First Person

Leon Bridges and Kruangbin: An Unexpected Side of Texas

A soul man and a world-music trio talk about their global influences and of course, Texas.
Dimitri Ehrlich

Leon Bridges is a one-man time machine. The singer,who dresses and sounds like it’s 1967 in Memphis—evokes the effortless authenticity of Sam Cook. On songs like his breakthrough single "Coming Home,” Bridges music transports listeners to the classic Stax/Volt era of soul, and more amazingly, does so without feeling utterly nostalgic.  

Khruangbin is a three-piece instrumental band that draws inspiration from cassettes of obscure 1960s-era funk from Thailand. Khruangbin (the band’s name is the Thai word for airplane) is delightfully strange, and their curiosity results in something surprisingly listenable. In an era of cookie-cutter pop, Khruangbin is genuinely idiosyncratic pleasure.

Other than the fact that Bridges and the three members of Khruangbin have roots in Texas—the two would seem to have nothing in common. After meeting while on a US tour in 2018, Khruangbin’s bassist Laura Lee sent a song to Bridges. He sent it back the next day with a vocal idea and, from that spontaneous act, a collaboration was born. The resulting EP, Texas Sun, will be released February 7th on Dead Oceans/Columbia/Night Time Stories Ltd.

Texas Sun is the first time Khruangbin has worked with a vocalist.  Their music togther is ambient, psychedelic, soulful and rootsy. But as soon as Bridges lays his vocals over the top of the band’s instrumentals, something happens. The musical wanderlust driving Khruangbin settles down into the dusty warmth of Texas.

Dimitri Ehrlich: Hi Leon, where are you right now?

Leon Bridges: I’m back home in Fort Worth, right now.

DE: Other than this collaboration with, Khruangbin, what else are you up to?

LB: Currently, I’ve been gearing up for my third album release. I’ve been working in Los Angeles and Nashville. That’s what’s been consuming my time mostly these days.  The album isn’t complete yet, but song-wise, we’re close to being done. I’m collaborating on the writing. I believe that collaboration is very healthy when it comes to songwriting.  

DE: Neither you or Khruangbin have ever released a collaborative EP before—what made you want to do this now?

LB:  A friend I was working with on a music video put me on to them. And honestly, I was just blown away. I’ve never heard an instrumental band that’s soulful. And as soon as he showed me the tunes, immediately, my reaction was to just start singing over it. I believe that this collaboration was inevitable. I’m happy we were able to make it happen. And also, all of us being from Texas--it just made sense.

DE: Laura, neither you or Leon have ever released a collaborative record before. What made you want to do this, now?

Laura Lee: I think I feel like the collaboration came at a comfortable time for us.

Were finally ready for it, in a way.  First, we needed to put out some stuff just as us. You have to figure out who you are before you start to add other people.

And I think being on the road and meeting other musicians and other people you bond with, you start to realize that you kinda want to see what else you can make. And with Leon, we had written songs that we didn’t feel were for us, but we wanted to use them for something. And there was one song in particular that we had written right before the tour we had with Leon that we thought would be really well-suited for him. So we gave it to him on the road and then it kinda just took off. It happens a lot where you meet people and you’re like, ‘let’s do something,’ but nothing actually happens. And with Leon, I gave it to him and the next day he had written words to it. And that’s when you know it’s right, when it just happens.

DE: Leon, Khruangbin blend a lot of influences but one of them is Thai music from the 1960s. Had you ever heard anything like that before? Based on your music, it seems like you were more raised on soul and blues and American music.

LB: Yeah, prior to discovering them, I hadn’t really heard anything like that before.  But I’ve been listening to a lot of African music. And there are moments in Khruangbin that remind me of that.

DE: Laura and her guitar player bonded over a shared love of Afghan music and Middle Eastern architecture—does Afghan music and middle eastern architecture mean anything to you? Or what would the equivalent bond be for you and Laura?

LB: I think the common thread with all of us together is we’re all Texan. And we all share a love for soul music. And it’s totally an honor to be one of the first vocal collaborators on their music. They totally didn’t need a vocalist on there. But I’m definitely honored to be a part of it.

DE: And Laura, please explain—how do musicians bond over architecture?

LL: I went to architecture school initially, and then ended up switching to art history and history. But there were particular buildings in ancient history called ziggurats, they’re like pre-pyramids. That was my focus of study when I switched to art history from architecture, and there’s some really mystical elements to the ziggurats. 

Each of the layers was designed for a different part of society. And the very top layer of the ziggurat was only for the monks or spiritual leaders of the people. And they had a private stairway up to the top called the stairway to heaven. And the monks would go up there and they had these relics they would pray to and they would ask the gods the hard questions. They supposedly took a hallucinogenic potion when they went up there as well. So I was talking to (our band’s guitar player) Mark about these buildings and that was the thing I was really interested in. And he gave me a book called “Stairway to Heaven,” that first day we met. I walked in and he was watching a documentary on Afghani music called “Beyond The Silence,” and I was just like, how often do you meet people that are interested in art from a time that’s so specific from a specific place? So that was how that happened.

I think that all art is related to some degree. For me, I’m not just a musician, I. painted all through high school and I went to architecture school. And I like music and I like cooking… for me, I go to see art and each medium offers a different thing but it’s all one beautiful thing

DE: You’re both from Texas, and obviously there is a lot of sun in Texas but beyond the potential for solar power, why did you name the EP “Texas Sun”?

LB:  For me, the title track is reminiscent of my time growing up in Texas. Song wise, this EP covers my experiences in Texas--from falling in love for the first time, to my spiritual encounter with God, to having a good time on the dance floor.  

DE: Texans always say everything is bigger in Texas but this is actually a smaller offering—it’s not a full-length album.

LB: We recorded about 8 or 9 tunes, and initially the plan was just to record 1 tune. And at the end of that session I pulled out the guitar and just started rocking some jams that I had been working on and Mark [Speer, guitarist] and Laura and DJ [the band’s drummer] were just like, Whoa--what is that? And so that’s kinda what inspired us. I hope we’re able to release those other tunes, but for now, the world gets four.

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