We talk to Kindness - about pop, YouTube and Visual Arts - ahead of his performance at this year’s San Miguel Primavera Sound.
Kindness, aka Adam Bainbridge, struts a fine line in elegant, funk infused pop; but happily drops the elegance for his gloriously shambolic live shows. His online persona is wilfully cryptic (his Last FM biog, for example, reads simply “Be Kind”); whilst he is almost pointedly upfront in his visual aesthetic (the cover for his recent debut, “World, You Need A Change Of Mind”, is a head on, eyes front portrait). His self-directed video for “House” offers a dry deconstruction of pop music; but closes with a joyful dance to the track in question. With his tongue placed far from his cheek, Bainbridge suggests a celebratory sideways glance at an industry he is fast becoming a part of.
I interview Bainbridge, as he waits to board a plane for New York. It’s oddly in keeping. As he answers from the departure gate he warns me that he may be called forward at any minute. Even when the announcement is made – and I can hear the rush of movement in the background – he assures me “we can keep trying” concluding that “even if they call me forward, you can walk all the way up to the plane on the phone can’t you?” I manage to ask one more question, to which he responds that I should move to Barcelona – he’s playing there on Wednesday next week, at the inaugural party for the Primavera Sound festival – before he boards the plane. Acknowledging the somewhat trite metaphor: Kindness is going places, but he’s all for taking you with him.
"When we play live we’re much closer to the shambolic, silly human beings that we actually are. How you’d like to present yourself for all eternity: that’s the record"
Although you are a solo artist your name denotes a group; was this a conscious decision?
I think so. First of all, I think the name Adam Bainbridge suggests I should be writing pastoral folk records – singing about blackbirds – and I decided to make it more ambiguous. Also, I guess the name kind of represents something, whereas my name… doesn’t. It seemed like a way of saying this is trying to be outside of what’s expected of us as young people, in a generation at this moment in time. It’s sort of contradictory. It’s not what most people would associate themselves with, if that makes any sense.
I understand you have additional musicians who join you for live shows. How does that affect the sound of your work?
It’s pretty different. It sounds a lot more organic than the record. The record was a real labour of love, but it was also experimenting with what could be done in the studio. I think as much as we try to re-create that live, it sounds like people playing as opposed to arranged songs as it were. They are two very different things.
Your live shows seem to be quite shambolic in nature, in the very best sense of the word. Are you intending to create a dialogue between the live and recorded sound?
I think so. I like the idea of having an opening statement that is very precise and quite elegant and everything you would want to stand as a kind of legacy. On the other-hand, when we play live we’re much closer to the shambolic, silly human beings that we actually are. How you’d like to present yourself for all eternity: that’s the record. And then there is how we actually act in real life and that is the live show.
Your relationship to the internet is unusual. Although you have clearly benefited from the exposure it allows, you have been quite reticent in your approach to it and (until recently) remained relatively anonymous. Was this a conscious decision and if so, why?
Yeah. I think there are a number of things that are so expected – and yet so un-necessary – in the career of any young musician now. And I think there would be no harm in refusing to do any of them. I am all for direct communication: there is an email on my MySpace page and it still works and it always has worked. But there is no need for a Twitter account and talking in minute details about breakfasts or tour schedules or – you know – complain about my life. It just seems so unnecessary. I’d rather just communicate through the live performances and the music.
There seems to have been a little bit of a shift recently though. In the video for “House” specifically, you as a personality seems to be the focus. What prompted this shift?
I don’t know. I was surprised that the sense of honest communication wasn’t also felt in the “Cyan” and “Gee Up” videos, because I also felt that those were very direct representations of who I am and what the project is about. One is poking fun and the other is like a dry conceptual exercise in representing song lyrics. But they are both – you know – representative of the project. I don’t know. It’s because it’s this thing of being asked to imagine how people perceive you from the outside and I honestly have no idea.
You often direct the videos for the tracks yourself. Was that something you always intended to do?
Umm … no, but I was offered the opportunity. The people I worked with recognised the level of involvement I had and it seemed appropriate to just do it, rather than explain laboriously to someone else what to do.
I understand you have a Visual Arts background, Kindness seems to embrace that. Is the cross pollination of art forms something you intend to pursue in the future?
It was kind of accidental. There was a serious desire to represent the music in the best way possible. And if that means being involved personally, then so be it. By taking the photographs myself, I believed it would have a greater emotional resonance. Coming from me, rather than found images or I don’t know what. To be personally involved was the main thing. You know? There are much better artists in the world than me. I am just trying to keep myself involved directly with everything that represents the record that has been made.
"I thought: well what’s the most honest and straight-forward way I can represent the record? And if it’s a self-portrait, I guess that that is the best way to do it"
You seem to take the cover art quite seriously.
I think all musicians want to find the visual compliment to their record. You are all into making this record – you have taken all this time and energy and thought – and then someone turns around and says, “now how are you going to represent this whole thing visually?”, when you hadn’t really had the time to think about it or hadn’t really given it a second thought. I think that’s why I ended up doing something as direct – and, you know, almost obnoxious – as sticking my face on the cover. I thought: well what’s the most honest and straight-forward way I can represent the record I just made? And if it’s a self-portrait, I guess that that is the best way to do it. You can spend five years making a record but the bizarre reality of it is that the official side of it – the first thing that people will perceive – is the cover. They’ll see it before they hear it, so it’s something that’s important, even though it ought not to be in some ways. But like I say, you have to find a way to represent the record that’s been made in a way that seems to be appropriate.
So, Visual Arts are something you would cite as an influence?
Yeah, sure. I think we are all influenced by everything we are coming across at all times and that ought to be Visual Arts as much as music. I think all of the stuff I’ve seen recently in pop music has a very strong visual element to it. It’s always been that way I think. They always go hand in hand.
In regards your musical influences, they seem to be quite an eclectic mix. What did you grow up listening to and what are you influenced by now?
I don’t know, I think the more major influences are probably things I have heard recently, rather than in my childhood. My parents were pretty encouraging and had an open minded approach to music. We were a mixed race family in Peterborough. My Mum came from South Africa and bought with her these freedom records and Miles Davies. My Dad was a Geordie from Newcastle and he had a lot of tapes that were quite alternative. He also listened to a lot of Black music for a white Northern guy. But like I say, my major influences are from discoveries now. I’d give more credit to YouTube; having instant access to every great record ever made. I’m a YouTube guy!
In regards to your song-writing process; do you come up with a melody and a traditional song structure first or could it be something like an image that prompts a composition?
It depends. I had a funny experience when I was recording recently. I went to a Basquiat retrospective at the Museum Of Modern Art, it was very well curated. I got back to the studio and I wrote a song in fifteen minutes. But no-one else likes it. I think it’s because they didn’t have the same visual reference. They think it’s terrible. It sounds like “When I’m Sixty-Four” by Paul McCartney.
Although you grew up in Peterborough you have spent a lot of time living in Berlin and London. To what extent, if any, would you say geography has affected your work?
I think just being able to have the ability to write music is really related to Berlin, there is that freedom from full time employment. Also knowing when to move when you are frustrated or you have become stuck in a rut. You don’t need to have very much money; all you really need is understanding friends and a place to stay. Just getting out of London sometimes!
I’m planning to leave London soon…
You should move to Barcelona!