When Lance Ferguson, the acclaimed singer/songwriter/guitarist and bandleader of Melbourne soul powerhouse, The Bamboos, decided to venture out under his own moniker, it was always going to be a solo album with a difference.
And so it is. Raw Material saw him write and record 12 new songs, six which were then sent out to Ferguson’s favourite producers to create a new work, the other half being reworked by the man himself.
“I knew I wanted to do a record based around the world of sampling,” Ferguson says of the origins for the project. “It started out as a desire to do that and then I thought, ‘well what if I make an album of new stuff with samples that I’ve created myself?’ But I wanted to write and record fully finished songs - in a way that classic funk, soul and jazz records that had been famously sampled - and use those as a stepping-off point.
“This all started about two-and-a-half years ago and it’s taken a while to get off the ground. You know, there was a lot of collaborators so I was chasing people up to get stuff done (laughs).
“So basically, it was first about recording the album - which we call the ‘original’ - the raw materials that could be used for the second album, which is really the main focus, in a lot of ways. But the ‘original’ has come out as a sort of companion piece which I feel is a nice way to see where the music actually came from.”
Ferguson wanted the essence to reflect the deep, beat-digging culture of vinyl so much that he pressed limited vinyl editions to send to the collaborators
“I felt it would be a shame to go that far and just send an MP3,” he notes.
Ferguson has previously written and recorded tracks knowing there was a possibility someone might remix them, however this time knowing he knew full well they would end up in someone’s else’s hands viewed from another angle. He says that this knowledge flavoured the writing and recording process.
“Without a doubt I was coming up with songs that would have sections or drum breaks that would lend themselves to being sampled from the get-go,” Ferguson explains. “Then again, I didn’t want to be too gratuitous; I wanted to make sure that they worked on their own two feet as functioning songs, not just a drum beat with a groove. It was interesting and it was kind of challenging as well.”
Within The Bamboos alone, Ferguson has a wide community of people around him with which to collaborate. Raw Materials would present a different kind of collaboration and a unique way of choosing those who participated.
“I always try and let the music almost sort of call out for what it wants and that tells me who should come in on it,” he explains. “It’s such a varied array of styles; I guess it’s in the canon of funk/soul/jazz but there’s different things coming through it. For the more raw-soul type things (Bamboos vocalist) Kylie Auldist is an absolute no-brainer, for her to come in and smash these amazing soulful vocals (Do You Want Me 2 Stay?, Make Somebody Mine). In terms of the instrumentalists, to have the great fortune of being surrounded in Melbourne by guys I often get in the studio from bands like The Putbacks, Hiatus Kaiyote - and The Bamboos of course - it’s just a real treat to have that calibre of musician around.
“For the ones I did myself I sampled something and came up with a general idea and thought, ‘what sound, vocally, is this calling out for?’ There’s an amazing vocalist called Jace XL, whose worked with Hiatus Kaiyote and has a great, soulful voice I wanted to work with. There’s a track I made (Don’t Stop) that he ended up coming in and co-writing a soulful, house boogie type thing and his voice was just a perfect foil to that. So I think that the song itself calls out for the collaborator rather than working out who I want and when. It’s more of an organic process; I hate to use that word, but it is.”
In terms of whom he sent out these vinyl singles to (US producers Javelin, UK’s Lack Of Afro, LA singer Brit Manor, Toronto MC Clairmont The Second, Adelaide’s Late Nite Tuff Guy, Melbourne hip hop heavyweights Katalyst and One Above among them) and what he expected of them, Ferguson essentially wanted a diversity of reworks that would tie together. Sometimes there’s a thing line between guidance and limitation, however, which he was mindful of.
“I created a dreamlist of people, and some people didn’t make it on just because their scheduling made it impossible which was a shame, but when I sent the things out to people there was a primer or manifest of, ‘here’s the track to sample from. You can take as much or as little of the song to use as the content for your rework. You could use just a snare drum or loop an entire section’. By giving people a limitation from the outset, you also have to give them as much freedom as possible because it’s already kind of narrow, if you know what I mean.
“It was fascinating and exciting to see what they came back with. Some people used little parts of a song and made a whole new thing out of it and others took whole sections and that was the basis of their rework. One of the really great ones was (Melbourne DJ) Ennio Styles, he created his production using only records from my own back catalogue. So every sound was from some record that I’d made. It was a nice angle on it and he called it Lanthology, which I thought was great (laughs).”
With Raw Material now released, all that remains is for Ferguson to return to the other forum where he shines and hit the stage. With the origins and process of this album being so creatively open-ended, Raw Material’s stage representation will bring more surprises.
“The plan for the tour is for the material on the record to almost be remixed again live,” Ferguson says. “So it’s all fluid and taken in a different form, live. We’ll almost remix the remixes and because vinyl is at the core of the project there’ll be a turntablist onstage who will at times take the role of a drummer or a rhythm section, and at other times we’ll be adding strings and stuff over the top of a live rhythm section. That’s the concept. I also have a weakness for getting 15-piece bands onstage, but I have to find a way to tone that down a bit so we can actually perform (laughs).”
Raw Materials is out now through Warner Music Australia.
Lance Ferguson on the warmth feel and culture of vinyl…
“I churn through mountains of digital files, putting together a radio shows and digital is the primary format for music promotion. I’ve got gigabytes on MP3s and all that stuff; it would be a continuous playlist for years or something, but I don’t feel like I own that music or have that music as a tangible thing. Whereas I’m sitting here in my music studio at the moment looking at my record shelf and I feel like I have these records in my life that are a tangible thing. And that, I guess, is what so important to me – the artefact itself.
“Especially with a lot of records I buy which are old soul and jazz records, original pressings and stuff. It’s like, ‘this was created when this was a new thing and it was a new piece of music that was unleashed upon the world’ and I have it. It’s not so much a material possession, overall, but I feel like I can hold it in my hands; I can place it on a turntable; I can listen to it; I can show someone the record and we can talk about it. You don’t get that with an MP3. I mean I can certainly play them, but there’s not the experience. There’s just something about having the physical artefact in your hand.
“There’s nothing revolutionary in what I’m saying ‘cause it’s an obvious thing – vinyl is a tangible, physical item that you can touch feel, smell and put on your turntable. It’s an enjoyable activity for me.”