Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Mount Kimbie are slap bang in the middle of festival season. Recent shows have, by all accounts, been decent. "Very festival-y," the band’s Kai Campos explains over the phone, "We’ve been playing slow, downtempo music to thousands of people every day." In a couple of weeks they’ll embark on a short North American jaunt, which will put a cap on two years of near non-stop touring in support of their second album, ‘Cold Spring Fault Less Youth’. They’ve booked out some studio time while they're out there, where they’ll be working on a few collaborations. After that, they intend to come home and write their third record.
Right now, however, they’re on familiar turf. They’ve just finished the soundcheck for a headline show at Peckham’s Copeland Gallery, playing the closing party of Converse’s 10-week-long CONS Project programme. For their set, they’ve brought in a couple of visual collaborators, Artisan and NOCTE, who are providing an enhanced light show especially for the occasion.
It seems like you’ve been touring non-stop.
Kai Campos: "Yeah, it does seem like that. The grand plan is to put enough hours in so that we can… Wait, this sounds really bad. It’s just so that, from September, we can not be doing any shows, and not be doing anything apart from writing."
Has the live set evolved since you first started promoting the album?
Kai Campos: "Yeah. I mean, we never write with a plan of how we’re gonna play it live. When we finished the record, we didn’t really know how to play half of the songs. They change a lot over the course of the summer. We’re at a good spot at the moment, in terms of where we’re taking songs. We’re just trying to do some more."
Have you started writing your music with performance in mind?
Kai Campos: "Nah, not at all. Live stuff has become a massive part of what we do, but when it comes to the studio – which what I always wanted to do – I try not to impose anything like that. When we wrote the first record, it already seemed like an impossible task [to play live], but bit-by-bit it got there. So no matter how difficult it seems listening back to the record, there’s normally a way in."
I’ve been told your show tonight is a bit different.
Kai Campos: "Yep. We’re working with a friend, Ben – he’s rigging up these very impressive lights. It’s not dark right now, so we’re waiting until tonight to see the full impact. It’s quite a small room, so we thought it’d be cool to do something that took over the whole room rather than just the stage. Something that was very much a part of the structure of the building. Ben emailed some ideas, which were almost exactly what we were talking about. And, in fairness to them, they managed to get it all together really quickly. It’s a nice opportunity for us, when big brands are involved, to take some of their money and do something a bit different."
Are you going to be doing anything differently when you do your US tour?
Kai Campos: "Yeah, I’ve actually just got a few little things, things I haven’t used on stage before, that I’m just gonna throw in. I think that we’re fairly competent with playing the record now. We kind of sound in the zone of it. And I want to chuck in a few things that are gonna throw people off a bit."
And throw yourself out of that zone.
Kai Campos: "Yeah, exactly. That’s always good. You can feel when the time comes to make things a bit more uncomfortable [for yourselves]. We’re doing a few bits out there, too, so if it goes really well hopefully we’ll end up working with some other people."
Yeah, I read that you had some studio time booked out there.
Kai Campos: "Yeah, the shows are in between a bit of studio time in LA and New York. We’ve not really got too much of a plan for it, just a few people who, over the years, we always said, ‘Oh we should go into the studio together,’ and now’s just a good time to do it, really."
Have you done much recording outside of your own studio before?
Kai Campos: "No. It terrifies me, actually. Again, it’s something that puts me out of my comfort zone, because I don’t really think about the way that I work, particularly. It’s probably quite idiosyncratic. I always think it won’t necessarily translate. If I think that someone can hear what I’m doing, only a couple of rooms down, it changes what I’m doing. Normally, I have to feel completely safe from the idea that anyone can hear what I’m doing, which can be a bit limiting. That’s something I’d like to work on, actually. I know some people who are a bit more blasé about that sort of thing, which is a good thing, I think."
So you’re a bit anxious, but also excited?
Kai Campos: "Yeah, exactly. I’m just gonna throw myself into it. The worst thing that can happen is that we don’t necessarily make some fantastic music – which is not the end of the world, really."
"I’m just gonna throw myself into it. The worst thing that can happen is that we don’t necessarily make some fantastic music – which is not the end of the world, really." – Kai Campos, Mount Kimbie
Do you think would you ever want to go out and do a full album in a place that wasn’t your own studio?
Kai Campos: "I can’t imagine it, because even if we could afford to – which we can’t, but even if we could afford to – it makes me panic, thinking that I’m on the clock all the time. It’d just change what we’re doing. Seeing the potential of home recording was a big turning point in my life, realising I could do everything by myself. I found that really rewarding. And it informs the music that you write; it’s not only the process. You end up doing things you normally wouldn’t. So I can’t imagine it.
"At the same time, we’ve had really positive experiences on the last record of going to other people’s studios to do certain things, chatting about stuff, recording certain bits, and taking it back home."
Do you ever write stuff on the road, or do you have to be in the studio?
Kai Campos: "I can, but it’s just about time. I like having a strict timeframe of when to work – like normal office hours, basically. Then I make sure that I’m always just making music. It’s often rubbish, especially for the first couple of weeks, but I think that if you’re there and you always have your hands on the instruments, you stop making decisions and you let something else come through you – which is when the good stuff happens. It’s just about being there for long enough."
With the stuff you’re planning on doing now, are you opening yourselves out to more collaborations? Obviously you worked with King Krule a bit on the last album…
Kai Campos: "Yeah. I still see the album that we’re starting to talk about as being something that’s about the two of us, but I’m really interested in doing other records – whether they be called a Mount Kimbie record, or whether it’s producing on someone else’s record. I think that the further into the studio you go, you kind of close yourself off sometimes, whereas when you were starting out you were so happy to work with anyone, so I’m trying to get a bit closer to that frame of mind again."
"I think that the further into the studio you go, you kind of close yourself off sometimes, whereas when you were starting out you were so happy to work with anyone, so I’m trying to get a bit closer to that frame of mind again." – Kai Campos, Mount Kimbie
More specifically for your music, I liked how you King Krule appearing a few times on that last album, having one consistent voice who kept coming back. Do you want to introduce more of a spread of collaborations in the future?
Kai Campos: "Nah, that’s something that puts me off. Obviously there are records with lots of people on them that are good, but especially with the second album I was wary. With the second album, I already knew there were gonna be vocals involved, and I really didn’t want it to feel like a disjointed collection – something that felt almost inevitable and forced, that we’d had to do. That wasn’t the reason for including vocals. It felt like a real natural thing to me. I wanted it to be consistent and coherent, and that was my thinking behind it."
What sort of stuff have you been listening to recently?
Kai Campos: "I listen to the radio quite a lot – not choosing music, just listening to stuff a bit more objectively, which I’ve been enjoying. There’s a show on NTS Radio called Pipe Down which I really like. Aside from that, the same as everyone else. I’ve been listening to Connan Mockasin a lot recently."
What's the story behind that gong?
Kai Campos: "The gong? That was a 16-hour drive, which was just inhumane. We were in this shitty van with no air conditioning. We stopped in a really strange place called Ulm to get lunch, and we were walking back – we’d gone to go and buy plectrums or something from a guitar shop, and there were a lot of gongs. And they sounded amazing. So I bought a gong, and thus started the mantra of Ulm, which was a running theme for the rest of the eight hours of the journey. Whenever anything happened I would hit the gong.
"It’s just, you know, classic tour 'bants'. There are some things that come and go, but I think that one’s got some legs to it. It’s be around a while, the gong. We used it in a set as well that night, which was just ridiculous."
Mount Kimbie start their US tour on August 23rd 2014 (full dates and tickets).