A FRIEND CAME OVER for dinner a couple of weeks ago with wine and ingredients to make pasta from scratch. It seemed like a tall order to accomplish on a school night, a task usually reserved for the slowness of the weekend. Yet I found myself rolling out bits of dough and forgetting about my list of to-do’s. It was one of those summer nights where you could hear the cicadas singing, the hum of neighbours’ conversations as they too were eating dinner outside. Was it really Monday? We asked. Or was it the vibe-setting soundtrack of Texan three-piece Khruangbin playing in the background that had us feeling so relaxed?

A La Sala, Khruangbin’s fourth studio album, is now out. Meaning ‘To the Room’ in Spanish, A La Sala sees band members Laura Lee Ochoa, Donald ‘DJ’ Johnson, Jr. and Mark ‘Marko’ Speer return to their roots, when all they wanted to do was jam together. From those jam sessions came a most distinct sound, and the kind of chemistry you can’t manufacture. 

“I feel like we create music that’s unique because each of us have unique experiences as individuals, and I guess the collaboration and curation that happens [comes from] three different ways we individually do things, which will be unlike the way any other three people in the world will do them. Sonically and visually,” explains DJ when I catch them on the phone earlier this year. 

The record was made with minimal overdubs, lyrics stockpiled from off the cuff recordings and untapped ideas. “‘Hold Me Up’ was born out of a soundcheck when we were touring back in 2017. I just pulled out my little voice note app and recorded it without any intention. I didn’t know what was going to come out of it. It was just us messing around, having fun,” DJ says. “Of course, it never sounds like anything at the time. We put it aside, it aged for six years. Then when we came back to it, we were like ‘oh this is something.’ The recording we have now is this matured version of that original childlike, playful sound.”

Although Ochoa, the band’s bassist, makes the point that the song writing process is not always as easy. “I always forget how heavy and hard the writing process is. You go through so much. Is this good? Is any of it good? Is what I’m doing awful? It’s a real rollercoaster feeling.” 

Despite this, being with each other though it all has made the struggle something to be celebrated. “Whether we realised it at the time or not we were all holding each other up in various ways. It is the most joyful part of making a record.”

With a decade of playing music together now under their belt, Khruangbin — who enjoy an especially big fan base in Australia, their sold-out Sydney Opera House show at the end of 2022 a transformative listening experience — are ready to push into new territory. Bigger audiences, more iconic venues and an assurance in the music they want to put forward. For A La Sala, it was a step away from the collaborations and towards other experimentation in sound, such as the cicadas recorded in an open field, an old TV hum, and steps on stone. 

“On our last record there were so many layers in each [track], there wasn’t any room for the field recordings because there was just so much stuff happening,” says Ochoa. “There was a real longing to have these landscape placings in a song.” While Khruangbin’s music has always been multidimensional, A La Sala feels like their most textured body of work yet. “There are various sounds that create a physical space to listen to music. To make it feel like you’re living in it,” says DJ. Also important, as Ochoa adds, is how they recorded the album. “We’d never record in a state-of-the-art clean studio. They [those studios] sound very clean. There is literally no sound, which is really cool and amazing that we’ve been able to get there with technology, but we really like the sounds of space.” 

With sell out shows, and a recently expanded North American tour on the horizon, the band affirms they only ever feel pressure to put out new music internally, and that A La Sala was about returning to playing together. 

“At some point you start to become immune to the pressures from everyone else, because if you get caught up in that, then you’ll spend your life in it. There was a feeling internally of getting back to square one. It had been a long time since we’d been in the studio recoding pure Khruangbin music just the three of us. Nobody else. It was time.’ 

As for the biggest inspiration for this album? Simple. “Each other. Home.” 


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