Off the Record – Bam Bam Brown


Bam Bam Brown is an old soul. I swear I’ve met this dude in a past life. I was the farmer and he was the shepherd kind of thing. Anyway.

This guy drops insightful shit like you would a microphone. It’s justified.

After being on the scene for years, I’ve invited him over for pap and wors. I thought traditional fare would be the way forward. Whilst the chow was a hit, Bam Bam is anything but traditional. He can teach you a thing or two about life. He taught me a few. He’s inspiring as fuck and his music follows suit. Do yourself a favour and see him live. Captivating doesn’t quite cut it.

We chatted about his upcoming gig at Kirstenbosch with Shortstraw, crematoriums in India, his stance on the local scene, his EP dropping in Winter 2019, why things shine when they sit in shit and being raised on a Calamari Gatsby. Oh, we spoke about coriander too.

Pencil: First song you learned to play and sing on the guitar?

Bam: It was ‘Under the Bridge’ – RHCP, ja. I’m a musical riff-raff so, I still can’t read sheet music, but I learnt the guitar by just like watching my friend learn the songs, right at the beginning.

I had a neighbourhood buddy – who’d probably be shredding by now if he was still playing guitar, he was far outplaying me, and I would watch him play. He would learn how to play a song and I would learn how to play it from him…eventually after watching someone practice in real time, it started getting easier for myself to learn how to do the same thing. You can also see it’s instantly achievable.

John Frusciante was the first guitarist I tried to learn guitar from. I think he’s sort of like the Jimi Hendrix of his time, where there’s an entire generation of guitarists who can shred and play well, and they saw and learnt John’s style and thought, that’s what they wanted to do with my hands.

Pencil: What did India do for you? What did you learn? Was it the stereotypical ‘find myself’ kind of India trip?

Bam: So, I was 28 when I went to India, and everyone said the same thing – are you going there to find yourself? But by then, I had already been through so many other things, I suppose I had already found myself? I actually went to India to take a break from myself. I was 28 and I’d been in CPT for so long and doing music in South Africa for so long, I loved it, but I get it, you know? I just needed something completely different.

I landed in Mumbai with no plan. That was my plan. Land in Mumbai at the airport, 2 months in front of me, and no plan. I went alone. The city centre is just outside of the airport, so as soon as I walked out of there…I definitely got a few odd stares, because even though there are a lot of tourists, it’s not a very touristy area. Those are the areas I wanted to go, because I didn’t grow up in a touristy area, so part of me kind of knows how to navigate those places.

I landed up in some pretty hairy situations – that’s kind of why growing up where I grew up (Strandfontein), it helped me enjoy it.

Pencil: What kind of hairy situations? Just one if you don’t mind….

Bam: I was in Goa, and managed to make friends with these two women that worked at a bar I had been playing at. First day I was in south Goa, very first day, got there by train and about a week into my travels. Got off the train, went to the first backpackers I found, went to a coffee shop and the first guy that I met there, saw me and said, cool, you’re going to play at my bar tonight…didn’t have a guitar with me. He just saw me and said that’s what you’re doing, I thought that’s what I came here to do, I’ll do that!

Met these two women who were working there, and one of the woman was slightly younger than me, and one was old enough to be my mom. The older woman had spent a portion of her youth touring with the Grateful Dead, as a groupie. She said she came from an era where most of these guys were, as we would put it, skollies. Just playing music and figuring it out and she said, bear in mind, there was a huge language barrier between us, but she basically said that’s how you found me. One skollie finding another skollie. There’s an entire undercurrent of skollies around the world, meanwhile, they just come from a different kind of cut. Definitely helped me navigate my way around the place.

Came home one night after playing at the bar and she was sitting in the kitchen doing lines of coke with the local drug dealer. I just thought – this could have been my Mom, in the most surreal way possible. She just thought it was normal and two skollies finding each other. Surreal.

Pencil: I’m all for people being real and I dig you say fuck being a Rockstar, but quote-unquote – make love, make music, do you. How do you strip away the arrogance and stay as grounded as you are? It’s fucking refreshing.

Bam: There was this thing that happened in India as well, that I always speak about and there’s a song I wrote about it, (Varanasi), and there’s a place in Varanasi I managed to come across, a skollie trail, also accidentally bumped into an American guy whose surname was also Brown, anyway, in Varanasi there is the Ganges River, and then they have a whole bunch of different steps, called Ghats, and all the different Ghats serve different purposes, you can have some that are just for worship, one for different ceremonial purposes, a huge amount of them across the expanse of the Ganges, and two of these serve as crematoriums.

One is a very public crematorium, the one I stumbled upon is a not so public one. I just turned a corner and then was in this backyard, where children are tending to four or five pyres of burning bodies, not contained, a big stack of wood higher than your head, because it takes a huge amount of wood to burn a body, for some reason I chose to spend  four days going back to visit this place, I came across it and I was invited to go and see it, so I feel like I was there for a reason. I suppose when you spend that much time around death, it’s really hard to not stay grounded, to just realise how short and fickle life is. Once you go past all the fear and stuff surrounding death, the real simplicities really come through and it helps you to stay grounded, you realise how much of it (life) is just excess noise. It’s not completely unnecessary noise, because it helps you get direction and flow and acceleration and motion, but it’s noise, nonetheless.

Pencil: Are you pro-plant medicine? Are you pro-Ayahuasca and Ibogaine and this whole nouveau movement of consciousness through these means?

Bam: Yes. I would have to have had a personal experience to be a proper advocate for it, responsibly, but I did, funnily enough, with my guitar player Jonny, we accidentally smoked changa, and it was amazing. A very amazing experience. We went into it kind of like school yard kids, very ignorantly as to what was about to happen.

I don’t think there’s one set way to treat a human being. Some things work for some people, but, if something has a healing property, I don’t think it should be kept from the thing it can heal. That’s a practicality.

I know someone who is thriving now for the first time, and, as he puts it, he’s a functional speed addict. Which seems so far-fetched, but the only way he can operate is to have two hits of speed a day. One before his shift and one at the end of his shift. Just to keep him there. He understands his shortcomings, I guess, and he’s kind of just surfing them.

So, I’d say yes, and say only for who its for, you know. Not as a free for all. The same can be said for marijuana. I smoke weed, you know, I’m not shying away from that, but I also know that it is not for everyone. Just like coffee or alcohol.

Pencil: Dinner companions, alive or dead, I’d like three?

Bam: Yoh, this is a great question. Fictional or non-fictional?

Pencil: Open floor!

Bam: Yoh, amazing. Stan Lee.

I realise now with his passing how much of an effect he had, on all of us. Have you heard about his final superhero? Him and his daughter, as his parting gift to the world, have been working on this superhero called Dirtman.

Which is for a skollie like me, the best.

She’s discussed the creation that’s gone into the superhero and she says they just want to do simple, no fancy this or that, it’s just love. I suppose when you’re in dirty places in poverty or whatnot, there’s still love. In the dirt, it’s so much more present, because like finding a diamond in the rough, it’s shining because it’s sitting in shit.

Rick Rubin. That’s already two OG’s of the game.

When I was a kid, I thought I wanted to be anyone of the Chili Peppers, anyone of them.

Now I realise I wanted to be something more akin to Rick Rubin, or at least it’s just an aspiration. Something that helps tie.

I mean, he doesn’t play a lot of instruments himself. But his ability to be able to bring out the best in musicians all around him, I mean, Jay Z, Jake Bugg, Chili Peppers…

Pencil: Ja dude, he’s got a crazy spectrum of artists…

Bam: Exactly, and the last one, shit, has to tie them all together and help make good conversation…mmmmm…..I’ve got two dank old ballies who are going to be dropping knowledge and stuff and now we need like the coriander…I’m going to throw a spanner in the works and invite Missy Elliot. Just for gees

Pencil: Favourite South African dish?

Bam: Ummm, oooh, dude I’m raised on the Gatsby….

Pencil: Aweh, done, yes man

Bam: Hahahahaha, I’m raised by the Gatsby

Pencil: Even a little vienna parcel there mayra

Bam: And I grew up next to the ocean as well so a Calamari Gatsby, pink seafood sauce, and cut into three…making sure you have enough to go around for the fellas

Pencil: Where do you want to retire to one day?

Bam: Possibly…I would even retire to the Himalayas…

Pencil: Jassis…

In orange?

Bam: Hahahahaha, no, not in orange haha. In practical hiking boots and warm things…you can be monk-esque, but not have to dress the part hahaha, especially when its sub-zero temperatures…

Pencil: so, Himalayas then…

Bam: Yeah, Himalayas, or somewhere in the foothills of Lesotho…

Pencil: Favourite GoT character – and what’s your prediction for the Iron Throne?

Bam: I’ve seen one episode, when the giant dude (the Mountain) squashes the little dude’s head (Oberyn Martell, the Viper), and it was just bad timing because it was my birthday, and I was like, I can’t be watching this on my birthday…not a good first impression hahaha

Pencil: So, what do you watch?

Bam: I recently watched a series called Maniac on Netflix – Jonah Hill – fucking amazing…and I just got into the Umbrella Academy.

I’m just passively enjoying it, I think that people think because it comes from the guy from My Chemical Romance that it’s going to have to same effect that the Black Parade had but its two different things, you know.

So, I’ve kind of just been enjoying it on the side, piece by piece. That, and Trigger Warning by Killer Mike, from Run the Jewels…. it’s like six episodes and we watched it all in one go…kind of in a Sascha Baron Cohen fashion, takes on different socio-political American issues, in a very like tongue-in-cheek fashion.

Pencil: The concept of the Wild Professors – let me see if I have your stance correctly – is it because music is bigger than the individual constituents and players involved, thereby, if there’s a sound and you have all these individuals’ new influences coming in, it can only grow?

Bam: Yes, exactly dude, that’s pretty much the analogy….

Pencil:   So, consciousness advancing and things growing because of collective consciousness?

Bam: I suppose that’s what music is, you’re just tapping in, you’re watching everyone’s observations of their consciousness…

Pencil: So thereby the more stimuli involved, the greater it grows…

Bam: Yeah exactly, so like now when someone makes music and has ideas and stuff, they’re already being so vulnerable with themselves, so with the Wild Professors, what it was trying to do, whilst trying to spark up some local motion in the scene, was to create a space where, I used to call it the Sandpit, where musicians could just play whatever they wanted, and bring ideas to the table of whatever they wanted, and not feel stupid…

I’m a musical riff raff so I know what its like even with practice musicians, I watch, and study musicians because I struggle to even write a piece of a song because there are so many other psychological variables that stop them from doing that . You’re just trying to get out of the way…so all you have to do is make music and enjoy making the music.

So, that’s part of what the whole Wild Professors thing is about. Just getting back to enjoying making music and people enjoying listening to music.

Pencil: Getting back to the local scene, what do you think could be improved?

Bam: Demand!

Pencil: There’s been a definite upswing, I think at least, in appreciation, at a core level…

Bam: I think there’s been an upswing in the level of community, that being said, when we were chatting earlier about the mutual backslapping thing, we have to realise that we can’t always just be helping out our buddy’s band.

We can’t always be looking after our best friends interests, there’s a scene and a culture where maybe helping grow, so that everyone can put a little food on the table, as opposed to one or two people…

Pencil: So, the fact that there’s a wider community here?

Bam: Yeah, I’ve worked at festivals where I’ve seen it one bills, down on paper, where one band is getting, let’s say, 25 000 Rand, and on the same bill, the support act was getting 3000 Rand. Just because the support act doesn’t know they could get more, and the headline act won’t play for any less. They won’t compromise on that because they already know, they have the necessary experience to know…

Pencil: So, a massive discrepancy here?

Bam: It would be nice if a couple of things were more standardised, or like some of the common purposes were really evaluated, when it comes to venue, organiser and musician improvement, you know.

There’s different systems in different parts of the world that everyone can have a look at, you know. Some places give the musicians tickets to sell, some places, the bar will give a percentage of their earnings to the musicians. There are different ways of doing it, it must never be assumed that there is one way of making an income with music right now…because there is more than one way, so what I think might help, and I think it helps with every industry, is a lessening of entitlement, from every side, and that includes the listener.

Like, as soon as you realise that you’re not entitled to be there, you’re lucky to be there.

The whole approach to valuing the music that is in front of you and happening and present, is coming and changes, and I think that’ll add a lot of value to the scene. Between everyone, the entire community…

Pencil: Advice for up and coming musos? I was going to ask you more formally but what you’ve just said right there, is pretty cool advice I’d say…

Bam: Ja, that, and do your scales hahahaha

Pencil: I like it hahaha. Stay fucking humble and do your scales hahaha

Pencil: What’s next in terms of releases for you? Album coming out?

Bam: Going to do an EP, ja, I’ve spent the last year just playing everywhere…and used a couple of pre-releases to test the waters with the songs I have. The ones that I’ve been releasing right now are quite personal, very personal actually, so I just want to make sure I’m articulate as possible when they are released, you know, because they are personal.

We’re going to do a four track EP, start tracking after the Kirstenbosch gig…with Shortstraw….

Pencil: Ja man, Kort Strooitjie in Afrikaans, or just Strooitjie…

Bam: Ja hahahahaa….

Pencil: Okay, so after Kirstenbosch you’re tracking, drop time thereafter?

Bam: I think I’ll release something by winter, purely because I know that the songs that I plan to release are pretty much ready.

Maybe a little bit of polishing here and there. I don’t want to sit on them for too long, I want to start focussing on the next one…

Pencil: Have you started writing for that yet?

Bam: Yes…little bits and pieces here and there…

Pencil: So, swimming in the creativity cesspool…

Bam: Yes, haha, which can be a vast and vapid place sometimes…hahahahaha

Pencil: Life motto? Have you got one? A mantra maybe?

Bam: I’m trying to think if there’s like a cheesy catch phrase I repeat to myself daily haha….

Pencil: Three words to describe yourself?

Bam: Afri-can-us

Pencil: Biggest musical and non-musical influences growing up?

Bam: Chili Peppers was one…. definitely. Then I got really into Beck for a while, and just the idea of going from a band, to just one person and seeing how many different things can come out of this one person…then we think Pharrell and then Rick Rubin, and seeing how many different sides somebody can bring out of themselves…and I think that’s the route that my creativity is starting to take…

Recently, I suppose it’s been Bon Iver,…

Pencil: Oh cool, lekker

Bam: Ja, he’s not someone whose music I would listen to all the time, but seeing all the different things that have come out of him and at what rate, has been mind-blowing. Really inspiring. And he’s got a bunch of different side projects as well. So, he’s just got that release mode set to 100…his creativity dial is through the roof. I’d dig to learn how to tap into that.

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