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Khruangbin Make Their India Debut at Magnetic Fields This Week

The Texan rock band’s drummer Donal ‘DJ’ Johnson on traveling the world, Lata Mangeshkar and their upcoming album ‘Con Todo El Mundo’

Anurag Tagat Dec 15, 2017

American rock band Khruangbin - Donald 'DJ' Johnson, Laura Lee and Mark Speer (from left). Photo: Courtesy of the artist

For their final performance before they release their new album Con Todo El Mundo, psychedelic surf rockers Khruangbin will take a trip from Texas to Rajasthan, performing at the fifth edition of Magnetic Fields Festival this weekend.

Khruangbin’s origins and current movements are certainly worthy of a study in globalization, considering three Texans ”“ who came together in 2010 ”“ were taken in by a whole movement of funk, psychedelic and surf rock from Sixties-era Thailand (courtesy of a blog called Monrakplengthai), picked the Thai word for “airplane” as their band and have since traveled the world with their music. They’ve supported the likes of indie act Father John Misty, toured the U.K. and stopped by for a Boiler Room set and now, on their way to the Alsisar Mahal for a slot on the Bira 91 South Stage at Magnetic Fields.

Drummer Donald Johnson says travel is “one of life’s greatest pleasures,” and he’s not even talking about specifically touring and playing shows in different parts of the world. But he adds, “Specifically, we love finding the surprises of each tour. There are always unexpected nights with an unforgettable audience, where they might not speak the same language as you, but they’ve memorized every word, or dance like crazy all through the set. The tours become a treasure hunt for those moments.”

Their first album The Universe Smiles Upon You (2015) was specific to take influence from Thai music ”“ funky, hypnotic, mind-expanding and often bereft of lyrics ”“ but Johnson says it’s not the only space the band wants to stay in. He says, “We loved discovering this little musical conversation Thailand was having with America, and decided we wanted our first record to carry on that conversation ”” which is why we take Thai music and translate it back through our Texas perspective. Texas is who we are, but the best music is always a kinship, a handshake, a conversation of some kind. Our first album just happened to be with Thailand.”

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Con Todo El Mundo, too, was recorded under similar conditions as their first ”“ the band locked themselves away for a week, with “no distractions, no people, no Wi-Fi” and began writing. Johnson says, “It’s like summer camp really ”” only in the dead cold of winter, with our engineer for a counselor, and cows for new friends.” This time around, Johnson says the band members ”“ bassist Luara Lee and guitarist Mark Speer ”“ were much closer after the one-and-a-half years they spent on the road together. The drummer adds, “It’s something you can really hear in the record.”

There’s musical influences from places ranging from Iran to Lebanon and Spain ”“ locations that Johnson says the band has been “quietly obsessed with” since The Universe Smiles Upon You. He adds that their upcoming album ”“ which releases on January 26th ”“ is more personal. “The songs are about things and people that are important to us. It’s named for Laura Lee’s grandfather. The cover is a picture of where we record. There are pictures of us on the album and each single, which isn’t something we’ve done before. We want to put it all out there and see what happens.”

Ask Johnson what kind of music the band has been into these days, he reels off artists such as Kassav and Jacob Desvarieux, which came after Speer’s discovery of the carnivalesque, Caribbean-flavored Zouk music. Of course, they’ve discovered and binged on Indian music as well. They count M.S. Subbulakshmi and acid house pioneer Charanjit Singh as their favorites, and you’ll always find a few tunes from songstresses such as Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Puthli playing on the P.A. before they hit the stage.

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En route from their first ever trip to Bangkok (which might be a homecoming of sorts) to Magnetic Fields, Khruangbin will spend three weeks in India, “hopefully eating our way across the country,” Johnson says. “Can’t think of a better way to celebrate our first time playing Asia than feasting from Jaipur to Goa,” the drummer adds. And then there’s their other favorite activity ”“ digging for new, old and rare records. Johnson adds, “If we can come back with a haul of Indian boogie and funk, we’ll be a very happy band.”

Watch the video for “White Gloves”