When I say Bambara reminds me of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, I think I mean that less in the sense that their music directly references any particular moment in that group’s decades-long career, but rather that it embodies the same foggy theatricality as the Seeds’ chandelier-lit performance in Wings of Desire—an energy not dissimilar to the one Bambara displays in their live shows, regardless of how elegant the lighting is. The music would feel incidental to Reid Bateh’s noir monologues if his backing band of ’80s-set urban-paranoia-soundtracking post-punk wasn’t so consistently compelling.
On the heels of their immediately pre-pandemic-released LP Stray, the group is returning with the mini-album Love on My Mind which continues to stroll the same darkened city streets as that last release, while tending to venture further into the muddy waters of cow-punk they’ve circled since they first came up in the Brooklyn scene. Or “that fucking dark post-punk cowboy shit,” as their friend Nicky Palermo of the band Nothing calls it. “It’s fucking tough, to me.”
With both bands navigating hectic touring schedules before the next wave of—uh, well, let’s not go there—Palermo met up with Reid and his bandmates Blaze Bateh and William Brookshire for a brief conversation about writing processes, returning to real life post-tour, and, of course, “ghost shit.”
Read their chat below, and check out Love on My Mind when it drops tomorrow via Wharf Cat.
Blaze Bateh: What are y’all up to now, man? What's next on the docket?
Nicky Palermo: Oh, we go to Europe in April and then we’re home for a month and then we go back to Europe for a month. Then I'm gonna take it easy for a little bit, I think maybe start writing or maybe find a real job or something. What about you guys? You gotta tour the UK, what, like two or three more times?
Reid Bateh: [Laughs] Thinking about moving there.
Nicky: You should at this point, man. How many of these are headline dates?
Blaze: It's like 26 shows, and I think seven of them are with IDLES and then the rest are headlining.
Nicky: You guys get along real well with that band, huh?
Blaze: Yeah. We were out with them for like a month in 2018 in the US, so we got to know them really well.
Nicky: They must be good guys if you could lock in with them. I never met any of them, but I always hear good things.
Blaze: Oh, yeah they’re great people. You would definitely get along with them. After the tour then, yeah, it’s just writing mode again.
Nicky: How does that all work out with you guys? What's the LP writing/recording situation?
Reid: It’s kinda scattered, like the seed of a song could come from any of us, really. And then we kinda just sit in the basement where I live and hammer it out together.
William Brookshire: Yeah, before we get down to it, really, we just all make little scraps of ideas and everything. And then we just kind of get together and go through them all. Usually one kind of comes outta nowhere while we're doing that. Like once you get in the flow, a couple extras just pop out, fully formed, and you get lucky with a couple.
Nicky: Where did you guys record that last record? Because this shit sounds incredible, man.
Blaze: We did that in Athens, Georgia.
Nicky: Yeah, that record sounds so fucking crisp.
Blaze: Thanks, man. Yeah, it was a friend of ours, Drew Vandenberg, who recorded it. He mixed it, too. But it's nice to go down there and just be in Georgia for a minute.
Nicky: Yeah, I like Georgia. I’ve always been a fan of Savannah. I'm a sucker for ghost shit.
William: We have an old friend that does the ghost tours down there, he’s a ghost tour guide and takes people around.
Nicky: I heard a bunch of punk dudes go down there and get into that kind of shit. There’s a market for it, it's funny. We used to go down there all the time because we’re friends with the guy that runs Graveface, and he did a lot of our early shows down there, but we would always play Savannah. It was always in the summer, and it was the hottest fucking place you could ever imagine to be. One time we played this warehouse—it was a brick warehouse, and it was in the middle of the summer, and, like, all the insulation was exposed, so when it was crowded, you would kinda get bumped into the wall and then your arm would just feel shredded with fucking fiber glasses and shit.
I bought this big ass firework... Like on every tour, I used to take 150 bucks out and buy a massive, real-deal firework from one of those stores and keep it at the back of the van with a towel over it. And when I say “real-deal,” [I mean] July-the-4th, real fucking firework…it's fucking top of the line shit. We did one in Savannah after we played the show and everybody was wasted, and I was trying to tell people, “Yo, this is for real shit.” And it just started going off and it looked like a fucking scene from Iraq or something, and it was fucking insane. And it started shooting at people and it was blowing up like mass explosions into the street.
Reid: [Laughs] Oh, my God.
Blaze: Yeah, Savannah rules.
Nicky: I don't know if I've ever been to Athens, though.
Blaze: Yeah, it's cool, man. It's kind of unrecognizable to me now—you've been gone for 10 years and it’s changed so much.
Nicky: That’s where R.E.M.’s from, right?
Blaze: Yeah, B-52’s…
Nicky: Oh, shit.
Blaze: You have a new bassist for these upcoming shows?
Nicky: I hope so [laughs]. We have a few people lined up. We’re pretty sure for these European tours we’re locked in with some people, but for the next year or two, I’m gonna just mix around for tours and bring out homies that we always wanted to play with. Like Bobb Bruno from Best Coast is going to play for a little while. This is a great opportunity for me to be able to bring somebody in and hang out for a month, and then when we record we’ll kinda see what's going on at that point. But yeah, for this year it’s just gonna be kind of fucking around and just having a good time, I think.
Reid: That's a really cool way to do that.
Nicky: Yeah, everybody right now is struggling trying to figure out what's going on with their own shit, so for me it’s a way to not only get to hang out with a homie and make music together, but it’s also giving somebody a little bit of relief here and there. I mean this shit’s obviously been a nightmare for people like us trying to navigate. Plus, this way, nobody can get sick of me that fast, ’cause they’re only doing it a month at a time, and they’ll be like, “Nah, I toured with Nicky and it was fine.”
Blaze: [Laughs] What’s your own writing process like?
Nicky: We've never been a very well-prepared band for this kind of stuff. As you know, I'm moving all the pieces—we've never really had a proper management, so I kinda oversee everything. And so it's always strange for me to get to writing.
Blaze: Because you’re in business mode most of the time?
Nicky: It's hard getting into this shit when you're thinking about numbers and deadlines and shit like that. It's kind of a drag. So in the past, we kind of just would be like, “OK, here’s the date, we’re going to the studio,” and then be like, “I hope we’re ready.”
Blaze: Sink or swim.
Nicky: Yeah. It seems like me and Brandon [Setta] would get together for 10 days and just mash up our shitty-ass voice memos that we’d take of us playing acoustic shit. And then we always made it work. It always blew my mind when people were like, “Oh, we recorded 25 songs, but we’re only using 11.” For us, it’s always been like, “We wrote 10 songs and we recorded those motherfuckers.”
Blaze: [Laughs] Totally, us too.
William: Yeah, every record it's like we’ve got one song that’s not really working, but we're like, “We need that fucking song.” So we're just like, “We have to make it work.”
Nicky: Put lipstick on a pig...
Blaze: Have you ever wanted a manager, or do you just prefer to do it yourself?
Nicky: No, man, I've been looking for a manager for fucking 10 years [laughs]. I just think that I'm not the easiest person to work with because I like to see all things that are going on. This thing’s been so therapeutic to me for the past 10 years that I kind of rely on the responsibility of seeing things. And now I’m so attached to every detail. It’s hard for me to usher someone in and give away responsibility, but it’s probably in my best interest to. But right now, instead of actively looking, I’m kinda just trying to put good people around me that can make my life a little bit easier.
Blaze: Totally. By the way, Great Dismal sounds fucking amazing, man. It just has this powerful, heavy...I don't know. It’s a feeling I haven’t gotten from a record in a long time.
Nicky: Yeah, Will [Yip] really shook his ass on that. I've gone back and forth between wanting to have things sound lo-fi to wanting to have stuff super dynamic. When I was demoing the songs, I was like, “I just want this to sound as best as it possibly can.” I was listening to Mellon Collie and records like that, and I wanted to have a heavier sound than that, but kind of keep the dynamic there. And I think Will did a really good job of getting that done. It’s fun listening to his records, being like, “There’s no way we would ever be able to have a record that sounds like this,” and putting the two back to back it just kinda blew my mind a little bit. That’s always a really good feeling. Getting that first sound bite of it, you’re just like, “Fuck, yeah. This is all worth whatever the fuck it went through to get to this point.”
Blaze: Yeah, I always get so nervous when I’m waiting on the mixes. I’ll let them sit in the inbox until I hear Reid or William say something about it first ’cause I'm too scared to even hear it [laughs].
Nicky: Do you have a ritual for it?
Reid: I try to listen to it on my phone first. I don’t know why. It’s like the compression on the phone speakers a lot of times will give me a more optimistic idea of what’s going on. If I hear it with the full range, there’s more opportunity to hear things that are fucked up.
William: This was our first time having somebody send us mixtapes, too. You normally were in the room hearing how it’s shaping up in the studio. This dude was in England and we were doing long-distance mixing sessions with him. I was super nervous when we got a Dropbox folder with a couple of mixes in it. He just went whole-hog and did the whole song and hopefully, he lands close, ’cause it’d be so hard to work backwards in that sense. But he did a really good job.
Blaze: It was a similar thing where we just wanted it to sound the highest quality. In the past, we wanted it to sound good, but this was like…we really wanna engage the subtones and make a full range of sounds.
Nicky: It sounds like something straight out of ’89, ’90, ’91. I was kind of making comparisons to that one Midnight Oil record. I remember my mom busting around listening to that shit. It really sucks me back to that, but then it has this quality of now, and it's so current and fucking dynamic—you guys really outdid yourself on that record, I think.
Blaze: I appreciate it. I’ve never really listened to them other than “Beds Are Burning.” That song slaps.
Nicky: Yeah, the record that song is on is incredible. I think Kyle or Will put me onto that. I love that dark cowboy kinda shit. I was always a fan of really swelly reverb guitar, even like Chris Isaak. I loved Mojave 3 when they went that route. But yeah, I think I like when I hear Bambara utilizing that fucking dark post-punk cowboy shit, it’s fucking tough, to me.
Blaze: What have you been listening to lately?
Nicky: Not a lot. When we get off tour, the last thing I wanna do is hear music. I make the pivot to movies. Reid, what have you been watching over there?
Reid: Man, I feel like I haven’t taken in any media since I got back from tour. I've just been, like, sitting here, I don’t know.
Nicky: You’ve just been in the basement since they put you back in your hole.
William: We threw a padlock on that thing.
Nicky: Throw a thing down there, like a big hack of meat on a bone… FL