Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Bombay Sweets Electro-Presskit™

The Bombay Sweets were born on the reels of a dusty 50's DuKane tape machine discovered at a suburban Minneapolis garage sale.  The cool Art Deco styling of this old school recorder promised to offer something from a different time in terms of sound and limitations. An idea was hatched on the spot to record some songs based on the constraints the medium would provide.  And yes, it had quite a few of those. It had only mono recording with only two tracks (or with only one overdub) per song and yet it wrapped every sound put into it in a warm and fuzzy sound that came from its tubes glowing white hot as it ran.  This vintage sound seemed to set a template for things to come as it unlocked a minimal songwriting more stripped down and elemental as compared to the bands each member had been in before.

As it turned out, the tape machine had been sold by Nathan's former elementary physical education teacher Mr. Miller (who was a terrible and abusive alcoholic during his time as gym teacher).  He was tottering about the sale and Nathan didn't recognize him until he got home and saw the 'Property of Coach Miller' label on the bottom of the machine and put 2+2 together.  Needless to say, this man was a tyrant and the earthly embodiment of the cruel gym teacher stereotype. One famous story involved him running the mile in reverse holding a bag of candy in front of one of the heavier students who was struggling.  Ugh. He should have never been  allowed around children and was feared and hated by all students at Neil Elementary School.

Sweet revenge came in the form of tracking their first demo over his sloppy renditions of Sinatra tunes.  In fact, there are several moments on this demo that you can still hear old Mr. Miller's drunken crooning coming through ghostly in some of the songs if you listen closely. Also at this sale was an Acetone Rhythm Ace Drum Machine.  That drum machine is the sole drummer on the first Bombay Sweets EP and continues to make appearances on recordings even after Jeff joined shortly thereafter.

Sadly, whatever magic was in that DuKane tape machine from the 1950's was lost shortly after dumping the tracks down to a Pro Tools system. Without warning as it was being disconnected from the computer, the tape machine spontaneously burst in flames (probably due to its old unserviced tube electronics), and melted the original reels thus destroying any chance for further recordings on it.  Luckily the demo recording survives and served as a launching point sonically and aesthetically for the Bombay Sweets.   The recording was released as an EP in a run of 300 (and quickly sold out) and is now and forever more offered for free from the band's website.

The band continued to record at their studio space 'The Cobweb Palace' (utilizing more modern methods to achieve a similar effect) and released two 7" records.  These records continue to sell well and are on each on their second pressings.  They shot and edited together a video for another recording "I Don't Wanna Be Your Soldier Anymore" that upped the bands profile as it made its way through music blogs locally and nationwide.  They also began to play out and found their footings live opening up for bands like the Ponys, the Soft Pack, the Clinic, Holly Golightly, Quintron, and many others.

The first true collection of studio recordings, their 'S/T' EP, is due to be released on August 16th, 2011.  The recordings are the whittled down remnants of over 15 songs recorded at several studios over the last year of the bands life, with only the cream of that crop appearing on record.  They continue to embrace their intentional minimalism and gritty warmth while offering a more lush and roomy studio sound.  Very few overdubs and/or digital trickery was employed and the results show that.

The six songs on this new recording showcase what The Bombay Sweets do best: combining elements of volcanic surf, early bombastic rock and roll, raucous rockabilly, blazing 60's garage, and deconstructed no-wave blended into very unique and vibrant sound.  They make a lot of noise for a two piece line up.  The song writing and instrumentation sounds like it was plucked from a pile of old 45's played with the speed control turned up and run through a Space Echo. They mash together their influences without sounding derivative or rehashed. Their sound calls to mind the era of Link Wray and Bo Diddley's guitar heroism but with an updated and more modern and arty feel and tempo. 

The record itself is pressing on limited lime green/pink split color 12" vinyl that only has an A side (with the B side blank) for extra vinyl fetishist nerd factor.  You can actually see photos of it being pressed at the plant here.  Wow! The artwork was designed and silk screened by the famous Minneapolis poster artists of Aesthetic Apparatus. The EP will be released simultaneously on CD and digital download as well.

A large part of their sound and presence onstage is Jeff's use of a stand up cocktail kit.  It keeps in line with their minimalist ethos and is head turning live.  This 50's drum set/relic has been almost completely forgotten in modern culture and its appearance is certainly unprecedented in the kind of loud and and (at times) aggressive music they play. Perhaps because of this unconventionality it is so well suited to the tone and feel of their music, but it is unlike any other drummers sound.  Jeff's three foot high floor tom and Latin influenced uses of maracas calls to mind an earlier, almost tribal, and far more carnivorous and primitive form of rock n' roll that predates the birth of today's 'modern drummer'. His high kicking and general theatricality (including wandering offstage) would only be possible coming from a drummer who did not need to sit down through the whole show!

Nathan's spent the last decade of his life selling vintage stringed instruments traveling the back roads and small towns in the Midwest to find new treasures.  His guitar-centric lifestyle and gear hording shows onstage and in their videos as he seems to have an endless supply of cool, rare guitars.  Almost all the gear they play is decades older than they are!  His guitar tone is antique to say the least and the recordings glisten with the tubby flatwound strings and surfy reverb that is very memorable and distinctly 'un-modern'.  He plays live with an arsenal of vintage hollowbody and baritone guitars that produce a gigantic yet dark and brooding footprint that is the anchor of their sound. His use of the 60's EKO floor bass foot pedals in place of their bass player at the same time as doing guitar acrobatics is amazing to behold.   They have shot a video to show the use of these pedals in the studio that demystifies this rare keyboard somewhat, but you better have a subwoofer on your computer to hear it.  The sound of this floor pedal is deep like a church pipe organ on steroids.  The dubby tone that adds a sinister element as it rounds out the low end of their songs nicely. Their live sound is full and unlike any other two piece.

Combined the two have been in many bands (some together) including the Selby Tigers, His Mischief, Sean Na Na, Har Mar Superstar, the Dynamiters, Monarques, Arm, Grotto and many more.

Click here for a link to press photos and album artwork.

Click here for a streaming interview and performance of live songs on MPR's The Current Local Show with David Campbell.

Press about the Bombay Sweets:

"After quick-burning runs in the Monarques and Dynamiters, former Selby Tigers co-leader Nathan Grumdahl sounds a little more settled in his new fuzzed-out rockabilly/surf-punk duo the Bombay Sweets, which he started with standup drummer Jeff Brown after finding a 1950s-era DuKane reel-to-reel recorder. The duo celebrates its Cramps-fiery, Zombies-hazy, six-song EP Saturday at the Turf Club (10 p.m., $7). The "Bombay Sweets" disc is as striking visually as it is musically: Local poster maestros Aesthetic Apparatus did the artwork, and the United Records pressing plant in Nashville (which also handles Jack White's Third Man label) churned out a special one-sided, two-colored vinyl edition that looks like a 12-inch-round piece of candescent taffy. The idea, Grumdahl reports, was to "make you want to lick it." Only the record's guitar licks taste good, however."  -Chris Riemenschneider, Star Tribune August 2011

"Twin Cities rock duo The Bombay Sweets began as a solo venture for Nathan Grumdahl, formally of celebrated punk band The Selby Tigers. The project quickly expanded into a guitar/drum duo, one that genre-hops with great success. The Sweets are anchored by sparse garage rock, with heavy doses of surf and sprinkles of rockabilly speckling the analog mix. The venture is still in the early stages, and a soon-to-be released, self-titled EP will be the band’s first proper collection of studio recordings. But expect plenty more from the Sweets, a group that pays homage to The Trashmen as eagerly as it does The Troggs."    -the Onion, Milwaukee/Madison August 2011

"You may remember The Bombay Sweets from the inaugural Reviler Podcast earlier this year. Or hopefully you already know Nate and Jeff from their years around town playing in the Selby Tigers, The Dynamiters, Arm, Monarques, His Mischief and a bunch more. The Bombay Sweets “formed” a couple year ago as Nate Grumdahl’s solo project before adding Jeff Brown on the cocktail drum kit (that’s the small standup drums for the non knowing). A few years and a lot of gigs later, the self titled EP is the first (slightly) longer collection of songs following a couple of 7” records and a out of print demo CD (which you can still find online).  Opener “I Take You Alone” if a quick burst of frantic surf rock which sets the pace of the record. For a two piece band, The Bombay Sweets sound is very full which might be at partially because of their secret weapon the EKO K2 bass pedal which fills out some of those missing bass tones. “Wolf’s Breath” and “Happy Birthday (to Petty Reasons)” continues the path set out by the opener while the brief “Your Brutal Mythology” extends the surf guitar breaks. The fifth track “L’il Lamb” brings things to an almost rockabilly shuffle leading right into the guitar and maraca serenade of closer “You Are Not The Most Important Person In The World”.  The self titled EP is another solid but brief step for the Bombay Sweets’ output so far. Here’s to hoping we get a full length soon."
-Adam Bubolz, The August 2011

"The Bombay Sweets' two man rock attack makes the most of minimal moving parts. Front man Nathan Grumdahl's baritone electric guitars create a massive wall of sound perfectly complemented by the deft minimalist drum kit moves of Jeff Brown. The combo's winning take on classic garage-rock is undeniably impressive on their new self-titled EP, whether they're offering up sock-hop friendly boogie ("I Take You Alone") or something more sinister ("Wolf's Breath")." -Rob Van Alstyne, Metromix August 2011

"It was the summer of 2009 when guitarist Nathan Grumdahl founded his solo project Bombay Sweets. Equipped with nothing but a drum machine, a guitar and a handful of loop pedals, Grumdahl’s musical creation was the kind of lo-fi warbling that could turn the heads of both indie-rock purists and blues aficionados. But Grumdahl knew he could only get so much mileage out of the one-man setup. It wasn’t until he enlisted his friend and former bandmate Jeff Brown that the project really started to take off.
“I’m someone who really likes loud music and knew early on that I needed a drummer,” Grumdahl said. And now Bombay Sweets are ready to unveil their latest concoction, joining the stage with local punk outfits The Blind Shake and Birthday Suits Friday at the Turf Club.

Their debut, self-titled EP fuses together the very best elements of breezy surf rock and traditional blues standards. And the songs are all relatively short too — the longest track barely surpasses the three-minute mark.  The idea was to get to something more primal and minimal and elemental,” Grumdahl said.
While the group may not shift the dynamics of music, they’re not just assembly-line indie either. What distinguishes Bombay Sweets is their emphasis on texture and the ability to create such busy arrangements with so little in the way of resources. Grumdahl’s writing might sound basic at first listen but he’s a guitarist that emphasizes details and accents each note with vibrato while layering them with bass lines. “Believe it or not, everything on that record is effectively live. There are one or two overdubs on it and that technique is loyal to how the band started,” Grumdahl said. When the duo’s performing live, they stick to the basics. Grumdahl doesn’t use anything other than a (Bigsby) vibrato and bass pedal. Brown, too, keeps it simple by performing with a cocktail drum — a rarely used portable drum kit that requires a performer to play while standing upright. “There’s a certain looseness that happens but we fit really well together so it’s hard to imagine bringing someone else in and getting that same immediacy,” Grumdahl said. “It’s great because we can switch it up really quickly and if we want to, go from 0 to 60 in a second.” ' -Raghav Mehta, MN Daily August 2011

"Take a listen to any of the handful of 45s and demos that comprise the Bombay Sweets' still-small body of work and it's not surprising to learn the band got its start with an old reel-to-reel tape deck.

"I bought it from a former gym teacher of mine from elementary school," says band leader Nathan Grumdahl, taking a break from playing cards with some friends during a Sunday afternoon happy hour at Common Roots. "I really bought the reel-to-reel to hear kind of what crazy shit he had recorded on it because he was such an asshole," he laughs, sweeping his long blond bangs to the side.
The tape deck turned out to be something of a bust, as it was scant on recordings and then broke not long after Grumdahl started using it himself. But the former Selby Tigers and Monarques guitarist was inspired to work on a cache of songs that hadn't fit into his other bands, and eventually found a vision for the project from some of the musicians he encountered through his day job, buying and selling vintage instruments.  "It would basically be these old men and a drum machine, sort of like this old '60s one-man-band thing," he recalls. "And I was like, 'Oh, maybe I shouldn't be afraid to do this.'"

The Sweets' songs crackle with the analog warmth those origins suggest, each one an exercise in spare, guitar-driven garage-punk and delivered in a quick, energetic snap. Grumdahl hands me a mix CD with a sampling of the rockabilly and surf records he had in constant rotation while he was writing, and the band names alone evoke a distinctive sound: Bird Rollins, the Versatones, Jody Reynolds and the Storms. Not that those names necessarily come to mind first for everybody; Grumdahl admits he's been compared to the Pulp Fiction soundtrack on multiple occasions. Having started as a solo venture, the Sweets quickly expanded into a two-piece to include His Mischief drummer Jeff Brown once they started gigging last year, but the model remains a lean, flexible one. "He just has an ability to change gears in a way that... I feel I can kind of do anything," Grumdahl enthuses. "I could show him a song once and he'd play it perfect the second time."' -City Pages, Oct 2010