A conversation with Mekong Xpress' Todd Herrington
by Christopher Wolford
Richmond, VA’s Mekong Xpress are a prime example of what I consider the “RVA Sound.” If you’ve been paying attention to the many, many great acts coming out of that corner of our world, you’ll know exactly what I mean upon first listen of their debut LP Common Knowledge. And if you don’t, you’re in for a treat. I recently sat down with bassist/guitarist/singer/all-around-great-guy Todd Herrington to discuss his band’s new album, how his hometown continues to inspire him, and the wonderful world of stop motion animation.
Christopher Wolford: Before we talk about influences, recording, etc., here's what I want to know: which Belgian beer pairs best with Common Knowledge?
Todd Herrington: Ha! Yes!! A Rochefort 10 of course.
CW: Gotta take care of the essential before listeners hit play, you
know? Moving on to the music, tell me a little about the time leading up to recording. When was the moment you all decided "let's make a record together" and why?
TH: We were put together by our friend who owned Mekong [Restaurant and Bar] and hadn’t really all played together before, so rather than just relying on covers, we all introduced original songs one by one, then sort of organically and inadvertently started writing songs together. Someone would come in with a little germ of something, then we’d all add to it.
CW: Of the nine tracks on the album, which was the most challenging to write and which took the longest to record?
TH: Actually they all came pretty easily. We found that we work really well together and enjoy writing as a unit. For the most part, all of the basic tracks were recorded in a day, and nothing was a struggle. We were very careful though with what we added to “Games” and how we tweaked it in the mix. That one’s special.
CW: The album really captures what I think of when I think of the “RVA sound.” What about Richmond keeps it such a vibrant and thriving place for musicians, in your opinion?
TH: There’s a lot of cross-pollination as well as support between the artists here. I would also say that VCU has had an effect, whether directly or indirectly, on the atmosphere. It’s such a cool little city. There’s really no other place like it. The size could have something to do with it. You can get anywhere in a very short period of time, so in one night you could eat at an amazing restaurant, catch a fantastic art opening, then see some great music with little to no effort at all. And having that at your fingertips is such a gift, and an inspiration. We’re very, very fortunate. But I was born and raised here, and I have always felt, for my entire life, that Richmond has something really special going on.
CW: You released “Light On” as the first single and the title track is next. Why’d you choose these two specifically?
TH: We had really good feelings about those two. It just so happens so did the record label and the PR team. “Light On” was an interesting introductory choice. Unique arrangement and has this pop-art, R&B sort of thing, so we thought if that’s the first thing a new listener is hearing from us, it might turn some heads. Either to or away from us. “Common Knowledge” was the last song we wrote and recorded from the record and it’s a really great example of how well we work together. That started as this little tiny spec, just a germ of an idea, and became what you hear very quickly. It felt fresh and alive to us and we think it’s a good song, so we wanted to get it out there. It’s the perfect representation of who and what we are as a group.
CW: I'd kick myself if I didn't ask at least one question about the album/promo artwork. I think it's some of the best I've seen all year. Tell me a little about how that all came together?
TH: Oh man thanks! Really appreciate that. We tried to come up with something unique and different. We worked with our friend Michael Lee. And Mike is an amazing artist, photographer, chef, and all-around great guy. So talented. The main album image came from a discussion we were having about the title, what it meant, where it came from, and playing with thematic imagery. So what you’re seeing is a record player, with a two inch tape reel on the spinner, inside the reel is an oceanic art/ Polynesian totem style profile, wearing headphones. I started doing the stop motion stuff on the road, just to combat boredom and to learn a new skill. Basically, I took the face from the cover and created a bunch of different little characters, animated them, then messed around with our music, and dropped that in. It’s been really cool working with animation and stop motion, and watching the evolution. The plan is to do a full length [video] for one of the singles, but they really take a lot of time to do. So, we’ll see.
CW: That's awesome. A full music video like that would really stand out among the stuff out there right now, I think. Have you always been a fan of stop motion? Any certain films you looked to for inspiration?
TH: I love animation and stop motion. I was sick a lot as a kid and missed a fair amount of school especially early on, so I would be home and naturally watch a lot of TV. And I just fell in love with cartoons. All of them. Didn't matter what it was. Early anime, Disney, I watched it. But one night, and I remember this crystal clear, like I can touch it, I was very, very sick, going into week two out of school, could barely move, 2 or 3am, lying flat on my stomach, couldn’t lift the side of my head off the pillow, I used all of my strength to reach over and turn the TV on, and as fate would have it, up popped a Ralph Bakshi film. Changed my life forever. Without a doubt. Hit me like a bomb. After that, and as soon as I was well enough, I just devoured everything he did. Poured over them, incessantly.
CW: That's a name I haven't heard in a long time! Bakshi's a good example of where the art has almost eclipsed the artist. Everyone's either seen or heard of his Lord of the Rings but you hardly ever hear them mention his name. I know of Fritz the Cat, but that might be the only other one. What about his style was so appealing to you compared to other animation artists?
TH: So hard to say. The shapes, the color, the movements just felt very organic and real to me. His work just comes from a place I relate to.
Christopher Wolford is a music fan and writer, in that order. He is the Managing Editor for BULL and a frequent contributor to Split Lip Magazine. He lives in Bloomington, IN. You can find him promoting all his favorite artists here.