Words by Ben Hopkins
“I’ve been working on the confluence of trying to channel some Ian Curtis as well as Al Green,” laughs The Bamboos’ songwriter, producer and guitarist Lance Ferguson in reference to their new album ‘Night Time People’.
It’s an appropriate comparison, as Ferguson and his cohorts have delivered a collection of inspiring and uplifting songs about the desperation of heartbreak. Coming eight albums and eighteen years into their career, ‘Night Time People’ represents The Bamboos at their irrepressible best. His production exudes the energy and dynamism of their fiery live shows, but it’s the performance of vocalist Kylie Auldist which really heightens the band’s powers. Her delivery drips with emotion – love, loss and yearning – to bring these songs of faltering romance to life.
It’s been three years since we last heard from The Bamboos when they released ‘The Rules Of Attraction’, a collaborative album with You Am I’s Tim Rogers. In-between – and somewhat fortuitously – the Ferguson / Auldist team unexpectedly reached the biggest audience of their career when the young producer Kungs dropped a remix of ‘This Girl’ from his previous band Cookin’ on 3 Burners. Co-written by Ferguson and featuring vocals from Auldist, it became a surprise worldwide hit.
“No-one saw that coming and it was incredible,” exclaims Ferguson. The duo have been working together for over a decade, both with The Bamboos and on Auldist’s solo material. “I’ve always had faith in what Kylie is capable of, and I’ve seen her connect with so many people. It was more of a case that this was a platform on an international stage that connected with so many people around the world. It wasn’t validating, but it was reaffirming.”
Whereas previous Bamboos’ albums have featured a multitude of guest singers such as Aloe Blacc and Daniel Merriweather, ‘Night Time People’ puts the focus entirely on Auldist. “As basic and obvious as it sounds, to present a record live exactly as it on the record with the same vocalist is important. If people buy the record, they want to hear the songs and that vibe as it’s represented, and this time we’re going to be able to do that.”
Auldist’s presence also gives ‘Night Time People’ a continuity that’s often missing in collab-heavy long-players. Ferguson admits to having an old school approach in which he wants to make an album that naturally flows between atmospheres and moods – a counterpoint to “people toploading their albums with all the bangers” – but equally he’s not merely repeating a formula.
While the core of ‘Night Time People’ comes from the Stax and Motown lineages, it’s full of subtle creative spins on its central sound. An early highlight, for example, is ‘Stranded’ which Ferguson compares to being “almost like The Style Council meets drum ‘n’ bass for 2018.”
There are also echoes of Phil Spector’s famous wall-of-sound in both ‘Salvage Rites’ and ‘You Should’ve Been Mine’, as well as some Chic-style disco grooves in the title track. The idea of the album as an art form rather than a mere list of tracks is further underlined by ‘San Junipero’, a cinematic instrumental that was inspired by the Black Mirror episode with which it shares a title.
That approach, Ferguson states, “wasn’t really conscious from the outset. It feels like we’ve come full circle, while still drawing on the same sounds that have evolved with us over that time. I just think that this album does go back to a few of those original, more raw and rhythmic funk elements but hopefully framed in some songwriting that’s developed over these past eighteen years.” The result is that the beating heart of ‘Night Time People’ is pure pop infused with genuine soul and relatable emotion.
The Bamboos, however, save the biggest surprise for last. There are four different versions of closing track ‘Broken’ which all feature revealing and deeply personal rhymes from four MCs representing different territories: Urthboy (Australia) J-Live (USA), Teesy (Germany) and Fefe (France).
The Bamboos gave each artist “the primer and the intent and the overall theme” of a song examining mental health issues, “but it was really important for them to run with their own stories that were personal to them.” Urthboy’s version demonstrates that perfectly as it charts the experiences of growing up in a culture of overbearing bravado and toxic masculinity.
Ferguson’s motivation was simple. “Having had first-hand experience of dealing with loved ones who have suffered from that experience and some of those things, I just dream of a time when mental health issues are less stigmatised.”
He continues: “I don’t claim to be any expert on the subject, but I feel that if you have some sort of platform, you can perhaps raise some awareness. Even if it’s one person out there in the world who feels like they can go and ask for help, I think we need to shout that loud and clear.”
Although fully aware that there “can be a real healing power to music,” Ferguson sounds both surprised and proud when reflecting on the impact of his own creations. He received an e-mail from a father who explained that his son’s fixation with the track ‘Nightmarchers’ (from his dream pop project Lanu) had helped him address his mental health battles and to rebuild a connection with his parents. A brooding, ominous production with an almost goth-tinged hip-hop beat, it was an unlikely ray-of-light. “I certainly found out with music that I fixate on that you never know what it’s going to be. It’s an amazing thing when it happens to you as an artist.”
While The Bamboos have toured the UK and Europe a few times before, they haven’t been here in eight years – an absence which Ferguson sighs is “an embarrassingly long time” especially as they previously “had the best time ever and can’t wait to get back.” And the countdown to their return begins with the news that they’re set to hit these shores in October.
They’ll be well-prepped for it too, having recently played a huge Australian arena tour as guests to Robbie Williams. Ferguson didn’t know what to expect from the ‘Rock DJ’ star, but he personally welcomed them backstage on the opening night – albeit wearing a dress “because he lost a bet on a video game he was obsessed by.” Between the warmth of Robbie’s welcome and the huge turnout from his fans, The Bamboos enjoyed a “wild experience” and a “game-changer” of a tour.
As a result of the power of his band and his skills as a musician, producer and songwriter, Ferguson has been compared to a down under Mark Ronson. “I take that as a compliment because he’s made some amazing records. But it’s difficult enough trying to be Lance Ferguson – I’m not meaning to refer to myself in the third person – without trying to be Mark Ronson. I’m going to keep being me and see where that takes us.”
The Bamboos release their new album ‘Night Time People’ on July 6th, and will tour the UK in October.