kero kero bonito's brightly bilingual pop music goes worldwide

The London-based band sits down with i-D to discuss their long anticipated debut record, ‘Bonito Generation.’

by Salvatore Maicki
28 November 2016, 6:10pm

Sam Evans-Butler

No subject is too obtuse for Kero Kero Bonito. Ever since forming in 2013, members Sarah Midori Perry, Gus Lobban, and Jamie Bulled have been crafting tightly wound neon pop songs with a bilingual bent. They became Soundcloud standards in 2014 with their mixtape Intro Bonito and the Ryan Hemsworth-approved single "Flamingo," effervescent confections that vacillate between English and Japanese with artful fluidity. As the band's notoriety grew, so did the mystery surrounding it — who were the humans behind KKB, and would they be able to sustain their high-octane sense of fun?

Now, with the release of their official debut record, Bonito Generation, the band is ready to define itself for the world. The album tackles everything, from avoiding the formality of graduations to the reverse-Newtonian philosophy of trampolines. We sat down with Sarah, Gus, and Jamie to chat about the pathos behind their animated universe and what bilingualism means in today's pop landscape.

How did Kero Kero Bonito come into existence?
Gus: Me and Jamie have been friends since schooldays. We always wanted to do a project with a singer, so we put some adverts up and we didn't get anything super cool straight away. Our half-Japanese friend recommended this website, MixB, which is a bulletin board for Japanese expats in London. He was like, "Well, people normally post for lodgers there, and you know, like, language lessons. But I'm sure you could find someone interesting!"
Sarah: I didn't have a musical background before this band, but I remember, I used to check MixB everyday just to see if there was anything interesting and that ad caught my eye. I thought, "Why not?" and I applied for it. We got on really well during our first rehearsal, and the rest is history.

So how did the evolution unfold from the first singles during the Soundcloud era to your debut record, Bonito Generation? What was the trajectory?
Gus: Our mixtape, Intro Bonito, was the feeling of us meeting and considering what we could do together straight away. You feel like mixtapes can be kind of creative and free — not throwaway, but exploratory, without having to commit to anything too hard....we were envisioning more bootleg material. But actually, we were recording material for Bonito Generation around that time as well.
Sarah: "Graduation" was written straight after the mixtape, at the time I was graduating. I didn't go, because I straight up didn't want to. We played a show at Bunker that night and I wore my graduation outfit, posted the video on YouTube, and it felt really good — like my alternative graduation ceremony. That song is super special to me.
Gus: None of us attended our graduation, and all for different reasons. I didn't because the deadline for designing the Japanese sleeve art for Intro Bonito was the night of my graduation.
Sarah: And Jamie, we were on tour?
Jamie: I was on a plane.

Visual elements are really important to the band and you guys maintain a pretty cohesive aesthetic. Was that always intentional?
Sara: We think of KKB as a world — there's music, there's visuals, and everything that comes with the world. It's a package.
Gus: All the best bands have a universe, right? Kraftwerk have a universe. A lot of our songs have connecting elements. We wrote "Fish Bowl" after the fish who appeared in the "Lipslap" music video.

So, what constitutes the KKB universe? What's the law of the land?
Gus: We say what we see, but we're not gonna hang on the wall and watch everything go past us. We're not afraid to be ourselves, which could sound really corny, actually [laughs].
Sarah: Us three combined is the KKB world.

You guys tend to view things through a really optimistic, bubbly lens. Is that ever difficult to maintain?
Sarah: I don't think our songs are just happy! In the song "Trampoline," the idea is that you have to fall down to bounce back up. It's not all rainbows and candy. People think we're all happy, but if you take a closer look, you have to have sadness.

Were there any moments making this record that felt particularly formative?
Gus: Last tour we listened to a lot of American pop radio on the drives in between stops. It was our most prolonged exposure to such a definitive top 40 soundtrack. We were more interested in it than ever before. Radio is kind of weird and generation-specific now, and it feels like it's on the cusp. Once I got home from tour, I had the idea about a song that you heard on the radio, but the song is the song that you're singing. I laughed out loud at the idea of it, and wrote "Heard A Song."

I wonder how we'll retrospectively define this generation of pop music.
Gus: Retrospect is a wonderful luxury, but it's interesting now to see what's being codified. On this current tour, me and Jamie have been listening to the music from around 2007 and 2008, and we're seeing how cohesively linked artists like Klaxons, Datarock, and CSS were. It's only now that it seems obvious. I can imagine people saying artists like Future and Drake were so 2015 or 2016. But you never really know until you have time to look back on it. I'm quite excited actually — I hope we'll make it on some 2016 compilation.

What do you guys hope to bring to the table, in terms of the pop genre?
Sarah: Bilingualism! You don't really hear people use more than one language in a pop song. I feel like we're getting so international, the borders are being blurred, especially for people like me with mixed backgrounds and parents. I don't think that music has to be based around one culture. It doesn't have to matter — we shouldn't have to sing in English just because we're in England, and we shouldn't have to sing in Japanese when we're in Japan.
Gus: We learned today that we're on the Billboard Top 10 for "World Music." Somehow, somebody tagged us as that and that's what stuck. It's a great thing, borders being smashed. Especially with acts like Grimes and Carly Rae Jepsen, who are more objectively pop than pop music itself. But it would be even cooler to see those kinds of artists in the Top 5.

Bonito Generation is out now.


Text Salvatore Maicki
Photography Sam Evans-Butler

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