26th Mar2009

History Lesson: The Bambi Slam

by Todd

The great thing about art is that your level of appreciation increases depending on your level of knowledge.  The more you know about the history behind an element in a painting, novel, film or piece of music, the greater your enjoyment can be.  Woody Allen films are terrific on their own merit, but with an understanding of the literary references that he uses, they become masterpieces.  The same is true for the music that we discuss at TDOA.

In a vacuum, Lien On Your Dreams by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is a great song on it’s own merits.  If you know the music of the Jesus and Mary Chain and understand their influence on BRMC, you appreciate the evolution of the dream that JAMC wrought.  To the same end, all current music owes a debt to someone in the musical past.  As Simon Reynolds said, (paraphrasing) “Have all the ideas been used up?  It can’t be, but it seems that way.”.  I would argue that the ideas have been used up, but bands can take those ideas and meld them into something that is compelling and wonderful.  Understanding where those ideas came from helps you to recognize the fakes (nice Sex Pistols imitation, Billie Joe) from the true songwriters (Ashcroft dreams he could still make pop like The Boxer Rebellion).

To that end, we offer the educational service called “History Lesson”.  Each week we will interview and tell the story of a band from the 80′s (ish) who’s influence on current music is significant.  By knowing these bands and their music, you will understand their contribution and why these are the bands that should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as opposed to the Bob Seger’s of the world.  Our trepidation in approaching this project was that some bands would be reticent to talk to us because they are still making music or are in the process of relaunching a reunion tour.  Some musicians might take it as an insult to be referred to as “history”.  In this context, history is not a negative implying “has been” or “no longer relevent”.  To the contrary, these bands are incredibly relevent because you can hear their influence every time you listen to new bands.  Understanding them and listening to them will hopefully enhance your enjoyment of current bands and provide you with some musical gems that you never heard before.

This week, the horribly under-rated and wonderfully named The Bambi Slam.  TBS were Roy Feldon, who sang, played guitar and bass and programmed drum machines.  Their wall of sound grunge  put them in the same class as The Jesus and Mary Chain.  However, they were far more fun (with songs like Bamp Bamp and Hit Me With Your Hairbrush) and not as self-absorbed as JAMC.  The grunge sound developed by these bands was completely stolen by Nirvana and the Seattle grunge scene a decade later.  They are a great example of the band who gets pumped up by the British media as the second coming of The Beatles one year and then disappear (literally) the next.  The Bambi Slam released several singles before releasing their only album which was distributed in the U.S. by Warner Brothers.  We were fortunate enough to track down Roy and get him to tolerate us for a series of questions that illuminate what happened to the band and what it was like to travel the path they took.

TDOA: My recollection was that you played most if not all the instruments on the early singles and the album.  True?  That’s not a drum machine on those recordings is it?  If so, how did you make the translation to live performances?

RF: Yes, I played all the bass and guitars and programmed/sampled the drums on all the records even though I gave credit on the records to the live band.
Linda played cello on all the recordings.  Only Awful Flute Song had Nick on drums. It sounded different live but in a way more exciting.

TDOA:  Your use of feedback and vocal styles were easily as good as anything the Jesus and Mary Chain did during their heyday.  What were your influences at the time?

RF: Well I certainly loved the Mary Chain and when I first heard them I was so excited to hear someone that was doing the sound that I heard in my head. I also loved bands of that era like the Smiths, the Bunnymen, and of course growing up the Pistols, Clash, Ramones, Stooges, Cramps, Sabbath, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and I feel that mixture of punk and hard rock that we were doing was a pre-cursor to grunge, and I used to hear American radio as a real small kid and loved Fats Domino, Little Richard, Buddy Holly.

TDOA: Do you listen to current music and is there anyone that you think is carrying on the Bambi Slam tradition to your liking?

RF: Yes, I love a lot of new bands like The Black Lips, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, White Stripes first two albums, Black Angels, Black Keys, The Warlocks, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and I could go on.

TDOA: The British media is/was famous for plucking bands from seeming obscurity and putting on the cover of their magazines, building them up and then…..tearing them apart.  Can you talk about your experience?

RF: I was so young I didn’t realize record companies hired PR people to get press.  We never got the big hype or a cover and one of the stud brothers (british writers) told me flat out that we were perceived as a Canadian/British hybrid and they weren’t as interested in writing about us as we weren’t perceived as “British” even though I was born outside of Manchester. As I never released a second record I never had to call and ask why they weren’t promoting my music.  My recollection of the actual interviews was just trying to talk about and sell our music.

TDOA: Why was there only one album?

RF: I’m still asking myself that question.  Its very complicated and involves a lot of label politics. For example, we had been offered to do three weeks on the road in the US with Janes Addiction and the label would not send us over to do these gigs. What Geoff Travis/Blanco/Rough Trade told me was that WEA UK wanted sales like the Mary Chain with no promotion.  They really even promote the Mary Chain, but they managed to sell all those records with no help from WEA because they were so good and got such good press. So there was no point in putting out another record with them in the UK. Warners US told me they would put out the second record but when I got to the states and finished the second record there had been some sort of corporate shake up and no one would return my calls. And that was that. I then made a third record and got signed to Sony/ATV, but my A&R guy got fired. And I soon realized that,  just like with Warners US, nobody wants to work on a
band that someone else has signed because they won’t get the credit if they are successful as they didn’t sign them, and that’s the label politics. I then recorded a fourth record and was signed to major start up Red Ant Records along with Salt n Pepa and Love and Rockets and on the eve of that record’s release in 2000 they went bankrupt. Luck of the Irish I guess! I now have the new CD coming out and I plan on releasing all the other records.

TDOA: You played with some pretty illustrious bands (My Bloody Valentine, Iggy, PIL, Sonic Youth, The Pixies).  I’d love to hear some stories about those shows…

RF: MBV we played with a couple of times before either of us had made records and we got along great as both bands had boys and girls and we all drank.  Iggy was a thrill but we never got to meet him as was with PIL.  Sonic Youth were really cool and same with the Pixies.

TDOA: Who were your favorites to play with?

RF: All of the above.  But also the Cult and Fields of Nephilim, it was a whole different audience and energy.

TDOA: Does the continued success of bands like MBV surprise you?  In a time where there’s so much crap music in the world, did it surprise you that a Valentine’s reunion be so successful, even in America?

RF: I am so happy for MBV, especially after such a long time of not playing gigs or putting out new music. I would love to do shows with any of the bands we used to play with from our era.

TDOA: Can you share any recollections you have of your sessions with John Peel.  Everyone knows Peel and the sessions are a part of music history.  Nobody ever talks about the process!  Nice, sterile environment or seedy, dark den of debauchery?  Stories, please…

RF: BBC sessions.  Amazing to go into the very sterile old BBC studios where the Beatles, Stones, Who, Hendrix, etc. had recorded their BBC sessions.  Unfortunately we got banned from doing any further John Peel sessions as they are supposed to be done really quickly in one day and as it took us two because I had to play a lot of the instruments and samples, etc..  They told the label we would not be asked back.

TDOA: I didn’t realize until preparing for this interview that Andrew Eldritch (lead singer of Sisters of Mercy) managed you for a time.  How did you meet and what role did he play in the dissolution of the relationship with WEA?
RF: He is rather enigmatic and I only met him a few times.  He couldn’t have been a cooler guy.  Apparently when Andrew went into WEA for a meeting, he picked up all the new WEA releases and when he heard our record he was impressed enough to have his partner Boyd call me and ask if he and Andrew/Merciful Management could represent us. I lost contact with him after coming to the US and haven’t talked to him in 20 years but I would love to see how he is doing and play with the Sisters at some point.  Andrew and his partner Boyd were very helpful and kind and equally frustrated by the label’s lack of promotion.
TDOA: What are you up to these days?  I know you’re still making music and appear to be based in Toronto.

RF: I divide my time between LA, NY, and Toronto.  I have continued to make music and had my songs in many TV shows, films, and DVDs. I have also sold two movie scripts that were never produced.  I am currently making a Dogma Indie feature and working on two Bambi Slam records.

You can purchase The Bambi Slam’s music at Amazon, Rhapsody, ITunes or on the band’s myspace page.  Check that.  You need to purchase TBS’s music….  Class dismissed!

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