There are few monikers artists choose for themselves — or are given — that fit precisely who they are as people. For Adam Bainbridge, Kindness feels apt. It exemplifies the gentleness they exude with every minutiae of movement. Whether it’s folding laundry in their East London flat, greeting strangers or answering questions, Bainbridge is measured and warm. They are also notably humble, a facet that underpins the course of our interview. These characteristics — ones of tenderness and compassion — are the branches through which their work as critically acclaimed artist Kindness wraps itself around. Their latest album, Something Like A War, out via London-based label Female Energy, epitomizes this, too. “[The album] has a lot of ideas about liberation, community. I don’t know. I don’t want the vocabulary I use for it to end up sounding like Instagram-aphorism-self-help,” they say, sardonically.
Since their last album, Otherness, released in 2014, Kindness has been on hiatus with their solo work. “I wasn’t happy with the business side of things,” they explain while in a car on the way to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to watch the premiere of Solange’s interdisciplinary performance art film When I Get Home. “It wasn’t a good mindset to be making music in, especially not for myself. My personal creation and work had just brought this sort-of avalanche of misery onto me.”
During this time, over the last five years, Kindness has worked on era-defining projects, most notably as an integral producer on Solange’s seminal 2016 album A Seat At The Table after the two artists met a mutual friend's wedding. Kindness also has production credits on Robyn’s 2019 release Honey as well as Blood Orange’s Freetown Sound and Cupid Deluxe. Taking time away from their own work, Adam found working with others to be an experience that allowed them to gather together fragmented parts of themselves.
“What’s good about working with Solange or Robyn, they’re very exacting and already have their end goal in mind,” Kindness explained. “There were a thousand left-over ideas for Solange, not that I’ve used any of them, but there was always this inkling that song or production ideas would come in useful in the future.”
“I learnt a lot in that period between my last album and this album,” they said. “So much of what I learned is working for other people. [They have] much more specific expectations than I do. I don’t really care what the end result is as long as I think it’s good.” This kaleidoscopic influence finds itself coming to the fore on Something Like A War, which flows through the listener like a journey.
Rich, colourful textures are the scaffolding by which the album is built. There are urgent horn arrangements and heart-wrenching vocals that floor you with their power to feel both as they are of the here and now and reaching back for something long gone. The album is cathartic, allowing listeners to exorcise demons with the lush, textural grooves of the album keeping evil at bay. Something Like War incorporates an all-star feature cast of Robyn, Blood Orange, and Sampha, while also featuring lesser-known but equally talented musicians such as Samthing Soweto, Cosima, Bahamadia, and others. The album is a salve for any wound.
For Kindness to make an album like Something Like A War, they employed the freedom that becoming an independent artist allowed. “For a period I was managing myself,” they explained. “I had to learn by reading about it and asking questions. As much as it was hard work, I started to feel so much better understanding what my life and career could be. Like, I could understand how to make a record on a budget or why it would be important not to sign away the rights this time around. It was a total reset. I didn’t have a lawyer, a label, a manager. Everything seemed completely wide open. I felt optimistic.”
Over time, through the course of nearly half a decade, ideas were snatched out of the ether and formed an album. While most artists go into a project with a theme in mind, Bainbridge works another way. “I work on music for the theme or the project to reveal itself. Once I had a couple of songs under my belt, I felt like things were going in a good direction,” they explained once we were out of the car and taking the London tube. “I thought that I’d want to sort of rope in Philippe [Cerboneschi, of Cassius] on mixing and to make that an exciting challenge for him, I knew there had to be — the sonics of what I was working on had to be exciting or challenging, not difficult to mix, but something to really get your teeth into.” In search of ensuring they could deliver the best project possible, Bainbridge found the best piano player in New York, Mathis Picard, and the most vibrant horn sections or “a percussionist that had something magical about them and record those elements.”
Cerboneschi passed away in a tragic accident in June. A close friend of Bainbridge’s, Cerboneschi’s death was a gut-punch. “He was an incredible character,” Bainbridge remembered, choosing their words with care, each one said with a moment’s pause while the train rattled on its journey. “It’s a funny feeling. It’s funny for him not to be here and not to get to share [in this]. Yet, talking about him in the way, shape, or form that evokes his presence in some way, especially because mixing is the final part of an album process. [It] was the last significant thing I did on this record.”
When Cerboneschi fell through the window of a high floor of a building in Paris, Bainbridge was in the city for Paris Fashion Week. Though the album was complete and the album campaign was due to start, Bainbridge was unsure on how to navigate talking about Cerboneschi, or whether to at all, until Bainbridge’s partner told them they owe it to Cerboneschi, leaving them with a piece of advice they hope to carry upholding Cerboneschi’s legacy: “You kind of have to do the record justice, even if it’s hard to talk about now. It would be worse to neglect it, especially since before all of this happened, you were both so proud of it and knew that you had done something special. And as painful as it is, you gotta keep finding that energy and celebrate it.”
After co-producing Kindness’ first album, the 2012 release, World, You Need A Change of Mind, Cerboneschi declined working on the follow-up Otherness. “The thing to acknowledge is that we co-produced the first album,” Kindness mentioned as we get closer to the V&A. “Out of respect for him, I was like, alright, you turned down the second one because it wasn’t the right time and you wanted a little bit of time apart, but I’m going to bring you something really fantastic. You are going to do it.”
Winding through the maze-like hallways of the museum, Bainbridge doesn’t seem flustered, as the performance is starting soon. There is a care to them as they approach various staff members, ask for directions and walk into the theatre hall lined with plush red couches and wooden pillars. Solange’s video-art performance, a 40-minute-long uninterrupted piece, begins, and Bainbridge is captivated. For the duration of the piece, their eyes are focused, attentive, and captured. The piece itself is hypnotic and mesmerizing. A bold exploration and showcase of Solange’s hometown, it has the entire audience in a trance. The world’s burdens seem to melt, arresting audiences attention to the screen due to the nature of the video. Before they entered the hall, Bainbridge spoke briefly again of Cerboneschi, stating, “Some days, it’s easier than others.”
Something Like A War floats joyfully between vulnerability and softness, allowing the listener to place themselves within the grooves. Anthemic orchestral flourishes dot the album’s landscape, while Kindness ensures they don’t subscribe to any one genre. At times, the album’s melancholic state feels almost soulful but as the listener attempts to define the album, Kindness’ multifacetedness as an artist comes to the fore. Having dealt with death and grief several times in their life now, Kindness’s latest album is much like them: soft and hard, fiery and vulnerable. And epitomizing Kindness’ warmth, the album has a collaborative spirit. Rather than force their own sound on featured guests, the album seems to incorporate many different elements, bringing them to the same dinner where a veritable smorgasbord of sounds is laid bare to pick apart.
Dhruva Balram is an Indian-Canadian freelance journalist whose work sits comfortably at the intersection of culture and politics. He has been published in NPR, NME, Bandcamp, GQ and is currently based in London, UK.