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On May 7th, Melbourne-based dance, soul and funk music legends, The Bamboos celebrate their 21st year of making merry together by releasing Hard Up, their most accomplished, joyous and infectious album to date. The much-respected collective was summoned by band leader Lance Ferguson to a country house in rural Victoria, coincidentally named Lancefield at the end of 2019 to record for a week, just prior to the pandemic shutting the world down. It was under these casual and comfortable surrounds that the band was able to dig in and focus entirely on creating the best album they possibly could. The Bamboo’s longtime lead singer Kylie Auldist placed her usual commanding, heartfelt vocal stamp on the songs, with a few tracks benefitting further from guest vocal spots from Durand Jones of Durand Jones & The Indications, LA based Joey Dosik and Ev Jones. Pre-album release The Bamboos had already given us a fabulous taste of what’s to come with their glorious reinvention of the 1990 Black Box Italo-house hit Ride on Time. The Bamboos have played Australia’s biggest festivals, toured Europe countlessly, and have had their songs featured on major network TV shows. The release of Hard Up will only make their brand even more valuable.

Australian Musician editor Greg Phillips caught up with The Bamboos’ Lance Ferguson to chat about the creation of the Hard Up album.

Lance, the album was recorded before covid. What were plans for the album and band prior to the pandemic hitting?
It was the end of 2019 when we went in to record this. We were looking forward to 2020 being a big year. It was our 20th anniversary as a band. We had done this album called By Special Arrangement, which was a pre-emptive best of The Bamboos kind of thing. I wanted to get that out of the way before 2020 because I felt I wanted to celebrate our 20th anniversary with an album of all new music. We’d already done that album and done a performance. So 2020 was going to be this big year and we were going to put an album out and tour internationally and around Australia and obviously with the pandemic that all went out the window. Going into the recording of the album, we did something which we have been wanting to do for a long time and that was going up to this country house and setting it up as a studio, staying up all night recording drum takes and so forth and that’s how we did it.

How different was it to recording  in a regular city studio?
Well it was much cooler because you have got a bunch of people who are focussed on achieving a goal and in this case it was recording an album in week. We were only there seven days but  you can get a lot done when you are working seven days almost around the clock. In a studio at best you have an eight hour day and people come and go and it’s all about the time. With this album we had the time to spread out instead of bang, bang, bang rhythm section Monday and Tuesday, horns Wednesday kind of thing. We were able to treat it one song at a time, so we really threw everything we could at one song and when we got it to the best version we could, we moved onto another song. So that was a very different MO for us. I really enjoyed the process and the camaraderie of recording like that is great too.

The album features several guest vocalists. Were any of the songs written with those voices in mind or did the collaboration choices come later?
One of the songs which is called While We Sleep, the great singer Ev Jones from Jones Jnr, the Sydney based band and we actually co-wrote that together. The other two, there’s one with Joe Dosik and the other with Durand Jones, those came later. When the pandemic hit and the album was delayed and I was able to sit with the album and reflect for a long time and at that point I felt there were a couple of songs that maybe weren’t as strong as they should have been. So we went back and did more recording in between lockdown and that was when those songs were done.

Ride On Time is a classic song. Why did you decide to cover that one?
We were set up for recording at this town called Lancefield, which is pure coincidence, and we were sitting around listening to some 80s and 90s playlists like we often do. Songs by the 49ers and Snap, those sort of things were coming up, which our bass player Yuri Pavlinov is a fan of. This song came on and we thought this could work. We weren’t even planning on including a cover on this record but we thought let’s throw a version down and see what it sounds like, almost as an afterthought. The tune turned out pretty good and the next thing our manager and record label said this is a focus track.

There are 11 tracks on the album, did you have more that you were playing around with?
For the first time we had about 20 songs and about 16 finished songs. It’s usually not like that. Normally we’d write songs but they’d get paired down but this time we actually recorded them, so we have something up our sleeve as potential B-sides or things like that and there are a few instrumentals in there. It’s nice to have a few things in the vault to pull out.

When you bring new music to the band do you provide charts or do you just play them the tracks? How does that initial song introduction to the band work?
I usually construct quite detailed demos. Kylie will record a demo vocal and quite often that demo will end up being the actual vocal track. The demos are very detailed and provide a pretty clear shape of where it’s going and I will also write out chord charts. But in this case because we had time, things would change and we would experiment with different grooves under things and some tracks really transformed.

You are one of the tightest bands going around. Do you have a fairly heavy rehearsal regime?
At this point as shows are very sporadic, we are not a band that has a regular rehearsal if we’re not playing. When we do have a gig coming up, we do rehearse pretty intensely. I think because we have been together for so long, there’s like a musical chemistry that just needs to be awakened. In the last year we have only done two gigs but when we did get together and rehearsed it came back very quick in terms of interplay and a degree of telepathy that hopefully occurs when you play with people for decades.

I watched the livestream of your Corner Hotel performance on the No Bad Seats website a few weeks ago. I thought it was a great livestream. Do you see that concept continuing even after the pandemic has gone?
Maybe the actual technology hasn’t been innovative but the way of pulling technologies together for this format is a great innovation. I think it is going to go forth and be a thing. Obviously at this point with the pandemic, we can’t tour overseas so this is a great way to connect with people but I think it will continue because some people can’t get out and even when you do an international tour, you are not going to hit every single city in Europe, so I think it is here to stay. With what some people have got going on in their loungerooms these days with entertainment systems, you can get a great sound and I guess there are similarities with people that are into sports, setting up these ridiculous home theatre systems. It’s never the same as actually being there but you can get a pretty good visceral experience of one of your favourite bands. And when you are watching it literally live, I think that’s an extra special thing and you can still feel like you are part of it.

Lance at Corner Hotel gig with Gibson 335 and dapper jacket

And did the sound guy have control over the volume of your jacket on the night? It was quite sparkly!
(Laughs) Ha, that’s a great thing, I should work on that. The lighting guy can turn up the glow! But you know, we hadn’t played for a while so I thought I would make an effort.

Kylie Auldist has been an integral part of the band for a long time now. Do you recall seeing Kylie perform for the first time?
It was many years ago. I reckon it would have been about 1991-92 I first saw Kylie play The Lounge in Swanston Street Melbourne. She was playing with a band called Curtis Late, a great original soul band in the Fitzroy scene at the time. She was already a fully formed, incredible vocalist then and gobsmacked me at the time. Later I had the good fortune to be in a band with her called Polyester, which came out of that UK acid jazz sound at the time and she was the lead singer of that band. We played pretty frequently with that band and that’s when I really got to know her. I guess it was 4 or 5 years after that The Bamboos expanded to having a vocalist. We tried a few people out before Kylie but once Kylie came onboard it felt absolutely right.

Another thing I noticed from the livestream was that beautiful Gibson guitar. Tell me about that.
It’s a Gibson 335, which is one of my favourite guitars. I did have another example of that and it got stolen out of the car, which is totally my fault. I left in the back seat of the car between gigs. I had an insurance payout and bought the guitar that you are talking about and I have been playing it since. I put a deposit on it and they’d put the wrong price tag on it. The guy called me up and said I’m sorry but this guitar is nine grand. I was like whoa, that’s way more than I can afford and I was devastated. Then my friends at the music store rang Gibson and sweet talked them and they ended up giving it to me for almost half price with an an unofficial endorsement and that guitar has been around the world with me. I buy other guitars and play them but they never feel as good as that one. I just keep coming back to it.

What do you generally play it through?
I am playing through a Fender Vibrolux at the moment, a reissue of an older one and I did just purchase a Fender George Benson Custom Deville I am also using, plus I sometimes use a Fender Twin when I can be bothered carrying it around.

The album Hard Up is out May 7, then what?
It’s a moving target at moment but we are definitely doing an Australian tour. We hope to get back overseas which has been our plan for a few years but that’s looking like early 2022. I have a solo project called Rare Groove Spectrum which is covers of classic funk and soul and Latin tunes and another edition of that will be coming out around half way through the year. There’s always something coming up.

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