“The coming together of many forces to create something greater,” says Jay Malinowski lead singer, writer, and one half of duo Bedouin Soundclash when describing their fifth studio album MASS which sees the band coming back after a nine-year hiatus. “It was a long time since our last record,” he pauses, “So we decided we would start by going down to New Orleans and make ourselves new.”
And so, in late July, Eon Sinclair (bassist) and Jay Malinowski (vocals/guitar) better known as duo Bedouin Soundclash headed down to the cradle of American music to find rebirth. When they arrived, they found themselves baptized in the hottest, stickiest Louisiana weather of late summer. “It’s the kind of heat where you’re dripping with sweat, even at two in the morning.” Eon Sinclair remembers.
The band set up shop in an old speak-easy jazz club converted into a studio and filled it with musicians for three weeks. “It was a huge gathering -- hard to manage at times. There was agony. There was ecstasy. We literally sweat ourselves to the bone” Jay laughs, “and the result was something bigger than ourselves. Something we could never have done alone. That was MASS -- both physical and spiritual, the coming together of so many disparate forces of people and energies, distilled into something new.”
Their musical comrades-in-energy included Preservation Hall Jazz Band on horns, Mike Dillon (Les Claypool) on vibes/marimba, Rick Nelson (Afghan Whigs, Polyphonic Spree) on strings, Chuck Treece on drums (Bad Brains, McRad), The Asylum Chorus Choir, and Vancouver’s St. James Music Academy Children’s Choir. The album was co-produced by Bedouin Soundclash and legendary Philadelphia House DJ King Britt and recorded at Marigny Studio’s in New Orleans with additional vocal tracking done later in the St. James Church in the downtown East Side of Vancouver.
MASS is a dense sonic journey. From the jangling Big Band swing-pop of "Clock-work", the post-punk-soca of "Salt-Water", the New Orleans second-line inspired "Full Bloom", the apocalyptic Brian Wilson-esc "Born Into Bad Times", the Talking Heads-channeling of "When We’re Gone" and the dubbing afro-pop gospel of "Holy" that features Mike Dillon distorting his marimbas into another sonic dimension, MASS shows not only the eclectic post-punk-world-beat tendencies of Bedouin Soundclash but also the city that surrounded them.
King Britt elaborates, “You can hear the boys (Bedouin) bringing all their influences into their world and collaborating for a new result. Showing the musical lineage of not only the band but the thread between cultures, creole New Orleans jazz, ska/reggae, electronica and rock. (It’s) Ambitious and a much-needed authentic example, instead of appropriation.”
But before Bedouin Soundclash found themselves in the late summer humidity at the mouth of the Mississippi there was a long drought. Nine years passed since Bedouin Soundclash’s 2010 release Light The Horizon. During their hiatus it wasn’t clear if the band would ever work again. Lead singer Jay Malinowski wrote a novel and released two solo albums, bassist Eon Sinclair was busy doing session work and DJing. “One morning I was sitting at the piano in my house and “Clock-Work” came to me,” says Malinowski talking about the first single from the album. “I thought, this is something new, I think it’s a Bedouin song -- I put it on a break-beat and sampled these horns from an old big band swing record and sent it off to Eon.”
“Jay sent me a demo and it hit me right away,” says Eon. “The use of the breakbeat, the piano, and the horns -- It still felt like Bedouin with the subtle off-beat piano but was fresh,” The lead single “Clock-work” became the anchor point for the rest of the album, where horns and marimba began to take centre stage sonically. “That was when we knew we were going to make a record. That one song.”
As the band began work on this new direction the larger question became who and where they would record. ’Before we took a break (back in 2011) I had gone down to New Orleans with King to visit the city and see him perform,” says Eon. King was performing his Sister Gertrude Morgan record which involved collaborating with Ben Jaffe, musical director and band leader of the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band. King Britt says, “I was introduced to Ben during a project reimagining Sister Gertrude Morgan, a New Orleans singer and painter who released an original album on Pres Hall in 1970, which lead us to working closely together to make sure the source material and story was captured in an honest and pure way.”
Eon remembers, “That night Ben Jaffe took King and I to the ‘Best of the Beat Awards’ and Dave Bartholomew (legendary New Orleans pianist) was being given a lifetime achievement award. His track ‘The Monkey’ is always cited as the song that influenced Duke Reid and Coxsonne Dodd to accent the off-beats which became the defining characteristic of ska and Jamaican music. I never knew he was from New Orleans. That’s when I started thinking we have to come down here and make a record cause so much of what we do has evolved from the music created here. I came back to Toronto and told Jay that the invitation to go down and work with the guys was there.”
Jay says, “At the time we were moving away from Bedouin and I couldn’t see a vision for it yet -- I was really disappointed. Time passed. Then came ‘Clock-Work’. We immediately called up King and said ‘hey, it’s six years later but you think you still want to do a record with us down in NOLA?”
“So, when Jay and Eon wanted to have the boys (Pres Hall) on the album it was a phone call away,” says King Britt. “I truly love working with Bedouin. Their friendship and visions go really deep. The last album was truly a beautiful experience recording in Philadelphia and bringing our sound to theirs. I really became close with them. There was a break and when we all reconvened years later (with many hangs in between) they had grown exponentially and truly matured in the studio. Jay had stems and ideas already hashed out in very impressive arrangements. This made it really great to develop. The addition to my brother from another Chuck Treece, was the missing ingredient.”
Enter drummer Chuck Treece, Philly-native, legendary pro-skater and punk rocker who has played with Bad Brains and Sting to fronting his own hardcore band McRad. “In terms of coming full circle,” says Eon,” Having Chuck come out with us has been incredible. We started way back with our Uncle D at the controls (D. Jenifer of Bad Brains) when we were just 18 making our first record. We knew Chuck for a while, and it felt like family in the band.”
And so, standing on a levee in the late summer heat of July at the end of the longest river in America as it winds its way out into the Gulf of Mexico, Bedouin Soundclash was also symbolically at the end of a long journey, amassing the past and collecting at the river basin for a new voyage of rebirth. With time and patience, the parts had finally come together for MASS. On one of their final nights in New Orleans the band moved the entire studio to Preservation Hall in the French quarter of the city and performed live off the floor with the Asylum Chorus Choir and Preservation Hall Jazz Band for the final album track “On The Edges of the Night.”
“You can hear all the feeling of the session in that track -- the heat of having 40 people squeezed into the hall without air conditioning. The ceiling fans buzzing above our heads. The night before I heard a lot of the musicians were praying to the ghosts of the Hall cause weird things can happen if they don’t want you there. But the session was pure magic -- you can hear us all yelling out of joy and relief at the end of the take. We actually only got two takes of it. The next day we went to the studio and King and Ben listened to each take and thought something was missing. So, they laid both versions over each other and pressed play. It all matched perfectly in a jangling way. It was eerie. We didn’t play it to be done that way. Somehow, we managed to do the same thing improvised twice. That never happens. But If you listen close you can hear it shifting and wobbling. I remember Ben saying, ‘that’s New Orleans!’ and that’s this record -- a coming together of many different voices and energies all resonating on the same chord to get by if just for a minute, like kismet.” Says Jay. “That’s Mass.”
After finishing the sessions in New Orleans, the band took a break. “During that time, we listened down to the album and felt there was still something missing. I began writing more songs in Vancouver. During that time my dog Oscar passed away, he had been with me through a lot of good and bad times. He was a great little guy -- a rescue dog from Alabama. I wrote "All Tomorrow’s" for him,” Jay says. Enlisting the help of engineer Mark Dolmont, the band set up a mobile studio in the St. James Church in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. “After recording in Preservation Hall, I wanted to record somewhere that was also a spiritual home -- the kids at St James have always been important to us -- it’s a beautiful non-profit music school for kids who might not have access to music education.” The band recorded with the help of the kids from the choir program. “I jingled Oscar’s collar at the beginning of the song, and we used the sound as tambourine hit in the beat. The kids sang beautifully. He lives on with us in the music” Jay smiles. The children’s choir can also be heard on tracks "Born Into Bad Times", "When We’re Gone" and "Inversion Weather". With those final sessions in Vancouver, the band felt that they had achieved MASS, a collaborative album that took many hands and many years to create, bonding the disparate space between time, people and continents into one powerfully resonating moment.
About The Band
Formed nearly two decades ago and named after Israeli dub artist/producer Badawi’s 1996 release, Bedouin Soundclash debuted in 2001 with the album Root Fire. Their acclaimed sophomore release Sounding a Mosaic (2004) featured the hit single, “When the Night Feels My Song” and was produced by legendary punk-hardcore royalty Darryl Jenifer of Bad Brains. This earned Bedouin Soundclash their first JUNO Award in 2006 for Canada’s Best New Group. Their follow-up album, Street Gospels (2007) also produced by Jenifer, earned a “Pop Album of the Year” nomination and “Video of the Year” nomination for the single “Walls Fall Down” at the 2008 JUNO’s as well as three Much Music Video Award nominations for their video for “Until We Burn in the Sun” in 2009. In addition to No Doubt, the band has also shared the stage with Ben Harper, Damian Marley, The Roots, The Interrupters, Gogol Bordello, Bad Brains, and Thievery Corporation among others.
In 2010, the band released their fourth studio album, Light the Horizon that included the singles “Mountain Top”, “Elongo” and “Brutal Hearts” -- the latter featuring French-Canadian singer-songwriter Coeur de pirate. The album was produced with technical and theory-based precision by legendary deep house DJ and Philadelphia-based musicologist King Britt.
Flash forward to 2019, after a nine-year hiatus, the band re-emerges ready to release their fifth studio album MASS, produced by King Britt and Bedouin Soundclash. The album is a powerful experience that spans two communities, recorded in New Orleans with Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and in Vancouver at the St. James Church with the children of the St. James Music Academy.