24 May 2016

A.R. KANE BRINGS SPUNK AND NOISE


One of the most fiercely creative, infinitely influential, and downright loud bands of the 1980s, A.R. Kane have been down in history alongside the Cocteau Twins and The Jesus & Mary Chain as one of the bands most responsible for the invention of the shoegaze genre. Arriving on the scene in 1986, they combined cacophonous, noisy guitars with dreamy vocals, to forge an almost unfounded genre that the band described as dream-pop (which has seemingly stuck). They've influenced the likes of MBV, Slowdive, Seafeel, The Telescopes and The Veldt, and have been championed by people like John Peel and Simon Reynolds meticulously. The past year or so has seen the band come back, bringing the noise to a new generation of fans, and getting even more of the recognition they deserve. I caught up with Rudy Tambala, the mastermind and guitar powerhouse behind A.R. Kane to discuss the past, present, and future of the 1980s lost great band.

Hi Rudy. When was A.R. Kane formed and can you tell us about the first few years of your band’s existence?

Hiya. We decided to start a band and call it A.R.Kane at a party in London, Christmas 1985. That same eve I met a couple of very cool cats and we got high together. Turns out they were the Shulmans; Ray worked as producer on a new label called One Little Indian; Tan was a total music guru.  One month later we did a demo, met Derek and the OLI crew – big anarcho-punks, and they invited us to make a record. We recorded When You’re Sad and Haunting for them. 12” single. It blew the top off of the indie establishment. We had arrived. [ASIDE – sorry, I’m describing this as a mini mythology, which of course it is not. Or is it?]. We partied with The Sugarcubes. They were fucking weird. We had an East London entourage of nutters that would come to our shows and wreck the place, added some spice. It was a bit chaotic – a bit of an awakening. Anyway, we moved around labels- did a couple of EPs for 4AD. Lolita with Robin Guthrie, at the time our total hero – the Cocteau Twins were GODS, and Anitina/Pump Up The Volume with Colourbox, as M|AR|R|S, and that one did pretty well (a UK #1, actually).

We caused a lot of trouble everywhere we went, without really trying – thing is, we were from another world, a different culture; 2nd generation immigrants, black, working class roots, suddenly in this white, middle-class, artsy scene. Most couldn’t handle it, or us. Shit happened, we left 4AD, signed with Geoff Travis’ Rough trade label. This was our prolific period. GT backed us, gave us the money to build our own studio – that’s when we went really out there. Up Home EP, 69 and I albums, and lotsa of other bits n bobs. Alex and I were the core but we cross-pollinated with so many cool cats; Russel and Colin on bass, Richie and Benny on drums, Sista Maggie on vocals and trippy vibes. We would play ‘round at the CT studio a lot, doing some recording but I thinking mostly getting high and talking shit. We never recorded high, but would smoke a spliff on the playback, when we knew we had it ‘in the can’ [laughs]. We only played a handful of shows, we were not into the whole touring thing. We saw it as one-off events. Never to be the same twice. That’s some tiring shit. We admired bands like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Sonic Youth, The Butthole Surfers, Swans, Adrian Sherwood On-U and the Tackhead Sound System… we didn’t really dig the UK indie scene, had no time for shoegaze.

Your music is quite often cited as influential to a lotta shoegaze and dream-pop bands (today and in the nineties). Would you say that A.R. Kane’s early music sounds like nothing that had ever come before it? 
Well that may be true, but you said it, not me. Some of our early music sounds pretty unique, yeah. Most of them bands imitated us or imitated those that imitated us. Or imitated those that… You get the idea. Thing is, they were consistent, they refined their sound, did it better than us, cos we just kept changing, going somewhere else. Different souls you could say. Both Alex and I come from roving genes. Of course we absorbed influences; style, sounds, riddim, attitudes, etc. but then the mix – or mashup in contemporary parlance – that we landed on was ours. Alex and I had always done things our own way – we started hanging out at age 8, and took great pleasure, even then, fucking with people’s heads, their preconceptions, morality, girlfriends, football boots. Whatever.

Any bands since then you feel copied the A.R. Kane sound?
Yeah, The Rolling Stones, Coldplay, U2 and Steely Dan. And of course, the Black 'n' White Minstrels; they owe everything to us [laughs]. What a question …

When playing old material now in 2016, do you change it up at all? Are you bringing in fresh influences and ideas to these older songs?
“Change it up”? You black? We fuck with it. Alex is no longer with us. He ain’t dead, he just ain’t interested right now. So that’s a big change. Live we were chaotic – all gonads and spunk and noise and blood and engine coolant and pain and love and heaven and hell and and and and...

I reckon you cannot do that 30 years later. I really don’t want to, it’d be quite sad. Last year when we played we made a real attempt to emulate, not the live shows of the past, but rather the recordings. We came close, but it took seven of us and a PC. After those shows I said, "you lot, fuck off, I just want to work with Sista Maggie and Andy Taylor." (my neighbor just 22 bloodclaat years old.) We have had to drop a lot of songs, and re-work others. We have opted for Ableton to deliver beats n bass parts, so the three of us use guitars and a couple lil synths. The sound is very… fresh? Like an iceberg lettuce, that fresh. We used similar tech back then, but only in the studio, and I think the hip hop and folk influences are strongest right now.

How has the amount of equipment you use live (or during recording) changed since the eighties? What’s your set-up like?
Recording-wise, I scrapped everything this year and went digital for recording and live. We got better guitar pedals now, so we sound expensive. Andy uses a Korg micro and I use a Roland JDXi on stage. The type of synthesis on those machines was simply not affordable back in the 17th century. Sista Maggie uses a tambourine that lights up and make me think of jellyfish. I am very glad to replace the massive old Space Echo with the stomp box version. Also I discovered the Hifi dreaminess of Strymon FX – they are far-out! I found a mint condition Boss Super Feedbacker – that was my mainstay back then – I could not believe my luck. I had a couple groovy pedals made by Andi of Sonic Pharmacy – they are cool and sparkly. We are still primarily a guitar band. So, we sound awesome.

Are there any contemporary musicians that really excite you? What kinda stuff are you listening to at the moment and how have you been getting into that? 
Had a BBQ last week, chill’d in the garden and listened to the playlist Sista Maggie and Andy did for the Primavera cats. I loved everything on it – the two stand outs were Explosions in the Sky and someone with a Spanish name I cannot for the life of me remember. Damn! I listen mostly to ‘70’s MOR pop right now – I love the production and the whole, pre-Thatcher vibe – Andrew Gold, Elton John, Donny Hathaway, Gerry Rafferty, Paul Simon, Supertramp, you know.

Now I’m with Shameless Promotion PR – they are the best, ain’t they… Within a month of working with them we were offered 2 dozen shows. Yep, so they rep The Veldt – I already know those guys from time and worked on their latest EP (The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur) – I produced the last track, my son Louis supplied the beats. I have much respect for them musically. Ummagma – I’m collaborating on a couple songs – I love Shauna’s voice, so I’m taking my time to get it right. Shameless Promotion works with many bands that fit into the Dreampop realm, like Stella Diana – they are very cool.

What summer gigs and festivals are you playing at this year or otherwise looking forward to?
OK – so far we're going to play:
Manchester’s Soup Kitchen, May 23 will be the first outing.
Primavera Sound, Barcelona Spain – we are performing twice. June 2/4
Nos Primavera Sound Porto, Portugal, June 11
Kumu ÖÖ festival, June 18, Tallinn, Estonia
The Good Ship, London July 13
Siren Festival, Vasto Italy, July 22
Half Die Festival, Rome, Italy, July 24
On Blackheath Festival, London, September 10

Of all the things in your music career, what are you most proud of?
Our first single. Recording it with Alex, Sista Maggie, Russel, Derek and Ray. Getting the test pressing. Sitting outside BBC waiting for John Peel to come out. Giving it to him. Hearing him playing on the radio that very evening. Alex and I both wept. The world shifted. It never un-shifted. How can anything be better or make you more proud? It was something from nowhere, from nothing, from everything, from everywhere. It felt like that, and it makes pride seem silly. Silly.

Off the top of your head, list ten albums you love.
Kind of Blue, Miles Davis
Brandenburg Concertos, JS Bach, English Chamber Orchestra
Moon Safari, Air
Hunky Dory, Bowie
Hejira, Joni Mitchell
The Ultimate Musical Experience, T.U.M.E
Inner Visions, Stevie Wonder
Selling England By the Pound, Genesis
Never Forever, Kate Bush
Can I have more? Pick a Dub, Gladstone Anderson, Travelogue, Human League – Gentleman take Polaroids, Japan, Live at Maxes Kansas City, Velvet Underground, Straight Outta Compton, NWA, etc etc etc

What can we expect to see happening with A.R. Kane in the next year or two?
Complete implosion. Well, maybe not – I’ve penned a bunch of new tunes and had chats with some producers. I know the guy I really want to work with. So when we have time we’ll record. Then play more shows I guess. It’s all a bit strange, seems to have a momentum of its own. Today I was walking the dog and chatting with Anita (my wife) about how fucked this world is. We agreed that it seems impossible to change it – it’s like everything’s swinging to the far right without any checks. I realised, I really need to make music. I don’t do politics, don’t do protest. But I do do dream-pop, and it is never nasty. It’s about good shit, it’s about the positive. It’s about love.

Thank you very much for your time!
You are most welcome. Thank you.

You can see A.R. Kane at any of the above dates, and keep up with them here!

Words: Calum Cashin