Koi Kingdom: “We’ve had to adapt our friendship to a working relationship”


For a three-piece band, Koi Kingdom certainly have a really big sound. Maybe it’s because none of the members of the trio – saxophonist Cheryl Durongpisitkul, guitarist Marcos Villalta and bassist Stephen Hornby – seems to stay still for a second, constantly shifting position within the setting, reacting to each other’s ideas and phrases, chasing each other like, well, three little kois in a pond. This is definitely an urgently modern jazz trio that will have you questioning your idea of what ‘modern’ or ‘jazz’ is. Approaching music with a refreshing sense of freedom and irreverence, they play with forms, with melodic structures, with sonic textures, with genres and references. Now they have an album out, ‘Menagerie’, where all this is showcased in seamlessly produced crystal clarity.

How did Koi Kingdom come to be?

We are all really good friends, big fans of each other as players and composers, and we are all on the same page with our approach to making music. It felt right to make music together and we are all in a place in our lives where can commit equally to this project.

Why ‘Koi Kingdom’?

It was important to us to have a name that represented our collective identities and we like the imagery that Koi Kingdom conjures up.

How did you develop your sound?

We’ve made a conscious decision to compose freely in this band, not feeling restricted by genre, just bringing whatever we feel like to the table. You can hear influences of Jazz, 20th Century Classical music, North India Classical music, South American music. With the instrumentation of the music and the mixed influences, you could very much describe it as a contemporary jazz band.

How would you describe the dynamics among the three of you?

Very close, almost too close sometimes but that’s what makes the band special. Cheryl and Marcos are maybe that little bit too silly, Steve is a mixture of silly but knows how to keep us in line. We’ve really had to adapt our friendship to a working relationship.

What is it that you most admire about each other?

Steve: The friendship, love and trust they offer others.

Cheryl: The lack of judgement, the openness, creativity and humour they each give.

Marcos: I really respect Steve and Cheryl musically, but also as people. Musically, they are both hard working, very unique, and are passionate about what they do. Both are very open minded, and willing to try different things. As people, they are both very amazing, super loving towards me and each other.

What is it that annoys you the most?

Marcos: Hmmmm, great question. The way they dress really annoys me. Just kidding. I would say maybe our organisational skills.

Steve: We annoy the shit out of each other.

Cheryl: It’s hard to say who annoys whom the most, but we have developed some catch phrases within the band – always created in jest. One frequently used is: “I’m sick of your shit, Cheryl.”

What is your greatest aspiration?

Steve: To continue to grow and create for the rest of life.

Marcos: I would love to travel the world playing music, meeting new people, and always getting better, and performing in many different countries.

How do you see yourselves and your role within the Melbourne jazz ecosystem?

Steve: It is a community that gives me energy and inspiration that I also give back. It is but one of many communities I have that kind of a relationship with, but it is perhaps the one I feel most at home in.

Marcos: I see the Melbourne Jazz Scene as one of many talented and interesting musicians that also contribute to many other scenes. I’m glad to be a part of it.

What does jazz mean to you?

Jazz is a constant exploration and evolution of music. It draws from history as well as social culture of the time. With our globalised world, we have access to any types of music to draw from and be influenced by, which is why new jazz is so exciting and varied in our age.

What would you say to people to make them come to your launch on Friday?

We truly believe that we as a band have something unique and interesting to add to the plethora of music in existence. Come to join in on what is really the beginning of a lifelong musical endeavour with the three of us.

Which tune best describes your current state of mind?

Head Back Smoking The Sun.

It is very playful, which we feel like almost all of the time.

Koi Kingdom launch ‘Menagerie’ on Friday 3 August at the Wesley Anne, supported by ISM.

Koi Kingdom are playing at the Stonnington Jazz Festival on Sunday 12 May (Chapel Off Chappel/ 5.30pm)