Khruangbin’s Mark Speer: “I was always into tones that I didn’t hear so much in Western music“

Mark Speer
(Image credit: Burak Cingi/Redferns)

“A lot of folks just assume I’m a rock dude because I play guitar,” says Khruangbin’s Mark Speer. “But that’s not really where I come from.” 

Indeed it’s not. In fact, since debuting in 2014 with the hazy, exotica-tinged instrumental, A Calf Born in Winter, his band – which includes bassist Laura Lee and drummer Donald “DJ” Johnson – has made a name for itself as one of the foremost purveyors of, well… what style of music does Khruangbin play, exactly? 

Over the course of two full-length albums and a handful of EPs, the band has explored everything from Thai funk to Middle Eastern disco and myriad other regional styles, and infused these sounds with splashes of psychedelia, dub, roots and more. 

As for Speer’s distinctive guitar approach, he says, “I was always into tones that I didn’t hear so much in Western music. Like, the reason I got a chorus pedal isn’t because I was into the Smiths. It was because I wanted my guitar to sound like a dual-course instrument, like a saz. I wanted to be able to emulate a rubab or a shamisen or kalimba or a djembe. Those tones, to me, are really awesome.” 

In the past, Khruangbin’s music has been predominantly instrumental. But for the new Mordechai the exploratory trio moved beyond even that border. 

“We haven’t been singing because I don’t really like to sing. And I hate writing lyrics,” Speer says with a laugh. “But for this one we wanted to challenge ourselves.”

The result is a deeper, perhaps more expressive version of Khruangbin, with all three members sharing vocals on the album’s 10 tracks, which range from the chilled acid-funk opener First Class to the cool French pop/Middle Eastern soul workout Connassais de Face and the Haitian/Tex-Mex mashup Pelota

Throughout, the band also incorporates sounds from Pakistan, West Africa, East Asia and beyond. But it’s all informed by Khruangbin’s connection to their hometown of Houston – as well as, more specifically, an old barn in nearby Burton, Texas, where they record all their albums. 

“We open up the doors, and you can hear the birds, you can hear the bugs, you can feel the wind,” Speer says. “It’s crucial to the vibe.” As is their hometown. “Houston is the most diverse city in America,” Speer says. “It’s the big gumbo of the people and the culture here that makes Houston feel like it does and this band sound like we do.”

  • Khruangbin’s Late Night Tales is out now via Late Night Tales.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month**

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.