EBONY’s newest series focuses on Khruangbin, a Texas trio of fantastic creatives, and stories behind their recently released album, ’Mordechai Remixes’.
The internet has forever changed the way we think about music and the stories behind them. Gone are the days where we huddled around our record players, digging into liner and thank you notes. With sites such as Genius and apps like Deepr, we now have behind-the-scenes access to the songwriters, producers and engineers involved in the making of the songs we all know and love.
With that in mind, allow us to introduce The Needle Drop series, a new feature which we premiere today, which looks to build a bridge that connects music lovers from all generations to the never-before-told stories behind an artist’s selected songs from their treasured discography.
For this first installment, we chopped it up with Khruangbin, a wildly creative Houston, Texas’ trio, who are curators of collagist cool. Their sounds are on a level where telepathic musicianship plus enigmatic-yet-luscious melodies combine to provide pure joy for listeners around the world. With Laura Lee on bass, Mark Speer on guitar, and Donald Ray “DJ” Johnson Jr. on drums, Khruangbin is known for their mesmerizing stage shows and albums—(Pelota, Con Todo el Mundo, and Mordechai should be in your playlist—if they're not already)—full of groovy bops.
Below, we delve into all the funky little stories behind their latest compilation Mordechai Remixes, which debuts today. Enjoy!
“Father Bird, Mother Bird (Sunbirds)” ft. Kadhja Bonet
Mark Speer: We’ve been a huge fan of Kadhja Bonet for as long as we’ve known she’s existed. Upon hearing her voice, we were like, ‘Whoa, this woman is doing amazing work.’ And once you pick up her record, there’s absolutely no text or any descriptiveness behind it, so the sheer mystery behind her was right up our alley.
Laura Lee: Her cover art felt like they were drawn by her, and there is a feeling about her work where she does everything from production to songwriting. I don’t know how true that is, but that’s the impression.
Donald Johnson Jr.: The first song we heard of hers was the “Remember the Rain” cover. A lot of people tend not to improve upon the song or re-imagine it in a unique way. But when I heard the vibe she brought to it, I was blown away; and when she added her vocals—she just sounded super-angelic. It is rare when someone really catches your attention and you listen intently because of it. She is definitely one of those rare creatives. You could have told me that she wrote the song and I would have said, ‘Yeah, of course you did.’
LL: I reached out to Kadhja maybe like five years ago because of “Remember the Rain”. I had my moment with that song when I was living in London. It was one of the only songs that I could listen to while there that would completely transport me to another place. So, I sent her a fangirl message on Instagram and started up a conversation, which eventually turned into an ask for her to come sing “White Gloves” with us when we played New York.
It never happened, but when it came time to do this remix album, we were very confident in her skills as a producer and as a singer, and gave her the instrumental to “Father Bird, Mother Bird.” How she reworked it was mind-blowingly ethereal. It’s everything that you would think she would bring to the table. Her “Kadhja Pedal” was in overdrive and once active, there’s like cherubs in the sky and everything sounds amazing.
MS: She just completely remade it in her own way.
LL: There’s threads of the original song in there, but she reimagined how it sounded and the lyrics, which is amazing because what we sent had no words to it. We called the song “Father Bird, Mother Bird” because during our recording session there were two lovebirds on the front porch of our barn. They were so romantic and sweet. One day, the father was going wild and making a bunch of noise. We thought he lost his woman, but actually she was giving birth. The next morning there were three little baby birds in the nest with the mom, while the dad slept outside the nest so they could all get rest.
From that, we called it “Father Bird, Mother Bird,” but that’s the only thing we wrote for the song. So, when Kadhja got it—the way she sang it had me thinking, ‘Did you know the backstory?’ [laughs]. It felt so in line with everything that I felt about the song.
DJ: Back in January 2018, we were rehearsing to go out on the road, and “Summer Madness” is just one of those songs that I love and was on my phone. Despite everything being streamed nowadays, “Summer Madness” is one of my favorite songs of all time. We were looking for interesting songs to play, I brought it up during rehearsal, and I had an idea of how we would play it in my head. I had this peanut butter bass tone that really stands out in the record.
Marko has an uncanny ability to play anything with six strings. It’s weird. When we played it, I said, ‘Wow, this is better than I ever imagined it to be in my head.’ We just kept playing it at shows and put on Late Night Tales because it was a natural fit. I’m so glad that we got that [song] on wax.
We kept it pretty short and sweet. I’m not sure if we’re going to still play it at a show, but who knows? We’ll see. I’m [also] glad we got to highlight Kool & the Gang, one of the greatest bands of all time.
“First Class (Soul In The Horn Remix)” ft. Natasha Diggs
LL: I met Natasha for Christmas dinner in 2019. She’s good friends with our good friend, Pia, who is an incredible singer in her own right. We were off tour and didn’t have any plans, so it was really sweet of us to all commune together for the holidays. I really love her vibe, in general, but didn’t know what all she did. I started following Soul In The Horn, where I saw her spin as a DJ twice.
It was one of the last nights I had out before the COVID-lockdown in New York, and I had seen her open up for Kamasi [Washington] in Brooklyn. So, our meet-up was great, and she’s an incredible artist. She has an insane record collection and so much energy! She loves, loves, loves what she does—and it is really inspiring to see her work.
I wasn’t sure if she did remixes at the time and when we sent her “First Class,” there was some trepidation. But when we got it back from her, we were overjoyed. Natasha did an unexpected take on the record, but it makes sense for her and her wheelhouse, so it was nothing but great vibes.
“Texas Sun” ft. Leon Bridges
MS: I really loved hearing Leon’s music when he first dropped, but critics would always be comparing him to older singers and made me think, ‘Let Leon be Leon.’ With “Texas Sun” that was the approach, you know? We would set up a microphone at the end of one of the days we were working together, and Leon just sat down with a guitar and started singing. It sounded amazing and we basically built a ton of tracks off of that 10 minutes of him playing. We refined it and made it sound really, really big—which was us trying to make his unbelievableness into something for everyone to hear.
LL: Leon sings all the time, you know? He’s either singing or dancing. And that’s not to say he isn’t much of a talker, but he really wants to sing and get his groove on. That’s just what he does. A lot of what we recorded on “Texas Sun” was lifted from those sessions. We had to try to get the guitar out of it so that we could write around his vocals. It was an interesting exercise for us, but out of all the sessions we’ve done, “Texas Sun” with Leon was one of the easiest.
It was a natural fit and we crafted a sound-bed for him to sing on. We don’t have a vocalist naturally, so “Texas Sun” was really beautiful in that way. To quote him, ‘It was the chillest session he’d ever had done,’ and he was really happy with how the songs came out. I don’t think that relationship between us and him is over, and I am looking forward to jamming with him again.
MS: [Laughs] You could give him a cake recipe and it would sound amazing.
“Dearest Alfred” ft. Knxwledge
LL: We could all use some more Knxwledge. He did an amazing edit of “White Gloves” that he put on his Instagram and it got sent to me by, I don’t know how many people. Everybody was championing him and “Dearest Alfred” was this album’s “White Glove” to us, sonically, and so it made perfect sense.
When it came time to discuss the remix, we obviously wanted him to do it, and we were hopeful that he would say yes—which he did—but I will say that I still don’t know anything about Knxwledge. He feels just as elusive having done the project with us, but is still so cool, so mysterious, and I’m proud to have his contribution on this remix project.
DJ: Laura pretty much summed it up. I love Knxwledge and his production is incredible. We were happy that he obliged and pretty much everything he turned in exceeded our expectations.
MS: He just clicked a lot of boxes and his inclusion on this remix album made it really, really dope. There’s something about what he does that is different and dreamy, almost a nostalgic-esque Vaporwave vibe, and that, to me, is the allure of Knxwledge. He is just mysterious and amazing at the same time.
Kevin L. Clark is an editor and screenwriter who covers the intersection of music, pop culture and social justice. Follow him @KevitoClark.