Maribou State on Kingdoms in Colour
Chris Davids and Liam Ivory of English electronic duo Maribou State explain how collaborating with Khruangbin, and plenty of time spent on the road helped shape their optimistic new album Kingdoms In Colour
Chris Davids and Liam Ivory are taking a break from rehearsals when The Skinny calls to chat about their forthcoming album, Kingdoms In Colour, the follow-up to their acclaimed 2015 debut LP, Portraits. The duo, who have been writing and performing together as Maribou State since 2011, are currently in the midst of a string of European festival dates, taking in Parklife, Sonar, Roskilde, Pukkelpop, Lowlands and more before a live album tour begins in October. Incidentally, on the day we speak to Davids and Ivory, they’ve most recently ticked off a headline show at Farr Festival in Hertfordshire, where the pair both grew up.
"After sound check, we went back to Chris' house and had a barbeque at his family home, so that was really nice," says Ivory. It does definitely feel surreal, especially this summer because we've started headlining a couple of festivals. So that's quite strange, seeing ourselves playing at like 10 or 11 o'clock at night, in the dark, at a festival, it's mad. Because last year we were playing in the middle of the day" he chuckles.
Maribou State are no strangers to life on the road. The mainstream breakthrough they achieved with Portraits saw them literally touring the globe, with a 32-date European tour plus shows in Asia, Australia and America. This lengthy amount of time spent touring proved to be both a blessing and a curse when it came to writing Kingdoms In Colour. "We overlapped the touring with a year of writing," Davids explains. "We didn't get anything done!"
After almost two years of touring, the pair returned to the UK, relocating from The Shack – a home-built studio at the back of Ivory's garden in Hertfordshire – to a new studio space in London. Settling into the city and the new recording environment also had its challenges, they explain.
"It's such a different way of life in London to where we grew up," says Ivory. "It was kind of tricky to find a balance of having a social life, and getting into a proper workflow and feeling inspired in the studio."
"We never really found a balance, did we though?" interjects Davids. "Because the first year we didn't really do any writing, and then the second year we didn't do any socialising," he laughs. "We both work quite differently. Like Liam prefers to get up and get to the studio early, whereas I always prefer to work in the evenings. But in the last six months, we got into this kind of zone, we literally locked ourselves in the studio."
"When you look at it on paper it's actually quite sad," continues Ivory with a laugh. "We didn't see friends or family, even our girlfriends who we live with, we rarely saw them. But it was incredible in terms of how quickly everything just came together right at the end. Relatively, that's a long period of time," he reflects. "Most bands write an album in half that amount of time. But for us it just seems to take longer." They both laugh.
The upside to the months spent touring was the wealth of new inspirations to be found on the road. Some ideas were written while touring in places like India, and field recordings were made in Asia, Australia, Morocco, and America. This affinity with worldwide music cultures is also shared by Texan 'Thai funk' trio Khruangbin, with whom Davids and Ivory collaborated on the invigorating single Feel Good.
"We discovered them about three or four years ago. They became one of our favourite bands for quite a while. The Universe Smiles Upon You is one of the best albums we've heard in recent years, like the sort of album you can just put on and listen to from start to finish. It's quite rare to find an album like that," enthuses Davids. "We got them over to support us at KOKO when we had our first proper big London headline show. During the process of writing the second album, [a collaboration] was always something on the cards that we were trying to make happen. We managed to get it together just in the nick of time. They’re really, really lovely people. And a lot of fun."
Elsewhere on the new album, tracks like Glasshouses, with its buoyant Indian-inspired melody, reinforce a sense of playful energy and optimism that underscores Kingdoms In Colour. Where Portraits tended to centre around a mood of downtempo electronica, this new record feels more upbeat, a suggestion that – when put to the pair – Maribou State agree with wholeheartedly.
“You know what, it’s something we hadn’t really spoken about since then," Ivory says. "After we finished Portraits, we obviously like still love the album, but we always thought that maybe it was just a bit too washed out and ambient. Our main intention behind this new record was to create something that was a little bit bolder, and that definitely had a bit more energy to it."
This energy is also channelled into the track Turnmills, named after the London club which closed its doors in 2008. Released as a single, it was accompanied by a fundraiser DJ set at Corsica Studio for The Night Time Industries Association's #SaveNightlife campaign.
"London nightlife is definitely really important to us, and London as a city, in general, is really important to us. [Turnmills] was the club, the first proper club that we went to when we were younger, when we were like 17 or 18, and it just opened our eyes to electronic music,” says Ivory. "Obviously the landscape of the city is changing so much over the years that we thought it would be a nice thing to do at Corsica, to try and raise some awareness and a bit of cash to help the cause."
The duo's attention is now turned to the forthcoming live album tour, which sees the return of close collaborator Holly Walker (who featured on Portraits and appears again on Kingdoms In Colour) as well as the addition of two more players to create a full live band. As Davids explains: “It’s kind of the same show as before, but we’ve revisited some of the older tracks and reshaped them. There’s not really any backing track this time, we’ve kind of brought a new player in and taken it fully live.”
“Which was really stressful but kind of paying off now,” Ivory adds with a laugh.“It was a big jump, from what we used to do.”
Kingdoms In Colour is a commanding second album, representing an evolution in terms of songwriting and as a live act, but as Davids puts it, the ethos of Maribou State remains very much the same. "The main thing again for us was just to create something that we would listen to, and that we would really want other people to get that same emotion from when they listen to it. It's the kind of album for people to just put on and jam out to essentially, there's nothing more to it than that, for us. We just want people to enjoy it. There's no deeper message behind it."
Kingdoms In Colour is out on 7 September via Counter Records/ Ninja Tune
Maribou State play The Art School, Glasgow on 13 Oct