23 February 2018 by Daniel Davis Goff
Catching up with Mount Kimbie’s Dom Maker
English electronic duo Mount Kimbie is celebrating their 10 year anniversary this year. The time Dominic Maker and Kai Campos met on the benches of a London university seems far behind, but they both have kept a taste for learning and testing new stuff along the way. 7 years after releasing their debut album Crooks and Lovers, Mount Kimbie came back with their third and most accomplished album Love What Survives, released end of 2017. The new album, featuring longtime friends James Blake, King Krule and Micachu, takes you on a more band driven experience, where drum patterns take the lead to build a substantial musical universe. The duo was recently playing a show at l’Atabal, Biarritz in France. We met with Dominic as it was the perfect occasion to have a chat about how he and Kai work together, their background and their latest album.
You are used to playing the big venues like Coachella but lately, you have played smaller places like Biarritz. Is there any notable difference for you?
I love it, I like playing in small places, one of the best shows we did was in Krakow, in Poland, there were about a hundred people in the crowd, it’s really nice to have this intimacy. You just never know what to expect from smaller shows. We did one in Marseille which was pretty quiet, it was a Monday night and people weren’t that energetic but as the set progressed they started to get more and more into it. I love bigger shows just as much as I love the smaller ones, they always bring something different.
Regarding the creative process, now that there’s an ocean between you two, how do you cope with spontaneous creative moments?
Well, the main thing is that we work quite separately anyway. In terms of coming up with ideas and starting a song, we have always worked separately. Usually, the time we spend together is more about arranging. So it’s more of a discussion, but the initial stuff is always done completely solo. We never sit in the same room and come up with ideas.
So basically it means that in an album, some tracks are going to be more Dom and some others will be more Kai?
It has always been like that. Sometimes one of us will finish a track in two hours and then it’s done, we both listen to it and we think it doesn’t need anything else. There is never the feeling that we both need to contribute to certain things. The big part of our relationship is just to be saying I like it. Both of us like to make music separately but we need the ear of the other guy to be confident about it, to be able to push it through the door as a release. So the biggest part of us working together is not really working together, it’s actually just having each other to bouncing off.
You guys have a very different approach to creating music, you seem very intuitive, Kai grew up in a musical environment and studied it. How do you get to complement each other?
We both write music from a very different angle because we’re from different backgrounds. Kai left university to pursue music, so it’s always been his sole focus, whereas with me it hasn’t really been my only priority, up until we were on tour and playing every night. I often tried to do what Kai was doing and didn’t feel like I was doing anything good, then I started to realize the value in just relaxing about it and not feel like I have to make music. I have been doing lots of sampling recently which is something I haven’t done for ages, it’s really exciting. Coming from 2 different approaches to music is healthy for us. Like Kai will be recording hours and hours of a modular synthesizer, and I’m just gonna want to take little bits of it. That happens a lot, he’ll play this long piece and I’ll be “Oh what about that as a loop” and then we build something on it.
On the way you guys express ideas to the other, does it make a difference?
We have never communicated that much with what we want to do. I don’t know if that’s because we’re English. British people don’t really talk about how they feel about stuff, I guess that goes also into working relationships. It’s almost a sort of unspoken thing, it’s more about setting the mood for where we are in our head, so we share a lot of music together, we listen to a lot of music that the other would be listening to. The things we were interested in for this last album is kind of soul music and band driven stuff.
Can you quote some of them?
You know that Drake song, Hotline Bling? This drum machine pattern is actually a sample from a guy called Timmy Thomas. He was one of the guys Kai and I fell in love with during the time we were thinking about writing. It’s so simple, you just press play on the drum machine, the beat never changes and then you have all the space around it. Something in there was really exciting for us because before we were basically making beats which is something we decided we didn’t want to do at the moment. It’s more about laying down every simple drum pattern and then exploring the space around the drums. Like fleshing out a skeleton. Stereolab also was a very big influence on us, always has been. We actually worked with the drummer Andy Ramsay. He has a Stereolab approach to everything, that definitely had a big influence on us. Another track that randomly pops up would be Eisbaer by a band called Grauzone, the track was really big in Germany. It’s really simple, an odd song about a polar bear, with a really catchy melody but in a very unorthodox style. That’s something in pop music that we both always loved: tracks that are a little weird, off the beaten track.
You studied video before getting to music, did your background in video add to the way you work and create music?
A little bit, yes. The reason I loved doing video was because of skate films (rollerblading), I was watching skate films all the time, skating in skateparks. It used to be a really big scene back in 2002 and I used to constantly watch these VHS skate videos. I loved seeing the coupling of music and movement, like when someone lands a trick, there would be a drum hit or something. That’s why I studied film. But it’s hard to say whether it had an effect on how I make music or how the visual content goes. We usually give all the visual ideas to other people to explore. Like on this record, Frank Lebon, the guy on the cover, designed all the sleeves and had a hand on the majority of the music videos. I like that because his brother Tyrone did all the Crooks and Lovers record sleeves and videos. We felt that the new record was so far away from the first record that it was nice to tie them together with the two brothers. They’re different guys, slightly different styles. I figured that was important for us because the second record didn’t feel very supported by us in a weird way (Cold Spring Fault Less Youth, 2013)
Are you not a big fan of your second album?
I just don’t like it except 2 or 3 songs, the ones with Archy and Made To Stray. Thinking back, I believe we didn’t have that much time to do it if we had had another 2 or 3 months it could have been a really good album. It’s like a work in progress. It was just a very turbulent time for Kai and me, we were in our mid-twenties and trying to figure out what we were doing. We had a little bit of money to buy equipment so we bought way too much stuff we didn’t need. It just didn’t feel very focused. For that record we wanted the cover to be a designed image rather than a kind of photographic thing. I think that’s because for me there wasn’t enough content inside the album, I felt like it needed that extra visual bit to it. This record just felt not knitted together, it was more an experiment. Our new album is completely different in my mind, I love it. I feel really positive about the whole thing, everything seems finished to me, I feel some closure with it. For this one’s visuals, we knew Frank’s work was going to be similar to what was done by Tyrone on the Crimson Lovers, we knew it was gonna be vaguely similar but with something new. He just nailed it, he got it absolutely right.
So what was the brief for this album’s visuals?
There wasn’t really a brief, to be honest from our point of view we wanted something that stood out. Initially Frank wanted one of the inner sleeve photos as a front cover, one that has colour on it. We weren’t blown away by that idea and thought it should be him on top of that rock, eventually, he agreed. We didn’t give him any clue, he created on what he heard. He was like, “I really feel a connection to this song, this song and this song, I wanna do music videos for them”. He doesn’t really investigate the way we make music, which I guess is in the same way that we don’t investigate how he makes what he does and why. To me, that feels way more like a collaboration and it’s the way Kai and I work. It’s more based on instinct and it’s the same with Archy (Archy Marshall, King Krule), with James Blake, with Mica (Mica Levi, Micachu)… it’s always been like that.
In this album, there are way more vocalists than in any project you’ve worked on before, how challenging was it to put so much voice in it?
It was actually very easy because all of those people are friends. Basically, our ideas were 15-20 second loops, we played all of the stuff we had to each of them, James said “I like that, let’s work on that” and Mica was “I like that, let’s work on that”, same with Archy. Everyone was really involved in it, which made it feel really natural.
The song How We Got By got our attention for how James Blake it sounded, was all the features co-creations?
In How We Got By there’s nothing James has written on there, it was all us and he sang, which is bizarre cause lots of people said it sounded like a James Blake track. The fact is that Kai and I may have always made, to some degree, similar music to James’. We both came from the same place. I think of The Pixies when I hear that song, then James makes it a James Blake song with his voice which is so distinctive. That’s what we wanted with the features in this record, I think all of them felt out of their comfort zone. I had never seen James sing over a track that has grungy drums. Then Mica is in a song which is quite different for her, she’s more abstract. Archy is probably the one for who it makes more sense to just be screaming on Blue Trainlines. But I think all of them were a little surprised at where we were with the album. None of them had heard anything until we sat down together, they were like “Fuck, you’re going this way, interesting…” They were excited by it. After the album came out James actually said he wished he sang on something really fast. That would have been mental, so surprising. I love that because it pushes all of these people we’ve known for so long and have so much respect for. I think now we’ve set this platform for us to work with any of those guys, anytime, which is just brilliant for us, as it’s so much fun.