Groundbreaking. Polished imperfection. Genre-defying. Iconoclastic. Forefathers/pioneers. When you hear the name A.R. Kane spoken, it is usually uttered with a sense of respect and reverence, and with a relative word salad of superlatives attached. From their East London founding as friends and creative foils in 1986, to their professional and creative split in 1994, A.R. Kane helped define and later reshape what is now commonly known as dream pop. They did time with 4AD and Robin Guthrie, had a cup of coffee with Rough Trade before the label’s bankruptcy, and connected with David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label, in a career that hit all the creative, dreamy, experimental notes available at the time. The legacy they left made significant contributions to dream pop, shoegaze, trip hop, post rock and acid house, and they’ve been namechecked by any number of artists wanting to explore the contours of their own sound, in their own way.
A.R. Kane reformed last summer for several festival appearances, with originals Rudy and Maggie Tambala, and bringing on Andy Taylor to help support the sound. Spain’s respected Primavera Sound 2016 announced A.R. Kane will perform two shows at the June festival, and the band is picking up additional dates worldwide this summer. Call it a vindication, call it a victory lap, the influential band is now set to perform old classics and a few new sounds to a whole new generation of fans. We sat down with Rudy to talk about what a long, strange trip it’s been.
DKFM: Before we bury the lede, ‘new sounds’? Is there a new release in the cards? Tell us a little bit about the process of creating new A.R. Kane music.
Rudy: Firstly thanks, this is trippy, doing interviews again and having to re-create the myth afresh. “New sounds” is an interesting choice of phrase, because that really was central to what we always strived for, or at least sounds perceived in a new way, a new setting. Prior to playing one show last summer, I had a mental block – nerves – and so Andy and Maggie took me across a field, over a fence and into a wood in the English countryside. We went through the entire set strumming on non-amplified electric guitars and singing, three voices, the light, the air, the pre-show energy, festival heads strolling by occasionally. It was the highpoint for me, something very special happened – and so after the show, I decided to strip back the band from seven, to just us three. I started writing from there, from that energy I felt us create, or rather that I felt in us and around us, and that I guess shaped the new sound. We have not signed to a label yet but have around a dozen songs, so at some point we will start recording. When the right label comes along we’ll talk about new releases. We may release some early demos, not hurry tho. Music technology has evolved – it is smaller and cheaper and for the way I work, a lot better. I still use samples and drum programming, guitars and effects, feedback and layers. I write at home, often on a battered acoustic guitar, sometimes on electric through a Strymon Blue Sky reverb and Space Echo pedal – I hear the harmonics bouncing around and pick out melodies for voices and other instruments, and I often write rhythmically on the guitar, little arpeggios or minimal phrases. I like to hear a kind of conversation. Because I sing too, I try to craft vocal lines – often with humming first – so that I can sing in rhythm and play simultaneously. A song-writers privilege I guess. This is vitally important to the new sound, as I now write for live – recording is never in my mind when writing. I use my iPhone to capture ideas. Sometimes I plug in my Roland JDXi keyboard, an amazing piece of kit, and just bang out a groove with subs and pads and all that. The two approaches meet in the middle somehow, and that was pretty much how we worked before, hence the guitars and grooves thing. I take the new songs into a practice room and Maggie and Andy work out their own harmonies and phrasing and add instruments. This happens usually very quickly. We then jam for hours, full-on, with three guitars and effects, the Roland, Ableton Live and Andy uses a Korg Micro too. Each week we add or strip out bits. The new sound has captured something of the potential I heard in the woods last summer, and strangely, it sounds very similar to early A.R.Kane recordings, raw, edgy, spacey, layered, deep dub basslines, and it grooves occasionally too. When we apply our new sound to the old songs, they sound fresh. It is much more about live now, recording was central before, studio experimentation, but that has changed. I look for live chemical reactions, listen for that space.
DKFM: Given your deserved status as a ground breaking artist and critical favorite, do you feel added pressure in releasing new music twenty years on?
Rudy: Yes and no. I myself compare what I was to what I am now, and the biggest change is that Alex has declined to return, and there is no doubt that on the earlier recordings, before “I”, it was all about our chemistry. We moved past that during the recording of “I”, and from there on the chemistry was not as crucial, and for me the energy not as intense, the music not as … erm, I wanted to say fresh, or inspiring, but in truth I’d say, not as good. I am directly affected by what listeners think feel say and do about the music I play. It starts with Anita – my wife – my son Louis, also a musician, Andy and Maggie, and ripples out from there.
But I also have confidence and I try to be true to myself and be what I might call ‘an honest artist’ – I serve unwritten principles, almost like laws, that inform me when something is wrong, or could be better, or is just fake. That’s the creative compass. Without this, well, there is nothing of real value without it. When people come to our shows and hear the new songs, I think they’ll be pleased. We’ll only slot in a few at this stage. They merge seamlessly with the older material. Any recordings we do will be something entirely new – more different then ‘69’ compared to ‘new clear child’. I want to find a producer that empathises. That will be critical. And possibly a couple guest singers too. I my kidnap Alex if I can track him down.
DKFM: Touring, festivals, songwriting and possibly recording… apologies to LL Cool J, but can we call this a comeback?
Rudy: Well, you can if you want to. It’s all very low key – we have very few shows lined up as no-one knows we’re playing again, and we have no management or label etc. to push us out there. We did just confirm for On Blackheath in London, which is very exciting. For us to stand on a stage, backs to the crowd, heads buried in the amps, full force feedback flying fast, yes, I guess that is a comeback. This year we are testing the water. We’ll see.
DKFM: As the classic sound you helped pioneer has re-emerged, a whole new generation of fans is paying attention. Are you finding this younger fan base even more receptive to your unique approach? And do you feel somehow vindicated that you had it right all along?
Rudy: Last point first; it never occurred to us that we were wrong about what we did, or needed vindication. We are not well-known now, and unlike MBV, Ride, etc. do not have a large fan-base, but that is because we turned our backs on all that. We rejected the ‘scenes’, and focused on the sound. However, when we were making records we were completely appreciated for what we did, and everyone told us it how much they loved it, and all that. I am not surprised that so many people are into the Dreampop/shoegaze thing now, because it is fucking amazing, it changes people’s lives, I’ve seen it so many times, that look when the head slips sideways, as brainwaves just kick in … it was not a big scene when we were playing, it was very fringe, very arty, very-non conventional. I don’t really know this new scene well except through social media, I probably ought to listen to more stuff, get educated. I would love to play to a large, receptive audience – we rarely had that, we used to empty rooms in the first few minutes – people thought it was a one big technical hitch – no guys, it’s s’pose to sound like this, so fuck off! A.R.Kane music was always for a younger fan base, so that seems quite natural. Look, when I plug in, switch on, feel the rush, and look up … I feel like a kid on Christmas morning. I am excited and surprised and overwhelmed and I smile. I don’t really care who listens, I want them to feel what I feel, because it’s lovely. Because it makes all this crappy world shit make sense, it gives life meaning and magic, and it make me whole.
DKFM: Tell us about recreating the classic sound you’re known for in these festival settings. What does A.R. Kane live 2016 sound like with this lineup?
Rudy: Last year we used seven people, in an attempt to recreate the studio recordings. This really was a ritual to evoke the spirit of Kane, and in truth I now see that it was my personal lack of confidence and a process I just had to go through. This year we are three, and we are doing a new sound. All I can really say is that we aim to create an experience, to let people feel something now. Not nostalgia. I know what used to work, it will be interesting to see how it works now. Our set is short and intense, and the Kane tracks are all pretty pop songs that would sound good in any setting. Yes, even Country. I think the tech has improved our live sound, and like with the early Kane gigs we have foregone a rhythm section for the hip hop/ Cocteau Twins approach; drum loops, samples and sequenced sub bass. The guitars are still bloody painfully loud, and sometimes painfully soft. We all sing, and Maggie is central now.
DKFM: Finally, there’s a new squad of musicians in big cities and small towns around the world who have taken their cues from the kind of sound you forged decades ago, each with their own unique take on the form. Any advice to the kids who want to make magic, but do it their own way?
Rudy: I think we all start off imitating something … a pose, a style, an attitude, a sound … but at some point it is important to go beyond the inspiration, the surface, and put in some hard graft, to create something new. Follow the artistic compass, I guess. Sound, or music, is a particular art form, a specific human mode of expression. It is probably our best art and the most human thing we can do. There are rules. It has not – as many may say – all been done. Meditate on that, children.