The Bamboos

By Poppy Tohill

Melbourne soul/funk band The Bamboos are still going strong after recently releasing their sixth studio album, Fever In The Road.'

New Zealand born producer/guitarist and songwriter Lance Ferguson joined me on the phone for a chat recently about the new album and the band's upcoming show at Tapapakanga's Regional Park's popular summer festival Splore.

Hey! How are you? Did you have a good Australia Day?

Hey, I'm great thanks and our Australia Day was awesome! We flew up to Sydney and did a gig right near the harbour, where it was really picturesque and there was a good crowd, so we had a good day, and we didn't stay there so it was just a really nice day trip to Sydney pretty much.

Did you watch the Grammy's the other day?

No... I didn't cause I was working in my studio but I was tuned in to the twitter feed and followed the results as they came through (laughs). I was really rooting for a couple of the acts, I'm really into Tame Impala and a band called Hiatus Kaiyote. I was hoping and was actually pretty sure that either one of them would come away with something but they didn't which was a shame, but it's fantastic they were nominated.

What did you think of Lorde winning two Grammys?

I think it was great! Personally I'm really into Lorde, so I think it's really cool. I mean it's wild that someone so young and so fresh is getting that ultimate global recognition and success.

Now over to you guys, you finished off last year touring your new album ‘Fever In The Road' around Australia, how did that go?

Yeah it was great. The tour consisted of us playing at a bunch of larger venues than what we're normally used to which was pretty cool. We played at a venue in Melbourne called The Forum which is a classic kind of venue. It was a big deal for us to put on a gig there and we got a great crowd in and it was a really really awesome show. This tour was cool for me because all of our previous records have had a lot of guest vocalists on them. It's something I love to do in the studio but sometimes when you take music out live, travelling with these high profile guest vocalists can be weird, especially for Kylie (Auldist) and Ella (Thompson) who are traditionally the main vocalists in the band. When our guest vocalists can't come on tour with us though Kylie and Ella have done a fantastic job on making those songs their own, but on this record we haven't involved any guest vocalists so Kylie and Ella did the whole thing, which I think was really great for them.

How and why did you make the decision to cut back on the number of guest artists for this record?

Yeah, it's tied into what I was sort of saying about the tour really. This album doesn't have any guest vocalists so it's Kylie and Ella who are doing all the singing. It's our actual live band and I really wanted to represent the band completely on this record, so we could go "this is who we are and what we do," and as much as I have loved collaborating it's almost like I don't need to make an album with guest artists anymore. Also, like I was saying before, once you get to the touring side of things you don't have to worry about all the songs people are hearing on the radio and the way they're going to sound different.

Did not having any guest vocalists on this album change the recording process in the studio or was it just a similar routine to your previous albums?

A little bit, because the focus was on the band as an entity on this record. In the past I've layered things up and in the studio gotten different drummers on different tracks and different musicians coming in, and this time I wanted the band to be the focal point so we recorded the whole rhythm section live and then layered extra things on top of that. It was very much an in-house affair. I think it did change the recording process, cause it made it a bit more streamlined, and it felt really good to do that.

Talking about working with a lot of other artists, you've collaborated with quite a number of international acts over the past few years, is there someone you haven't worked with yet that would love to collaborate with one day?

There are so many great artists out there and there's always another vocalist that comes along that you would love to work with when you hear them. On the last record we worked with Aloe Blacc who is an amazing, and is developing into an even more amazing, strong vocalist. I've done a bit of stuff with him but would love to do more. Another singer I highly rate is Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes. To do something with her would be wild. This is my dream list I'm giving you here though, none of this will happen probably (laughs). But there are so many people I would love to collaborate with. There's a few kiwi singers that would be great to work with as well. We've done something with Tyra Hammond before but I would actually love to work with David Dallas, that would be wild. That could actually happen too because we share the same booking agent so at least we have a way to possibly hook up.

Backing up again to the very beginning, how did you all meet and decide to form ‘The Bamboos' and is there a story behind how you came up with name?

I guess the bands been through a lot of changes and members really. We've got two vocalists who have been really solid for at least three or four years now, but the band actually started out as a four piece, with drums, bass, guitar and keyboards. We didn't even have a vocalist we just started out as an instrumental thing until 2000, where we added a horn section and then Kylie on vocals. We just kept growing bigger and bigger, so it's really evolved and changed. It felt like we reached this point where the people in the band were like "this is the band" and we've been at that point for about 4-5 years now. Then Ella came in, she was probably the last person to join the band a couple of years ago and she's really entrenched herself in a great way, and slightly altered the sound in a really cool way. In terms of the band name, that was just as simple and basic as my girlfriend at the time (now wife) suggesting it and I just went "I like that!" We don't have any other incredible anecdote behind it other than that unfortunately (laughs).

The Bamboos have released five critically acclaimed albums with a sixth released just two months ago now. What's your secret or advice to others for a long and successful recording career?

Well, for me... I get really excited about making each record different and hopefully with some sort of development or progression from the last. On the levels of song writing and production, I want to keep improving those facete's and expanding each of them with every record. So that's kind of a challenge, which is exciting for me cause it's something I really like to get my teeth stuck into. Sometimes that approach can be as odd as sustaining just one group of fans, because if you're always changing it up you can often leave some fans behind cause they don't like your new direction, but then hopefully you make some new fans somewhere else. It's sort of a fine balance for me because you know, certain bands have their certain sound and we have some really dedicated fans, and I want to make sure that I don't ignore them because they're the people that buy tickets to our shows and buy our records and really support us.

But at the same time, for me to do this for so many years, I have to be able to challenge myself and find something that just keeps me hungry to do it, and that is by trying to just change up the music and change those facet's each time so you're kind of giving it life. So my advice would be - if you surround yourself with creative people, that provides you with a scenario where you challenge yourself, and you have to keep coming up with something new and different. That can be a great way to sustain inspiration, because if I was just making the same record over and over again and we were just churning out the same sort of thing, it would get so boring really quickly. I think that would permeate the music and people will somehow sense that. So we try and make our albums different and interesting each time, and my favourite bands are the bands that turn around like Radiohead- you never know what they're going to come up with next and I really respect those bands who do that sort of thing, so that's basically what I try and do.

How do you think The Bamboos have developed since the release of ‘Step It Up' in 2006 to now with the release of ‘Fever In The Road' six years later?

I think originally as the band, we were definitely going for the old school, raw, funk and soul sound and that was an immensely important and valuable period, because we were really able to get inside that sound and see what made it tick... we were recording on analogue tape and all that sort of stuff. But I think as time went on from there it became important for the band and I to not be locked into such a retro paradigm and for it to be more progressive. I mean, take the roots and essence of that sound but then try and put it into something that is current and something that people could relate to now in 2014.

So I also think that what we're doing compared to other artists like James Blake and other UK based music producers, who also create innovative and cutting edge soul music, what we do is more of an interesting approach in the end. As we stick to this traditional soul band line up and the core of it being that we try and push our music into a progressive and modern direction. Because if we wanted to get synths and drum machines that would fundamentally change things, so it's kind of interesting that we've stuck to this kind of format of the line up. That is how I would analyse it in my words anyway (laughs).

Who were your main musical influences when developing the new record?

I like to saturate myself in music when I'm going into the writing process and with this record I was listening to a lot of psychedelic rock, but then I was listening to people like Beck and a band called Stereolab that were really big in the 90's. Then I was also listening to a lot of weird French pop from the 60s, like girl groups, so there's sort of an under-current of that kind of bubblegum pop running through the album as well I think.

Aside from heading this way to play Splore next month, do The Bamboos have any plans for more shows in New Zealand in the near future?

Well hopefully this Splore show will pave the way to that. Because it's so embarrassing for me as a kiwi myself that in all this time, The Bamboos haven't technically been to New Zealand. Except for one time where Heineken were doing these gigs and we did a thing with Alice Russell and a couple of other artists on our album Tru Thoughts, but we only did a few of out songs, so technically it wasn't an actual Bamboos gig. I am so happy to be coming over though. As a true kiwi I consider New Zealand my home even though I've lived in Australia for 20 years now and I've lost my accent. But it feels like I'm really bringing the band home and I hope that if it all goes well then we can get back way more regularly.

That would be great if you could! Without giving too much away, what can fans expect from your set at Splore next month?

Yeah, totally! For our set, we're known for playing party sets. I mean we definitely play for people to dance to cause it's just a part of our live show heritage really. So mainly a high energy situation because we really want people to dance and I guess we'll be playing a fair bit of music off the new record, but it's like putting together my favourite set of our music because it is our first gig in New Zealand. So it won't just be all the new stuff, I think I'm going to put a set list together that incorporates the best of what we've got to offer across all of our records.

Once Splore has concluded, what does 2014 hold in store for you musically?

We will be going to the States in May and then to Japan for a short stint at the end of that. We've never been to the US before so it's going to be really fun and also cool because it will be like starting over again. We've been to Europe about three times and the UK and done all that but we've never done the States, so that's sort of our big plan for this year to go over there and play some music and I'm really looking forward to that.

Exciting! Well good luck for that. To finish off, you probably won't even need to think about this answer, being a kiwi yourself, but on a scale of 1-10, how excited are you to play at Splore next month?

Ah... 11!! Yeah the gig obviously but I get to come home and see my family too so my excitement level is totally beyond 10!!

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