An Interview with A.R. Kane’s Rudy Tambala
The last few years has seen a resurgence of shoegaze and dream pop groups of the 80’s and 90’s. But while bands like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Ride hog the spotlight, there is another group back in action deserving equal attention.
That would be A.R. Kane, a band that actually coined the phrase dream-pop. But despite pioneering the sound, and signing to the iconic 4AD label, they never got the acclaim they truly deserved.
But this looks to be changing, as the group are playing some of their first live dates in ages, most notably at this year’s Primavera Sound.
I recently had a chance to speak to bandleader Rudy Tambala who discussed the inspiration behind their return, playing Primavera, and the promise of new material in the works.
First off, what prompted your reformation and return to the stage? Were you approached first by Primavera Sound to reunite? What started the process?
RT – We were approached last year by the guys from Supernormal festival in UK – they encouraged me to pull together a band for a one-off headline appearance. I really liked the way they approached things, and after a few pints of Cornish ale I agreed. I’m glad I did, the festival is really cool – and it whet my appetite for more. We also played MIDI in Hyeres last summer – that was a lovely experience. Since then I have stripped the band back to just three (from 7) – with Maggie on Vocals and guitar, Andy on vocals, guitar and synths, me on various computer and guitar duties.
I know you have some new material in the works as well: how far are you into that process, and when do you think it will surface? Are there plans for a full album, or a single’s release?
RT-There are plenty of new songs and ideas floating around, and each week the material mutates – sometimes evolving, sometimes devolving. We don’t feel ready to record and will wait until we have played live a few times before committing anything. So it will surface first in the live context. If the audience walks out, then we’ll record (laughs). I have spoken with a few labels and am interested in producers … still looking for the right combination. I don’t really think in terms of anymore albums – just songs and sounds and bits. No hurry.
You were very ahead of your time with your sound, even coining the phrase “dream pop”, which would encompass an entire musical movement in the UK and beyond. When you were beginning your career, what were your primary influences, and how did your sound evolve?
RT-We were embraced by the indie scene but it was not in our roots. We had more of what would be called Black music behind us, reggae and dub, soul, jazz, funk, disco, house, rap. That was our scene – dance music.
But living in London, we were exposed to other influences – Punk and post-punk and new wave. The John Peel show. At university I would hang out with cats and we’d get high listening to Joy division, Syd Barret, prog rock, Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Flora Purim. Interestingly, the whole electronic scene (early Human League, BEF, Japan, Visage, etc.) seemed to evolve out of a fusion between dance music and new wave – the club scene in and around London was very vibrant – a potpourri of everything there was. I remember at our earliest shows we were using super-8 film loops and a lot of feedback – we were very much into the Velvet Underground factory vibe – hanging with lots of artists and film makers and other degenerate boho types.
Oh, and the whole 60’s psychedelia – UK and US – added a little spice too. Guess that’s why we sounded a bit different – we sucked it all in and breathed it all out. You can understand how, upon listening to our sound, and looking at who we were, we needed to create our own descriptor, one that encapsulated all the things that were in the mix. And so Dreampop. Is it possible though, to be ‘ahead of your time’? Maybe we were just misfits … life’s outsiders. That’s quite a romantic idea, I like that.
Shoegaze/dream pop appears back in fashion, with contemporaries like Slowdive, MBV, The Veldt, Lush, Ride and Swervedriver all back in the spotlight. Why do you think the timing feels right for that sound to re-emerge?
RT-I don’t know for sure. The 80’s/90’ss were a very conservative time – politically, morally, commercially, and artistically. It seemed that the 60’s revolution had stalled and human liberty and creativity were taking a bad kicking. I guess this can have different effects: One is to fight it head on. Another is escapism. And yet another is transformation, taking the raw matter of a crap experience, and making it into something lovely. Like the Blues.
Today, the situation is possibly worse – my children, this new generation, live on the edge of the dystopia we all feared back in the 80’s/90’s. They are using technology and creativity to do what we all need to do – make sense, build hope, defend, attack, connect. Enjoy life. Enjoy the moment. Shoegaze/dreampop … maybe they are part of a new transformation, like an echo, or a ripple of the stones my contemporaries dropped. Maybe. Let’s see in another 20 years, eh.
You have been working with The Veldt and Ummagma recently as well, correct? How did those collaborations come about? What do you think of their respective sounds?
I have known the Veldt for many years and we have been friends and stayed in touch. Last year they asked if I could contribute to some of their songs, so I got a bunch and started remixing and producing new parts, putting their songs in a new space. I love their sound; Danny is second-to-none in his ability and dedication to the sound of the guitar – through a bunch of serious effects, and layered on and on. Daniel, well he has a beautiful voice – and no-none has ever tried to us a soul – black soul at that – singer in a dreampop setting. It is unique and remarkable.
For those two traits alone they should be world famous. If we do a tour together we are playing with ideas like a NWAmplifiers tour or NigGaze With Amplitude. You know, something catchy and not too confrontational. They got an even more in-yer-face attitude than A.R. Kane, god bless’ em. Nutters!
Ummagma simply asked me to work on a couple tracks – I love Shauna’s voice – it is a proper fucking voice; remove all instruments, all effects, and it sits in the air like something an angel was thinking about. They seem to be everywhere at the moment. I have been working on a song called Winter’s Tale – it is so beautiful, and the singing so hypnotic … I fear I may not do it justice. But I will die trying.
In addition to Primavera Sound, will you be doing more dates in 2016?
RT-Primavera was the dream show for us, and they contacted us out-of-the-blue – we were very happy to be invited to play. We will perform there twice. We have a show at the Soup Kitchen in Manchester in May, another at the Good Ship in London in July. We are playing the Siren festival and Half Die festival – both Italy – in July. We then have a final show playing On Blackheath festival in September. More may trickle in, we wait to be asked. Very polite, very English. We have had to abort summer/autumn US mini tours (East and West coast) due to other commitments, and poor planning on my part.
You predated so many musical movements that all bear your influence: dream pop/trip-hop, etc. Do you feel you deserve more credit from the groups who benefitted from your pioneering spirit?
RT-Yes, they should all give up money and adoration. And sex and drugs. And. No, of course not – music is a continuum, it evolves though mutation, adapts, cross-fertilizes, changes, mutates again. Some survives, some dies out, Dodo style. I think we have, and are reaping what we sowed. It can be no other way. I think we get plenty credit, from those who geddit, those whose opinions – looks like onions with a p stuck in there – are of real value.
Thanks to Rudy Tambala for taking the time out for this interview. You can keep track of all things A.R. Kane on the band’s official website.