A.R. Kane’s Rudy Tambala talks music past and present
Jordannah Elizabeth | 7/5/2018, 12:59 p.m.
In 1986, the Black British musical duo A.R. Kane turned Black rock music on its head, creating artistic and melodic rock music that they later coined “Dream Pop.” The duo titillated and confused many critics with their unique take on stripped-down, sensual rock tracks that many considered to be a part of the British shoegaze rock genre that was dominated by white bands such as Jesus and Mary Chain, Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine. A.R. Kane set themselves apart by being a bit sparser and percussive but still laden with the dreamy and euphoric guitar, bass and vocal accompaniments.
This year, the band celebrates the 30th anniversary of their debut album, “69.” A.R. Kane founding member Rudy Tambala talks about the music of his past and his new music, an EP entitled “Thinking Sweet,” released under the new band name, Jübl, which consists of Tambala; his sister, Maggie Tambala; and Andy Taylor.
AmNews: After 30 years, what’s your great accomplishment and greatest regret with “69?”
Tambala: Greatest accomplishment: “69” is one of those rare LPs that was unique in its time, not a freak, but maybe a musical/cultural evolution, with the ancestral DNA still present in the genotype, but also mutated and cross-fertilized genes resulting in a hybrid phenotype able to adapt, survive and thrive at the junction of multicultural societal disruption.
Greatest regret: That we never saw it for what it was at the time, never realized it was of the past and of the present, but also of the future. The mutation created an ability to time travel, like jaunting1, but in time, not space. In fact, we have yet to record track 4.
AmNews: When you were young, how did you “discover” shoegaze, or did you just start making music and the genre seemed to fit for critics?
Tambala: I don’t remember being described as shoegaze. I think it was a category invented after we had stopped doing the noise guitar thing. It described the bands that stared at shoes, or shoes that stared at the audience, not sure. Anyway, we were not shoegaze until afterward, a retrofit.
Alex and I developed our style, maybe a forerunner of ‘gaze, whilst playing live in 1986/87, processing guitars and samples through effects and stomp boxes to create textural, layered compositions (as opposed to riffs and solos), often at high volumes, taking our cue from the likes of Miles Davis, Cocteau Twins, Sun Ra, Velvet Underground, Jimi Hendrix, Sonic Youth, JAMC, Lee Scratch Perry, King Tubby, Playgroup, Side Effect, Vangelis, Pil, etc. The guitars were there only to trigger the effects, and it was at once muscular and geeky, lots of knob twiddling, bending over effects racks, or kneeling down, focused on the interaction of our sounds, going for that extended moment of intensity, where it gels, connects, everyone experiencing that intense high of combined adrenaline, endorphin and oxytocin. Using the sound tech to generate an endogenous chemical trip in ourselves and the audience, not an escape from reality, more like an
intensification, a bliss.
AmNews: Did you ever stop making music in this period? Some artists step out of the limelight, but don’t stop creating. Did you ever take a breather?
Tambala: Not completely, I kept making songs, doing little projects, occasionally releasing singles, short-run LPs, remixes and so on, as Sufi, Rudy, some other names. It did slow down and for a while when I started a family, replaced by painting, which of course is totally not music, but still, the need to express, to create, that never left. People would visit, know my musical past, ask me to pick up a guitar and play a song. I’d say, in as polite a way as possible, “[Expletive] off!” The reality was that I didn’t write songs to play that way, and didn’t know how to play that way, and felt bad about that, that I couldn’t share that with friends. This changed gradually over the years, and with Jübl, I made the decision at the outset that every song should work if stripped down to one acoustic instrument and one voice. Anyone can play our songs. They are written that way.
AmNews: Why did you choose to change your musical moniker from A.R. Kane to Jübl?
Tambala: The Kane thing is in the DNA, but it is not the person. The person changes, the DNA mutates, and through epigenetics, genes are activated and others deactivated. Environment, time, change. Kane is still there, very evident in the music, but there is also a new thing. That new thing is like a descendent of Kane, and it needed its own identity to freely express itself, and to fully recognize and enable Maggie, Andy and me as equals in this ensemble.
AmNews: Tell me about your new EP, “Thinking Sweet.” In such a time of turmoil (political, weather, cultural, racism, gender equality), it’s nice to know an artist is thinking sweetly.
Tambala: It’s not “thinking sweetly,” It’s “Thinking Sweet,” which is a very different affair. Thinking sweet is when things are difficult, when one feels anxious, fearful, affronted, you know, like all that bad shit you just listed is the broader context, but it’s the smaller, day-to-day hassles that just drain you, kinda like how the zombies in “Walking Dead” just become the threatening background that intensifies all the personal relationships, making the mundane more poignant, fragile, intense. Anyway, thinking sweet is when you see all that crap crowding out your gaze, stealing reality, making you crazy, making you a zombie, and you step back and say, [expletive] this shit. I’m gonna craft some sounds, or give you a hug, take a deep breath and let it out slow, make some pasta, get shit done. It’s fragile, but strong. Thinking sweet is a shift in consciousness, in perception, a balance, kinda like an older me, a sage standing inside me, looking through my eyes, just behind my brow, saying, look man, it’s OK. Yeah, that sounds pretty weird, but feels natural when it kicks in, and kicks the craziness out.
AmNews: Will “69” be reissued?
Tambala: I had big plans for the 30th anniversary, June 20, but they collapsed. The rights to “69” were given away by our old label, Rough Trade, and so now they belong to OLI that have pretty much shelved our entire catalog. I asked for them to release the rights, but they were unprepared even to discuss it with me. In five years, the rights in the USA revert, so I may do something special then. If it is reissued prior to that, I’d be wary and annoyed, as OLI doesn’t have the masters or the artwork originations. So they’ll be a bit of a fake repro—the last batch were like gray market cheap imitations, materially and aurally. It is sad, but the situation with OLI and some other nonsense around ownership was what drove me to start afresh, and I feel pretty good about things now—some baggage has been dropped. Time to move on, only forward. We are celebrating the anniversary instead with a rebirth, dropping “Thinking Sweet” on that day.
AmNews: Was it tough to break through as a Black rock duo? Did you experience any trials because you were different, or was the scene very diverse when A.R. Kane began in London?
Tambala: Nah, it was really easy. We did very little. It all just seemed to happen and gathered momentum at pace. We are Black but we were never a rock band in the conventional sense, not like Living Colour. Looking at a photo from ‘88 the other day, I thought we were definitely the antecedents of the whole Afropunk scene, although I doubt anyone on that scene has even heard of us. Musically we were never macho or histrionic, rather more androgynous, progressive, inclusive, experimental and iconoclastic. Freaky.
The scene I grew up in, working-class East London slums, West End soul clubs, was very diverse racially and identity-wise, but the indie scene was mostly middle-class white kids from the burbs. I escaped the slums and went to university. Alex went into advertising. Both very white and middle-class worlds. So we learned how to operate and survive in that exotic world. We could spot a bigot, feel that cold breeze. We never let our guard down. We were lucky, though, to meet Ray and Tan Shulman. They were producers and mentors, and they helped us navigate through a lot of the nonsense, with people and the business. I have mostly warm memories. We were welcomed by our musical peers like the Cocteau twins, Dead Can Dance, etc. and writer-critics really seemed to love us. They helped the indie world accept these roughneck negroes. Ultimately, the music was what counted, and our differentness was secondary. We didn’t put our photos on the records. I wonder if anyone today would know we were a “Black rock duo” from hearing our old songs?
AmNews: If you could give any advice after 30 years in the music industry, what would it be?
Tambala: Take the red pill.