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Kindness On His New Album, Taylor Swift, and Writing For Pop Stars

Featured

Kindness On His New Album, Taylor Swift, and Writing For Pop Stars

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With his towering stature, shoulder length hair, and crisp fashion aesthetic, Adam Bainbridge is a formidable figure both onstage and off. Sit down with this soft-spoken Londoner, however, and you immediately see the sardonic playfulness that runs throughout the music he releases as Kindness. His new album Otherness takes the taut disco-funk of his debut and teases it through a jazz filter. While the result is slower and more plaintive, Bainbridge’s ‘gotcha’ approach to making records shows no sign of disappearing. Unexpected collaborations abound, from Ghanaian rapper M.anifest to, erm, Robyn. The result: an unpredictable beauty of a record that expertly bridges the gaps between jazz, pop and R&B. We chatted with Bainbridge about making his own videos, competing with Taylor Swift, and his love for Beyonce.

The album’s title is Otherness. Did that stem from a feeling of alienation or difference?
The short answer would be yes. I think that with both albums it seemed like the right thing to do to have an album title which posed an additional question to the questions the music was already asking, maybe in a more direct more. The first album title was the less the subtle of the two, but this album title is asking each person who comes to the record what the significance of otherness is to them, what you infer by that when you see the word. It’s not a frequently used term outside of academic circles.

Would you say you bring an academic sensibility to your music?
I’d hope there’s a balance. I think if you’re completely lost in the academic side of what you do then you’ve lost sight of why you do it, but equally it’s good to engage to a level where you’re interested in these discrete details that make up composition or musical history. My uncle was an ethnomusicologist, so part of that interest in musical culture began early, inspired by his example.

Did you also get into jazz from an early age?
I think the influence just comes from me working with jazz musicians. My knowledge of jazz is so surface level that it doesn’t really compare, but that’s why you work with great musicians, so they can bring their own heavy weight of experience and condense that into one performance.

The album does include a large number of guest features, especially in comparison with the first album.
I prefer the sound of other people’s voices. I know I can’t erase mine from the record so it has to be there in some places. I made a first album that I thought painted a portrait of its creator pretty well, or of myself and Philippe [Zdar], who co-produced the record with me. It was very personal and isolated and once you’ve done that once you don’t need to do it again. The freedom that came with having one record was to make a second one completely differently, in this case to work with new friends and people I admired and was influenced by.

One of the most striking and unexpected collaborators on the record is Robyn. How did she get involved with the album?
I’m not usually making vast upward leaps and reaching out to much bigger artists. Her team contacted mine and said they heard I was recording in New York and Robyn wanted to see this ESG show that was billed as ESG’s last performance. We since found out that every ESG show is billed as their last performance. So she came to New York and we went to that show. I don’t think we even started thinking about recording for another four or five months. It was just a way of getting to know each other. I suppose that people who want to work together in a general collaboration have a sort of magnet effect: either you put the two things in the same vicinity and there’s a repulsion based on character or concept, or something clicks. Luckily for us it clicked.

You recorded with her recently in Sweden. What’s going on with that?
She doesn’t want me to say. It’s just music. I think we’ll keep working on music until something is ready.

After working with so many different artists on the record, how do you intend to reproduce Otherness live?
Well, hopefully by playing as many shows with those people as possible. Dev Hynes managed to come out for his two songs the other night in New York and whenever people are in the right city I hope I can make that happen. Otherwise, that’s the adventure of collaboration. M.anifest does the only rap on the record but when he’s not free I’d love to just put it out to a local MC in whatever city we’re passing through. I think there’s a lot of homegrown MC talent in every city of the world now. But the girls that I sing with are so talented and versatile that they can step ably into anyone’s shoes.

You’re also a videographer. Do you feel like it’s a liberating process making your own videos and coupling the images of your choice with the sound?
It’s a dangerous experience because it can spoil you for working with other people, especially if you have a stubbornness in the way you work, and I do. You go from being the artist that should probably just relax and get on with making the video to someone who wants to argue about directors of photography and film stocks and expenses. I suppose that was the most useful thing about making videos for other people was finally getting to grips to how much they cost or should cost and turning around to a production company and saying “you’re kidding. I’ve just made one of these. We don’t need to pay that”. Make the most of that opportunity you’re being given because the potential to make something with a few thousand dollars and to reach a large number of people, that should be taken seriously every time it happens. Giving it away to someone to play with without knowing if that’s going to work or not, I don’t have that luxury.

You’ve released one video during this album cycle for “This Is Not About Us.” Talk me through the process behind making it.
Someone pointed it out online the other day so I might as well admit to it. There’s that title sequence of Do The Right Thing by Spike Lee where Rosie Perez is dancing on a set to Public Enemy and it’s just so powerful and empowered. I think I took that as a visual inspiration and wanted to combine it with the idea of dancing and individual limitations. I’m not a trained dancer. I’d love to be but I’m not. It’s one of those artforms you go see and wish your parents had put you in ballet school when you were a kid, so there’s that kind of wish fulfillment in it. I was like, “fuck, why not just try as hard as I can to do a choreography video even if it involves failing at times”. Then Taylor Swift did that video two weeks before we did so there was more editing to remove the failures. It shows the collective consciousness is strong.

Speaking of Taylor Swift, would you be interested in writing for mainstream pop stars?
It’s more would they want to try working with me. I’m curious about the intensity behind this kind of songwriting. I don’t think I have the discipline or enough self-distance to do it. I think I would love to try but I read profiles of people like Dr. Luke and it’s so interesting, such a different process. But then Michael and Beyonce do, or rather Michael did, precision, finely-oiled pop as a machine while still sounding human, so it can be done. The whole Beyonce record already was an uncompromising, uncommercial pop record and it’s so great that that can ride the charts in 2014 and not be as reductionist and formulaic as the rest of the top 10 is telling you. You just need someone with a voice and a personality. I love Beyonce.

Photos by Dana DeCoursey.