Interview with Kindness

Kindness has flown back onto the music scene with a swiftness to rival his previous departure. In 2009, it didn’t take long for his YouTube hit “Gee Up” to lead to a confounding shutdown of any further material; no more videos, no further tracks, no interviews. Then, in early March of this year an album stream appeared for his debut, ‘World, You Need a Change of Mind’.  As the man behind it all, Adam Bainbridge shot back into the foreground of music journalism, blogs, and this time around, music stores too.

It feels like he is back for good, yet when we meet, Kindness is preparing for the second of only two UK tour dates. “I find London stifling”, he confesses, “and sometimes it’s not a creative atmosphere”. I find him finishing an espresso in Manchester’s Soup Kitchen café and he greets me with kisses on both cheeks. Originally from Peterborough, Bainbridge has spent time in Berlin, Philadelphia and Paris, and the story of his return there in search of Philippe Zdar turns out to be true. Six months of emails had led nowhere, and Zdar is elusive if you’re a new artist wanting to record with him. “I decided that going and talking, and maybe even pleading, would be a much more direct and straightforward way of getting an answer. It was good, because I feel now, understanding him better, he would rather talk around the subject of the music you might make and work out your character a little, and decide whether he can tolerate seven months in the same room with you before committing to something”.

This trip to Paris was successful. Philippe Zdar, half of French synth pop duo Cassius and producer of Phoenix’s Grammy winning  ‘Lisztomania’, is also the producer behind Kindness’s  debut. Yet it was Zdar’s work on Phoenix’s album ‘United’ that attracted Bainbridge’s attention. “I still think it’s an incredible piece of music, and the mix and the production is really, really elegant and straight to the point across every track. I felt, if I could work with someone who made a record like that, that I loved so much sonically then there was no other choice.”

Bainbridge goes on to describe Zdar’s studio as “the music man’s wet dream”. In it lies rare boxes and microphones that could each stretch to twenty thousand pounds if you were to find them on Ebay. This, he tells me, is one of the pros of being signed to a major, Polydor. “I think there are pros and cons to working with a major, but one of the pros is that when your record is finished – if they accept it – people will hear it”. The format of a record gives a “certain amount of respect” to its receiver, with music packaged in the form of a physical offering rather than an intangible mp3. This explains Bainbridge’s choice to curtail his career in 2009 in order to opt for a more traditional way of producing music.

Returning to classic values is an idea that governs his outlook. Working in Philippe’s studio has helped him move “away from that wilful deliberate obscurism, the kinda romance of fogginess and tape recorders” of lo-fi culture. The clarity of hi-fi made it more challenging to make songs work without anywhere to hide. Bainbridge shirks the fast-paced turnover that DIY music is coupled with, terming it as “riding a surf board in front of a tsunami”. “I downloaded the whole Mutant Sounds archive and started trying to listen to it. And I thought, I haven’t even listened to Lennon/McCartney B Sides. What am I doing?”.

The spotlight on the internet brings a fellow Polydor signing under scrutiny.  The success of Lana Del Rey leads to a larger discussion of the present state of pop, drawing on the current holographic pop-star taking Japan by storm and the synthetic but no longer futuristic worlds in William Gibson’s novels. “It’s bonkers”, Bainbridge says. Everything that Gibson predicted about pop-culture has come true.

This is especially interesting considering that, when asked, Bainbridge aligns himself with pop music. “Pop music doesn’t have a gender or a race, or an immediate appearance. You can’t really say, “that guy looks like pop music”” unlike what he terms as ‘white indie’ music, a section of the music industry that he sees as both homogenising and prejudiced. “I honestly think that festivals like SXSW and the music press have a racial assumption.  It isn’t interested in those smaller niche genres, and wants its personalities to fit the mould that they’re meant to. I remember the tension when Dev Hynes was making pastoral country music as Lightspeed Champion. I think a lot of people felt that it was ill-advised or that it couldn’t reflect who he was as an individual”. An example of the press’s inaccurate judgements is their lazy use of the term ‘chillwave’, which, if it were to be ascribed to Bainbridge would make him “lean out the window and vomit”. But he levels his critique on both sides, “when they [Philippe] did a track with Ghostface Killah as Cassius, he walked into the room and said “what are these engineers still doing here?” and they said, [puts on French accent] “No no, we made ze beat!””.

A critique of the state of the left field music industry and pop is part of what lies behind ‘World, You Need A Change of Mind’. The title, which by critics has been called ‘gently polemical’ is under Bainbridge’s correction “taking a sledgehammer to crack a jar of peanut butter”.  The reaction to his cover of Anita Dobson’s 1986 hit “Anyone Can Fall in Love” – a track sung by an EastEnder to the EastEnders’ theme tune – is precisely the mind-set that Bainbridge addresses in his album title. “Even before it was released, the guy at the record company was scared of that song, the guys in America don’t even have any experience of EastEnders and they’re scared of that song. Our publisher said “do we not just want to drop it from the press promos?”. My question is what really is the big deal here? Is it because it’s EastEnders? Is it because the original arrangement was too saccharine for people’s liking?”. Simon May, writer of “Anyone Can Fall In Love” came to see Kindness at his XOYO show. “That was a really positive moment.  Who better to say they like it than the guy who wrote it”.

The Replacement’s “Swingin’ Party” is another covered song on an album full of musical references.  “Bombastic” lists off names from Neil Young to Diana Ross in its extensive spoken word section and “That’s Alright” borrows next to everything from Trouble Funk’s go-go track “Still Smokin”.  When I bring Bainbridge up on the paradox of covering songs and calling for change, he quips that all-time music innovators The Beatles started out as a covers band. “I don’t think I would have ever started singing if I hadn’t have tried singing “Swingin’ Party”, it was the first thing that I ever sung in my life”. To Bainbridge, covers are part of our musical heritage as well as creative stepping stones.

So what if the world was to change? What would it sound like? “I think it would be closer to silence”. “Music now is pushed on you so aggressively; you don’t have the choice to turn off even if you wanted to. And that extends to music on the internet, music on the TV, the kind of music on the radio”. He describes Sixth Street in Austin as the seventh circle of hell, where death metal and ABBA cover bands compete for attention from every hole in the wall bar. “I can imagine that for people with synaesthesia it’s like being shot with burning arrows trying to walk down the street!”. Despite this and despite not being able to “look at a blade of grass without it having a Motorola logo on it” Kindness asserts that SXSW was a good experience, one that allowed the band to perform five times, with the first being their fourth show ever. “The obscurist purist would say we’re too polished now, too professional” he jokes. And, despite questions over authenticity Bainbridge stands up for pop figures like Del Rey. “I actually have more time for the individual and that persona because I think that it’s genuinely quite fragile and unknowable”. If Kindness had his own way it would be an individual topping the charts. Who and what would be number one if the world were to change? After a long pause, he decides, ““If it’s Magic” by Stevie Wonder”.

Hana Teraie-Wood