Just a few years after meeting on the internet, British trio Kero Kero Bonito have become one of the most successful indie-pop bands in the U.K. Its 2016 breakthrough, “Bonito Generation,” offered cheerful, J-pop-inspired minimalism. Its follow up, “Time ‘n’ Place,” took a sharp turn into anxious guitar rock.
The new EP, “Civilisation 1,” surprise dropped on the day of a phone interview with the group’s co-founder and producer, Gus Lobban, splits the difference: It merges the electro pop of their debut with the sweeping unease of “Time ‘n’ Place.”
In advance of the trio’s headlining show in Chicago last week, Lobban traced the group’s polite, precipitous rise. The following are excerpts from that conversation:
Q: KKB began when childhood friends Lobban and Jamie Bulled put out a call for vocalists on the Japanese expat message board MixB, and Sarah Midori Perry responded.
A: We’d all grown up with pop culture from that part of the world. A friend of mine … he knew we were looking for a singer, and he said, there’s this bulletin board my mum posts on, and I’ve never seen a band post an advert there, but I bet people would be interested. Sarah was by far the best person who got in touch.
Q: Perry hadn’t had much musical experience, but everybody got on well during their first rehearsal.
A: The reason KKB is happening in the first place is because when Sarah, Jamie and I had our first rehearsal, it went so well, we just started making music and hanging out very quickly. I think in our first year, we were already traveling outside of London to play shows. It’s kind of testament to how easy the three of us find it to get on and do stuff, which is super fortunate. It’s just one of those wonderful bits of alchemy that you can’t predict.
Q: They were lucky: Think of all the bands that can’t stand each other.
A: There’s this sort of glamorization of bands that hate each other. Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles. I think we’re the kind of people who wouldn’t even try to make a band with each other if they’d hated each other in the first rehearsal — not that the Beatles hated each other in the first rehearsal.
Q: Perry, raised partly in Japan, sing-raps in a mixture of English and Japanese. Lobban and Bulled, who don’t speak Japanese, have no idea what she’s saying.
A: No, absolutely not. She might be trolling us, but I think we would know by now. She’s got us in the perfect position — she could spring it on us at any moment.
Q: When “Bonito Generation” hit, their lives changed.
A: It’s crazy. We’re very lucky. I think similar things do happen with other bands, but it’s a lot weirder and a lot more difficult (for them).
Q: The group thought its comparatively grim next album, “Time ‘n’ Place,” would alienate just about everybody.
A: I think we were really surprised. We thought that all the fans would just be like, “Oh, they’ve abandoned us. KKB isn’t for me.” But a lot of the KKB fans said, “We’re up for the ride, here.” And that gave us a lot of confidence to see where it went. Everything we’ve done, we still stand by. There are elements (of our previous sound) that could pop up at any moment.
Q: KKB often tours with backing musicians, instead of merely performing to recorded tracks. This set up, comparatively novel for an indie pop band, has changed the way they record, too.
A: In a way, these songs are structured more like band performance tracks. We were listening to things like Talking Heads and Arthur Russell, which are less programmed and more jammy. We were making these improvisatory-style tracks using programming on synths and sequencers, which is kind of weird, but it was cool.
Q: It’s tempting for a band to spend too much time online on album release day, searching for early reviews. KKB tries not to give in to this, but Lobban’s mom has no such chill.
A: We always see what’s going on, every artist in the whole world does. My mum’s at home, reading everything. She’s got her browser up, with the KKB search in the search bar. She’s ready.
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