Talking with Compassion – an Interview with Kindness
Musician, producer (and occasional video director) Adam Bainbridge’s solo outfit Kindness returns with their trademark understated confidence and charisma and a new album ‘Something Like A War’. Piercingly enigmatic, Kindness commands a subtle energy that is afforded by a compelling exterior indicative of their personal complexities. Being of mixed heritage, and exploring gender and sexuality (whilst escaping the confines of a stifling small English town!) allowed Kindness to be someone that is able to traverse the periphery whilst being in the midst of it all. Recently making a statement to be referred to with the gender-neutral pronoun, Kindness is no doubt an inspiration, exuding an openness and compassion that is very fitting with their name.
Produced and mixed by Kindness and frequent collaborator and friend, Philippe Zdar, the release of new album ‘Something Like A War’ will no doubt hold a heightened emotive resonance given Zdar’s recent passing. Other well-known collaborators abound on the album, but that’s not to take away from Kindness’s cultivation and curation of their own sound. The resulting album is expansive and diverse, somewhat suitably representative of Kindness’s life and trajectory. We take a moment to sit down with Kindness in Berlin, a city once home to them to see what we could uncover, from the perils of exploring individual multifaceted identities and playful response to Berlin to working with the likes of Solange, Robyn and Blood Orange.
KALTBLUT: In one sense obvious and self-explanatory, but how did you arrive on to the name Kindness and what does that mean to you?
Kindness: I did an arts residency in Philadelphia in 2007 and the idea was to make a music project, beginning to end, a whole album which was something self-contained. I looked through notebooks for lyrical ideas of things I had noted down and Kindness seemed really appropriate for that project. Somewhat foolishly I kept the name and now in each passing year it grows in significance and responsibility. At the time, it was a very casual great word and there didn’t seem to be another band on the internet with the name too. It has some weight to it, a responsibility and even as a way of being. Openness as well. I think in a fractured moment of time a lot of people feel under stress, pressure and anxiety, and so I think Kindness also as kindness to yourself and to other people.
KALTBLUT: What were your musical inspirations when you started in the early days from making and producing music and how did that inform your trajectory as an artist?
Kindness: It’s funny to end up in a Pop/R&B American space and that’s where a lot of my production and collaborative work has been. I’m from a small town in England called Peterborough. In Peterborough, there was fuck all when I was growing up so it was really scrappy as a young musician being influenced by punk and indie bands that would pass through town, jungle records that you could buy in record shops and whatever they had in HMV, you know it was hard. I kept some of that DIY ethos as I continued so that even [when] in London I have always sort of known what was going on in that DIY space even though I am not necessarily directly involved in it. It did seem to be changing a lot when I was growing up and even in London in the early 2000s. That experimental space was very white and very male. And as time has gone on that feels like it is changing which is positive. I think that is also what is interesting about working in genres such as Pop and R&B where there are a lot of women at the forefront of those genres and feeling a lot of musical sophistication because of that. It’s funny that women are overrepresented and some genres and underrepresented in others.
KALTBLUT: Do you think women get questioned if they happen to be doing well in a male working space?
Kindness: That’s something I learnt working a lot with Solange and Robyn. For me those records both sound like those individuals, so clearly that is a representation of their artistic personality and their human personality but also seeing the amount of executive production. Track by track production is one thing but the vision for these projects were entirely theirs, in a way that was intangible for me as someone working on those projects I couldn’t hold all of that universe in my head. There were times when I could get a glimpse of what they were heading towards but I really didn’t know. That can’t even be communicated verbally or musically but at the end you hear the finished record and you’re like shit, this is what you intended the whole time. And for me working with artists like that I can see that there isn’t a question that this isn’t their work. Anyone else that works on that is just a facilitator rather than in any way responsible.
KALTBLUT: The new album Something Like a War has a varied sound but is still you. Tell us a little about the process, making it and the evolvement of the music from your previous offerings.
Kindness: I think this album hopefully takes the strengths of the previous two albums and combines them in a way. I don’t know if I have swerved all of my weaknesses but with hindsight I have started to understand more what I was good at in previous records, and maybe even working with other people gives you a little bit more of an overview with what you do well and what you really suck at. I think even part of this album was knowing that it was good to ask for help sometimes? Robyn sings on two tracks but helped co-write 4 songs. At one point I was like I am proud of the music but not happy with the melody, is this the right melody? She could come into the studio and go oh, what you think is the chorus I the verse, leave it and come back to it and decide which one you like best. But all of this was with enough time and space and generosity with yourself. Not being too impulsive or self-critical. And I think that was really good. I’m not the most confident vocalist and I don’t have an enormous range as a singer, but then working with someone or friend s and multiple friends who are really encouraging and could allow that space for vulnerability and not always expecting everything to be excellent either, but using it as a starting point I guess. I think we put so much pressure on ourselves for the first idea to be perfect and maybe it doesn’t have to be.
KALTBLUT: You’ve collaborated with a number of artists including Blood Orange, Solange and Robyn. Are there any particular moments that stand out?
Kindness: I do think about working with Solange on her record and how myself, Sampha, Benga from Metronomy and Kwes were all flown out to New Orleans for a week or two. This was already an incredible once in a lifetime experience. You’re working with these incredible musicians. I had always wanted to work with Sampha now we are working together. That was extraordinary as it was. And then one day I get an email while we were working saying can you go to the vaccination clinic tomorrow at 2pm. I remember asking around, maybe one of Solange’s assistants what is this about? [The response] was well if you’re free, we’re going to go to Ghana on Friday. I was like wait what?! So, you’re flying to New York as there’s no direct flight, stay there a couple of days while your visas are rushed through and we’ll go to Ghana next week. And I was like, sure! Alright we’re going to Ghana! So that was pretty extraordinary. Dave Longstreth from Dirty Projectors came on that trip also along with some other musicians. It was bonkers! I don’t think it’ll happen again in my lifetime. It just very much felt like something out of the movie.
KALTBLUT: You’ve directed some music videos. How did that come about and how does your creative process differ when you’re drawing from or thinking of concepts as it’s your vision in a sense coming to fruition?
Kindness: I have friends that are music video directors and I think it’s such a difficult and thankless job because it’s really fucking hard. And there’s such a disparity between people that have enormous budgets that can do the most incredible things. I am my own label now so I haven’t made a single video for this album. I’ve joked about this before where if I had 9 lives like a cat for music videos, I have used them all! All of the luck I could possibly have I have gotten through. Like when I went to Guyana shoot with Dev [Hynes/Blood Orange] for the Chamakay video I had no technical help, it was just me. I met with someone from his management at JFK airport and they handed me the camera equipment [and after vaguely explaining a few things] just said good luck. I’d never used this [film] camera before! And now I’m in Guyana shooting film with no safety net, no backup plan and yet I’m really proud of the results but that could have gone horribly wrong! The whole thing could have been blank, or they could have wiped the tapes in the x-ray machine or we could have lost it. I felt like I wasn’t going to get a good night’s sleep or relax until it was in development in a lab in London. And then it was it was like this incredible rush view for it but until that point, I was feeling terrible for about two weeks.
I think there’s a finite number that any one person can do. If I’ve made those videos in the past either for myself or other people, it’s because you have a few good ideas in your lifetime, but then you’ve used them all.
KALTBLUT: LGBTQ, gender, sexuality, are as pressing as ever. Given your own experiences, is there any advice or support that you have had or can give to someone that is going through similar things?
Kindness: It’s funny being the perfect storm of all of these different things. My mother is Indian and my father is white British. I was growing up mixed in this small town. Someone who is mixed and was questioning some of these things had written to me on Instagram asking what advice do you have? I was like get the fuck out of your small town! That would be my advice. Literally you just have to go somewhere you can meet people who feel the same way that you do and that’s probably not going to happen in a small town. I think you won’t have that many mixed-race people around we are already quite weird as it is. Then there are people who are thinking about sexuality in this way. I think that is what’s great about coming to a big city, even if you go back home, and become that incredible wise open-minded person that your home town needs.
You have to go somewhere where you can talk openly about this stuff. So [for me] both London and then moving to New York. I feel New York has made me even further ahead of the curve than London. A lot of the stuff is very overground discussion and it’s very easy to find community. Also for South Asian people who aren’t used to seeing themselves represented in music and media especially, or pop culture spaces. And even then, it’s these terrible male comedians, for example. But what was interesting about being in New York is that I would find these South Asian arts groups where a lot of people were queer-identifying and trans-identifying, people talking a lot about all of their identities, intersectional identities. I remember saying if we all had to come to New York, let’s be one room of people that are queer, trans, South Asian goths. Imagine that wouldn’t happen anywhere else in the world! Maybe in Delhi or Lahore, but it would have had to be a lot more underground. Sometimes you just have to travel and go wherever the most people are to feel really empowered in all of those facets of your identity. It’s just useful to see yourself reflected back. So, short answer – go to the big city!
KALTBLUT: You spent some time in Berlin, what are your memories of being here?
Kindness: I got off the plane yesterday and the weather was really nice and I thought, is there enough time to go to Thai Park? I really want to go to Thai Park. I think for me, even though I was living in Wedding (which I think is a more multicultural part of town) I think Berlin is very white and sort of conformist in a funny way? And at one point I was like if I see another grey black matt, Nike sport garment, I’m going to kill someone! Wear some colourful ones! That grey monotony at one point I was like I need to be around some other people of colour and eat some genuinely spicy food. Peanuts aren’t spicy! You can’t just put peanuts in something and be like Asian food, but yeah [laughs in jest].
KALTBLUT: What else do you have coming up this year you’re particularly excited about?
Kindness: Just this album coming out. The amount of music that comes out that maybe becomes a lot less significant. Especially when you make albums on your own, it’s quite a daunting thing and I’m just proud to have done it. And you know, I think of music being a precious thing and maybe like a finite thing? I’m glad to be still making music I’m proud of. But if there came a point where I didn’t think it was of a significant quality, I would stop. So yeah, for me it’s like I am very proud of this, I want people to hear it, I can look forward to putting it out in the world. And scary as it is, even performing some of it live!
Kindness’s album ‘Something Like A War’ is out on September 6th (Female Energy). Pre-order here