The Mount Kimbie Interview

The auteurs of one of the finest, most groundbreaking electronic albums in recent memory, Dominic Maker and Kai Campos, recently embarked upon a quick jaunt across North America to showcase new material from their upcoming full length and a more developed live show.  While the members of Mount Kimbie took in some Los Angeles poolside vibes the day before their LA appearance, (reviewed as an incredible musical journey in which the concepts of time and place ceased to behave according to their usual rules and regulations) I had the pleasure of sitting down with them and hearing their answers to my star-struck, stammered queries.  The transcription that follows sheds some light on the intentions with their live show, a few of the more technical aspects of their live and studio setups, the creative process, and more.  They confirm a new record out on Warp before summer of 2013 and hint that some James Blake collaborations may see the light of day in the upcoming year as well.  I had a fantastic time chatting with this pair of gentlemen and am pleased and honored to share their insights with you.

Hit the jump for the full interview…

I’ve heard that you guys often kick back with some FIFA while on tour; do you support a particular club?

Kai: I support Tottenham

Dom: I can’t say I support anyone in particular, I’m neutral.

In past interviews you’ve voiced that crowds in the UK tend to be more hypercritical than those in the US. Is this consistent with your experiences on tour?

Mount Kimbie: I definitely don’t think it’s a bad thing for an audience to be hypercritical; it’s definitely a good thing in some ways.  The reason for coming out to a show may be a little different, and we’ve always found that some people seem to come out with a hope of having a good time and seeing what you’re doing, as opposed to coming with their own expectations, and if you didn’t fulfill them, being like, its not about them.

Last time we were over, it went very well, I guess surprisingly. But, you know, when we started playing in the UK, it was like, we would always have to play after like, 4 fairly rowdy dubstep acts, and we would make it die out. It would always go badly.  Maybe next time we come to the US we’ll catch some of that EDM crossover crowd, like kids who are expecting to be doing something completely different, but it hasn’t happened yet, so I don’t know.

How was playing support for Squarepusher?

MK:  Oh it was good fun.  It’s nice playing support because if you have some half-finished songs, and you’re playing early in the night when people quite often didn’t know who we were, it’s a space to try out shit that may not work as well as our more developed stuff.

Have you had a chance to flex the more human iteration of your live show with a live drummer?

K:  We’ve only played one show just before we came out with the drummer, as everything on this tour was booked for two people, but we’ll have him next time we come out.

D:  We’ve still had a little bit of license to play around with the set list.

MK:  We didn’t really have time to like soundcheck before, so we would try and talk about things as they went on and prepare things, it was quite relaxed.  Especially when you are playing a room that doesn’t give a shit [laughs].  Definitely some of the stuff that we were doing at the beginning is much better now, just after doing it for a couple shows.

Your NPR Tiny Desk Concert shows off exactly how involved your live setup is, how you trigger samples and tie everything together.  Has it gotten more complex since?

MK:  I think all that stuff is still there, we’ve just added gear as we’ve gone along, and moved stuff around.  With the drummer as well, we’re trying to have as much control as possible to be able to go like, really freeform.  It’s all going in that direction where the song can kind of go wherever.  The first gig with the drummer, he had had a few days to learn the songs so it was pretty rigid in what we could do.  But next time we’re out here I think it will be quite different.  I mean I’ve probably got twice as much stuff as the last time we were out here, but we don’t want to be using stuff we don’t need, there’s nothing there that’s really like, gratuitous, we’re just like, going for more options.

What’s the most essential piece of gear in your live setup? Something that really ties everything together?

K:  No, no it’s really quite evenly distributed across the whole thing, I mean we only bring in things that we really couldn’t do a show without.

D:  Before it used to be, on Kai’s side would be more of the live triggering, and on my side with the Maschine, and that’s still there, but there’s a lot mores stuff on the other side and the roles are more intermingled.  The Maschine is still kind of the “brain” of the operation.

Something that struck me about your past performances has been the incorporation of live vocals.  Are you doing more or less of that this tour?

MK:  Yeah there are more songs with vocals, still not a lot, just some refrains.  Two of the new ones have vocals in.  We’re still trying to figure it all out, sometimes I’ll make up the words night of to go along with whatever’s happening, so it’s still pretty loose.

There have been a number of fruitful collaborations between electronic producers and guest vocalists of late (read: Disclosure), have you been working with anyone or do you have plans to?

MK:  Were both pretty keen to be really careful about it, just the idea of having a different person on every track, it doesn’t work for me, especially like an electronic producers second album being people “phoning in” vocals and not really being part of the writing process.  There’s going to be some stuff on the new album with somebody else, like a guest vocalist I guess, but he’s been part of the writing process for those songs and he’s essentially like, a band member for that.  So at the moment it’s just like, one other person, plus a little bit of instrumentation that we have other people doing as well.

Moving toward the writing process, do songs start from a joint collaborative effort, like actually playing together? Or do you both work individually to add your ideas into what the other has done already?

D:  I think it’s really just doing your own thing, and then, considering how to do the new stuff live. We spent quite a few days in the studio just listening to whatever is being made, and we both just kind of know when something is finished and done and is going to go on the album or when it’s not going to be.  It’s quite a personal sort of thing, quite individual, but when do we do get together, when we do listen, and when we have to come together rehearse to get things ready to play live, we get a much clearer picture of where we are on a track and where the other is trying to take it. It’s pretty free there’s not too much structure to it.

(Excuse the fact that this question takes the form of an editorial note) I wanted to touch on something in Crooks & Lovers, an album I’ve listened to over and over again.  On a song like “Before I Move Off”, there’s a very evident progression in the sound from an ambient space with a lot of dissonance and randomness to a soundscape with a lovely, carefully structured, poppy tonality.  This fluctuation between chaotic dissonance and visceral, emotional moments seems to characterize the album and appear quite consistently throughout your released material.  Is this the result of a conscious effort or does it arise from some other musical idea?

K:  I think it’s a quite natural, instinctive thing that happens really, and I would say it goes back to when we started, we were always kind of inclined to embrace an element of pop music in it and enjoyed the contrast of those two elements.  Often it’s easier to appreciate one element when the other is present.

Also I think it’s a wide range of interests that have gone into what we’re doing, and it can seem at times a bit spread out and not all that focused on one thing, so we like to bring everything together into something that is tight and more controlled.

You guys have cited William Basinski’s use of found sounds as an influence to the more organic part of your sound.  Any pop records that have informed the other aspect of your music? Things that you listened to younger that make you say, “I make music reminiscent of that”?

K:  Good question, I don’t know, the records that have stayed with me in that sense…  Melodically, stuff, the things that make you feel comforted, feel right, are often related to something somewhere in your childhood you know, stuff your parents play, stuff you listened to.  When you hear those types of melodies they just feel right to you.  So it’s very hard for me to put a finger on one in particular, a particular artist or something, that seminal album.

I guess, being around here [LA], I have to say I was somewhat obsessed with the Red Hot Chili Peppers when I was younger, even now I want to drive around to all the Blood Sugar Sex Magik spots.  That’s something that, it’s really one of the first records that I listened to before I went to sleep and listened to all day, and that’s got to have an influence somewhere.  I’m not sure if that’s something you can hear, but it’s something I would like to achieve.  It’s just an album, but if I could ever make an album that’s as good as Blood Sugar Sex Magik, I would be happy.

Your earlier work, while not being locked into a specific tempo range, tended to be more downtempo, with a lot of space between the beats in which to work and experiment with different styles.  Recently there has been a trend, especially in the UK, towards uptempo, four on the floor stuff.  Has your recent work reflected this?

MK:  I would say some of it has gone further away from that, but some has definitely gone in that direction.  We bought a drum machine (Dave Smith Tempest), and that thing has completely changed the way I feel about house music.  There’s one track we’ll be playing tomorrow that is very much influenced by that drum machine.  It’s got a very 4/4 kick but we just play with this snare drum that’s got like, a pretty horrible filter on it [laughs] and frankly it’s a lot like house music.  People are still not going to play it in clubs [Laughs].

Speaking of the club, I’ve been impressed with how well your music translates between huge systems and more mundane situations. Do you worry about making beautiful music for people to have in their homes, cars, iPods, etc.?

D:  It’s an afterthought really. I can’t say it really enters into my mind when I’m making something.  I can’t say I’m really thinking about one thing in particular when I’m doing it.

K:  Yeah you’ll hear about people DJing stuff out and listening and being like, ok I need to adjust the EQ on the kick to compensate for this etc. and I’ve never done that, never would.  Its not like there’s anything wrong with that it’s just not the context that we are intending to have this music played in.  It just doesn’t really make sense for us.  Honestly some of the oddities on the first records where we just like didn’t know what we were doing are some of the things I really like about it.

Your sound features guitar more heavily than a lot of your contemporaries, and I know that’s an essential component in your live setup.  Is the guitar still present in your new material?

D:  There’s definitely more just like, straight up guitar with a lot of reverb on it.  We still don’t really know what we’re doing with it, you know the recording or anything like that, but we definitely have been writing guitar lines in place of like, synth stuff.

How do you approach new technology? Do you try to get new stuff and try it out or stick with what you know to work?

K:  I try to keep fairly abreast of what’s coming out and what’s going on. I find it interesting, but I tell you there’s not that much that’s coming out every year that’s even worth checking out.  The stuff that’s really a step forward, like that Tempest, has a lot of the characteristics of an old drum machine, but definitely looking forward as well; it’s a completely new way of putting a drum machine together really.  That was something we really felt like we could get our teeth into.  So we bought it.

There’s that OP-1 thing that Teenage Engineering, a Swedish company made and they have no history of making instruments, it’s like a tiny little digital synth thing that looks like a toy and is kind of engineered backwards. It doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense where they were going with it.  It’s not the most convenient thing to move the stuff to the computer or do live stuff with, but it’s just really different than anything else we’ve ever used so that’s been something we’ve used a lot.

A lot of the hardware controllers that come out are fine and interesting but you can’t abuse them the way you can old equipment, using it the wrong way, which leads to stuff happening that you wouldn’t have done otherwise.  Anything that you can like use in the wrong way is pretty fun, and that’s definitely true of the Dave Smith Tempest and the OP-1.  There was a time when I was leaving the studio and turning everything off and the DS oscillators started freaking out and the filter was making the most insane sounds and it was great.  I stayed, turned everything on and recorded for like 20 minutes and then messed about with that.  It’s nice to have stuff like that in your camp.

Any field recordings you’re excited about?

MK:  We haven’t done any to be honest.  I don’t even think any are making it onto the album. We’ve got a little skateboarding on it but that’s ripped from a Youtube video or something [laughs].

So we can expect an album out in 2013 on Warp, is that correct?

MK:  Yeah that’s correct, there are some things to finish up, but we want to get it out as soon as possible.  You know, we need to do the lead up stuff to it and everything but it’s going to be out before summer of next year.

Do you feel pressure to be more prolific?  Or is quality control still held to a high enough ideal that you feel ok sitting on stuff in the studio for a long time?

MK:  We’re just pretty slow at working really; it takes us ages to get this shit together, so it hasn’t been a conscious decision.  It’s been a good thing in some ways, like we haven’t put anything out for so long.  It kind of feels like the last record almost feels stronger than it did a year ago because we haven’t done anything, so the record has just been sitting around for a year solidifying.  It had its certain time and place, it’s not just something that we did along the way.  Hopefully this next one feels like a decent, weighty statement.  At the same time you don’t want to think about it too much, because it can slow you down; you’ve always got the next record to make things better.  However, we are very conscious of it [quality control], just being very comfortable with everything that’s coming out.

Mount Kimbie is a name that has trickled through to some unexpected audiences; for example, my 65 year old mother is really down.  Do you have goals to reach a new audience with this next record or do you want to develop in the same niche that you currently occupy?

MK:  I mean, nothing really specific.  Recently I’ve noticed, and it’s been quite pleasing to me, that people are starting to comment on us not only on the material we’ve released but also on us as a decent band that you go see and like have a good time, that we’re a good live act, which never was the case. It’s totally out of the blue.  It’s taken us fucking ages to feel like we are a good act, to feel comfortable up there.  So yeah, we aren’t trying to get away from a particular crowd, but we are open to whatever.  We want to go wider though.  We’ve definitely found more young listeners, more old listeners, more women are listening, and we want to keep that going.

Before we run out of time, James Blake is probably your most well known collaborator.  Any plans to work with him more in the future?  Did he contribute to the album or are you mostly in different lanes doing your own things?

MK:  I mean, most often we’re on different sides of the globe.  We did have a show on the same night in Manchester a while back and we knocked out a few old collab things we used to do back in the day, so time permitting, we might try to get one or two of those out next year.

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