The Bamboos - Deep Fried Funk
Being labeled the ‘world’s best new funk band’ is simply all in a day’s work for The Bamboos, as 3D’s Fat Tony discovers while quizzing frontman Lance Ferguson about their third studio album Side-stepper, and covering Kings of Leon.
When you consider the factors that contribute to a band not only being a good band, but standing out from the crowd and becoming recognised for their talent, timing always plays a significant role. Timing has rarely been more crucial than it is for The Bamboos, and there are two types of timing involved. First and foremost I'm talking about the immaculate timing of their musicianship, because it's only through the calibre of the players that they've earned the title of “world's best new deep funk band” and had their second album Rawville described as “the best funk album of the modern era.” Secondly it's the timing of their introduction to the musical world. Frontman Lance Ferguson had his outfit so finely tuned that when the musical climate tired of the disposable dance and generic indie and grew nostalgic for something real, something soulful and something, perhaps, a little more smartly dressed, the Melbourne octet couldn't help but attract the limelight. Any geographical barriers that might have prevented the word from spreading were nipped in the bud by the signing to Tru Thoughts and hence Ubiquity Records, undoubtedly the UK and the US's most trusted labels for soul, funk and hip hop. Any artist on those imprints is bestowed a unique respectability, and it's one The Bamboos have most definitely lived up to.
The debut record, Step It Up, dropped in 2006. Last year we were presented with Rawville, a record that swelled the band's stylistic repertoire, and now the third is ready. Entitled Sidestepper, the first taste is a cover of the Kings Of Leon track King Of The Rodeo, it's typically tight and snappy, and features the vocalists of fellow Melbournian Megan Washington.
“Quite a few of us in the band are quite fond of Kings Of Leon you know,” explains Ferguson. “Lots of people are doing covers and stuff at the moment but we thought ‘Kings Of Leon have cred and we're really into what they do,’ so we thought we'd put our spin on it.” The result is incredibly catchy, even more so than usual, and Washington gels seamlessly with the band. “[Megan] started out as a jazz singer with a bit of a folk bent,” Ferguson offers on the vocalist's past, “and the original stuff that she was doing under the name Washington, it's sort of more like quirky leftfield pop.”
A film clip's been produced for the cover, their first foray into the visual medium, and it catches the band sitting down to tea while a bunch of not unattractive young women stand in on their instruments. “Several of them were actually practicing really hard learning the parts,” Lance says of the girls, a group made up of girlfriends as well as bar staff at Comme in Melbourne, where Lance holds down a DJ residency. “Some people said it's a bit Robert Palmer style you know,” the frontman laughs, “that wasn't actually the concept I had to begin with though.” You'll be pleased to know the Bamboo's girls pull off the stunt much more convincingly than Palmer's somewhat androgynous choice of a backing band.
Sidestepper continues in Rawville's tradition of guest appearances. “We've got Ty guesting on a track, and then there's a fantastic soul singer from Sweden called Paul Mac Innes on one. Kylie Auldist is the ongoing vocalist for the band and she's on three of the songs. I wanted to do a track with an MC and the opportunity came up to do something with Ty because he jumped up on stage with us at the Forum at the show we did there. I started chatting with him and it ended up we could make something happen so. We did a really good collaboration together, and he was really fun to work with.”
The track Ferguson is referring to is called I Can't Help Myself, and continues in the hip hop seam that Brooklyn MC Ohmega Watts helped the band expose on the last record. “That track's pretty stripped down. It's kind of like a heavy drum break with some organ and horn stabs. [Ty] does the whole track, chorus and everything, so he put the whole rhyme together for us, but the track itself is probably a little more hip hop oriented, it's pretty stripped back.
In between albums Ferguson produced a solo album for Kylie Auldist, Just Say, something of a straight soul project, and admits the influence that process had on this record. “There's a bit or more straight up Northern Soul stuff on it I think. The first three songs are a bit down that road. But then we've got the hip hop thing with Ty and then there's the straight up typical Bamboos tracks on there. We finally recorded the version of Amen Brother that we've been playing live for ages. Then there are a couple of more mellow things, one with Kylie and the Paul Mac Innes one are more down-tempo things.”
The live album, Listen! Hear!! Live!!!, recorded at the Metro in Sydney while playing a string of dates with the Cat Empire, has also just been released. “It was a full house seven nights in a row so we got the chance to really play out and do our thing in a fairly intense way. We recorded three of the gigs but that particular one was the one. I think that was the Friday night, and out of the three that we recorded that one just had the most energy. It was always going be much better to have one whole night rather than cut tracks from the whole week.”
The last time The Bamboos gigged in Australia was during the Heavy Soul Review tour in June this year, shows that were largely to promote Just Say. They're on the Parklife bill, and you can also catch them supporting Roy Ayers on two dates in Sydney and Melbourne. There was a European tour planned for November, but Ferguson let slip that it had been pulled for reasons that he couldn't elaborate on.
Having eight members occasionally proves restrictive for the band, touring with that many people can get expensive. And the in-house sound technician takes the total to nine. Ferguson explains how crucial it is to have him in the tour group. “The records have a sound, obviously we're going for a old school kind of thing, and sometimes it's hard to translate that to a live scenario because a lot of what makes that sound happen is slamming things on reel to reel tape and certain things you do in the mixing process. To do that live in a room with maybe a hired rock drum kit in the corner doesn't make that work. So definitely our sound guy John Castle is intrinsic because he brings a whole lot of specific outboard gear and microphones that can turn a backline hire company rock kit into something that sounds more like it's from 1969.”
WHO: The Bamboos
WHAT: Side-Stepper through Creative Vibes / Play Parklife / The Forum
WHEN: Monday 29 September / Sunday 5 October / Friday 24 October