We set the timer and snuggle in with our favorite new bands in the Impound’s version of speed dating with a killer-diller soundtrack.Last year marked the 50th anniversary of The Beatles live residency in Hamburg, Germany. This is where they put their stamp on the music that inspired them to take up arms for rock’s cause, and it propelled them to their first phase of success as original artists shortly afterwards. They played Chuck Berry, Johnny Kidd, Lieber-Stoller and other root sources for modern music for four hours a night at the Indra Musikclub, resting briefly after dawn at a hotel called Bambi Kino.
Last year, a brave, pleasantly foolhardy group of contemporary rockers adopted the name Bambi Kino to play the same tunes that fired up The Beatles in the same venue in Hamburg. Comprised of Nada Surf’s Ira Elliot (drums, vocals), Cat Power’s Erik Paparazzi (bass, vocals), Maplewood’s Mark Rozzo (guitar, vocals) and Guided By Voices’ Doug Gillard (guitar, vocals), Bambi Kino is no Fabs tribute band. Instead, the quartet puts their shoulders into chestnuts like “Besame Mucho,” “A Shot of Rhythm ‘n’ Blue” and “Crying Waiting Hoping” and unearths the bright, intoxicating zest of these vintage numbers, doing pretty much what The Beatles themselves did – spelunking rock’s early heritage to make something immediate and worth rolling around in.
While performing in Hamburg, Bambi Kino laid down a studio memento of their rowdy residency at the Indra, which arrives March 29th on Tapete Records. Like the early tambourine and wooooh period Beatles, there’s a giddy, devil may care quality to Bambi Kino’s self-titled debut, an infectious whoop that helps one fall for rock all over again. The simplicity and basic quality of these songs sparks great performances from all four guys, and the results make one hope they’ll play a few U.S. cities before they bring this project to a close.
We snagged Mark Rozzo to discuss the band, their concept and what it was like kickin’ it Beatles style in Germany.
- Why do you think you’re a musician?
- I’ve probably never thought about that question, ever. There are times in Bambi Kino where I wonder whether I am a musician [laughs]. The guys in the band are so good and so fun to play with, and sometimes I feel I’m the one being tolerated in the lineup [laughs]. And also, taking on the material that The Beatles played, the songs they tuned into from 60-62, you realize that this wasn’t a fluke – these guys were really, really good, particularly in the vocal arrangements, which are just off the charts. Bambi Kino is the first band I’ve played in where I wake up in the middle of the night and wonder, “Am I good enough to play in this group? Am I musician or not?”
- You’re getting back to the very roots of rock in this band, the stuff that inspired The Beatles, who then went on to inspire, well, everyone.
- It’s so true! They were the mold for every band that came after – band following their footsteps or bands pushing back against what they did. The Beatles were the great rebirth of rock ‘n’ roll in the early 60s that brought a certain ruggedness and honesty and low bullshit factor to the music. They did it by playing what was kind of going out of fashion music in the early 60s with Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Elvis and older R&B and rockabilly material. It’s a blast to go back to this stuff because this music has a timeless presence to it. And the way The Beatles messed with it and turned it into their own music is also fun.
- The core stuff of rock ‘n’ roll still has a lot of mojo and coiled energy, and Bambi Kino realizes that.
- It does have a real life to it, which is something we really understood when we went to Hamburg and played it for four hours each night in the packed room where The Beatles themselves began their Hamburg apprenticeship in 1960. You’re playing these songs and people are dancing, drinking, putting their fists in the air and making out. It was such a scene; it was crazy. You realize how much energy it has, and how it must have knocked people’s socks off in 1961-1962. 50 years later, we tried to bring people from the indie rock world together with the original rockers. There were people from that era that used to go partying in the clubs that came to our shows. That really knocked us out. We realized this older generation were the original punk rockers.
- It’s a pretty bold idea to go to Hamburg and tackle such iconic, historically significant material AND following suit by playing four hours a night. It’s such a wild ass idea, how did it come to be?
- The idea was a lightbulb that came on in one of those moments of instant clarity when Ira and I were in the back of the Maplewood tour van in Germany in the fall of 2009. Because we’d spent a lot of time in Germany with our label there and because we’re such freaks for that early, leather clad, greaseball Beatles rock ‘n’ roll of the early 60s, it just seemed like a natural idea. I said, “For the 50th anniversary next year, we’ll get the label to book the original club and we’ll play for four hours a night, and this will be a wild party and everyone in Hamburg will go crazy!” For once, an idea like this worked out and it happened just this way!
- Did you guys dress the part, throw on the leather jackets and white t-shirts, cut your hair, etc?
- We very consciously didn’t want to be a tribute band. We wanted to be ourselves, and in doing that we thought we were being truer to The Beatles. We didn’t want a costumed recital for what the The Beatles played in their pre-fame era. But we did wear some leather – we felt we had to get in touch that way – but not the exact jackets. We talked about the clothes more than we actually invested I them. I won’t lie to you though, there’s moments where this gets…well, it’s not quite the Civil War reenactor level but Doug Gillard and I got really into the concept of flat wound strings. They sounded okay but nothing great, but we’d done some research and found most bands didn’t use round wound string until the mid-60s. Or so I thought until I spoke to Tony Sheridan, who informed me The Beatles used both flat and round wound strings in the early 60s. I do know the brand of strings but I don’t need bore your readers with that information [laughs].
- Do you see a future for Bambi Kino or was this just a wonderful, beautiful moment in time?
- We think about that all the time. It was a beautiful moment but we’d like to keep it going. There are a slew of 50th anniversaries in front of us. We have nothing against Beatles tribute bands but we don’t think we’d thrive in that context. We’d rather keep it in the rock club vein and maybe make a couple more trips back to Hamburg. I guess there’s always an element of a stunt to it, so maybe we’ll play seven hours next time we go back! We don’t want to be slavish to the past, and our attitudes are a bit modern, but we did try to remain faithful to the way the songs were played and how they would have sounded. The way we recorded the album was in the Indra during the day when it was empty. You realize when you tiptoe into this Beatles world that people are REALLY cuckoo for the details. We didn’t want to suck but we didn’t want to be caught up in those details, too. The audience is pretty demanding and they expect something special, especially when you’re in Hamburg and someone like Horscht Fascher, one of the Beatles’ oldest friends who was there back in the original time, is in the club, you really don’t want to suck!
- So, what’s usually going through your head right before you go onstage?
- Oh my God! With Bambi Kino, especially in Hamburg, it was, “I’ll see you, reality, in about four hours!” You take a deep breath and you enter this other world and you’re not sure when or if you’ll return to present day. We all had the sense, even some of the audience, that the fabric of time was ripping open at these shows. And we had the same thoughts as anyone who played these clubs back then – What’s the next song? Am I going to get through this show? I’m really tired. Won’t someone bring me a beer!