As Adam Bainbridge, conceptually known as Kindness, softly threads his way through a growing quilt of pleasing album-related anecdotes, a small cat – a resident of the studio we’re in – tries to eat my questions.
At this point, I should draw some sort of poorly judged, sweeping parallel between the cat and Adam; like how the way the cat wanders the studio, a solitary but sociable figure, mirrors the way Bainbridge has triangulated the world in the making of this new album, ‘Otherness’ (review), from a studio in Nunhead, to jam sessions with Robyn and Dev Hynes in New York, all via his new home in Geneva.
Well, from what I could tell, Adam and the cat have very little in common. In fact, their relationship was fairly frosty. I just thought the dim grey seductress deserved a mention.
It’s been three years since I last spoke to Adam. Then, he was coming out of six months in a distinctly cat-free studio in Paris, with just the routine presence of French production maestro Philippe Zdar for company. He seemed quite laboured under the weight of his work – but today he’s looser, liberated by a more sociable body of new work, which calls in guest vocalists, cameo musicians and co-productions, amidst a cacophony of funk, hip-hop, pop, jazz and washes upon washes of glittering keys.
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Kindness, ‘This Is Not About Us’
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This album sounds like a party, with you, and all your talented friends. Was it a different experience to writing your debut, ‘World, You Need A Change Of Mind’, holed up in Paris for six months, just you and Philippe?
“I think it was more fun. Although, working with Philippe is always fun, because he’s a fruit loop. It was a more isolated process then though, especially with being in the same place for six months. I think that is what led to this project having more of a wanderlust. I wanted to move around and incorporate different places and people into the music. I had the privilege of making a pretty glossy studio record with Philippe, in a way that few people would ever get. I wanted to make everything of that that I could. This time round, I didn’t have the opportunity to make a glossy studio record with Philippe, so the best route to take was to be as direct as possible. The vocals aren’t perfect, the mixes aren’t perfect.”
Some of those imperfections are the best bits.
“My belief in mistakes and chaos comes because I believe that people who listen to music are intelligent, educated people. There is no need to make everything straightforward and easy, because people can digest pretty complex music. Even in pop. It might be tough at first, but maybe it can stick around a bit longer when it isn’t all there on the very first listen.”
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I didn’t know what I was doing. I just started making stuff…
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Tell me where some of the rich instrumentation comes from.
“It’s organic. It’s entirely organic and not too pre-conceived. I didn’t know what I was doing. I just started making stuff. As that stuff unfolded, I would meet new musicians.
“If you listen to ‘Good Enough’ on the Blood Orange record, it has this ambient sound intro. Well, that’s a jazz gig at Fat Cat, a New York jazz bar with table tennis, pool tables and cheap booze. I recommend it highly. When I was recording in New York in 2013, me and Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) were there all the time. He was sampling that ambience and putting it on his record.
“One night, there was a performance from a jazz harpist, and it was just incredible. There was something so powerful and timeless about hearing her play. I went up to her afterwards and said, ‘I don’t know what it would be for yet, but can you play on my record?’ I got her business card, and that’s what happened.”
You played with Trouble Funk, an original ’80s DC go-go band, for the video to ‘That’s Alright’ back in 2012. I watched your video for William Onyeabor’s ‘Fantastic Man’, in which you enlisted the oldest members of a New York skate group to perform. Now I hear you’re working with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on some music. Do you quite enjoy paying your respects to time-honoured stuff as much as fresh stuff?
“Yes. If anyone asked me who my biggest inspirations are, it would be my mum and dad. It wouldn’t be my friends. Maybe it’s being raised in a bi-cultural household, with a strong link to India. You respect your elders, sometimes to a ludicrous extent, but at the same time, there is a value that they do have a genuine wisdom, and it is there as a gift if you are prepared to listen to it.
“It’s the same for musicians. If you can find the right way to be open to the experience of people that made the records you loved or are still making them, then it can be a privilege, to work with the people that influence you. I’ve been telling musicians who sample but hide it to start openly declaring it, because everyone I sampled on my first record, I ended up working with on the second.”
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Pop music can still be loaded, and contain booby traps…
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What is the title, ‘Otherness’, a reference to?
“There is a deliberate ambiguity to it. The title might be asking someone that listens to the record to consider what otherness means to them, because I think everyone will perceive it slightly differently. I think more than ever before, I realised that there was a perception of me as this sort of funky white guy. And that really began to frustrate me, because it’s not in any way what my background or culture is. And the people I work with, my friends, and the people I love, they know that very well, and they appreciate how much being from a non-Anglo Saxon background changes the way I perceive things.
“But it’s difficult, because I don’t want to have to keep explaining it. We’re not at as progressive a point as we thought we were with race, sexuality, gender or any of these things. And we’re starting to see that bubble to the surface more. For me, there was a thing about making a somewhat discrete statement with the title of each record that hopefully communicates something on a subconscious level. Why would you call a record ‘World, You Need A Change Of Mind’ or ‘Otherness’? It’s hard to be intelligently politicised in pop music, especially in lyrics, so maybe there are different ways to do it.”
Do you think pop music has the potential to properly communicate complex topics?
“I think some people can. The clever way of doing it is to put a subtle message about your worldview or the thing you want changing into a song that is ostensibly about love and relationships. For example, we’re playing with Chic tomorrow in Croatia, and I can’t f*cking wait. I was re-listening to their back catalogue, and I remember thinking how much more powerful it was that ‘At Last I Am Free’ is the only politically sounding song of theirs in that early catalogue. But then, once in a while, especially in that disco era, to drop a song like ‘At Last I Am Free’, that is so mournful, in the middle of a disco album, that’s just incredible.
“There is a book called Chic & The Politics Of Disco, and there are a lot of interviews with Nile Rodgers in there, in which he talks about the deliberate attempt to introduce subtle revolutionary messages into all of their songs, but on a level that you didn’t fully know it was being propagated, but it was. That hidden agenda. Pop music can still be loaded, and contain booby traps.”
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‘Otherness’ is out now on Female Energy. Kindness online.
This interview is taken from issue 99 of Clash magazine – details