mount kimbie explore unknown territory with their new album, love what survives
Created long distance between Tottenham and LA, their perfectly imperfect record was a challenge, but they got there. We catch up with the duo to talk King Krule’s lyrics, working with the Lebon family, and their sonic evolution.
After touring their last record, 2013's Cold Spring Fault Less Youth to the point of complete mental exhaustion, Dominic Maker and Kai Campos, of everyone's fave UK electronic duo Mount Kimbie, took a break to figure out what the fuck they were doing. Kai moved from south to north London, and Dom went a little further afield, joining his girlfriend in Los Angeles where he and fellow expat producer James Blake have been working together on various projects, including the new Mount Kimbie record, Love What Survives.
Out now, the beautiful release sees them lean on their friendship group, with contributions from an impressive selection of pals. The poetic/traumatic Blue Train Lines comes with vocals from long-time friend and collaborator King Krule, while We Go Home Together (the first new music we heard from them in four whole years) and How We Got By were caressed gently by James Blake's pain and immediately turned to pure fire, meanwhile -- big fans of her work -- they also reached out for guest production from Mica Levi aka Micachu on the minimal and melodic Marilyn.
Although staying true to their early style, ("It's not a million miles from what we were trying to do before," Kai tells us), the melancholic new tunes have a little more to them; significantly more wordy than their mostly instrumental former tunes. Inspired by the Middle Eastern and African rhythms they played during their recent NTS residency, the boys set out on a mission to make pop fit where it wouldn't naturally occur. Live, they are pleased to have secured their dream drummer, Mark, from Micachu and the Shapes, who will be joining them for all future shows.
The release of Love What Survives marks their third on label supreme, Warp (Kelela, Aphex Twin, FlyLo). When we join the duo in a sunny north London pub garden, they fill us in on embracing change, their Lebon family collaborations, and the evolution of Mount Kimbie.
Hello you two. You toured your last album a lot, for a long time. When you finally got home, did you find that everything or nothing had changed?
Kai: I find that other people's lives change way more than yours does. We both came back and moved to different places. I just needed to figure out what the fuck I was doing basically. I think it was probably the same for Dom at that point, proper decoupling from the idea of the band. Everything has changed.
Your new record is called Love What Survives -- what's the title all about?
Kai: When we're thinking about titling stuff, especially when mostly we've worked in music without words, a title is a strange thing to approach because people take a lot of meaning from it. One of the nice things about instrumental music it that it is naturally more open to interpretation above literal meanings, so for us, titles tend to not necessarily be prescriptive as to what the correct interpretation is. It's really just something that when we had it written down, it made sense to us.
Gotcha. And why did this make sense?
Kai: It's about that process of things changing and being okay with it, but at the same time realising that, as everything is lost, there's a kind of sadness to it. Whether that's youth or friends or relationships, there's still this kind of essence or thread of energy, even though it can seem unrecognisable at times. It's the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning and makes you want to actually contribute something to the world.
Dom: But not just in a positive way, you know? There's a sadness to it too, and that's okay.
Back when you first announced the record, you tweeted that the making of it was a 'fascinating process that changed you as a band' -- how did it change you?
Kai: I think we reworded that like three times because we felt the choice of words was important. There was no concept for the record. The whole idea was to continue learning and to bring what we had learnt from making past records and try and use it in the most naive way possible.
Dom: We learnt not to rely on old habits, and to accept that we should be doing whatever the hell that we want to be doing, rather than what we feel maybe we should be doing. And just freeing up from any anxiety about that, which is a state that we got into eventually.
Because it was a four year process, was it difficult to overcome those restrictions?
Kai: Yeah, that's the interesting part. Each time you make a record, it's difficult in different ways. You think when you've done one you can do it again, because you figured it out before. But next time, it's completely useless information because there are all these different challenges that are kind of harder than last time. It was definitely a very challenging record to make.
Dom: It was unknown territory, to a certain extent… which is what you want.
Logistically, how did your long distance musical relationship work?
Dom: Lots of flying back and forwards, travelling to each other and doing studio sessions in both LA and in London. I think the limited time in different cities gave us a bit more focus, and also meant there was a lot of time in-transit to potentially see things in a slightly different way and gain perspective. The home of the album though, the heart of it, has always been in the studio that we had in Tottenham.
We shouldn't be surprised, then, that the album features are your friends.
Dom: It wasn't like 'nobody else is allowed in!' but you just end up working with the people you talk to about music, share your ideas with, and get feedback from. It actually wasn't a plan to have that many features, but it didn't feel like a big deal and felt like it was good for the song.
In terms of your Lebon visuals, you're really working your way through the family.
Kai: We're very close to the Lebons now, yeah. We knew Tyrone from the first album we made, where he art directed the videos, photos, and album cover. I think he left quite a big mark in people's memories of that record. The whole feeling of it is quite heavily linked to his work. Looking at this record and how seemingly far away it was from the first, we thought it would be nice to reference the fact that it's a still continuation from the first by working with Frank again. I like the idea of having somebody run with their own interpretation, so we let him do whatever he wants and create something alongside it that's its own entity.
And his dad too?
Kai: And Mark as well, yeah. That was Frank's idea, which was a good one.
Your mate Mica Levi killed it with her soundtracks for Under the Skin and Jackie. Is that something you'd like to venture into?
Kai: I actually tried it once before and it's much harder than I thought it would be. It's really fucking weird when you realise that you're just second guessing what somebody else's hopes are for the music are. I hadn't really considered that before, and it's a terrible way to approach it. The first time I tried it was shit, because I was too caught up in what they were looking for rather than, you know, Mica's work, which I can only assume, that certainly when she first did Under the Skin, they can't have been like 'This is what we're looking for', you know? I'd like to give it another crack.
Dom: Actually, the video for Blue Train Lines has got me thinking that it's an area I'd really like to look at. I'm actually still trying to digest it even as we speak.
Finally, what's Blue Train Lines actually about?
Kai: The music, to me, is something that I can never quite explain... and I haven't really asked Archie what his lyrics mean. Him and Frank are both excellent at making little worlds in which I'm not too fussed about the literal meanings. Archie's choice of words and how he delivers stuff; there's a great arching in his songwriting that takes you on a bizarre, quite surreal story that feels in some ways linear but also completely abstract. Frank just seems to have his own language.