Breaking the Mainstream: Meet Kero Kero Bonito
It’s been two years since Kero Kero Bonito released their genre-defiant debut album, Intro Bonito, and the London-based band–consisting of bilingual vocalist Sarah Perry, producer Gus Lobban (PC Music fans will be familiar with his Western Beats EP, released as kane west), and producer Jamie Bulled–shows no sign of assimilation in the face of success. Blending video game music and J-Pop with grinding EDM and dancehall, the niche they’ve carved with their strong vision has quickly flooded with an even stronger fan base. After a trip to Echo Park’s Guisados taco restaurant and a recreational amount of jaywalking across Sunset Boulevard, we sat down with the trio before their performance at the Echoplex to talk international inspiration, cyberspace origin stories, and the best video game soundtrack of all time.
Your second album drops tomorrow. How do you feel like your sound has evolved from your first album to now?
Gus: We’ve added more chords, moved slightly away from the minimal and dancehall elements, and experimented a bit more with sounds we really like. So there’s some ’70s pop in there, a bit more badass hip-hop–we’ve filled it out, basically. We turned the KKB world into songs rather than just throwing things out there.
’70s pop is a bit jarring, in a good way.
Gus: There’s a couple on there like that, actually. There’s a disco vibe on a few. Songwriters like Carole King had an impact, things you won’t expect on Intro Bonito.
You guys came together on Intro Bonito to craft some pretty sick beats, pardon the pun. What’s drawn you to that midi-infused sound as opposed to the over-produced Chainsmokers-esque vibe that’s so big right now.
Gus: I think it’s almost the fact that that’s just the lingua franca, it just felt exciting to do something that wasn’t that. But also, it comes from somewhere that we understand. We grew up with general MIDI sounds coming out of PlayStations and N64s, and the fact is people were crazy for vintage and analog synths in the ’70s. Vintage ’90s MIDI modules just aren’t really explored, and you can make equally fun music. It’s cool territory.
“The most exciting thing to put a record on pushes the envelope while remaining diverse, that’s how you make the best record ever.”
What video game soundtracks have inspired you guys the most?
Gus: Earthbound (Mother 2) is a really good one. That might be one of the most creative uses of sound in electronic music ever, actually. There’s this track near the end of the game where they sample that opening chord from the Beach Boys, I think in the meta tag, they call it “The Land That Time Forgot” or something. It’s just this one chord that’s played at different notes and it’s the creepiest piece of music ever; it’s incredible and minimal and direct. It’s the best era of video game music, honestly, because it responded to a similar problem that we’re responding to. Everything is textual, there’s a lot of talk without intent. Video game music from that era, it had to be completely direct and achieve a lot with little means.
Same question regarding Western pop. Who are your most influential artists?
Sarah: Aesthetic-wise, I really relate to Die Antwoord. The idea of building a world around your sound, not limiting it to just a single track. I’m really into what they do and think about it as we’re building the KKB world.
Gus: That kind of world-building is really fun; it’s a very modern part of music. Jamie and I are pretty nerdy about our pop influences. We really like a lot of ’60s stuff, a lot of Burt Bacharach, the big acid house crossover records, C+C Music Factory, the classic Neptune-Timbaland stuff.
Jamie: Timbaland and Missy, they’re really big for us.
Gus: There’s a whole lineage that’s difficult to quantify, yet is somehow quite clear of good, cool, envelope-pushing pop music. The most exciting thing to put a record on pushes the envelope while remaining diverse; that’s how you make the best record ever.
For those reading this who’ve never listen to J-Pop before, who should be their introduction to the genre?
Gus: There are a few spots to hit on. In terms of KKB, Halcali may be the most relevant because they really pioneered this pop/J-rap flow in a way very different to Rip Slyme and stuff. In our first sessions, we listened to how they made that record and said to Sarah, “Listen, if you’re into rapping, you gotta listen to this.” I’m gonna get really nerdy about this. The classic Perfume stuff like Polyrhythm and Laser Beam with Yasutaka Nakata, Candy Candy and PonPonPon by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, those are some of the best pop songs in the past 10 years.
When you first discover KKB, Kyary and Perfume are some of the most dominant influences on your sound.
Gus: I think it’s interesting, the first record was more about the world-building aspect that comes with someone like Kyary. Admittedly, a track like Trampoline definitely has nods to Yasutaka. Then if you go back a bit, there’s a lot of the late ’90s J-Pop back when the J-Pop industry had a lot of money, and they were creating all of this really cool and creative stuff. The first m-flo record has a few amazing singles, Ringo Sheena’s 2nd, 3rd, and 4th records are all just amazing. I’ve really answered this question, haha, all of the acts I’ve named are really good if you wanna get into it.
“I find that when I meet someone who can speak both English and Japanese, that’s when I can really express myself.”
In terms of your songwriting, do you find it easier to write in English or Japanese?
Sarah: Well, I was brought up learning both at the same time, so using both simultaneously is honestly the most natural form for me. I find that when I meet someone who can speak both English and Japanese, that’s when I can really express myself. When I just speak English, I feel like I’m only using 50% of what I have. It’s the same with performing and writing. It’s so much easier, actually, because I get double the material and inspiration to draw from.
You initially met on a message board. Has your origin story helped your creative process when you all sit down together?
Jamie: It did very much early on. One of the first times we met Sarah, we recorded and we were just like, “Okay, let’s go for this.” I don’t know so much about now since we’re all friends now.
Sarah: We all got along really well at the start, so it doesn’t feel much different, but we’ve known each other for three years now.
Do you guys feel that anything is missing from the mainstream music industry right now?
Gus: Yeah, a bit of bite, a bit of subversion.
Jamie: A little bit of humor could do well, too. Not too much; too much humor goes too far. There’s nothing right now with the sort of edge that like, Missy Elliott had. A band like Altered Images that could get into the Top 10 in the UK, there’s nothing with that kind of energy right now.
What are your favorite releases of 2016 so far?
Jamie: For me, like, Bottomless Pit by Death Grips was one of the bigger ones.
Gus: I actually really like Lush Life by Zara Larsson and This Is What You Came For by Calvin Harris. I’m so down for that track, not too crazy over anything else he’s done, not too bothered by Rihanna’s discography, but that track is just everything a record should be. It’s really catchy, it sounds cool when it’s played loud, there’s a great 7th chord that lifts everything up, it sounds progressive.
Sarah: The new Grimes record, Art Angels. The videos were so good, Kill v. Maim, California–such a good album.
“The first music festival that Sarah had ever been to was when we played at Glastonbury.”
How is your process different now?
Gus: Then, it was more delegation because what Sarah can do, only Sarah can really do it. So we’d say, Sarah, do your Sarah thing and we’ll provide you something to do it on. Now, we’re all coming up with different elements of it. Well, Sarah’s handling everything in Japanese, but we all contribute things in English and the songwriting ideas are flowing between all of us. We’d love to do a record where like, Jamie raps and I sing and Sarah plays like, all the instruments.
Sarah: It’s all very new to me because I never did much music before this band, I was more into visual art stuff. Like, I went to my first music festival with KKB.
Jamie: The first music festival that Sarah had ever been to was when we played at Glastonbury.
Sarah: Haha, so yeah, to me, this is all a new journey.
Well, speaking of your journey, what’s next? In a dream scenario, where is KKB in 5 years?
Jamie: Going to more countries. We wanna see South America.
Gus: Or even more places in the U.S., you know, bring on Boise.
Sarah: I wanna go to Hawaii.
Gus: We’d wanna have like, 2 series of a KKB TV show done by then. Obviously, lots of critical acclaim. You know, one of those big gold records to hang on my studio wall.
Sarah: And a KKB clothing line!
Gus: We have a lot of ideas.