The Brooklyn-based post punk trio released their fourth full-length record back in February via Wharf Cat Records.
By: Sun Noor
Stray consists of a dark, ominous and explosive 10 track body of work with a southern gothic influence. The songs take the form of different stories encapsulated into a cohesive album characterized by eerie lyrics and paired with fitting, experimental arrangements. I caught up with twin brothers Blaze and Reid Bateh and William Brookshire, their childhood friend to discuss Stray right before they were due to perform in Montreal.
Stray has been out for a week now, how do you feel about that?
Blaze: “It feels great to have it out, honestly we’ve been working on it so consistently for such a long period of time and that was done.”
Reid: “Then you just sit there and wait for it.”
Blaze: “Yeah. It’s kind of a shock when we finished it, because it’s all been doing for like nine months, working on this one thing every single day and then we finished it and all we could do is wait until it came out.”
Reid: “Yeah, it feels good but then it’s also like, well we gotta do another one now.”
Have you been working on anything else at the same time?
Reid: “We had a few songs sticking around but nothing completed.”
Blaze: “It’s hard to really work on other things at the same time. After we finished the album, we worked on the three music videos ourselves and did some touring. We like to be completely isolated and just in the zone when we’re writing. It was really hard to have that kind of atmosphere but after this tour is over, we’re going to have a month off.”
In which ways does being isolated help with your creative process?
Blaze: “It definitely helps with the lyrics.”
Reid: “We want to create a sort of environment or world musically that we end up populating lyrically. I think it really takes a certain sort of focus to get past the easy answers to things, especially with lyrics it’s very easy to take first thing that comes to your head. It takes a lot of focus and sustained attention and a specific task to really get past the early choices to get to the actual, deeper ones that are harder to get to. For me it’s not possible to get there unless completely isolated.”
When working on Stray, were there any songs that you initially through would make the cut but did not?
Blaze: ” We actually do all of the music first and we were on such a tight deadline that when writing lyrics, Reid knew exactly how many songs we wanted so we
already kind of cut out all the musical ideas we didn’t like anymore. So we just chopped it down to like these 10 songs we liked. The day we decided on the music, I went on tour with another band for a month, drumming in Europe and Reid wrote all the lyrics.”
Reid: “As far as writing lyrics to songs, I usually like to wait until it’s perfect. Otherwise, I like to have like themes play off each other, well at least for this record, that’s what I wanted.So it didn’t really make much sense to get started until I had this sort of array of things.”
Blaze: “We always want our albums to feel of like a cinematic experience and so musically, there’s a lot of themes that repeat themselves.”
Would you say that working on all the musical arrangements first helps with the songwriting?
Reid: ” I definitely think so. That’s just kind of how we’ve grown to do things, so I can’t really imagine doing it in another way.”
William: “It’s kind of required. You can’t start writing until all of a sudden songs are done as they can be.”
Reid: “Yeah this is kind of how we work. I don’t know if maybe somewhere down the line there’d be some other way to do it but I can’t imagine it at the moment. I like to just sit back and just have a fully realized idea.”
Blaze: “I always think of it as building a landscape with the music and then Reid builds the characters that live in that landscape afterward.”
You guys have been in a band for nearly a decade, would you say that anything has shifted in terms of your approach?
Blaze: “Definitely. With the past couple albums, Reid’s voice has been more of a focal point. The lyrics have taken more of a forefront. He always cared about the lyrics and they were always really good, but they’ve definitely taken a more narrative form over time and that has been used almost like another instrument. With the music, we also used to burry a lot of our sound and noise in the background but they’re at the forefront in our recent recordings.”
Reid, what would you consider to be the most challenging part of the songwriting process?
Reid: “Even when some of these songs are done, some of the sections are kind of amorphous. I kind of have to come up with a game for those lyrics that are those sections that are going to be playing within the amorphous sections. When I’m doing that abstractly, without us all being in a room playing, it’s really hard to get down to the rhythms. That’s the hardest part because a lot of times, I’ll hear it in my head and think it’s fine then realize that I’m like line over. When I’m done with my process of writing, there’s like a lot of cutting that happens once I actually start to record them. That’s hard because I’ll think I have it and it’s perfect and then we’ll get into the studio or in this situation it was at a lodge, and I would have to cut certain things but try to keep the meaning.”
On top of themes of murder and death, there’s a lot of fire imagery in terms of the lyrics, was that intentional?
Reid: “Yes, 100%.”
Can you tell us a bit about the album cover?
Blaze: “The guy who photographed the cover is Erik Burdett and he shot the last album cover too for Shadow on Everything. For that album, we asked him to take a bunch of pictures in Texas for album art. That was one of them. Since this album dealt heavily with lighting bug imagery, we came across that picture again and realized we weren’t going to find anything more perfect that that.”
Where there any records in particular that you were listening to quite heavily while working on the record?
Blaze: “When we’re recording, I don’t listen to much of anything except for the mixes we do that day because I’d just drive myself crazy comparing it.”
Reid: “I wasn’t really listening to anything, I don’t want to hear anything else.”
Blaze: “I kind of referred to nostalgia. During that whole recording session, I was only watching documentaries and old SNL episodes from the 90s every night. I think it was kind of like a security blanket for me. That was the only media I was taking in, these things that happened a long time ago.”
William: “You also know that so it’s not going to influence the way that you think or what you’re making. You know everything you’re going to get. There’s no surprise that’s going to derail what you’re making.”
Blaze: “Even watching modern movies, I’m going to start comparing it to this album we’re working on is existing at the same time, but if I’m watching old stuff it’s fine.”
Now that the album is out, would you say that your vision for what you wanted to produce vs what you’ve completed differ?
Reid: “I think so, we wouldn’t have let it come out if it didn’t work. We’re all perfectionist in a way that we’d rather just scrap the whole thing.”
I’ve read that you continued with the same approach when working on this record of not making it a concept album. What do you think ties all of these songs together and how do you know they fit the album well?
William: “At the cutting stage it’s always more individual and not looking back at a collection of songs and thinking that one wouldn’t fit necessarily. It’s it just doesn’t make the cut before that. We’ll spend a week honing in on it if it’s just not there yet and at the end, it gets scrapped and reworked for the next week. I don’t think we’ve cut anything towards the end of the process, where you can look at it from a more complete perspective and say that it doesn’t fit.”
Blaze: “Usually it gets cut before that because we spent a ridiculously long amount of time on every song. If they don’t ever get to a certain point it gets cut.”
Reid: “If it makes it past that, usually it’s good, It’s not a hundred percent but it’s still good. I spend all this time writing lyrics to these songs and they’re all connected. If one of them get’s cut, it’s kind of like a catastrophe.”
Blaze: “There’s been moments. We’re talking about cutting a song. We just have to just really work on it and find a way to make it work. And usually it’s amazing changes everything. It’s not going to actually work that way. I think in a way, because of the way the lyrics fit together, all these records were not really kind of given that sort of option. It’s really kind of song. We just have to worry about it. Otherwise the whole thing we’ve kind of crippled with record.”
What are some of your current favourite records?
Blaze: “I like to do this thing where I listen to people who I like’s discography from the start and make my way through all of their work. I’m listening to Kate Bush at the moment. I’m in a pretty deep cave with Kate Bush, which is usually the case but I’m even deeper.”
Reid: “It’s hard to ever get too far away.”
William: “I’ve kind of been into diving further into like things already like. I’ve been listening to old Tom Waits records I never really listened to, a lot of old country songs and new stuff that’s ben recommended.”
Download/stream Stray and check out Bambara’s upcoming tour dates here.
Header photo by Kevin W. Condon