Bombay: in the teeth

Article published on March 11, 2016
Article published on March 11, 2016

A smack in the face. That's the impact Bombay's second album has on its listeners. But the hard-hitting sound of Show Your Teeth could attract major attention to a Dutch group that's long been trying to find itself, between musical experiments, defections, and empty bottles of Ricard. Interview with Mathias Janmaat, a singer with fangs.

cafébabel: Is there a message behind the album title, Show Your Teeth?

Bombay: It's kind of a personal message. It comes from the first line on the album, "C'mon baby show your teeth." It pretty much reflects the mood I was in when we recorded the album. The group changed a lot when we started on this record, because our old drummer left. She was with me when I first started up [under the original name Bombay Show Pig]. She kind of left with a bang, and there was a lot of tension in the air at that point.

cafébabel: Did that tension affect the songwriting on the album?

Bombay: Yes, definitely. For a while, I was feeling pretty lost. I didn’t really know what was going on around me. We wrote a ton of songs that we just threw out because they didn't make sense anymore. We practically finished three albums before delivering Show Your Teeth. We spent tons of time messing with equipment, trying out new sounds, looking for ourselves musically. On the first album, we played around with lots of instruments, like strings and brass that we thought sounded funky. But we eventually decided to go back to something more basic. That's why this album sounds so different from the first one.

cafébabel: Looking back, would you say that you're still the same group?

Bombay: We did use things from the first album to put the second one together. So there's some continuity. We sometimes sing a few songs from the first album in concert. But it's true that a lot of the old songs don't represent us anymore.

Bombay: "Slow Motion"

This new group was born from different kinds of songs. I've never made two albums with the same lineup. Really, it's as if we've always been looking for the right formula. But now, I feel like we've found it and I hope we'll put out another album together.

cafébabel: Do you feel more at ease now as the front man of the group?

Bombay: More or less. I've always been the songwriter of the group, but I haven't always sung. Now I have to take on that role too.

cafébabel: The Dutch rock scene seems to be getting more and more attention outside of the Netherlands. Have you noticed any particular evolution?

Bombay: There are lots more groups there lately. Once they're well known in the Netherlands they hit a sort of ceiling and start trying to play outside of the country. For example, Mozes and the Firstborns and Jacco Gardner are doing well in the United States. Once you've made a name for yourself in the US, and they talk about you in Pitchfork, it's a lot easier to be successful in France or in Germany. People are also talking about the group Skip and Die. It's helped put the spotlight on a whole new wave of musicians.

cafébabel: You aren't from Amsterdam. What are musicians looking for when they go to the capital?

Bombay: Most of all? Venues to play. Amsterdam has a multitude of stages where artists can perform. What I love is that, even if nobody's heard of you, you can always find some way to play in front of an audience. You can play in a little bar... or at the Paradiso, which has definitely been the venue with the best line-up for the past few years.

cafébabel: What do you think makes Amsterdam so special?

Bombay: Amsterdam is the biggest city in the Netherlands. But places are still close together. With a bicycle you can get anywhere in less than half an hour. It's a very practical city. I used to live in Jordaan, the hip part of town, but I've just moved to the southwest. It's a little less expensive. So there are tons of artists that live in the area and quite a few music studios that have decided to set up shop in certain hotel basements... It may sound like a cliché, but it's a pretty cool melting pot.

cafébabel: Do you see a lot of gentrification?

Bombay: Just the typical stuff. Like a lot of the old working class neighbourhoods, it's getting filled with trendy cafés. When a bunch open all at once it seems pretty lame, but I have to admit that some of them are really cool places. For example, a sort of underground cinema just opened on my street. The guys there show little-known independent films. It's not very expensive, and there are sometimes discussions after the film. It's cool; it creates a real neighbourhood atmosphere. Before, there were just kebab stands. Man... There were sometimes like 30 kebab stands one after the other! I always wondered how they managed to make any money. Maybe they negotiated some kind of deal...

cafébabel: Where do most people there come from?

Bombay: Everywhere. Lots of Turks, Egyptians... Amsterdam is generally a pretty multicultural place. I've lived in the northern part of the city too, and that area has a very diverse population. Once you get past the IJ, the river in the northern part of the city, you start seeing a lot of construction sites. They're working on a huge real estate project and a highway that will get people to Amsterdam within a few minutes. The population is going to become even more diverse.

cafébabel: On a completely different subject, I notice that the group likes Ricard. When did you try it for the first time?

Bombay: Yes! Tomorrow, after our Netherlands concert, we plan to offer everyone a little shot, to introduce the Dutch to Ricard [laughs]. But what we like most is the ritual that goes with it. We discovered Ricard by accident, during a tour somewhere in the middle of France. We noticed that everyone drank a glass at the bar before every concert. It seemed strange to us. We were struck by it. Then afterwards, you eat too. It's just the kind of ritual you find in France. Food, man... the French take it seriously. We love that. Where we come from, you eat something fast and get back to what you were doing. It's the lifestyle here that we really like.

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Listen: Show Your Teeth by Bombay (V2 Records/2016)