Melbourne based funk, blues, lounge, whatever you want to name it, nine-piece band The Bamboos have never been one to shy away from shifting through genres or a collaboration with a guest vocalist. Their latest release, Medicine Man, holds that tradition strong with vocalists as varied as Tim Rogers, Aloe Blacc and Megan Washington lending their pipes to the band and a sound that changes from track to track.
“When you look at the track list of this record and see that it’s featuring this guy and this guy – I guess I worry that it’ll come across that I told my manager to get me these people, but it’s really not a case of that. Every song and collaboration has had its own little evolution,” comments Lance Ferguson, guitarist, bandleader and brain trust of the band.
One early hit from the album is the brilliantly blues-y I Got Burned, featuring You Am I’s Tim Rogers singing a soulful falsetto. Lance sheds some light on how that collaboration came about.
“I met Tim when I was playing guitar for Megan Washington on a Big Day Out tour and we hit it off. We talked about doing some sort of collaboration but at that time I didn’t feel like I had the right song for him.”
Lance continues, “I Got Burned materialised about three quarters of the way through recording Medicine Man, when I felt like it was missing something. I wrote it fairly quickly, basically one night between studio sessions, and as soon as it rolled out I felt this was the right song for Timmy. I played everything at home then brought it in to the studio and John Castle (co-producer) thought it was all great so we just redid the drums and I called up Tim and he came down and did it.”
Lance adds laughing, “His voice is great, it’s like some kind of fucked up fusion of Curtis Mayfield, The Stones and Tom Waits.”
American funk and soul singer Aloe Blacc also lent his talent to the cause, adding silky smooth vocals over tune Where Does The Time Go?, a track that would sound at home on any Aloe album.
“The first time I worked with Aloe was on my first solo album, with Quantic as well, and that was very much an online-based collaboration,” remarks Lance. “But ultimately I like to work with someone in the studio because you can obviously give immediate specific details and make changes quickly. So I was lucky to get Aloe in the studio this time when he was here touring but then the instrumental aspects of that track sort of evolved and changed later.”
But of course, laying down tracks in a studio and then touring the songs are two separate beasts. With regular lead singer Kylie Auldist taking the main brunt of the vocal work live, Lance reveals some of the challenges of adapting songs for the live show.
“One of the great logistical nightmares of involving a bunch of high profile guests on an album is that it’s not as if Aloe Blacc is going to join The Bamboos for a year,” chuckles Lance. “So we have to look at the album and think what the best way to present them live is. Kylie Auldist has really done a great job of making some of these songs her own on stage; I really appreciate and admire what she’s done. We’ve actually enlisted a new member, Ella Thompson who has some tracks on Medicine Man, and she’ll be covering that other vocal spectrum, away from Kylie’s sound. My management won’t let me really talk about it, but there will be some special guests on the tour. Unfortunately I’ve got to be mysterious about that!” adds Lance, with a well bitten tongue.
Ten years down and five LPs cut, do The Bamboos have another ten in them?
“The life cycle of a band is a weird thing, but as long as I’m inspired to do it I don’t see why we won’t. The main aspiration for me is to make each album different and be a progression musically or develop things production wise. Also, I can’t really do anything else so I have no choice!” Lance adds with a smile that beams down the phone.
BY TOM VARIAN
THE BAMBOOS have sold out their show at The Corner Hotel this Saturday June 16, but fear not lovers of smooth funk. Due to demand, a second show has been added for Sunday June 17. Medicine Man is out now via Inertia.