THE SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR DREAMS
AN INTERVIEW WITH RUDY TAMBALA OF A.R. KANE
The seminal, trailblazing dream-pop band A.R. Kane has made an indelible impact on countless other artists since its inception in 1986. Sonic incorporators and disrupters Rudy Tambala and bandmate Alex Ayuli (who contributed to the first 2 albums) blended and bended a variety of other musical styles into their dreamy sound, adding noise, dub, grooves, beats, and psychedelic touches to their self-coined dream-pop atmosphere. Core member Tambala was always at the helm of A.R. Kane until 1994 when the band broke up. In 2015 Tambala reformed A.R. Kane with a new line-up and performed at various music festivals. Currently Tambala, his sister Maggie, and fellow bandmate Andy Taylor are planning for a summer tour and working on new material in the spirit of classic A.R. Kane songs.
Hello Rudy! It’s such a huge delight to connect with you and find out more about the reformation of your widely acclaimed, accomplished, and influential band A.R. Kane. What are the vibes like for you at the moment?
Hi Jen, thanks for interviewing me. The vibes are hard to describe, a bit heady, or maybe giddy. No, dizzy. You know when you stand on the edge of a cliff and look off, or in one of those dreams where you leap and begin to fly, and you force yourself, through will and breath, above the treetops. You know that, right? Well, that’s the vibe right now. Internally at least. Externally – it’s great to be working hard on music – a disciplined approach, lots of practice sessions, learning new gear, re-callousing the fingertips, drinking too much. The re-awakened attention is nice, very positive, and humbling. So, all-in-all, a good vibe.
Cool! Way back in 1986 you and Alex Ayuli started A.R. Kane on a bit of a whim, although you both were already involved in various music scenes. As a duo you released several singles and EPs and three studio albums before breaking up in 1994. Last year geared up again as A.R. Kane, but this time with a different line-up, and performed at several music festivals. Who is in the new iteration A.R. Kane and why did you decide to get back in the game?
We were invited to play Supernormal Festival – at first I declined, but the guys – Jimmy and John, both cool musicians and fans – talked me into it and supported me all the way to the stage. I pulled together 7 players including my sister Maggie Tambala and Colin Cairns from the original A.R. Kane. Alex declined, graciously, which is a pity, but now Maggie is leading the vocals, and it works well, in a different way. Also Jimmy and John joined on guitar and drums respectively. Then we got a couple youths – Andy Taylor – guitar and vocal, and Louis – my son – on beats and loops. It was intense, but good. More of a ritualistic summoning of the spirit of KANE, and a trip down memory lane. Afterwards I stripped it back to just me, Maggie, and Andy. A less-is-more approach, and logistically more in line with reality. So now we are three. We may shuffle the line-up from time-to-time, but this is the shape right now – very tight, in a loose kinda way.
The past few years has seen the reunions of many illustrious, late-80s/early 90s ‘shoegaze’-tagged bands, from My Bloody Valentine and Ride to Slowdive and Swervedriver – and my alltime fave, Lush. It’s been noted that your music had a profound impact on certain acts of this style, like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. Why do you think A.R. Kane had such a big influence on these bands?
This is a bastard of a question. And a juicy one. How can I answer it without sounding arrogant, and without post-rationalising? I can’t, so there you have it, here we go. We brought something very different into the indie music scene. We were not part of that scene, but it adopted us, and the music press pushed us forward as the new wave. The absolute immersion in feedback-drenched chaos was, for most, too much back in ’86, but for a few it was thrilling, and inspiring. It was for us.
In truth I don’t know what effect, if any, we had on those bands. Except maybe the track “Slow” by MBV, which is a straight lift of “Baby Milk Snatcher”, and the birth of their signature giddy, slip-sliding sound. We chucked everything into our music – there was the noise, but also the dub bass and effect, the samples and grooves, the soulful twang, the disco beats, the acid-inflected lyrics. It was a broad and deep palette for any young musician to take cues from. I read that Bowie was spotted in Virgin Megastore buying 69 and that year he did the raw Tin Machine. Coincidence? I like to think not. Make of that little apocrypha what you will. We rarely finished our experiments, but went on in search of other genes to mutate. The bands that succeeded us developed the ‘ideas’, refined them, improved them, laced with perfection, and made them accessible to the wider populace. That’s so often the way.
From what I’ve read, you’ll be playing the Primavera Sound Festival in June and then continue on a summer-long tour. How is the schedule shaping up?
We are playing 2 shows at PMV, and also the NTS stage On Blackheath Festival in London. That’s all that is confirmed so far. We wait for promoters to contact us, and if the show is right, we’re on. There are a few more bubbling around and I am aiming for up to 10 more dates.
You’re also working on new material that you’re planning to release this year. Can you divulge any details about your current creative process and if you’re in the midst of writing/composing and/or recording?
I started writing last summer, after the shows. I ditched my old kit, spent the kid’s college fees in new gear, and have not looked back. Mostly I write on acoustic guitar, alone, or on electric with loads of reverb and echo. I hum tunes or record parts, then play tunes. I also create grooves and synth parts, then add guitars. I take this stuff into band practice with Maggie and Andy, and we develop the vocal and other parts. Andy is a great guitarist, and also plays a Korg Micro, so we have some really nice jams, and make a cool sound together. Maggie’s voice is deeper and more soulful than it used to be – she has more confidence too, and creates some nice vocal parts. We have created scores of iPhone recordings but avoid demoing because we want to focus on the live thing first. We have been in conversation with a couple small labels but are in no hurry – that will come.
What is the experience like for you to be crafting new songs as A.R. Kane, but without your original bandmate? Will the upcoming songs be recognizable as “A.R. Kane” material or are you exploring different sonic territory this time around?
The new songs are causing the old songs to mutate – they sit seamlessly together in the live set. That is all that is important right now. The absence of Alex is of course very significant – he had a style of singing, a type of voice and an approach to music that complemented what I do, and cannot be replaced. But I am not trying to recreate the past. The chemistry we have now is vibrant and fresh – it is not the same, but does contain the spirit of A.R. Kane. Sonically I think we are more aligned with the earlier Kane of 69. But as I said, the focus is live right now.
I’ve heard that you’re also going to be remixing some of the Canadian/Ukrainian dream-pop duo UMMAGMA’s songs soon. Which tracks will you be working on and what are you planning to bring to the mix?
Yes, I am a fan of their music, those guys are cool cats. I have the stems for a couple new tracks and have started messing with them. I want to move away from what they already do remix-wise, the EDM thing. I’ll probably remove all drums, and go for a very trippy, guitar vibe – more akin to early Kane. I want to find the right setting for that unique vocal, to do it justice, to elevate the emotion, to disrupt the aural space. Ha hah!
You’re credited with coining the term “dream-pop” to describe your hazy, dreamy, drifting sound that sometimes leans towards the psychedelic. “Dream-pop” as a descriptor is so entrenched in musical culture now that it’s difficult to think that the phrase didn’t exist until it was created! Did you actually make this term up?
Yes, Alex and I created the term to describe our music because we felt little in common with the genres of the time. Also, we were heavily into the whole dream-as-world thing; for us dreams were real, and we wanted to create soundtracks for them. We used to dream songs then try and capture them musically. You hear that more on the first singles and up until 69. It was both literally and figuratively a ‘dream’ pop. We did enjoy contradictions. I find it a bit freaky at times, seeing the tag dream-pop associated with a band, and I think, WTF? Can I sue?
Your sound incorporates much more than *just* dream-pop, with songs that blend elements of rhythmic house, contemplative trip-hop, eclectic jazz, and stark post-rock styles. Your music actually preceded or ran in tandem with these genres, so in essence you could call your music experimental in the sense that much of what you created hadn’t been played before. Where did the seeds of inspiration/influence come from, for you as a band, which ended up taking root as your own music?
We were serious music junkies, as were our families and friends. Music was everything to us. I’m not sure it is so true for the Millennials, or at least not on the same scale, or to the same depth. For us it was identity, escape, discovery, food, sex, and drug. We absorbed influences from all around: Soul, Jazz from 50s/60s, Jazzfunk, Disco, Reggae and Dub, Punk, Electronica, New Wave, Pop, Hip Hop, House, Baroque Classical, Post-Punk, Psychedelic, African Folk, avant-garde Jazz (ECM style). However, when we started creating our own music, we were barely adequate guitarists with a drum machine, a sampler, a distortion, and an echo box. All these influences, plus environmental and genetic factors, had to be translated through this fragile, new technological medium. What a bit of luck!
While 20 years is a long time to be away from A.R. Kane, you’ve actually never really quit the music-related realm, working in a non-musical capacity at Virgin Digital and Ministry of Sound (because we all need that paycheck!), but also as the act Music One. I can’t find any audio online for this though. Was it a one-man production? Did you ever release any music under this moniker?
Yep, you gotta make a buck, and my musical history came in useful. Music One was one of several projects I have been involved in sine Kane ceased. There are a few recordings, but nothing released. I did a track for my friend that runs the UrbAlt Festival in NYC, and another track with dream-pop artist Hideka. It was a temporary ‘candle in the window’, if you like – keeping the flame burning. I have always kept a home set-up, and have never stopped writing.
I’ve read a bit about the origins of your band name; that you were tossing around riffs on Citizen Kane and The Mark Of Cain and then hit upon “AR Kane”. Sorry to harp on this, but I was wondering if the twist for your name is that you’re saying “We *are kane*” or “We are *arcane*” or something completely different (no Monty Python pun intended, I think…)?
Citizen and Mark are right. The rest I suspect to be caffeine-infused speculation on your part.
One of my most favorite rare recordings/collaborations is of you and the sharply ethereal-voiced Alison Shaw of Cranes as InRain. How did you connect with her for this one-off project of 3 songs put out by Rough Trade in 1991? And in a 2012 interview with Quietus.com you mention possibly working again with Alison for a whole album’s worth of material. Will that ever get off the ground?
Alison came to my studio (H.Ark! in Stratford, East London), I think possibly introduced by Geoff Travis from Rough Trade. We hit it off immediately and started to make a record. That came and went, and I think we both enjoyed ourselves. We stayed in contact over the years and then got together a few years back and started making new songs. Alison is a seriously talented musician –a rare individual, a beautiful, humble person. We did a lot of music together, some really nice compositions. We sent demos out to half a dozen labels and none of them wanted to make a record with us. It was quite a shock. The only real explanation we got was from Derek at One Little Indian – he said he loved it, but his sales team had no idea how they would sell it in the record stores – it didn’t quite fit any genre. In 1986 Derek recorded us precisely *because* we were genre-defying – how fucking ironic is that! We carried on for a while, but stopped making any new tracks. I think it was a real lesson for me, on many levels, and has informed my approach to navigating the music business now. Focus on live performance. Have fun.
What artists these days do you go for, who are pushing the envelope, whether it’s in music or another arena?
There is no envelope-pushing that I’m aware of. I don’t want to dis other bands, but I have yet to see anything really new. It’s no longer my job to do new – that’s up to the Millennials, or so I’m told. I hear various bands, some I like a lot, but not because they push boundaries, but more because of the artistry, energy, and honesty of their music. This world we live in. It’s fucked. My hope is that something will emerge, something new that will redress the balance. Artists, writers, and musicians have traditionally been the forerunners, the mouthpieces of such change. I will keep my senses and mind open, but I may not recognise it when it comes. It may be here already, using the medium of new, disruptive technologies. Maybe it is the gradual galvanization of the collective mind? What do you reckon?
I’m sure you have a ton of crystal-clear memories of the crazy/amazing times you’ve been through as A.R. Kane. Can you go into one stand-out moment of your storied musical career?
We played a theater in London, maybe the Clarendon. 1987. I was on stage, making noise, and Alex said “Look!” I looked down and there were the Reid brothers, the Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance folk, maybe Primal Scream, and god knows who of the indie royalty of ‘87. The blood rushed out of my limbs and I felt faint, embarrassed, like a fake. I could not move, or feel my guitar. Then I saw their smiles, their anticipation, and I felt their actual acceptance of us, and the rightness of just being there. I turned the space echo on, kicked a couple distortion pedals in, turned the amp up to full, and started a giddy dream-pop whirl. And in those moments all was well. Life and Dream merged. And I knew, all will be well.