There is certain mystery and elusiveness that surrounds Bambara. Formed in Atlanta and now based in Brooklyn, the American trio successfully avoid being pigeonholed and labelled. Their dark, moody mixture of blues, psychedelia, lo-fi, noise and punk rock brought them universal acclaim for their music. Now on their fourth album (“Stray” was released on 14th of February), Bambara is slowly breaking out from the independent circuit and into the mainstream. With their energetic shows, full of anger, passion and poetry, they are certainly making their mark on the popular music. We sat down with the band to discuss their new album, touring with IDLES and the impact of the pandemic on their plans this year.
Bambara is based in Brooklyn but you come from Athens, Georgia – a town that holds a special place in the American music history. The list of hugely popular artists that came from Athens includes: R.E.M., The B-52’s, Widespread Panic and Neutral Milk Hotel. Do you feel like you continue the heritage of the place, or maybe you would rather distance yourself from it?
Blaze Bateh: Athens is a beautiful, special place. I really don’t know anywhere else quite like it. I’d like to think we are continuing the heritage of Athens. Even though we left almost 10 years ago, it still feels like a huge part of us. The last 2 records, Shadow On Everything and Stray, were both mixed in Athens with our friend Drew Vandenberg and we recorded Stray with him as well.
William Brookshire: I still think of us as a band from Athens as much as New York. We still have a ton of friends that work in music there, great venues, and it always feels like home when we go back.
We remember watching “Æon Flux” on MTV Oddities back in the 1990’s. There was a character named Bambara and we heard you named the band after him. He was rather a shady figure in the series. Was there something special about him that you felt compelled to take on his name for your musical project?
Blaze Bateh: Honestly there wasn’t anything in particular about him as a character that drove us to use his name. We were just HUGE fans of the show. I’ve watched the show start to finish countless times and I still get blown away by aspects of it. But yeah, we just thought his name sounded really cool.
You cite Nick Cave, Birthday Party and Swans as your main musical influences but also, rather surprisingly, filmmaker David Lynch and Polish writer, Bruno Schultz. If that’s the case, you are probably the only musicians in existence we could discuss the “Cinnamon Stores” with! What else inspires you to create?
Blaze Bateh: It’s hard to say where inspiration directly comes from, but I know when I’m writing, I’m typically striving to create an atmosphere that I want to put myself in at that moment. So I suppose my inspiration is typically more visual.
Reid Bateh: I agree with what Blaze said. And yes Bruno Schultz is a big inspiration for me – the power of zoomed-in, specific imagery and the beauty of the underbelly. I also used an abstracted version of a character from “The Street of Crocodiles” in our previous record “Swarm”.
Bambara’s sound is hard to describe: you are being classified as post punk, industrial rock, psychedelia and gothic revival with young Glenn Danzing on vocals. Do you agree with those labels?
Blaze Bateh: Ha. Sure I’ll take it.
William Brookshire: Sounds pretty cool.
Reid Bateh: Why not!
You have toured with Idles in October and November last year – playing over 17 dates across America. That was a mammoth tour in a magnificent company. How do you find the punk rockers from Bristol? Any fun stories from the road? (Does Joe Talbot snore? Do they do their own laundry?)
Blaze Bateh: Those guys are the best. We hit it off with them immediately and became incredibly close very quickly. We still chat pretty frequently. They’re one of the few bands I can ever imagine being excited to see play night after night for a month straight. They just give it everything they’ve got no matter what. To me, that’s what live music is about. Otherwise, what’s the point? I’ll just listen at home for free.
William Brookshire: Such a fun time. We got a free month-long Master Class in the refined tastes of chocolate milk, and the shows were great too.
The band received a lot of support from BBC6 Music. They were instrumental in introducing you to the audience in the UK: your songs have been named singles of the week, you also played an exclusive session for them. Did you enjoy your appearance at the Beeb?
Blaze Bateh: 6 Music has been immensely supportive. Specifically Steve Lamacq. We were very lucky that he happened to catch our last show of SXSW in 2019. We did a session with him back in October and we were all pretty nervous. I actually broke my drum head about 30 minutes before we went on. I looked up a music shop nearby on my phone and started sprinting there to buy a replacement. My phone died after about 10 minutes and I had no fucking idea what to do. Luckily I ran into a shop and the people there were nice enough to let me use their phone to reroute. I made it back to the studio with about 5 minutes until we went on. I was sweating buckets and probably played everything too fast from all the adrenaline.
The first single released to promote “Stray” was called “Serafina”. It was described as a love song. In an interview with Fader Magazine, Reid said that he wanted to write a song “radiating a wild-eyed hope, a youthful disregard for death itself”. Tell us more about it.
Reid Bateh: Serafina was the last song I wrote lyrics for, and by that time the record had taken form as a death-obsessed collage of vignettes dominated by a sense of doom. Looking back at all the other songs I’d finished, I felt that the record needed a vignette that would approach this topic a little differently. I wanted to make sure that some of the characters on the record weren’t afraid of death, or even felt like they could conquer it.
“Serafina” is followed by two other singles – “Sing Me To The Streets” and “Heat Lightning”. Each song is like a snippet taken out of a noire Hollywood blockbuster. Do you see “Stray” as a concept album?
Reid Bateh: Conceptually, I see “Stray” as a sort of collection of short stories that are interconnected.
The band had incredible press on both sides of the Atlantic with reviews from NME, Financial Times, Brooklyn Vegan, The Clash Magazine, DIY, NPR, Kerrang, Stereogum among many others. But it was your long time champion, BBC DJ Steve Lamacq, that delivered the most accurate one. “For an album which deals with wild abandon and impetuous, crazed logic, it is beautifully and astutely structured” – wrote Lamacq – “And when the movie of it is finally made, the billboard strapline will read: BAMBARA – Have they come to take your souls or save them?”. So “Stray” is finally here. What happens now?
Blaze Bateh: Well, we were supposed to be leaving for a month-long European tour in a couple days, but that’s not happening anymore for obvious reasons. We’re in a kind of limbo now just waiting to see what will happen with our schedule. As of now we are planning to play the UK and Ireland in August, but we’ll see. We’re just trying to focus on what we can control right now and that’s writing more music.
Not being able to perform is putting a huge financial strain on bands. Are there any ways your fans can support you through this difficult time?
Blaze Bateh: Yes it is. It was a massive financial and psychological blow for us. Buying our shirts and tote bags is the best way so support us at the moment. We are also accepting donations via our Spotify page. Anything helps.
Last question is always a bit of fun. We do not know if you follow charts but top 40 is a very serious business in Britain. If Bambara could cover any pop song, what tune would you choose?
Blaze Bateh: Not exactly topping the charts in 2020, but “Rhythm of the Night” by Corona
William Brookshire: George Michael’s indelible “Careless Whisper” all day everyday.
Reid Bateh: A Lana Del Rey song would be just fine with me.
https://wharf-cat.squarespace.com/bambara (record label)
Or listen to them online at:
If the corona virus do not thwarts the plans again, the already-once postponed European tour should commence at the end of July. Some of the tour dates are already being rescheduled for December, so please keep your eyes open. Below you will find the dates as they stand at this moment:
We have seen the band play in Manchester in October last year at the Soup Kitchen and we were blown away by the intensity of their performance. Backed up by two live musicians (Sammy Zalta and Bryan Keller Jr. on guitars), Bambara in their 5 piece re-incarnation is a perfect machine that cannot be stopped. IF we are lucky, we will see them in Birmingham or/and in Manchester again.
After all, who can resist the temptation of the dark side?