Who Is…Kindness

Marissa G. Muller

By Marissa G. Muller

on 04.23.12 in Who Is...?s

File under: Glossy, melancholic pop with a disco, funk and R&B swing

For fans of: Prince, Bootsy Collins, and Arthur Russell

From: London via Peterborough, England

Personae: Adam Bainbridge

World, You Need A Change Of Mind


Though his music is a swirl of garish saxophones, slap bass, syrupy synths and the kind of sung-rap samples that last saw radio airplay in ’83, Adam Bainbridge, who records as Kindness, isn’t being ironic. He’s just firmly committed to the idea that these elements make for the best-sounding dance music. The fizzy pleasures of “SEOD” and “That’s Alright” from his debut album World, You Need a Change of Mind make it difficult to argue.

Aside from delivering pure pop bliss for restless dance fans, World also provides a captivating puzzle for crate diggers and studio geeks. You could spend an entire afternoon trying to count the layers of piano on the chorus of “That’s Alright. (Spoiler Alert: There are close to 30.) Breaking down Bainbridge’s dense tracks requires commitment — but he’d be pleased if people took the time.

“People are surprised by something taking any amount of time anymore,” Bainbridge says over the phone from Geneva. That statement perfectly captures Bainbridge’s painstaking methodology. He recorded nearly every instrumental live and didn’t rush release his album after the positive reception of his first two singles, “Swingin Party” and “Cyan.” Instead, he spent months refining his sound with producer and Cassius band member Philippe Zdar. The results are both dizzying and irresistible.

eMusic’s Marissa G. Muller spoke with Bainbridge about his decision to keep a low profile, what makes Philippe Zdar crack a smile, and how he’s bros for life with Grizzly Bear.

On the insularity of the internet:

When I was growing up, there wasn’t much to do in our provincial town except to make music and swap creative energies. We educated ourselves with the limited resources that were there. Now kids [in Peterborough] have greater access to a higher cultural standard through the Internet, but I can’t tell if that makes things better or worse. It’s too easy to communicate with like-minded individuals on the Internet and not make the effort to communicate with people around you who might not have the same sensibilities, interests, or taste in music. It’s a day-to-day struggle. We can either indulge ourselves in fulfilling online relationships with people who already share our worldview, or we could make the effort to socialize with people who aren’t on our wavelength.

On why he rarely participates in the online community now:

I put a wall between myself and people who are enthusiastic about what I do, but there’s a kind of narcissism on Twitter that makes me uncomfortable and gets wildly out of hand. And the fact that we can Google ourselves any time of the day is incredibly unhealthy. There might be psychology textbooks 100 years from now that say, “People really lost it when they had the ability to find out what other people thought of them. That was the beginning of the end of psychological stability.”

On what Cassius member/Kindness producer Philippe Zdar finds funny:

The fun was the glass of wine at the end of the day and the moments of reflection, as opposed to the other parts which were just us staring at each other and waving our fists. There was a time where he asked the session musician if he was going to do the “helicopter” to celebrate after we had just recorded a song and the musician asked, “What’s the helicopter?” Philippe said, “It’s when you take your penis outside of your trousers and spin it around. Since you finished first today, I think you should be the one to demonstrate the helicopter for us.” I have some footage of it but I think that will have to remain in the archives.

On the space of Zdar’s studio:

It was built when there was a lot of money in the music industry. Some French producer went to California in the ’70s and saw all of those classic-rock documentary-style studios with lots of wood and big granite speakers in the wall. He ordered the same kind of wood from a forest in England and had the granite shipped from California. It was kind of derelict for a while but now that Philippe’s renovated it, he’s restored the Fleetwood Mac-esque appearance. You feel a recording history there. A lot of fun ’80s French pop groups recorded and mixed there so there’s pop music and eccentricity bleeding out of the walls.

On the coolest piece of gear used on the record:

The Yamaha CS-80 needs tender loving care and it’s the most incredible synthesizer I’ve ever used in my life. We managed to squeeze it on every track somehow. I keep telling friends who have spent years buying gear that they should sell all of it and just buy this one. Philippe uses a lot of ghost notes and ghost instrumentation that you don’t really hear but are on the edge of perception. There might be a kazoo, a bass harmonica, and someone making soup in the corner of the room. All of those things might be in the mix but they’re little whispers of sonic textures.

On how the dense composition of “That’s Alright” came to be:

I came to Philippe with a pretty finished demo for that song because, fundamentally, the instrumentation is a Trouble Funk sample. I thought the song had more potential as an R&B track because the Trouble Funk version has a lot of sing-rapping on top. The demo was just the sample that you hear so Philippe said, “We can’t just leave this. Every other song has a drum on a drum on a drum; a synth on a synth on a synth. The guitar is using incredible effects that I’ve spent 20 years collecting, and this is going to sound like a sample.” So we painstakingly started adding a tuned 808 on top of a kick drum, on top of a snare drum, on top of reverb, on top of a saxophone. That’s when it really became something interesting. It would have been a conservative moment on the record if we just left it where it was.

On why he’s an analog enthusiast:

I find that the guitar and electric guitar sound best the way they were recorded from 1979 to 1983. That was the peak of Nile Rogers-style guitar; no one really managed to get it to sound better. You can say the same of a bass guitar: It never really went beyond Bootsy Collins. Those guys nailed what it was to have a guitar on a five-minute dance track and we just wanted to get the best sound out of those instruments. We use the same vocal chain as John Lennon, late-Beatles, because it just happened to be the best way to record my voice. People perceive it as referential or nostalgic but we’re just saying, “This will be the best way for this instrument to shine.”

On crashing on Grizzly Bear’s couch:

During the earliest days of social networking, I came across Edward [Droste] — who’s always been the king of the Internet — and he sent me some Grizzly Bear demos. I thought, “Holy shit. This guy is incredible, talented and funny.” He was coming to Berlin — where I lived at the time — so we hung out, and the next time I passed through New York he said, “There are these bros in my band, I’m sure it’d be fine if you wanted to crash on their couch.” So I ended up staying with Chris Bear and Chris Taylor for a few weeks. If you have someone sleep on your couch then you’re pretty much bros for life.

On the time he laid down freestyles with Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor:

We used to record in Garage Band and make absurd freestyle rap tracks. Those are also in the archives. Someone asked me about it the other day. They said, “Do you know where we could find ‘XCX”?” — which is the unmentionable title of a popular track that we shared amongst our friends. I’m really glad that one’s missing.