Flamingods – Interview

Unusual band, the Flamingods. From Bahrain, and made up of Kamal Rasool, Charles Prest, Karthik Poduval, and Sam Rowe, for many years they had been beset by visa issues, to the extent that they could hardly make music together as a band, instead getting together for the odd tour and gig, whilst exchanging files over the internet in concocting their heady fusion of upbeat middle eastern psychedelia. Regular visitors to Brighton – they recently performed at Mutations – they have a fourth album Levitation, the first one they have recorded fully as a band, and will be here for this year’s The Great Escape. Kamal took some time out from a band rehearsal to chat about Bahrain, the new album, and being an Exceptional Talent…

Hi! How’s it going!?
I’m at my pad in Forest Hill, in London. We’re doing a little practice. We’re lucky, at the end of my garden there is a shed that we’ve converted into a little music room, and above it there’s a concrete garage which traps a lot of the sound. And we have friendly neighbours. We’re having little tea breaks in the sun. Everyone’s here going through some troublesome bits…

Is the band the same line up as always?
It’s the same line up that we’ve always had, apart from one member Craig Doporto who left around the time we finished out last album.

Been gigging the new album at all?
We’ve been doing a few gigs here and there. We played in Iceland, and we’ve just got back from Marrakesh and Barcelona. We have a new band member that will be joining us for our May tour, Serra Patele, a multi-instrumentalist as well, and an absolute monster behind percussion, guitar and bass.

Tell me about the Morocco Trip
We were playing this festival called Beat Hotel, run by the same people who do that stage at Glastonbury. We decided to go over and stay for a bit extra, and stayed for about five or six nights. It was a really good experience and quite inspiring.

We’ve got a bit of a cool history with Morocco. I’ve been quite a few times, and I wrote most of the album’s lyrics in Tangiers, last summer. When we were in Marrakesh, we hooked up with the Gnawa Academy. They got in touch with us, and invited us over to their place for a jam. It’s quite a different rhythm that music, so we were getting attuned to each other’s different rhythms. We invited them to play with us on stage for the last few songs. That was quite special.

I can’t quite believe Levitation is your fourth album…
We tend to think of our first two records… you know how rappers put out mix tapes, it feels a bit like that, especially with our second LP, Hyperborea. It wasn’t even recorded in a studio, it was a very lo-fi affair. Either way, this is our fourth record, and feeling good about it!

You played the West Holts stage at Glastonbury, my favourite stage, in 2015. That must have been a moment, one of many I presume!
It was an honour to play that stage. It’s definitely also my favourite stage, and all the artists who play on that stage are incredible. It was raining really hard, and it wasn’t that busy, I don’t think…

Tell me about this album.
This one was done completely differently. We were all living on the same continent again. With Majesty and Hyperborea I was having visa issues, and I was living out in the Middle East. Charles joined me for a little bit. But for three or so years, we were living away from each other, and communicating online, sending things back and forth and not really being then in the same room writing. Now having sorted out my visa we just really wanted to make a record where all four of us were in a room, writing every aspect of the record together, putting our collective minds together, to create the exact sound we wanted. It’s definitely a different approach and something we were happy to finally be able to do.

It’s a full sound, and quite live sounding…
That was another thing. We really wanted to capture that live energy. We were playing the songs all live together, in the studio, which was something we hadn’t really done before. We’ve known each other for a very long time. We grew up with each other, in Bahrain, as childhood friends. We’ve been making music together since we were 15. So, there’s definitely a musical telepathy going on which we were finally able to tap into on this LP.

Why did you call the album Levitation?
It was words that were related to most of the themes going on the record. We were going through a bit of rough patch leading up to writing the record, and even whilst we were writing the record we were struck by a few tragedies, like KP’s (Karthik Poduva) father passing away, which definitely went into the record. We wanted to make a positive thing, out of all the negativity that had been engulfing us, and Levitation seemed to be a word that symbolised that lifting us up, and reaching for that higher plane of happiness. It was a word that seemed to tie everything together. The title track is dedicated to KP’s father.

It was produced by Capital K. He runs the studio where we recorded, and he did our past two LP’s.

I love the track ‘Koray’, what does that refer to?
We love Turkish psychedelic music, and that was a huge influence when we were writing the record. And one of our favourite musicians is Koray Avci. We named the song after him.

There’s lots of instrumentation on Levitation….
Man, there’s so much on it. I don’t know if people have realised this about us, but we are very much maximalists. There’s a lot of vintage synths on there, a lot courtesy of the synth collection at the Total Refreshment Centre (TRC), where we recorded the album. We got a turkish baglama saz, played on tracks like ‘Astral Plane’. There’s an instrument called the taishogoto harp that we’ve been playing in the band for years, and for this record I figured out I could use a bow. The final three songs are very string heavy, because of that new trick we learned. And we were able to tap into a lot of Middle Eastern and South Asian textures with the addition of that. We also had a huge variety of guests, string sections, Alabaster de Plume, choir sections from Jenny Moore.

And there’s also Mikey from Snapped Ankles.
Yeah, Mikey! He plays on ‘Paradise Drive’ He has a studio at TRC. Every time we went there to record there was such a wide variety of people hanging out. ‘Why don’t you come and record this!’ Mikey was one of those, and so was Alabaster de Plume, and Danalogue, who is in The Comet Is Coming.

The Total Refreshment Centre seems to be such a hub of creative activity…
A lot of people associate it as a jazz establishment, but there’s also a lot of outsider bands that call that place their home, such as us, and Snapped Ankles. It’s an inspiring place, where you’re around all these like minded outsiders.

You’ve got an unusual backstory, with all of you from Bahrain. Tell me about that country.
I’m not really nationalistic in any way, but I do have fond memories of the place, for sure. It’s a pretty mad place, a melting pot of all these different cultures. There’s a huge South Asian and a huge South East Asian community. There’s also loads of Europeans there, and Middle Eastern people. Growing up there you’re being smacked in the face with all of that, all at once. You can imagine how that could make us the musicians we are. I would say that growing up in that environment has probably led to that. In that respect it’s a cool place. My parents still lives there and my brother puts on festivals and gigs, and he’s trying to re-invigorate the musical scene, because that was pretty much non-existent when I was growing up there. Just Metallica cover bands! Which was actually amazing… I’ve leaned to dig that quite a bit.

It’s definitely more liberal than a lot of Middle Eastern countries. It has this reputation of being a bit of a party island. It is an island, so you get that laid back party island vibe.

So, you’ve sorted out your visa issues and can now go back and forth at will?
I got the Exceptional Talent visa about two years ago. It’s great, I used to get questioned so much coming into the country, and now I just give them this card, and they look at me, like who’s this fucker in a band!

Jeff Hemmings

Website: flamingods.com
Facebook: facebook.com/flamingodsmusic
Twitter: twitter.com/flamingods