Indieterria meets Bambara

Dear Readers, 

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 – from left to right: Blaze, William and Reid

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?

“Stray” cover artwork

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.

Bambara picture by Kevin W Condon

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.

Bambara online:
https://wharf-cat.squarespace.com/bambara (record label)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bambara_(band)
https://www.facebook.com/BAMBARA.band/
https://twitter.com/bambaraband
https://bambara.bandcamp.com/
https://www.instagram.com/bambaraband/
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOhbg5_ZDMyT-sUjmImJ3zw

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:

Bambara Tour 2020

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?

Rita Dabrowicz

Indieterria presents Sammy Zalta

Dear Readers,

We have been planning to make this post for a while now, but due to the outbreak of  corona virus and subsequent cancellations of tours and concerts, we thought that independent artists need immediate exposure to help them. So over the next couple of days, we will be shining some light on artists that are operating far away from the  mainstream, yet their music is so wonderful, so uplifting that it is a crying shame they do not get the recognition they truly deserve.

Normally all you have to do to discover a new artist, is to simply just walk into a pub or a dive bar. You will grab something to drink and suddenly the music coming from the stage will take you to a new exciting place. You will forget about the world, your troubles and after an hour you will be on your way home, happy with a new album in hand and maybe a new tee as well. In current circumstances, it is sadly not possible – but you can still discover new music, and you can do it online.

Sammy Zalta

So let us take you for a short journey to meet one of the nicest and most talented independent artists we have met in recent months. The gentleman’s name is Sammy Zalta, and he is usually seen shredding his guitar mercilessly on stage with New York based band Bambara. He is also an accomplished artist in his own right with three digitally released albums to his name.

Hidden under the alias of Nola Gras on Bandcamp, Mr Zalta has been recording solo material since early 2014. After a few experimental, self released projects that were distributed privately, Nola Gras’s first proper EP “Living In Darkness (Under the Covers)” was released in January 2015 and sadly is no longer available for streaming but you can read a phenomenal review of it right here:
https://www.tinymixtapes.com/chocolate-grinder/premiere-nola-gras-living-in-darkness-under-the-covers-ep

Multi instrumentalist, balancing on the edges of several genres (alternative folk, psychedelic pop, shoegaze electronica, garage, punk and of course gothic revival), Sammy is not easy to squeeze into one musical box. But this is what we absolutely love about him. He is bold and daring, taking chances where other artists do not. You may not hear Nola Gras on the radio, but once you listen to his music, there is an entire musical landscape to discover. From short noise-inspired sketches of a song, to heart breaking renditions of Tim Buckley’s classics.

On 20th of March, for the next 24 hours, Bandcamp will remove any fees, to give the artists 100% of earnings from their music. If you’d like to support Sammy, please take a look what’s available to purchase.

“Paradiso Terrenal”

“Paradiso Terrenal” front cover

Full debut album by Nola Gras released in March 2015. It contains 12 songs, 10 original ones and two covers: very psychedelic version of Tim Buckley’s “Phantasmagoria In Two” and  equally trippy, Jesus and Mary Chain flavoured “For You” by Big Star. “Paradiso Terrenal” translates into “Earthly Paradise” and it’s a very fitting title. If you love lo-fi psychedelia with a hint of western gothic, you will be in heaven listening to the tunes. Our favourite (except for the “Phantasmagoria”) is the title track that sounds like a cross between Elliot Smith and The Deep Blue Something. It is also the last song on the record and surprisingly very radio-friendly.  Well maybe in a shortened version as it stands at nearly 9 minutes! The album was released in physical form on a cassette, but only in 40 copies and they are now all now sold out.

You can listen and purchase the album at:
https://nolagras.bandcamp.com/album/paraiso-terrenal

Album review:
https://bigtakeover.com/recordings/nola-gras-paraiso-terrenal-cs-nola-gras

“O” by Like St. Joan

“O” front cover

Released under a moniker of Like St. Joan, “O” saw the light of the day on June 5, 2017. The middle child of Sammy Zalta, is like a black sheep of the family – resembling no relative, including distant cousins twice removed. “O” is actually a very interesting entity – one look at the credits and we can see entire Bambara as a back up band plus Mike Hentz (Secret Flowers) and Thomas MacDonald (Plate of Shrimp). And the Bambara’s dark, unpredictable spirit is clearly visible in every track. It starts with “Her Patron Scum” aggressive and almost inhuman garage anthem of 6 minutes, quickly to merge with acid house inspired “Memoirs Of A Man Of Pleasure”. Title track “O” is a gothic revival masterpiece with chilling guitars and waltz-like rhythm. There are 7 compositions on the album and you cannot really call them songs – they are long, multi-level, broken into massive segments and frankly absolutely brilliant. If we were to write a short description for it, it would be Bambara meets King Crimson and recording with Trent Reznor locked up in a basement somewhere down in Georgia, no jokes about it. Almost radio friendly and punkish “Safe Spaces” could serve as the leading single, at 5:30 minutes, it is the shortest song on the album minus the instrumental “Quick…”. “Visions of You” take the listener back to the dangerous territory with a marching beat and poetic lyrics and “Egyptian Water Color” feels almost like a cut off from “Swarm” by Bambara.

In short – we cannot believe we missed it when it was first released! Maybe one day, “O” will be re-released on vinyl. One can wish…

You can listen and purchase the album at: https://nolagras.bandcamp.com/album/o

“It All Ends the Same”

“It All Ends the Same” cover artwork

“It All Ends the Same” is the latest album released by Nola Grass on March 25th 2019. It consists of 8 tracks written by the band (all originals) and was mixed/produced by Brooklyn based recording maverick, Ben Jones (AKA Constant Smiles). The album was promoted by a Beatlesque single “Ode To Ersa” and it came with a beautiful video you can see below:

“It All Ends the Same” is much different from “Paradiso Terrenal” and “O”. It is still a very guitar driven, psychedelic in nature but also toned down, melancholic in parts. Our favourite songs are “The Wings On My Shoulder” and nearly romantic “In the Dark”. Please pay closer attention to experimental, bit jazzy/western instrumental track “One Bright Pearl” and cinematic “Just Don’t, Please”.

You can listen and purchase the album at:
https://nolagras.bandcamp.com/album/it-all-ends-the-same

Let’s not forget about the Bambara guys as well. Please support them as well through their BandCamp account or through their gift shop on their record label website:

https://bambara.bandcamp.com/
https://www.wharfcatrecords.com/store/bambara-stray
https://bambara.bandcamp.com/merch

Thank you and hopefully, when the dust settles, we will be standing in the front row at the nearest Bambara gig somewhere in the Northern Quarter handbanging like it’s 1989. And after the show, who’s ready for some pinball and pizza at the Crazy Pedro’s?

You all? Good, it’s gonna be a hell of an after party.

see you soon,
M+R