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 meets Sybling

Hello!  

It is a music journalist’s privilege to speak to some of the most talented people in the world. Some of the artists might be living just two doors down from you, or in the same town, but some of them might be located at the other side of the pond. Not so long ago, we had an undeniable pleasure to discover an American duo named Sybling. Two New York based sisters, stole our hearts withing minutes with their breathtakingly vocals, harmonies and eerie sounds that would make David Lynch look twice over his shoulder on his way home on a dark winter’s night. The duo are represented by the wonderful folks at Marauder Group and we  wrote to them asking if we could speak to both ladies. Much to our delight, the label and the band said yes (thank you)! We discussed their upbringing in a musical family, writing their debut EP and their eclectic musical taste ranging from Nick Drake to the British indie rock sensation, Radiohead.

Band picture by Manny Inoa

Sybling:
Alice Makwaia (vocals, multi-instruments)
Mariana Quinn-Makwaia (vocals, multi-instruments)

Not always we have a pleasure to speak to an emerging artists from the other side of the pond. Please introduce yourselves to the readers of Indieterria.

Sybling: Hello there! We are sisters, Alice Makwaia and Mariana Quinn-Makwaia of the duo Sybling.

You grew up in New York, in a musical family with musician and composer father and mother who is an actress and an acting coach. Did your parents have any influence on you to become an artist yourselves? Have they encouraged you to chose this path, or maybe they were against it knowing how hard it is in this business?

Sybling: Both of our parents are artists. As you already mentioned, our father is a musician and our mother is an actress. We grew up, the four of us, near the poverty line, in a one bedroom apartment. It was totally great (and we mean that in earnest). Our parents weren’t unhappy with the struggling artist lifestyle. They saw no problem in going into the arts. Our parents only encouraged us to do what spoke to us. And, from a young age, music did just so.

Before the creation of Sybling, both of you had an impressive musical resumes: Alice wrote musical scores for theatre and film (“The Snow Queen” by Downtown Art and “Forest Bathing” by Yaara Sumeruk) and Mariana found success as part of R’n’B outfit Smoke & Sugar. What convinced you to form a band together? Have you worked with each other before?

Sybling art by Catya Bastien

Sybling: (laughing) Making the band was an easy decision. We grew up singing together and harmonizing. In many ways, we knew each other musically better than anyone else in the world!

Sybling is inspired by a wide and eclectic range of genres: from traditional folk, to soul, jazz, funk and alternative rock. We can hear Nina Simone, Jeff Buckley, Marianne Faithful and Elliott Smith. And Stevie Wonder! Who is your inspiration?

Sybling: We’re both very inspired by alternative and folk genres. Our top inspirations are Sufjan Stevens, Nick Drake, Feist and Radiohead. Funny fact: we actually wrote “The Grim” for Radiohead! We heard the song in Thom Yorke’s voice.

You have released your debut EP on February 22, 2019. It is promoted by a lead single “Grim” and a video in which a young man is haunted by nightmarish figures with white masks covering their faces. Can you tell us more about “Grim” and the concept behind the video?

Sybling: The concept of “The Grim” video came from a sketch we made some years back. It was about someone on the subway, seated next to a suited man in a deer mask. It came from a thought that the subway is the looniest place we know! People are simultaneously physically close but oblivious to each other. We actually wrote the song when we were in High School, and it deals with the loneliness, and darkness that followed us around a lot then.

We absolutely love the cover of your EP, and the artwork  that is displayed on your social media. Who is the author?

Sybling: The cover of our EP was made by a Texas-based artist Catya Bastian. And we made the cover of our single for “Under.”

EP cover by Catya Bastien

You once said that “If one quote were to sum up the entirety of Sybling, it would be Kurt Vonnegut’s: “He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral.” A lot of your lyrics seem to deal with themes of searching for lost things and the past. The whole EP has this aura of melancholy and some sort of sadness. Perhaps we are mistaken but we feel like this record could be considered as a concept album, rather than just a collection of songs to reflect to?

Sybling: We like thinking of our EP as a concept album! Originally, we didn’t know what songs we were going to release, so it’s a bit of a fluke that they contextually fit together so succinctly!

We want to ask you about our favourite song “She is Alive in the Past”. It has beautifully crafted voice harmonies with catchy, radio friendly guitar riffs and piano. What’s really surprising, it has no lyrics. Please tell us more about it. Is there any particular story behind it?

Sybling: “She is still alive in the past” was very much an experiment. We’d had the tune in our heads for years, no lyrics. Even the finished product is a bit of a dream without a clear story. We think of it as a funeral march. We weren’t planning on recording it. Then one day, with an extra hour at the end of a session, we recorded a draft. Simple, just sparse vocals, guitar, organ, a little piano. Mari had the great idea of adding percussion, giving it that lopsided beat—which immediately reminded us, quite morbidly, of the way a zombie would walk.

“Grim” single cover

Last question – If you were to score a Netflix drama of your choice. What would it be and what songs appear on the soundtrack?

Sybling: We think, we’d have to go with Netflix’s “Russian Doll” to write music for. It takes place in the neighborhood we grew up in. We could see “She is still alive in the past” in there.

You can follow Sybling on their social media:
https://www.syblingmusic.com/bio
https://syblingmusic.bandcamp.com
https://www.instagram.com/syblingmusic
https://www.facebook.com/pg/syblingmusic
http://sybling.maraudergroup.com/

Email: syblingmusic@gmail.com|

Alice Makwaia (as a solo artist):
https://alicemakwaia.bandcamp.com/releases

Smoke & Sugar (Mariana Quinn-Makwaia side project):
https://www.instagram.com/smokeandsugarmusic
https://www.facebook.com/smokeandsugar/
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1KsvM0hfcgI1_7DNTW-ptw

Articles:
https://alonelyghostburning.co.uk/interviews/getting-to-know-sybling/
http://ventsmagazine.com/2019/02/21/premiere-sybling-streams-new-self-titled-ep/
https://www.broadwayworld.com/bwwmusic/article/New-York-Folk-Duo-Sybling-Release-Their-Debut-EP-20190301
https://chicagonbeyond.wordpress.com/2017/09/12/mariana-quinn-makwaia-w-smoke-sugar/

Vanadian Avenue would like to say a few “thank you’s” to Sybling manager, Mr Phillipe Roberts and to the Managing Partner/Co-Founder of Marauder Group, Mr Rev Moose for making this interview possible. It was a real pleasure!

It is also worth mentioning that Marauder Group, is responsible for bringing the Independent Venue Week to America! This year, the US edition of IVW will take place on July 8-14, 2019 with more than 60 venues participating. You can find more about the  events here:
http://independentvenueweek.maraudergroup.com/
https://www.independentvenueweek.com/2019/04/independent-venue-week-announces-first-round-of-2019-us-shows-more-participating-venues/

We may try to speak to Marauder about IVW and the difference between the UK and USA versions. Keep your fingers crossed!

Please come back soon, we have a fantastic Mancunian band scheduled to speak to us next week!

Till then,
R+M