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Mount Kimbie on Their New Album 'The Sunset Violent,' Getting Vulnerable, and Wanting to Rip Off Sonic Youth

'To be able to be vulnerable in your work in some way, even if it's playing a certain chord on a guitar, is probably something that is worth leaning into. That's where your voice is.'

mount kimbie
Source: T-Bone Fletcher

Mount Kimbie's new album, 'The Sunset Violent,' came out last month.

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Mount Kimbie, originally just the duo of Dominic Maker and Kai Campos, emerged out of the same late-2000s London electronic music scene that birthed artists like James Blake and Joy Orbison and came to be known, much to the chagrin of many, as "post-dubstep." Even then, their sound, just as influenced by R&B and ambient as club music, was hard to pin down, and it's only continued to shapeshift and evolve since.

Their new album The Sunset Violent, which came out last month, introduced longtime live collaborators Andrea Balency-Béarn and Marc Pell as full-time members. Mount Kimbie is definitively a band now, and they're diving even deeper into the guitar-driven shoegaze and post-punk textures that they had already begun to explore on 2017's excellent Love What Survives.

Ahead of the U.K. and U.S. dates on Mount Kimbie's current tour, kicking off with a gig at London's Roundhouse tonight, Maker and Campos took some time off from the road to discuss their upcoming live shows, The Sunset Violent, their new approach to songwriting, and their long and fruitful relationship with frequent associate King Krule with Q over Zoom.

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mount kimbie
Source: T-Bone Fletcher

Mount Kimbie are kicking off the U.K. leg of their current tour with a show at London's Roundhouse tonight.

How has it been playing the songs live?

Dom: It's been brilliant. It's always sweet being able to connect with the crowd, and meeting people after the shows is really nice. Playing the new music is sick as well. The new stuff's perfect for live shows and it really works in a live setting. We've been trying to figure out the minutiae of the set but overall it's really fun. And we have a great band and really good people to tour with.

I'm curious what the setlists are like. The only setlist I could see on setlist.fm was the show in Amsterdam, which was pretty much all Love What Survives and The Sunset Violent material which makes sense, because that's the most band-oriented stuff.

Dom: Yeah. We've thrown in a couple of older older ones but a lot of it just doesn't really work live. Some of the more electronic records should just stay as recordings. Something like "Carbonated," we've always tried to figure out how to play it. It's just never really worked. So we just keep that one on Spotify or on record. [Laughs]

Something like that is so different from a lot of the stuff on the new record. I imagine it's hard to go back and forth in the same set between those modes.

Kai: The changes we've made have just been to try and make sense of the flow of the different sounds. Because it can be quite jarring, I think, going back and forth and back and forth. So we settled on something that only changes direction drastically twice and feels pretty good.

The Sunset Violent builds off of what you were doing with Love What Survives. It's definitely a more guitar- and band-oriented record. Was that an intentional decision that you discussed beforehand or was that just what emerged when you started working on it?

Kai: I think it felt like a fun challenge, for sure. It's not really something we'd done before. I'd spent the previous three years just kind of arsing about in electronic world. And so it was a nice contrast to a lot of the work that I'd been doing in how much physical feedback you get from acoustic instruments compared to machines. I like machines as well, but I had been doing that for quite a long time at that point. I think things might be a fun experiment and see how they go. And it started working for us pretty quickly.

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I was curious, the press materials I've seen refer to Love What Survives as your last album. But technically your last album was the double solo album MK 3.5: Die Cuts | City Planning in 2022. Would you consider that a Mount Kimbie album?

Kai: No, not really. We didn't approach it with the word "album," for sure. We were sitting on a couple of years of our own studio experiments and stuff. It felt like a good time to experiment a little bit with the format of what we were putting out with the solo work that we'd been doing. There were lots of ideas that we'd talked about trying that I think might have done a better job of presenting it not like an album. But there were some restrictions in terms of really boring label stuff and also even DSP stuff that means you're not really as flexible as you sometimes would like to be. It was essentially, within our emails, talked about a bit more like a mixtape. And an experiment in between albums.

What made you want to do your own thing and experiment for a little bit and then come back together?

Dom: I don't think we even necessarily really wanted to do it, to be honest. I mean, we've got to make money. We had a long period of time where we couldn't travel. So we couldn't write as a band. We couldn't make music as a duo or as a four-piece or any of that. So it was just the situation. It was a very situational thing. At the end of the day, the best thing I think we got out of it was we got to work with some amazing visual artists, do some more work with Tyrone and Frank Lebon, and then from my side, I got to work with a s--tload of sick vocalists I love. So there were benefits to it. But we didn't really want to do it, to be honest. [Laughs] It kind of just naturally happened.

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I know you had already been playing with [keyboardist] Andrea Balency-Béarn and [drummer] Marc Pell for years but The Sunset Violent is the first record with them as official full-time band members. Did they have significantly more input? Was your creative relationship any different on this record?

Dom: I think both their voices were way more present in the writing. We initially had them on board to help us figure out how to play stuff live. And then they became part of the process. It would feel wrong to have any Andrea vocal be a "featuring Andrea Balency." It doesn't feel right. All the music's coming from the same place. They're just part of the family, I suppose.

Kai: Marc kind of got squeezed out because we were very much enjoying writing the rhythm side of the record with the LinnDrum. But it wasn't anything against Marc. I think we thought we would probably replace all of the LinnDrum with Marc and get his take on it but it became a really fundamental part of the sound of the record. So he's sad, he only gets to feature on a couple of tracks. [Laughs] One being the King Krule one at the end. We recorded quite a lot of percussion actually, that's mixed in with all the rhythm tracks, and Marc was certainly contributing a lot in the sessions. And I think Marc played trombone, which is pretty buried at the end of one track. There is some trombone on there.

Andrea was really integral in getting us to finish a lot of the songs. We were getting to the point where we'd got the initial burst of some little loop I'd made and then Dom's initial vocal ideas and then you'd get to the point where it's like, okay, well we either need to diverge it further or not. And Andrea's voice as well as ideas and ability, really, were often the catalyst for helping us finish the music and take it into a different direction slightly.

You mentioned King Krule, who has two songs on the record. I know you've been collaborating with Archy Marshall for what, over a decade now? Could you talk about your relationship with him and how that's evolved?

Kai: We kind of came up together, really. So there will always be a familiarity with us. We actually ended up working with a lot of the same people in terms of studio work. So when we're in a period of writing or putting ideas together, Archy would always come through and just out of curiosity want to check out what's going on. In the same way that friends would talk to you about what you're doing, what you're working on, stuff like that. And I think there is something complementary about the work that we do and the way that we write. So there's normally a few things that Archy feels like he wants to contribute to. It's a shame that schedules over the last 10 years have never really lined up. I mean, they never do line up perfectly, but it would've been nice to have done more work and done more shows. But everyone's doing their own thing. It's quite rare that both your priorities are able to match up at the same time. Yeah, we'd like to do more, if anything.

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A big part of the narrative around this record is that you went to Yucca Valley in California to record the album. What influence did the setting have?

Dom: We didn't really think about it too much until afterwards but the desert definitely had a certain weird thing about it. It is a very strange place, the Yucca Valley. I suppose the biggest thing for us was just having space from distractions, total focus on what we were doing, what we were there to do. We didn't really have any ideas of what we were meant to be doing when we went out there, we just thought we'd try and make some music and see what happens. And it was really nice. It was a very new area for both of us. It just felt like a very easy place to really settle in and create.

The massive sky there. Weird abandoned houses and liquor stores, and everything's closed, and everything's fried in s--tloads of oil. It's a really interesting place. We went to a diner every morning just down the road. Then there was a sushi spot that's in our "Fishbrain" video, which is the illustrated video, called Aki Sushi, that we just went to a lot because it was nice being around people who seemed a little bit normal. And actually just people. We were out in the middle of nowhere. It was just us and the coyotes. It was hot as hell. Like, mid-'90s. It was pretty brutal. We had an air conditioned little place that we lived and worked out of, so it was great. It was a fairly surreal little trip.

It's funny, I know it was recorded in the desert but if anything, at least lyrically, bodies of water are a big recurring motif — beaches and oceans and swimming. Which is also very California, but a slightly different version of California.

Dom: I mean, I was living in LA for eight years. So I had definitely taken on a lot of that landscape and that scenery. And also both of us grew up near the sea, and for some reason the sea's always been something that I've been around and it just infiltrated into the writing.

This was the first time you had really written a whole album with lyrics for Mount Kimbie songs, right?

Dom: Yeah. I mean, we'd had lyrics before. We had actually quite a lot of lyrics on the second album. But building instrumentals around the voice was cool and something we hadn't really done before as a big focus. We're both interested in trying to write some good songs that you can sing back and remember lyrics from, and that kind of conventional songwriting, really, was interesting. It's so nice being on the road and singing some of the new s--t and people are singing it back. [Laughs] It's weird for us, we'd never really had that before. It was really fun. It was also a really natural way of sparking an idea. Kai's instrumentation would spark an idea for me and vice versa. When I'd apply a story to the sound. It's quite a good way of going backward and forward like that in the mid-writing process.

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It's not like vocals and guitar are totally new. You've always used those, even since your first releases, but in this one it's less of a textural element and really driving the songwriting, which feels different. I read in another interview that the song title "Dumb Guitar" came from being a little embarrassed about the pop songwriting. Where do you think that hesitance to get too immediate comes from and how did you get over that?

Kai: I think the hesitance is just because I'm a vain human being who is worried about being cool. I don't know whether somebody told me this a long time ago or it's some of my own work [laughs] but I think the feeling of being embarrassed about work is normally a quite powerful indicator that there's something there. I mean, it's probably fairly close to being vulnerable, right? And to be able to be vulnerable in your work in some way, even if it's playing a certain chord on a guitar, is probably something that is worth leaning into. That's where your voice is, I think, and where you find something interesting about yourself. And also maturing as artists, you are able to separate yourself a little bit more from the outcome and the work in a way that's quite fun. Because you're not fully associating your entire personality with the work. It's just one aspect of it. I thought it'd be a fun thing to try for us.

Does the music that you listen to in your personal life shift along with the music that you're making? Or are they two separate things?

Kai: The thing is, musically, when it comes to stuff that influences the music that I make, I'm still digging through stuff from 15-20 years ago. There's always a track or something that happens in a track that I think, "Oh, that's interesting." It lodges somewhere in your brain so you can mine that later. And I think I'm still going back to the vault from 15 years ago. It's a very slow moving set of influences. And obviously, those core musical revelations happen generally with your early experiences. So there's always a lot to go back to. There's reference points that I had for this record that have been in the vault for as long as we've been making music. It's just not the right time to mine them yet, and then it comes. It's like, "Oh yeah, I did want to rip off that thing from that one Sonic Youth song." And then you go and try and do it.

Did you have specific things in the vault that you care to share?

Kai: I try and keep a playlist of them because otherwise I don't remember. There's a track by The The called "Soul Mining." And there genuinely is a Sonic Youth track, one called "Reena," that was a part of it. So much, really, that it feels wrong to highlight those in particular. I'll tell you what was quite a funny one was this band Land of Talk. I remember being on a road trip in America actually, and having that on the stereo and just f--king loving it. And it's so not like the music that we were making. This was probably about 10 years ago. It was just so flat and dry and kind of middle of the road, but in a really good way. So that was definitely what I wanted some of it to feel like. That was a big textural reference point for me.

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The album cover is a photograph from T-Bone Fletcher, who was traveling America for this series, which I think kind of solidifies the idea that this is an American record in some way. What drew you to that photograph?

Kai: We did a shoot with T-Bone for some press photos and they went unusually well. So we were just chatting with him about the artwork and we were looking through some of the pictures he had been taking. He takes a lot of really good pictures but a lot of them have people in them. And I think I thought it was important that the picture looked like people had been there, but they weren't there anymore. [Laughs] It leaves more questions when the people aren't there anymore, you know? Slightly more open-ended. You're drawn to an image and then you try and piece together why and what the story you're telling is. And I think the fact that he's also not American, and is in fact a British dude, much like ourselves, and he is traveling through America, gives him a perspective that resonated with us in some ways. What you choose to take pictures of is obviously very telling about your perspective on things. I think it works in terms of having an iconic quality to it, and also touched on what we realized were lots of the reference points of the kind of American record that we were pretending to live in.

Do you know where the picture was taken?

Kai: I don't, actually. Do you?

Dom: Somewhere south. I think, actually, it was like, Ohio or some s--t. Where do they grown corn? Middle America, somewhere.

It seems kind of ridiculous looking back at the "post-dubstep" genre tag that was applied to you. How do you feel about that name that whole thing that became what the music press tried to make your narrative when you were first starting out?

Kai: I don't think we were best pleased. [Laughs] There's loads of people that we were around that were coming through at the same time and we were all having this really exciting experience of a scene happening around us and things going on. People that we're still in touch with who have gone on to do really great stuff, most of them more in a dance music setting. But there was a lot of s--t music as well. I don't think we were really wanting to be held responsible for a lot of crap that sounded a bit like what we were doing. The album wasn't meant to be a mission statement or anything like that. I think by the time we finished that first record we had reached a limit of what we could do with that way of working. I totally understand where it comes from and why people need to categorize music but I don't know if anybody really feels a deep connection with the label that they end up with, you know? It's not really for you to say.

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Thinking back to your earlier work, "Made to Stray" is one song from your earlier stuff that's made it into your setlist. What is it about that song that makes it still resonate?

Dom: It's just a good live record. It sounds good live. And we've done a version of it that's really sick.

Kai: It's good songwriting as well. Because you think they're all good when you write them, to a certain extent. But then the ones that you listen back to five-plus years later and they still have something is because there's an element of good songwriting in it. And sometimes the style and production and studio stuff kind of takes over or is seductive, as a listener as well as somebody who makes it. It doesn't have to be, like, classic good songwriting. There's lots of dance music from the last 50 years, the good songs hold up over time. And there's more than a million ways to write a good song and there isn't a set formula. But you know the ones that are well-written because they still have something about them further down the line. And we don't have that many of those. So "Made" has always still, to me, sounded like it has some long life to it.

Is there anything else that you want to get off your chest about the album? It's been out in the world for almost a month now.

Dom: Excited to bring it to the States. That's actually really exciting. I'm curious to see how people we speak to over there connect with the record.

Kai: In its natural habitat. Bringing it back home.

Dom: In its natural habitat. Bringing it back home to California. Excited to play in the States.

Do you feel like there's a difference in how you're received in the U.K. and Europe vs. the States?

Dom: I don't think anyone knows about us in the States. It feels like the States is too big. Only in the little scenes are we known. I think the States is always interesting.

Kai: I think there's a split in the States between people that know us from more Pitchfork era and then the ones that were pretty much day one fans. So there's some that are perhaps more acclimatized to the indie leanings of the more recent work, and then others that maybe came to a party that we played in like 2010 or 2011 bitterly, bitterly disappointed that we're not making the clippity-clop music anymore.

Have you noticed any people at your shows just standing there shaking their heads, like, "Why aren't they playing the clippity-clop music?"

Kai: That's definitely a thing. I don't know. At this point, there's enough of it that it's your own fault if you're coming to the show.

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Tour dates:

May 3 - London, UK - Roundhouse*

May 4 - Manchester, UK - New Century*

May 5 - Glasgow, UK - QMU*

May 17 San Francisco, CA - Great American Music Hall^

May 18 Los Angeles, CA - El Rey Theatre^

May 21 - Denver, CO - Perplexiplex at Convergence Stn.^

May 23 - Austin TX - Parish^

May 25 - Chicago, IL - Lincoln Hall^

May 28 - Toronto, ON - Axis^

May 29 - New York, NY - Webster Hall^

*w/ Nabihah Iqbal

^w/ Chanel Beads

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