in a way being more – it’s a strange thing, it sounds like a contradiction – but being more confident and also more humble at the same time about everything going on. Being able to go out and stand up for the record, I think it’s a good record, and at the same time understand it’s also not that big a deal. It’s kind of like more of a deep sense of calm: being more humble and being more confident is a nice combination.
Dom: Spiritually what have I learnt about myself? To be honest, I’ve tried to turn off my leniency a little bit. Before I was involved in this band I was a very lenient person and, I don’t know, [now] being a bit more forceful with ideas. Getting involved a bit more rather than being a backseat driver, which I am – a really bad backseat driver. Also, I guess I just feel more at peace than I have done before and I think a lot of that’s down to accepting my life. I do enjoy it but I sometimes need to push myself over the edge a bit to make it 100%. Yeah, I guess that’s pretty much it.
All photos of Mount Kimbie by Ed Mumford in New York, May 2013.