Brooklyn’s Mon Khmer recently released their dreamy Birthplace, an EP which fuses a multitude of influences from jazz, to classical, to country, and they’ve become the soundtrack to many a night in my cold apartment– lights dimmed, hot tea in hand.
The title track and first single, “Birthplace” builds off of a tribal beat indigenous of the Khasi people in Hammarsing’s hometown in Northeast India, and the song is said to best capture the band’s aesthetic with its intricate guitar work and Hammar’s atmospheric voice.
They’ve shared the stage with many of our favorite acts (including Bear In Heaven, Micachu & The Shapes, Beach Fossils, Tony Castles, and Deradoorian) and are adding another to their roster with a place on the bill of Hooray For Earth’s third installment of their Piano’s residency on Wednesday, November 17th. And we wouldn’t be FREEwilliamsburg if we didn’t have a pair of tickets to giveaway.
So check out the interview with two parts of Mon Khmer after the jump to get to know them a little better. You’ll be interested to know a drummer can be a driving force, and what it’s like to have The Smiths call you brilliant. And don’t forget to comment for your chance to win! Besides, if nothing else, Mon Khmer’s website sure is pretty.
So let’s get the question about the band name out of the way– where did it come from? Are you actually influenced by the culture or does the name mean something else to you all as a band?
Hammar: Its a family of languages and one particular branch of it – Khasi – I spoke growing up in North East India. The intention was to have a name that did not invite any preconceived notions in terms of the band’s sound.
You’ve cited greats like Ennio Moricone, Giorgio Moroder, Devo, Nina Simone, Elvis Presley, New Order, and Leadbelly as your influences… that’s a pretty large range of genres– how do you hone in on each of those artists to present a fluid sound?
Hammar: It seems to be a good thing to me when people say every song of ours sounds almost drastically different from the last and encompasses a range of genres.
Mathew: Also I think that if you listen hard enough, you can pick out all those influences, whether it’s in the vibe created by the harmony/melody or in the style any one of us is singing or playing a part. You go through a lot of different phases in your life, in terms of what artists you’re listening to, and despite that you may not continue listening to all of it, it will find a way to stick with you. It comes out in little ways in the music you make.
Tell me about what it was like recording your debut album. Were there any unforeseen bumps in the road? Any funny stories from the studio?
Hammar: He recording process was actually a lot of fun. We tracked the basics under quite a bit of pressure but enjoyed laying down the overdubs and experimented with all sorts of equipment. I wish someone had filmed some of the sessions. It would make good blackmail material.
What’s your writing process like? Are you all involved? Do the lyrics or musical arrangements come first?
Hammar: Usually I bring a skeletal idea of a song and we hash out a bunch of ideas as a band. Dave Cole (our drummer) is a harsh critic and pushes the band away from complacency. Our songs are getting stronger and identifiable.
I’ve read that the sounds of Hammarsing’s home of Northeast India was very much infused into the band’s sound. Is that something that happened organically, and was it easy for the rest of the band to relate?
Mathew: Well, considering the writing process, it made a lot of sense. Those skeletal ideas tend to contain the basic rhythm, harmony and melody of the song. All of which are crucial to the song’s identity. All having had exposure to playing different kinds of music, we can appreciate that and we try to nourish that aspect of the music because it’s something that differentiates us from other bands.
Which is your favorite song on the album and why?
Hammar: Birthplace. Its one of the earliest songs and it has developed over a long period of time. It feels good to have completed something and recently Mike Joyce of The Smiths called it brilliant on BBC6 radio… That made me very happy.
How do you feel the album translates to a live setup?
Hammar: I’d say we are getting a lot better as a live band and sometimes i wish the energy of the shows could have been captured in the studio recordings but we’ll leave that for our next record which we are currently writing
Where are some of your favorite places to hang &/or play in NYC, specifically Williamsburg? Do you all live here?
Hammar: Glasslands always brings out the best in us. I’m pretty religious about trying out restaurant recommendations on this site. Fatty Cue is my current favorite.
Mathew: And Brooklyn Bowl. We love barbecue.
Who is one iconic musician you wish could put out one more album?