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A Connection Just Out Of Reach: Bambara Return With 'Stray'

Wednesday, 12 February 2020 Written by Milly McMahon

Bambara’s monumental third album ‘Stray’ is a black-hearted work of art; a sinister cacophony of post-punk instrumentals with death on its mind. Constructing an orchestra of sounds around its expansive skeleton, blending ethereal and baritone vocals, it is a challenging piece of work that rewards those who tap into its wavelength.

Written and recorded by the three-man Brooklyn band—brothers Reid and Blaze Bateh, and William Brookshire—over a feverish few months of long days and night time bar shifts, ‘Stray’ details the lives, loves and losses of a slate of characters; a gaggle of outcasts, rejects and oddballs. Exploring the overarching theme of death, a peculiar anarchic energy evolves as the fantastical album plays. 

It’s immediately apparent that every detail of the music has been scrutinised. A confident flash of brilliance, underpinned by overwhelming drama and a sinister poeticism, ‘Stray’ has the potential to hit plenty of Album of the Year lists when 2020 eventually winks out.

With a North American tour set to get underway shortly and run during February and March, and a UK and European slate of dates to follow in the spring and summer, we caught up with Reid and Blaze to discuss the next twist in Bambara’s story.

Why did you go for the name ‘Stray’?

Reid: It seemed to fit a range of themes we were working with, and a lot of the characters we created for the album. It’s a record full of strays. There is also the whole idea of straying from the right path; it suits the mood of the record. These characters are strangers, whoever they are, with their own stories.

Reid, you spent a month living in seclusion while writing the lyrics?

Reid: It was a great experience. I would prefer to do that all the time. For the past few records, I spent time in isolation but not for long. I had no lyrics at all when I started writing the album. There was a month before we had a vocal recording session, so for that time, I sat in my room, pulled off the work and wrote every day until I couldn't write anymore. It’s really the only way to get outside of your own experiences and see the universe in a different way.

How did you find integrating back into society after this chapter? 

Reid: Luckily, I didn't have to immediately because the next step was recording vocals and we did that in a secluded cabin in the middle of the woods. I didn't integrate for a little while, it was a slow merger.

Would you take breaks when you were all working together in the cabin or would you work continuously?

Reid: It was a pretty immersive experience. We would take a few hours at the end of the night to drink and mess around. For the most part, the entire recording process was the most intense we have ever had, with minimal breaks. We buckled down for six months straight, almost every day, for half the day at least. That led into the writing and recording. After we finished the vocals, we went into the studio and we slept in the studio. We would work for 12 hours. Hence, until it was over, it was clean, focused and a strange way to live.

The album fixates on death. There are so many ways to react to losing someone—did you feel that something changed in you in terms of how you relate to it?

Reid: In some ways it enlightened certain areas of death for me. There are specific lyrics which forced me to step outside of myself and think about how the characters related to death and what it means to them. That expanded my approach to death just because I had to think about it in a hypothetically evolved approach. This album definitely helped me work through some things and view death differently through the eyes of different people. That in turn lead me to write Serafina, the last track I wrote. That track, as far as perspectives on death go, was the one that made me face my youthful denial of it all. There’s a hopeful perspective on that record.

Blaze: That’s tough for me to answer. I think it’s more your experience of writing the characters that would change your perspective. For me, it was just fun to see how it all played out. After the music was complete, it was exciting to see where things would go in an entirely different dimension from the lyric writing.

You have experimented with some new song structures on this album, why was now the right time to be more adventurous with your sound?

Reid: The last record saw us step up our sound with a broader range of instrumentals, and we just wanted to step up our spirit and direction in that same vein. We focused more on having the integration of the female backing vocals as a recurring choir, that opened up the songs a lot. It allowed us to integrate more melody—there's a lot more instrumentation on this one.

With regards to the imagined voices on the album, there are a lot of drifters, outcasts and people looking for a connection. Are those the types of characters that you relate to on a personal level?

Reid: They are definitely the characters that I relate to on a personal level. The main thing is all these characters want to make a connection, but it's just outside their reach. That’s something that I focus on when I write.

Of all the characters you created on this album, which did you find the most rewarding to write about?

Reid: I really liked writing about Lady Serafina. I also liked Ben and Lily, these two clinically sterilised outlaws. That one story rewarded me because that narrative was based on a real character. My dad worked with him. He was this crazy guy, a wild man who lives in Georgia. They used to sterilise you if you were severely mentally compromised. He lived in an asylum, he met his wife in the facility, and she was sterilised too. They fell in love. It was rewarding to mythologise these people from my dad's past. That felt really cool. A lot of them are different pieces of other people who are real.

Personally, my favourite track off the album is Sing Me To The Street. Which track do you feel the proudest of and why?

Blaze: Stay Cool sticks out to me. It's similar. There is extensive instrumentation and a great female vocal presence. We kept the trumpet in there; we didn't let anything slow us down on writing that one. It was able to be built up pretty tall. That track has all of the elements of that album on that one song, which is really cool.

'Stray' is out on February 14 through Wharf Cat Records.

Bambara Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue May 05 2020 - EDINBURGH Sneaky Pete's
Wed May 06 2020 - GLASGOW Stereo
Thu May 07 2020 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Cluny
Fri May 08 2020 - LEEDS Brudenell Social Club
Sat May 09 2020 - DUBLIN Sound House
Mon May 11 2020 - MANCHESTER YES (The Pink Room)
Tue May 12 2020 - BRISTOL Exchange
Wed May 13 2020 - CARDIFF Clwb Ifor Bach
Fri May 15 2020 - OXFORD Bullingdon
Sat May 16 2020 - NOTTINGHAM Bodega Social Club
Mon May 18 2020 - CAMBRIDGE Portland Arms
Tue May 19 2020 - BIRMINGHAM Hare & Hounds
Wed May 20 2020 - LONDON Dome, Tufnell Park
Tue August 11 2020 - SOUTHAMPTON Heartbreakers
Wed August 12 2020 - BRIGHTON Chalk
Thu August 13 2020 - GUILDFORD Boileroom
Fri August 14 2020 - BEDFORD Bedford Esquires
Sat August 15 2020 - LEICESTER Cookie
Mon August 17 2020 - SHEFFIELD Picture House Social
Wed August 19 2020 - LIVERPOOL Jimmy's Liverpool
Thu August 20 2020 - STOKE Sugarmill

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