When Laura Lee met a man named Mordechai, little did she know he would change her life forever. Funk/instrumental band Khruangbin had just come off nearly four years of touring and were in desperate need of a recharge. So, they took a much-needed camping trip, invited a few London friends, and reconnected with nature. Following this emotional and physical reprieve, Mordechai, a friend of a friend, invited Lee into his home to meet his family.
“I had talked to him initially one day just about my struggle in not feeling grounded because I had been nomadic for the past couple of years at that point and been on tour for more than that,” recalls Lee over a phone call last month with American Songwriter.
The stranger’s invitation left an indelible imprint, almost immediately, on her life. “It was a really sweet gesture and exactly what I needed. It was a hug and a reminder how beautiful family is,” she remarks. Such a monumental marker has been a considerable talking point in the band’s new album promo cycle, and Lee has begun feeling the crushing weight of that alone, as the memory itself begins feeling cold and distant.
“It’s hard not to become disenchanted with my own experience of it. You say it so many times. It’s like when you say lyrics, they change meaning as they go on,” she explains. “I want to get back to that day. It was such a beautiful day. But it’s hard, I keep having to rewind. It was the simplicity of the day, and seeing the love of a family was really inspiring. While that might be something people see on a regular basis, I hadn’t seen it in a long time.”
Later on, Mordechai and his wife and two boys took Lee on a hiking excursion, winding throughout the countryside, and the group eventually beheld the beauty of a gushing waterfall. When urged to take the leap, quite literally, over the craggy edge, Lee obliged. That moment was baptismal in nature.
Lee has never been the same.
“A lot of big events that happen in people’s lives feel really big at the time. Then, there’s the real effect when all the dominoes fall, which can take months. Since that day, I definitely feel much more grounded,” says Lee. “Even in having felt loss within the context of my life leading up to it, I feel very grounded and like I would have made all the same choices that I did make. I just would have made them more consciously.”
When Lee returned, her bandmates noticed her transformation ⏤ and not only because she spilled out her heart to them. Lee’s presence had shifted, and her obsession with Post-It notes was evident. “Any time a friend is going through anything, whether it be a transition or coming out of a rough spell, the main thing you want to do is be there. I was personally really conscious of being there,” muses drummer DJ Johnson Jr. “One of the things we learned over the course of last year, especially touring around the world and constantly being together, is that it’s so important for us to make sure each of us is doing OK individually. We always check on each other no matter what’s going on. Your schedule can be super hectic, but it’s important to take time, slow down, and just just ask, ‘How are you?’” And really mean it when you say it.”
“Sometimes, I’ll ask, ‘Hey, how are you doing,’ and the knee-jerk response is, ‘I’m good.’ You ask again, ‘How are you doing?’” he continues. “Then, you’re able to get a real response and a real check-in with each other. It wasn’t anything to process for me. It was a time to be a friend.”
The trio were stronger than ever. As they began writing for their third album, the craft itself had taken an unexpected swerve, too. Aptly-titled Mordechai, recorded at their Burton, Texas studio, alongside co-producer Steve Christensen, the album delights with their sturdy funkadelic signatures, smooth grooves and perfectly-packaged instruments. Given the nature of the album’s themes (time, memory, and longing), lyrics, which didn’t come into frame until months later, further punctuate the emotional arc. They’d dabbled in specific imagery before, but there were new stories aching to be told.