interview: nicky bomba from the melbourne ska orchestra
The vibrancy and animation you find in the Melbourne Ska Orchestra’s debut self-titled album is a genuine ear opener. Composed of seasoned professional musicians who have perfected the ability to improvise, their overall sound can be described as nothing short of fresh and magical. Nicky Bomba (John Butler Trio, Bomba, Bustomento), whom I was delighted to speak to, chats about the buzz and excitement behind conducting the Melbourne Ska Orchestra, a massive flaming sensation.
“Apart from feeling like the captain of a ramshackle train that’s about to fall off the tracks, you can actually kind of go anywhere if you have the confidence to go along for the ride. It’s all about everyone being really close-knit, everyone knowing the form, everyone knowing the arrangement of the song but at anytime it can go anywhere. It’s pretty exciting conducting in an orchestra that’s got that flexibility”.
The album has that flare and excitement Nicky speaks of embezzled within its sonic flesh and when asked what it is like to record compared to the many shows they’ve played live, I am told, “with that type of band you kind of have to play it live.” This is a huge difference to bands nowadays who are in the studio recording bit by bit. There’s certainly a mass amount of spontaneity incorporated into the songs.
“A lot of the solos, none of them were worked out – it was all kind of as we went,” Nicky explains, “Some of the arrangements were changed, some lyrics. We kind of got generally the whole album 70-80% cooked and the essence happened in the studio which was exactly how I wanted it, we wanted a bit of magic there. It could be a thing about tempo, it could be a groove, it could be a chord change, key change, you allow for that in the studio. I think that’s why the album turned out sounding so fresh and exciting. We didn’t labour over it too much”.
Recently pumping out shows at the Golden Plains Music Festival and with their sights set on WOMAD New Zealand, they’re turning heads and winning over groovers wherever they appear. I ask Nicky which has been his favourite show, which I realise is quite a hard question.
“Well, all the Melbourne Ska Orchestra shows have been kind of exciting on many levels,” he says, “From Bluesfest to WOMAD, and we just played Golden Plains on the weekend. Not just the one show stands out. They’re all kind of unique and special in their own way. I couldn’t really say. When we played [Byron Bay] Bluesfest for the first time, we could see that there was a buzz happening and people kind of getting off on this new spectacle, thirty people on stage. There was definitely a buzz happening there. But you can still feel it like on the weekend when there are thirty of us on stage, you can just see the audience go ‘wow, what’s going on here, it’s something new’. So it’s pretty exciting”.
My curiosity sets in when I ask Nicky about my favourite from the album ‘Lygon Street Meltdown’.
“Lygon Street is an iconic street in Carlton. In the 80’s and the early 90’s it was the underbelly scene, kind of gangsta thing that was happening in Melbourne. But before that it was the place you went to if you were playing in the band and you wanted a meal at 2 o’clock in the morning. It was Little Italy basically. It had a charm about it – very Melbourne-centric. When we were writing songs for it, it kind of sounded like a detective scene and we just made the song with what we wrote the lyrics of – it’s called the Lygon Street Meltdown and the idea was that it would be about something like that. We wanted something Melbourne-centric as well because we’re called the Melbourne Ska Orchestra. It made sense. The lyrics came pretty quickly and the arrangements came together and we wanted it to sound contagious which is synonymous with ska”.
Already brimming with excitement over the songs I’d heard from their debut album, I realised this was an act I had to see live ASAP. Before letting Nicky Bomba go, I asked him what was on the calendar for the year with MSO.
“We’ve got Golden Plains, WOMAD New Zealand, Bluesfest, we’ve got a national tour and in November, the Queenscliff Festival and then we’re looking at going overseas”, he says, meaning we’ve all got plenty of chances to catch this excellent thirty-piece in action.
By Nikita Andrea
With an obsessive nature for music, Nikita Andrea writes avidly for the world of sound on Lip, Timber and Steel and her blog Raindrops and Rooftops. When she’s not writing about music she’s performing it.