Texas trio Khruangbin were originally meant to start their world tour in Australia in early 2020. The pandemic put paid to that, but in the interim the band has gone from strength to strength. In the last two years, the enigmatic three-piece curated a Late Night Tales compilation, put out a second EP with fellow Texan Leon Bridges and released Mordechai – the band’s most successful record yet – as well as an accompanying remix album. All of which means the recently announced dates in Australia and New Zealand, now concluding their First Class World Tour rather than commencing it, have the feel of a victory lap.
“I’m actually tearing up a little bit,” bassist Laura “Leezy” Lee tells Broadsheet. “I have a few things on my bucket list and playing Sydney Opera House was one of them. I remember our agent calling and saying, ‘We can get you the dream but you’re going to have to give up Thanksgiving’ and I was like, ‘Fine! I’ll give thanks anywhere.’”
In addition to Lee, Khruangbin is made up of guitarist Mark Speer and drummer Donald “DJ” Johnson. The threesome’s fusion of psychedelic rock, dub and Thai funk (their name comes from the Thai word for “aeroplane”) has resulted in critical acclaim. As well as cancelling its 2020 tour, Covid restrictions meant the band was denied the chance to support Tame Impala across Australia and Lee is keen to return to our shores for the first time since 2019.
“There’s something about being so far away from home that removes a lot of the usual stigma around a show,” she says. “Radio City [Music Hall] in New York is probably just as big as Sydney Opera House, but Australia doesn’t feel as stressful. I’m looking forward to feeling like I’m on vacation while I’m on tour. I’m also looking forward to Mark quoting [1997 film] The Castle and impressing Aussies everywhere.”
It’s not just the iconic Sydney venue that Khruangbin will be playing at the end of this year. Its Antipodean jaunt is the group’s biggest Australia and New Zealand dates yet, beginning in Fremantle on November 23 before consecutive nights in Sydney on November 27 and 28. Then they perform at Fortitude Music Hall in Brisbane (November 30) and Melbourne’s Sidney Myer Music Bowl (December 3) before the whole thing wraps up with a trip across the ditch to play the Spark Arena in Auckland (December 6).
Khruangbin’s music is a melange of styles and influences from around the world. “My grandparents listened to Mexican boleros, my Mum loved Gloria Estefan, and my Dad loved the Beatles,” Lee says. However, a key inspiration for the recent album Mordechai, which hit the top five in Australia and top 10 in New Zealand, wasn’t an artist at all, but rather a kind soul encountered by Lee when she was feeling low.
“In 2019, I was in need of a break,” she begins. “We played over 150 shows. Played every continent apart from Africa. And recorded two and a half albums. My mind was racing, but then I met Mordechai. I think he could see my head was spinning a little bit. He took me on a hike with his kids and it was just the most beautiful day. I knew we were heading to a waterfall and I imagined it to be one where you entered from the bottom and bathed in rainfall. But then we got there and there was a giant jump. I looked at him and said, ‘Is this some kind of weird baptism?’ He started laughing but he said, ‘submerging yourself in water can be really therapeutic and can be some sort of a reset.’ I felt inspired. It was right after that hike I wrote all the words for the album. I went into the studio sort of manic and said, ‘I’ve got it – we’re going to call it Mordechai.’ He’s a beautiful human being and I’m really grateful for that day. He’s now a very dear friend.”
One of the things you’ll notice about the group is what they wear on stage – Lee and Speer always perform wearing long dark wigs. “I wanted to be a different person; it’s easier,” explains Lee. “Leezy [Lee’s alter ego] is my creation, rather than me. It is me, but there’s separation. I decided on it before our very first show so I went looking for a wig and that was the one I liked. Then Mark said, ‘If you’re wearing a wig, I want to wear a wig.’ When we first put them on, DJ was just like, ‘WTF?’”
As well as dressing up and taking you on a journey through the world of music, Khruangbin’s songs grow and change over time as the tour progresses, something Lee attributes to their unusual recording process.
“We each have our own time with each song. So, we write the song individually and have a framework that we’ve built, but the album versions of the songs are probably only our second or third time playing the song as a unit. I think it’s really important – that feel of live-ness – and that’s the beauty of recording it a second or third time through.
“I personally think that’s what adds to our live shows – the songs become more developed as we play them more.”
Khruangbin tour dates:
Wed November 23 – Fremantle Arts Centre
November 27 & 28 – Sydney Opera House
Wed November 30 – The Fortitude Music Hall
Sat December 3 – Sidney Myer Music Bowl, as part of Always Live
Tue December 6 – Spark Arena
Tickets are on sale now.