Kero Kero Bonito’s Sarah Midori Perry received a picture in the mail from her brother – an empty lot where their childhood home once stood. The image struck her with new perspective. Suddenly the past felt unattainable.
“I really felt like the time was moving,” Perry says in a phone call from the road. “I actually felt like 'Oh wow, I can't go back to that.'
Losing grip of the past and the many timelines of our lives is at the crux of Kero Kero Bonito’s latest record, Time ‘n Place (which was released on Polyvinyl Records in 2018, but sees a vinyl release on Jan. 11). Through glitchy, power-pop, the band traverses the multiverse and searches for meaning in the passage of time.
In possibly the most forward-thinking record in the British trio’s discography, Time ‘n’ Place whizzes by with exciting flourishes of static and sugary sweet melody. Yet within the life-affirming performance, the band grapples with growing up and life changing course without your control.
KEXP caught up with the band in late 2018 as the band toured in support of the record, discussing how they bonded over dramatic life changed and events as well as the high-concept theories that are embodied in the record.
KEXP: Some of the inspiration for the record sounds like it came initially from reckoning with parts of your past and childhood, these recurring dreams you were having, of primary school, of waterparks and talking about your home, your childhood home being demolished and losing your pet Nana. Jamie and Gus were going through stuff at the same time, so were you all talking to each other about these experiences and how are those informing the record?
Sarah Midori Perry: Oh yeah definitely, we were definitely talking about it to each other. We're good friends, so we definitely were experiencing it together. All of us went through things in our personal lives that definitely inspire the album. I guess, with the demolished house and my primary school closing it just felt like – for me at least – it just felt like the past was kind of the physical past. I really felt like the time was moving. I actually felt like 'Oh wow, I can't go back to that.'
Obviously, I know I can't, but the physical representation of your past is like gone like that... you definitely know that you can't go back to that moment anymore. It definitely felt like time was moving. And I guess we're kind of at this point in life where we're not really going to school – there is not really anyone telling us what to do and it feels like the past and the present and the future are all mixed up together.
We just really wanted to find a path or figure it out ourselves through the album. And with the dream, I've always been interested in dreams, like with the waterpark and how other dreams I've been having are actually places I've been to in the past, but the people or the situation is people from my present life. So like the waterpark, I went in my childhood, but there are Gus and Jamie in the dreams or like my friends I have now in the dreams, so it's kind of like what's happening in the past, but it's kind of all mixed up together. It felt like the timelines were kind of getting mixed up together. Yeah, it's really interesting. I don't know what that means but, yeah I guess I try to channel that into Time 'n' Place.
I feel like your music is always very forward-thinking and futuristic in some certain aspects and the way you're reckoning with the past and thinking about the present on the record, it definitely feels like the timeline is going in a circle or something. Did you want to try to capture that experience or that feeling sonically on the record and how did you go about trying to manifest that?
Gus Lobban: Yep, definitely. I think one thing with music is that it's quite hard to sit down and think 'I want to do this'. This sort of concept like I had this artistic theory idea and I want to execute it. Like that's almost impossible. But what I would say is that we were definitely thinking about time mixing up when we made the album… that's how the album came to be like that.
So for example, just the way the album is structured, and kind of built. We went into a studio to record a band with these songs that had actually come from all kinds of different points in our lives, these songs have been written at loads of different times some of them are the newest songs we had ever written some them were absolutely not. And we recorded them and then took them home and then we mixed them up. Actually, wait I missed a step we did demos first and then we recorded them in the studio and then we took them home and we finished the production of it and then we were back in the studio to add on the musicians. there are pieces from all four of those stages in the album. It's really collage-ic it that sense.
And so in the very construction of the album it's like that, but also in the way that you know we were interested in doing things. Like we did this with the artwork, like taking a picture of us on a phone or taking pictures of us on like an old camera and then re-scanning it through a new scanner and then printing it out and then taking a picture of it on the crappy old camera and you end up [with] all these processes… they're so arbitrary, it kind of doesn't matter. And the results are cool but it doesn't really matter which order you do them in because there's no real meaning or rhythm to anything.
I think that is kind of the human experience... And it has been for years and years. But it’s also in the album, in the songs themselves. There's nothing on the album that is generated by computer. Everything is either the band or you know recorded or synth, like hardware synth, and it does have a kind of a mix of all those things that the way it references the past doesn't really make logical sense. You know that some of the chords are indie cords, some of the chords like singer / songwriter-y things, some of them are more experimental and don't really belong to those harmonic vocabularies. But it's somehow relevant, there is a thread that runs through it which maybe is only perceivable to us, but you know we use the word time and place like an adjective, like 'that's very time 'n place' – it just seems obvious to us even though it runs through this whole thread of years that is sort of arbitrary in comparison.
One thing I would say is that it's a very personal album and maintaining the sound of our place – i.e. the suburbs was guitar music, that we made when we were in bands growing up. Which is now basically dead, that kind of a suburb doesn't even exist. Talk about the suburbs now, it’s gonna be kids making trap or loops or something. So there is a kind of implicit like time-capsule in that... But even then, we haven't been precious about it, this isn't a recreation of what we would have been doing then, it's that mixed up with all kinds of other things from loads of different snapshots of our experience.
I was curious about that and it's cool to hear you speak about it because – not that people aren't making modern music that's made with guitars and drums – but it is an idea that has existed maybe longer than some of the electronic-pop music that Kero Kero Bonito has been associated with in the past. It's kind of this cool mash of the past present and the future musically too. You mentioned you were letting it happen but was there a moment when all these different ideas and sounds were really started to kind of coalesce for you guys and started to make sense of it and it seemed like it was a cohesive whole?
Gus Lobban: Even at the start of KKB we had the vague idea that doing a guitar record someday would be an interesting way to use KKB strengths. But also that even as Bonito Generation was finishing, we had a feeling that we'd want to do this and you hone these things down until essentially the idea might have been a guitar record, but then you really hone in on what you want to do and why you want to do that and what that means. What a KKB Guitar Record in 2018 would even mean. How that would be really interesting and I think it was around April/ May 2017 that we started recording the demos that turned into songs on Time 'n' Place.
You played your first full band show earlier this year . What was that experience like?
Lobban: It was definitely scary. We picked a sort of slightly legendary venue – DIY Space for London – it definitely has a reputation. Besides it being a DIY event, it was interesting doing it there because in a way our live setup was more complicated than ever, even though it was a band, and in a way a band is most suited to a space like that. So for us, it was crazy. It was this new difficult thing and we didn't make it easy for ourselves, let me put it like that. But it was a kind of baptism by fire and by the time we were playing you know venues like Blues Underground and elsewhere that just made a lot more sense... even though I was like ‘Oh how are we going to do this on a big stage?’ Actually, it kind of made more sense because we tried the little show, the intimate show, the difficult show and on the stage is five people and the instrumentation actually makes sense which is amazing. So yeah, it was definitely nuts. It was one of those things, like we don't make it that easy for ourselves. Like you know adding drums and amps and loading in and out of venues, like it's hard. We added a lot of work. But the response has been really noticeable, which is brilliant. It's really really cool.
And you have added some collaborators too and some on the record as well. What was it like bringing in other musicians into the fold and how did that affect your writing and recording process?
Lobban: Well it basically gave us more freedom. Because normally guitar stuff isn't an option for us and you know, Jamie's really good in that we can say, ‘Oh we kind want this here’ and ts very easy for us to both work to the thing that we're happy with. As a musician, it frees you up. Normally I wouldn't write for violin because I don't have any violin players in my room but with this record we actually had access to a string section so we wrote a string part with someone. It definitely gives you more options and it's more freedom, and it pushed us, like I want to be ambitious and I want to do some things that I can't do, I want to do something that is hard to do. You know it makes you step up. You know when you are telling yourself, ‘Oh this song that I have written needs to sound like a band, like a guitar pop single banger,’ like you know I want to use a guitarist, right? You're not just going to fudge it. You know you're not going to be happy with that. So you and your collaborator you push yourselves because it's like, we've got to get this right. We've come this far, we might as well finish the job. So in that sense yeah it is both freedom and a push I would say.
[To Perry] I was just talking to Gus about how you are embracing the guitar sound and he's mentioning how he and Jamie grew up playing you know guitar rock growing up in the suburbs and from what I understand you didn't really have much band experience before KKB other than like playing in school band. So I'm curious what that was like for you, it sounds like you kind of mostly had only done KKB, so what was it like embracing this new sound and playing with live instrumentation in that way?
Perry: Yeah it was completely new to me, I had never done a band soundcheck before, which was totally new. Yeah KKB was definitely my entry to being in a band and before that I was just kind of like your average listener of music like I had never really been to a music festival until I played one with KKB and like the only real experience I have was playing the saxophone in a brass band, but actually it did feel slightly more familiar to me because you have live instruments and you're kind of making something together. It is quite new, the band thing it's still slightly more familiar to me because it's like a brass band, there's just more instruments. But you're kind of working towards the same thing. But yeah I really enjoy it. Like when you're kind of using these kind of live instruments this kind of always an element of risk for things to go wrong. And I think when there is that risk, but when it goes really good, like it feels amazing. It's crazy like when something could go wrong and it goes right, that feeling, it's just it's just an amazing feeling.
Like you said, anything can happen. That spirit definitely comes through on the record too like those moments where sonically things will just take a left turn like in the song “Only Acting.”Were you guys trying to embrace kind of that impulse or what was it like for you embracing that impulsive sound?
Perry:: We kind of freed ourselves to be able to do anything really. It's really exciting, and it's really scary. But that kind of increases the level of enjoyment because you are making your own path really and you're not really following anyone and it's always scary to be leading something or like making your own path. So when you've done it, the feeling is on another level. Rather then just kind of following set rules or something. Yeah it's like another level I don't know what the word is, it's really exciting.
We touched on this earlier but, in taking all of the life experiences you've had leading up to this record. Ultimately you are the vocalist of the band and you're kind of you know the voice of all these different feelings and ideas and experiences. How do you not just write from your own perspective but bringing in the voices and experiences of Gus and Jamie?
Perry: I guess even if you take the music out of us, we're still really good friends. We still hang out. It’s not like we are a band [that] when we are off-stage and not really talking, because we are really good friends and we hang out a lot and I guess I kind of KKB is kind of us three, like the world you make together. So its always been a collaborative thing. I think like beyond music we are still really good friends and I think that's got to do with that. It always felt like KKB is like Sara, Gus, and Jamie.
I've always really enjoyed like the visual aesthetics of KKB and Gus talked a little bit about the creation of the album artwork. I'm curious what you were trying to communicate visually between the artwork and the videos and even the tour?
Perry: We were definitely playing around with the past and the future. Even with the album cover, it is basically like a time capsule. What I would want to put in a time capsule – all the kind of items on the front cover is basically things collected from my possession at the time. It's really kind of jumbled up. Yeah like my brother sent me a text message out of nowhere, of a picture of my house, my childhood home demolished, and it's just really crazy like how this picture that he took on an analog camera was sent to me in a text message, which is really current technology. But, it's about the past and it’s this jumbled up message. I think the cover is like that as well. Like I collected the items and then scanned it and then I put it online. I guess it's like a mix of the past present and future and that kind of translated into the visual aspects of the album.
Having gone through all these experiences and putting them in this album and trying to make sense of them, Do you feel like it's giving you some sort of like clarity in the changes around you, and how you engage with modern times and your personal historie? Were there any revelations you had while making this record on this topic?
Perry:Like for all this stuff we were feeling, to kind of physicalize it, it's kind of like we're leaving something cynical behind and that already in itself, like we are leaving an artifact kind of thing. I guess like, in any creative process when you actually make it, make something that is not just in your head anymore. It’s out there and I think it's very magical in that sense that there is something that actually physically exists that came from what we had inside us. To have something physical, it means a lot. Yeah. Especially when the past is slipping away to kind of leave something physical. It feels like something, like you are trying to leave something behind in the physical word.
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