The Bamboos' Lance Ferguson: "We've Come Full Circle"

The Radio13 Interview


Today, The Bamboos release their eighth album, Night Time People. Bandleader Lance Ferguson is especially thrilled to have the new album finally see the light of day. The 9-piece band, featuring vocalist Kylie Auldist is about to take the record on the road, hopefully with a show or two in New Zealand.

Lance Ferguson recently spoke to Radio 13's Marty Duda about making Night Time People and about growing up in Auckland.

Or, read a transcription of the interview here:

LF: Well I look forward to coming back to Auckland, which is where I was raised.

MD: Right, when’s that going to happen?

LF: Hopefully this year. We’re going to have to check a few things out, but yeah, around this record, hopefully we can do that, and then I can visit my family as well, which is always good.

MD: Excellent! Did you grow up in Auckland or somewhere else in New Zealand?

LF: I spent a little bit of time in Tauranga and Hamilton, but most of the time I was in Auckland. Even though I’ve been in Melbourne for nearly 28 years now, you know, it’s just that Kiwi thing, good ol’ Auckland.

MD: Nothing wrong with that! Anyway, you’ve got a new album coming out at the end of this week! Night Time People. So how are you feeling about that?

The Bamboos Night Time People digital album cover

LF: Oh, super excited about that. You know, when you make a record, managers, and record labels, and all the powers that be go off and do their thing so it can take quite a while, so we actually recorded this album a little over a year ago now, and it’s taken this long for it to see the light of day, so we’re just so excited for the people to finally hear it, and it’s only 4 or 5 days away now, which is crazy.

MD: Yeah, because there is such a long gestation period between when it was recorded and when it’s being released, does that affect the way you look at the music when you’re talking to people about it and promoting it?

LF: Yeah definitely. It gives you that much more time to reflect on the origins of things and you can kind of see the influences of things because you have a bit of hindsight on it, even before it’s come out. The other way I’d say it positively affects things is on the live side of stuff. We’ve actually been popping a few of these songs into our sets for quite a while now, almost kind of like testing them on audiences, as  a completely new song to see how they go down, but also we’re fairly well rehearsed on them, so by the time we actually tour this record which is pretty soon, it’s not like we have to relearn the whole album which is pretty cool.

MD: So you’ve kind of reflected on what the influences were, what were the influences then? Was there like an overall, overarching influence on the whole record or just individual songs?

LF: I feel like there was a little bit of an overarching production influence or an aesthetic on the record. As a band we started out very much influenced by bands like The Meters out of New Orleans and you know The J.B.s and things like that, you know that sort of raw funk influence I guess, for want of a better encapsulation.  I think with this record there’s just a little bit more of that involved again, it’s sort of like we’ve come full circle but I think the production aesthetic is a little more progressive with this record especially. I mean we’ve never been a “time capsule” type of band. We’ve always incorporated influences of hip hop and things like that in our sound rather than being too much of a purist, but I think this record to me sounds nicely well-rounded. Its got some of those earlier influences but it also does feel like a progression on from where we come from.

MD: Yeah, I notice especially on the title track you seem to have a very James Brown kind of…was there a guitar player like James Brown that influenced your playing because it’s got that kind of chunky, ‘chukka-chukka’ thing going on in there.

LF: Yeah well, Jimmy Nolan and Catfish Collins, you know, obviously two of the great funk players no doubt. So there’s a little bit of that and on that specific guitar part I’d even say there’s a little bit of Prince in that one too.

MD: Right. You mentioned hip hop, and in the final track, Broken, you’ve got 3 different versions, 3 different remixes, with 3 different DJs  rapping on top of it, one from Atlanta, one from Sydney and one from Berlin. Maybe you could tell the folks about the process you went through and why you made the decisions you did to do that.

LF: Well this song is called Broken, its a Bamboos song that’s got a message behind it, which is a message I feel pretty passionate about and that is basically centred around awareness of mental illness and emotional well being, and really shouting a message out that it’s okay to ask for help, it’s okay for anyone out there to ask for help if they are experiencing any of these things, personality disorders ranging from depression, anxiety, PTSD, it could be an eating disorder and you know, just really shouting that message out that it should be applauded, it’s not a sign of weakness at all to ask for help and there is a lot of help out there. So I wanted to encapsulate that within this song around these things. So basically the musical aspect of this song is the same and we’ve got three different MCs, three different rappers on three different versions. Teesy from Berlin, he’s a singer as well, singer-songwriter, but also raps, he came on board.  Urthboy, who’s an MC from Australia who’s a real local legend around here, and the incredible J-Live out of the US who I’m a huge fan of and thrilled to have on board. So, each of these artists came on and offered their own unique personal story around these kinds of things of resilience, and the issues I was talking about this stuff. It was amazing to hear their different takes on things but it was also really impressive that they didn’t hold back and it really feels like their contributions are from the heart from these people.

MD: I think my favourite of the three was Urthboy actually, who I’ve never heard of. Maybe you could enlighten us a little more about him.

LF: Yeah, he’s a MC that’s been doing his thing in Australia for over a couple decades now, he also runs a hip hop record label in Australia that has done really well. He signs a lot of artists who have done a lot of stuff in Australian hip hop. He’s part of a larger group called The Herd, which is a well-known hip hop clique out of Australia.  But his music has always been… he really goes deep on things and I knew that if he came on board on this project and he would really give it a real authenticity, and do something that was really from the heart, so it was really great. His one was centred around raising children in toxic masculinity, and with the lyric video we did for that, it really spells out the story but yeah, his contribution was great.

MD: Yeah, and I notice there’s quite a bit of use of strings throughout the record like on tracks like Stranded and Golden Ticket. Where did those string arrangements come from? Are they what you were thinking of when you were writing the songs, did they come from the production, or how did that come about?

LF: Well I’m guilty of trying to make things larger than life at times in the studio and it is sometimes, you know, arbitrary restrictions cannot always get me there but Ross Irwin who is the trumpet player in the band is also an incredible string arranger so I basically feed him my badly sung lines and he orchestrates them in beautiful ways, and there’s been a lot of string work across quite a few of the Bamboos records but  I think, you know, this one’s got some great stuff, like with Golden Ticket, it’s almost got that little bit of that Jackson 5 sort of thing, or The Avalanches and the string lines are really key to that one. It’s almost as if it’s like an old sample of a record with strings, but yeah, Ross did some fantastic arrangements for that.

MD:  Speaking of old school, you have Bob Clearmountain mixing the record. That’s a name for folks who’s been around a while who’s very familiar. He’s been on amazing records. Why and how did you manage to get him involved? 

Bob Clearmountain

LF: well this is an absolute dream come true for me when, as, you know, Bob Clearmountain is an absolute living legend. He mixed Born In The USA, Bowie’s Let’s Dance… these major records of pop music of our time, but also he mixed records that were personally really important to me as a teenager like The Cure’s  Just like Heaven, Crowded House’s Temple of Low Men which is one of my favourite records. It came up that he was an option which I couldn’t believe for a start, that Bob Clearmountain could mix one of our tracks! So we sent him the song and he did it in his studio which I think is in L.A., he does it on his big old SSL desk and he does it in real time, so I had to be on the phone with him in the middle of the night, our time, Southern Hemisphere time, while he was on the board because he can’t recall the mix, because he has to, he had it up, he had it where he wanted, and then print in real time. So that was an incredible experience, not only to be dealing with a legend but also, the decisions had to be made right then and there. That was refreshing because in the digital age of mixing records, you can just recall anything, you can change anything. So it was nice to have that limitation, almost. But just as a big Bob Clearmountain fan, I had to, I couldn’t believe I was speaking to him, I was fanning out. I had to thank him at the end of that and say ‘Hey Bob, I want to say thank you for getting me through high school’, and he had a chuckle. It was a nice moment.

MD: What kind of specific dialogue did you have about the actual mix? Was it very technical, was it kind of overall feel, how did you guys approach getting the sound that you wanted?

LF: Well look, when you give a song to someone like him, you basically, you’re wanting him to do his thing on it. But we had a mix up of the track and, without getting too boring, there were specific levels of specific instruments that had to be, I sort of had my own vision of where things should roughly sit, so it wasn’t like he was mixing it from absolute scratch and had no reference point or anything, but at the same time, he took it from where we had it. You know, he just does his thing that is just absolutely amazing. He makes the vocal just sit at the perfect place and everything just, as cliché and obvious it is to say, but everything just suddenly found its perfect place and level, and it’s just a certain thing he does that obviously so many artists have gone to him for, to do that. He’s a master. An absolute master.

MD: Right, now you’ve chosen to feature Kylie Auldist as your vocalist on everything that uses a vocal rather than having various guests. Is that kind of a vote of confidence for Kylie because she’s been such an integral part of what you’ve been doing?

Bamboos 2018 Lance+Kylie colour 333A0755 cred She Is Aphrodite

LF: Well, the thing is Kylie has been a lead singer of the Bamboos since 2006 but again because of my flights of fancy in the studio I love to bring guests in and things like that but I just felt like with this record, there was no need to do that and Kylie is just an amazing and super strong vocalist and artist in her own right that I just felt, ‘let’s make a record that is the band’. If people buy the record they’re going to come out and see the band and hear the songs as they sound on the record. Because one of the difficulties involving guests from around the globe on your record is when you come to play it live, you’re never going to be able to round everyone up so, eight albums in, as silly as it sounds, it became to clear to me that, let’s just do it this way.

MD: Very cool. And maybe you could touch on, you have a 9 piece band, is it kind of a fluid membership or has it been fairly solid throughout the years?

LF: Well, the band started out in fact in the year 2000 in fact, and it was a 4 piece band and I put the band together and we were just doing some local gigs as just like a dance band playing three sets on a Saturday night. I’m the only original member from that original four, but the line up that exists now has been stable for well over I’d say 12 years now. We did just add a ninth member so the band is actually continuing to grow. We added a percussionist, which I think, having a percussionist, is really, as subtle as having someone on the tambourine can really transform the sound of the band so it’s been great. Phil Bodano is his name. It’s good to have him on board.

MD: And maybe you could touch on, you’ve mentioned a couple of band members, who else is in the band besides the ones we’ve already talked about?

LF: Well first I’d say that The Bamboos consist of a bunch of musicians who all have their own bands as well. All these people are super accomplished musicians which I think gives The Bamboos some sort of energy, that factor. So Greg Pogson on drums who has a great band called G.L. which is almost more of an electronic, kind of 80’s boogie duo.  We have Yuri Pavlinov on the bass who’s played with everyone from Renée Geyer to Doug Parkinson  around Australia who’s an incredible bass player, and then the three piece horn section, Ross Irwin as I’ve mentioned, Damon Grant who’s actually a New Zealander, we’re just trying to keep the Kiwi numbers up a little bit in the band, and Phil Noy on baritone saxophone, who just came off playing with Maceo Parker when he was touring for the jazz festival.

MD: Nice one!

LF: Yeah, and then Dan Lukerman, a young keyboard player who’s just joined the band under a year ago, he’s in his early 20’s. We’re also trying to keep the average age of the band members down.

MD: Fair enough.

LF: It balances things out. Yeah, the other aspect is that many people in the band have their own families as well now, but when we come away from our families to go on tour we’re also kind of our own family and it really feels like a second family to me, and we have that camaraderie and all that stuff so it really feels good to be together.

MD: So you guys are about to embark on the road to promote the record, is that what’s happening?

LF: We are, we’re going to tour around Australia, we’re going to go over to Europe and the UK a little later in the year, but fingers crossed, hopefully we can get across the Tasman and over to New Zealand, because, this is quite embarrassing for me to say as a Kiwi, The bamboos have only ever played in New Zealand one time. We played at a festival called the Splore Festival which was incredible, and actually we did come earlier but we were part of the Quantic Soul Orchestra, which was sort of us really being a backing band for another artist, so we technically have been over twice but only once really, as ourselves so we really want to come back this time.

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Released: 06 Jul 2018

Written By: Radio13