Exclusive: we speak to the UK electronic duo about their new album Love What Survives and get a first look at their latest music video
Mount Kimbie’s third album Love What Survives is perhaps the least electronic-sounding record that the UK electronic duo have released to date. Opening track “Four Years and One Day” sets the tone for what’s to come: a swirl of analogue synthesisers gives way to a propulsive motorik rhythm, recalling Swiss band Grauzone’s cult 80s hit “Eisbaer”, before ending in a swell of discordant guitar feedback. Elsewhere there’s warm soul music on “We Go Home Together”, delicate piano improvisations on “Poison”, and fuzzy indie pop on “You Look Certain (I’m Not So Sure)”. It’s a long way from the bass-heavy ‘post-dubstep’ sound the band once helped inspire.
Then again, Mount Kimbie have come a long way in their nine-year history together. Today, the duo’s Dom Maker lives in Los Angeles while Kai Campos holds fort back in London. Love What Survives is the result of a series of sessions held as they travelled between continents. But despite this change in surroundings, they’ve still kept things in the family. Old friends like James Blake and Mica Levi make guest appearances on the album, while King Krule (who previously worked with the band on 2013’s Cold Spring Fault Less Youth) is back on the crashing “Blue Train Lines”. Likewise, the album’s creative direction comes from old visual collaborator Frank Lebon, who shot the “We Go Home Together” video, tapped his father Mark to direct the “Marilyn” video, and asked his brother Tyrone to shoot the album’s cover art.
The new video for “Blue Train Lines”, directed by Raf Fellner and Tegen Williams, tells its narrative through abstract visuals cut to the track’s rhythm. Frank Lebon, who actually makes an appearance in the video as a buyer, describes it as “a fictional re-creation of two anthropologists (Robert F. H. and Theadora K., played by Raf F. and Tegen W.) who have been called in by the authorities to study a man they seem to believe is the last of the Yahi of California. Upon stumbling into civilisation in 1910, the man unknowingly became the life’s work and obsession of a pair of human scientists who housed and cared for him while they studied his every move.”
He continues: “However, the story takes a turn when the pair fall out and one of them tries to sell all his belongings on eBay. Luckily, the buyer, who goes by the name ‘Frank L.’, acquires all of the wild man’s things, only to reinvest them back into further studies in a tale exploring the lines between student, teacher, collaborator, scientist, historian, and friend. Rest in peace Ishi.”
We met Mount Kimbie on a warm summer’s day to talk Love What Survives, the “Blue Train Lines” video, and approaching a decade together as a band. Read below alongside an exclusive first look at the “Blue Train Lines” video.
It’s been four years since Cold Spring Fault Less Youth came out. Were there any false starts with the new album in that time?
Dom Maker: Yeah, there were.
Kai Campos: A lot of the stuff that ended up on the record was at some point discarded. Quite a few of the tracks had been around for three years, and we’d kind of thought they’d never get finished. It’s interesting to try things. Like, I had this idea that the album could have the same drumbeat throughout the whole record, every single song. At some point you kind of pull back from that extreme, but it was cool to do it and it was a really good exercise. And it was part of what we were trying to do as well – but just a little bit extreme.
Dom Maker: I think with the last record, the last track we finished was ‘Blood and Form’, and that relied heavily on a drum machine that we’d been shown by Andy Ramsay, who’s the drummer of Stereolab. He’s got a studio that we’ve done a lot of work in. He showed us this cartridge-loaded drum machine called the Powerhouse.
Kai Campos: It’s quite a comedy item.
Dom Maker: It goes in and out of time. I think that being the last thing we had finished sort of started that interest in drum machines, especially those sort of rhythm boxes where there’s not that much manipulation you can do with it. That was the foundation, being excited by the simplicity of those instruments and building from that starting point. That led us to the early uses of rhythm boxes in soul music, and then from there, the more 70s/80s punk-y usage of them.
What can you tell us about ‘Blue Train Lines’?
Kai Campos: It was a pretty early idea that started on the MS-20 (synthesiser). Most of the songs that I finish, there’s normally a moment where you know – even if it’s just a couple of seconds – that it’s got room to expand into something bigger. I had the MS-20 line, which is really simple stuff, but it just clicked and opened all this space up in front of it. It had been kicking about for ages and it sounded quite different – it just had a loop with a bass guitar for ages, like a year or so. And then I was just showing Archy (Marshall, aka King Krule) stuff, and he was really excited about it and wanted to develop it a bit more.
“(King Krule) just always seemed to come up in ideas that we had. He’s very present in what we listen to and we follow what he does a lot” – Dom Maker, Mount Kimbie
How do you usually work with your collaborators? Is it a case of leaving space for their vocals, or do they do things like co-write the song with you?
Kai Campos: For the most part the idea’s not finished – it’s 20 per cent or 30 per cent done, and we play stuff (to our collaborators) and see where they take it. If they get it at that stage then you start building the rest of it together based on their reaction and their impulses towards the music. That’s the only way we’ve worked with anybody else. I feel like it works well in terms of them being in the actual DNA of the song rather than just coming in at the end.
Dom Maker: It’s important to leave space for them to have their own interpretation of the idea. If we send over a fully-fledged instrumental it asserts our feeling on the track way more than is needed.
You worked with the Lebon family – Frank, Tyrone, and Mark – on the whole album. What’s your relationship with them?
Dom Maker: Tyrone did some of the press shots, the album artwork, and all of the videos for our first album Crooks & Lovers. We really clicked. Frank was actually in the first video that we had done by Tyrone, called ‘Would Know’. I think Tyrone did such an amazing job with that album and really captured a feeling and a place in time for us and for that record.
Kai Campos: A really big part of people’s memory of that album is the visual side.
Dom Maker: And when it came round to it this time, it just seemed like a no-brainer to get Frank involved as well.
Kai Campos: (With the second album we thought) it would be interesting to go a completely different way with the feeling of the artwork. We wanted something much more graphic-based. This time, with how far removed it was from the first album, we thought it’d be nice to make some kind of nod to the fact that it’s the same people.
The album is a family affair in other ways too, because you’re working with people you’ve always been close to, like King Krule, James Blake, and Mica Levi.
Dom Maker: I think (Archy) just always seemed to come up in ideas that we had. He’s very present in what we listen to and we follow what he does a lot.
Kai Campos: I’m always getting really good tips off Archy.
Dom Maker: There are strong ties with Mica as well, because she’s someone that we've always looked up to. Her drummer for Micachu & the Shapes, Marc (Pell), is our drummer when we play live. There are always these little connections.
And James Blake is an old friend.
Kai Campos: Yeah. When we started out, we used to play together.
Dom Maker: We spent quite a lot of time in his mum and dad’s house writing. It was a little different with James, because he lives in LA as well. It was interesting, both of us being so far away from London where this record was being constructed, and applying that kind of LA mindset (to what we were doing). It was exciting to finally get something down on record together.
“(When we first started) we were so naive, in a pleasant way, about the fact that it would ever be discussed by anybody else. You do lose that a bit at some point” – Kai Campos, Mount Kimbie
One of the tracks with James, ‘We Go Home Together’, has a soulful, almost gospel feel.
Kai Campos: The first time I saw James sing was when he was at Goldsmiths. It was a graded performance – his tutors were there – and it was at a pub in New Cross. They had all the students doing their final performance. Everyone else was in a band and were quite stylised. We were walking to the pub and I asked him what he was planning on performing. He was like, ‘I haven’t made my mind up yet, I don’t know.’ Then this band played, and he got up and picked up one of their tambourines and did, like, a gospel record. Everyone was completely silent. It was a remarkable performance. I’ll just never forget it. So I think that’s always been a part of his background that comes through.
Obviously you and James both came up together in the scene that was called ‘post-dubstep’ at the time. Do you have positive memories of that time, looking back?
Kai Campos: It’s good memories ‘cos it was a really creative time. We were writing music every day and everything sounded great at the time. We were sharing a lot and taking a lot from each other as well. We were so naive, in a pleasant way, about the fact that it would ever be discussed by anybody else. You do lose that a bit at some point. At the same time, there’s a self-awareness (we have today) which I think is good and important in learning as well. Sometimes it feels like we haven’t been doing this for a long time, and other times it feels like a lifetime ago.
Well you’re approaching ten years together as a band. Are you going to do anything special to celebrate your birthday?
Kai Campos: It might be a kind of kiss of death if we start celebrating ten years. Maybe 25?
Dom Maker: We’ll probably play a show on the night…
Kai Campos: …and then have to go to an airport hotel and get up two hours later.
Warp release Love What Survives on September 8