Our first introduction to Khruangbin, was through an email about their debut album, selling them as a “Texan Thai-funk trio”. 10 out of 10 for originality, we thought, and started exploring. What greeted us was one of the finest guitar-based long players we’ve heard all year, a superlative fusion of psychedelic blue with 60’s Thai funk influences. For the full report, read our recent album review, but for now we hold up a microscope to their hometown of Houston. A city that lives in the shadow of Austin for its live music, it might surprise you to know that Houston is the more musically diverse of the two. Not just limited to country and americana, Khruangbin demonstrate how it is also a hotbed of music of all styles.
Catch Khruangbin in the UK from 23rd-30th Oct – more info at Songkick.
Check out the map and interview below for their favourite spots, while you listen to a 100% Houston mix, from past and present.
Favourite places to buy records?
Cactus Records, it’s definitely Houston’s favourite. They specialise in Texas music and is a venue for local and regional musicians. It closed shop for a while, and many of us thought that was the beginning of the end for local record shops. When it re-opened in a new location a year later, it was a jump start to the local scene. Other independent shops have re-emerged in the city, but Cactus has a lot of history in Houston. We did an in-store when we released our first 7”, and we’ve seen some incredible bands perform there over the years. Nearby is Rockin Robin, a local mecca for vintage guitars and gear.
Favourite live music venue?
The Silver Slipper. A tucked away blues, soul & zydeco spot with a killer band on Saturday nights playing classics from Barry White, Al Green, Sam Cooke and more. For some, it may be like stepping into another dimension, but after a few rounds on the dance floor, it’s as familiar as your own living room. Bring bottle of Crown and get into it!
Best view of the city?
Buffalo Bayou Park. Not only has the city revamped it in recent years to be an incredible green space, but it has the quintessential view of the Houston city skyline. Plus, the bayous in Houston are the closest thing we get to rivers.
The place to experience something unique to Houston?
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. It’s been happening every March since the 1930s and is the biggest event in Houston. Set your eyes on tens of thousands of Houstonians in cowboy boots, witness the finest livestock Texas has to offer, watch your first calf scramble, eat your weight in barbeque, and see some of the world’s biggest performers in a massive Texas arena.
The first thing you miss after leaving Houston?
Best place to see another medium of art other than music?
The James Turrell Skyspace at Rice University. It’s absolutely glorious, and the best way to experience sunrise or sunset. If you’re in Houston, this should be at the top of your list.
Best local grub?
There’s a fantastic taco truck next to the West Alabama Ice House on West Alabama. On a hot day, hit up the bar for an ice-cold bottle of Lonestar, grab a seat on a picnic table, and order as many tacos from Tacos Tierras Calientes as you possibly can. Nothing like sitting in the hot Texas sunshine, ordering one too many tacos, topping them with slightly too much salsa, and chasing them down with way too much beer. That feels like Houston.
Is there a person (dead or alive) who epitomises Houston for you?
The person that immediately springs to mind is Little Joe Washington, who passed away last year. He was an astounding blues guitar player, an eccentric Houston icon who lived above a night club, rode his bike around downtown, and could often be seen with his lady, Little Mary, drinking and having a blast on the dancefloor.
Where will you find the friendliest, most interesting locals to have a chat with?
The Continental Club. It’s full of friendly, unpretentious locals who just want to listen to a variety of quality live music, drink and dance together.
What do you think are some common misconceptions about Houston music culture?
Some may not realise just how varied the music that comes out of Houston can be. Although Austin may the “live music capital of the world”, the most diverse scene can be found in Houston. tejano/norteño, zydeco, third coast rap, soul, funk, psych-rock, punk, ska, metal, all styles of electronic music, outsider music, noise, the list goes on and on. You can find musicians and artists from Houston in every part of the world, on all styles of records, writing the next big hit, or pushing the boundaries of their genre. There are definitely still rodeos, country music, and all the stereotypical Texan stuff, but the music culture in Texas is extremely diverse and constantly expanding.
Best and worst Thing about Houston?
Houston is truly an international city. We’ve got folk from all over the world here living alongside families who have been here since before it was called Texas. We all mix and mash together. There’s a real synergy of cultures that happens here. One of our favorite restaurants is a Vietnamese spot that serves Louisiana-style crawfish, and it’s a quintessentially Houston experience.
The worst thing? Traffic. It’s brutal. In Houston, it’s near impossible to get around and explore all the things Houston has to offer without a car. The public transportation system has made big strides in the past few years, but the city is huge and spread out, and the infrastructure is built for cars.
Who are some of your favourite up-and-coming musicians/artists coming out of Houston right now?
There’s always new music coming out of Houston, here are some of our faves.
Robert Ellis: great songwriter and musician all around. You can find him on tour all over the world.
The Suffers: incredible live soul & rocksteady band led by the powerful vocals of Kam Franklin.
Kelly Doyle: our favourite Houston guitarist. Zany, mind-bending, and effortlessly original.
Geoffrey Mueller: the patron saint of Houston’s freak-folk and gypsy jazz scene.
Will Van Horn: [edal-Steel maestro. One of our fave musicians with a heart as big as Texas.
Wrestlers: Houston’s top purveyors of electronic dance music. And too cute.
The Tontons: Sultry, danceable indie-rock with a captivating stage presence.
Beanz & Kornbread: top producers of Houston’s inimitable style of Hip Hop, as well as R&B, Zydeco and Gospel.
Tell us a little about the mix you made for us. What’s the idea behind your selection?
This is a mix of some of our favourite funk/soul/blues that’s come out of Houston over the last several decades. Although most outside the state might think of Houston as being a hub for country, rock or americana, Houston has extremely deep soul, jazz and gospel roots. Archie Bell, Kashmere Stage Band, The Crusaders, just to name a few. And also featured is the show-stopping ‘Gwan’ from the 10-piece Gulf Coast soul powerhouse, The Suffers, carrying the torch into the new millennium.
We’ve got Archie Bell starting the show with the ‘Tighten Up’, which was recorded on tape at the oldest recording studio in the South, Houston’s own Sugar Hill Studios. The next tune is Scorpio, deep-funk from the Kashmere Stage Band, under the baton of the inimitable Professor Conrad Johnson! Would you believe these were all high-school students laying down such a deadly groove? That should get you started…