Harmonic Homecoming

3.28

Upon first sight and first listen, Houston band Khruangbin (the name means “engine fly” in Thai) might seem to be — at least in the context of its genre, Southern rock — an exotic anomaly: The trio’s mostly instrumental music is spacious and hypnotic, with influences as far ranging as Middle Eastern and Asian pop music, ’70s-era jazz funk, and spaghetti Western soundtracks. In performance, bassist Laura Lee and guitarist Mark Speer are all smiles, and wear straight black wigs with bangs nearly hiding their eyes. Meanwhile, drummer Donald “DJ” Johnson, whose sartorial choices are as colorful as Lee and Speer’s, holds down the tempos with a zen-like calm.


Perhaps not surprisingly, throughout their recent European tour in support of their critically acclaimed new album Con Todo El Mundo, audiences were shocked to discover these three purveyors of global grooviness are Houstonians. “Europeans still think Texas is cowboys on horseback,” says Lee, more amused than irritated, while Speer points out many people in the States are similarly surprised to learn of Khruangbin’s Houston roots. Part of it has to do with the multicultural makeup and sound. “Our music is influenced by places all over the world,” says Speer. “It sounds like Houston to me. It’s a big melting pot.”

Khruangbin are in town for a homecoming gig at White Oak Music Hall on Saturday at 8pm. From there, the band continues an extensive cross-country tour before hitting the road this fall with Fort Worth soul man Leon Bridges. It’s the kind of schedule the trio couldn’t have imagined when they used to meet at Rudyard’s British Pub in Montrose to hang out, listen to the jukebox, and discuss their latest obsessions, be it a favorite Thai restaurant, or the music heard in that Thai restaurant. “We wouldn’t be Khruangbin without Rudyard’s,” says Johnson, who met Speer while playing music at St. John’s United Methodist Church.

“The pastor there loves music, and is somewhat of a jazz musician himself,” explains Johnson of St. John’s. “So the stuff we would play during the service were almost like funk or jazz instrumentals, instead of traditional ‘church-y’ church worship songs.” For Johnson, Khruangbin’s music isn’t far removed from what one hears during Sunday services. “If it’s secular, I don’t really hear it as such,” says Johnson. “It’s music, you know?”

As Khruangbin’s popularity continues to grow (several upcoming U.S. tour dates are already sold out), its audience is only getting more diverse; the trio counts classical and metal musicians, and 20-somethings and grandparents among its fan base. “There’s always a dad who says, ‘My son played me your music,’ and there’s always a kid who says, ‘My dad played me your music.’” says Lee. “You can’t get any better than that.”

Though Lee and Speer now live in Los Angeles (Johnson remains based in Houston), the three will reconvene during a “tiny sliver of a gap between tours” to record new material in their beloved studio barn, located in the tiny town of Burton, Texas. Until then, the trio are committed to bringing their uniquely Houston brand of cross-cultural funkiness to both the faithful and soon-to-be-converted. And while they admit life on the road can be, as Lee says, “hard on the old bod,” they don’t take being able to play music for a living for granted. When congratulated on their rising success, Speer says simply, “We feel very, very lucky, and blessed.”

Art + Entertainment
Pelican Builders Welcome Residents To First New Upper Kirby Condo Offering In Years;
Boutique Midrise Adds To Pedestrian Appeal Of Sought-After, Inner Loop Neighborhood

WITH ITS INAUGURAL set of residents newly moved in, Pelican Builders’ mid-rise condominium Westmore at 2323 W Main Street in Upper Kirby is already seeing the blossoming of a tight-knit community. Designed by Houston-based Mirador Group the Westmore is the first new condominium product to be introduced to the in-demand, inner loop neighborhood in more than three years. And with remaining two-bedroom homes starting at $895,000, it’s a remarkable value for this increasingly pricey area, where condos can easily climb to several million dollars and more.

Keep ReadingShow less
Home + Real Estate

Rafael Rojas, Ani Kushyan, Dominic Domingo, Navasard Hakobyan

THE SPECTACULAR WORTHAM Center tradition that’s sometimes called the American Idol of the opera world — followed in best-of-Houston form by a gala dinner party in the Grand Foyer — was a rousing and inspiring success last week.

Keep ReadingShow less
People + Places

IN HEDWIG VILLAGE sits a newly completed masterpiece, the largest new-construction home to ever go up for sale in the Memorial Villages. At 17,369 square feet, 10950 Beinhorn, listed by Bryan Beene with Martha Turner Sotheby's International Realty for just shy of $9M, is also the biggest new build currently on the market in all of Houston.

Keep ReadingShow less
Home + Real Estate