BamBoo’s journey from basement to music festival

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Former UW students Marcus Retterath and Nick Collett, along with fellow bandmates Steve Benjamins and Michael Schmidt, make up the indie rock band BamBoo, who recently performed at the North by Northeast Festivals and Conference (NXNE) in Toronto.</p>

NXNE is an arts and music festival that attracts over 350,000 attendees and international performers. BamBoo performed at 2 a.m. in the Horseshoe June 20. Imprint spoke with Retterath to learn more about the band and their NXNE experience.

“If you’re a fan of Canadian indie rock, [then] you’ll probably be a fan,” Retterath said. “There’s some pop elements … [so] it’s got some wide appeal. There’s a lot of emotion in the songs and there’s some really nice melodies, but there’s also a bit of yelling. It can be a little aggressive sometimes, [which] kind of keeps it from being too pop.”

BamBoo’s late night set definitely did not disappoint; the crowd even shouted for more. After being granted extra time by the event organizers, the band obliged and played their first ever encore performance.

“North by Northeast was a lot of fun,” Retterath said. “We had a really great crowd … it was just a blast.” 

Though BamBoo’s early time-slot may have discouraged other bands, Retterath was unfazed.

“Some people might look at that 2 a.m. set time as a bit of a death sentence in terms of crowds, but what’s beautiful is that … there’s a huge rush of people down at the Horseshoe as soon as the bars close and we get to reap all of the benefits.”

Retterath saw NXNE as an opportunity to meet festival-goers from the music industry and hear some valuable critique about their performance. “People are very honest in these events,” he said.

“It’s really refreshing when someone comes up and [says], ‘I don’t know. It was a pretty good set, but I think it lacked energy after the third or fourth song.’ It feels like there’s a lot more people really listening, you know? Like, really critically listening to the music.”

Retterath met Collett through mutual friends when they were both UW students. Retterath was in the arts and business program, while Collett was in the faculty of science. Though they were both playing for different bands at the time, the future bandmates often played in the same venues.

“We played a lot of shows in Kitchener together,” Retterath recalled. “We played Maxwell’s a bunch of times together [as well as] Chainsaw.”

Retterath even remembered playing at the Bomber once, though it was a “really small set.”

Eventually, Retterath decided that his passion for music production would be better pursued elsewhere, so he withdrew from UW and transferred to Recording Arts Canada in Toronto, where he eventually met Michael Schmidt, BamBoo’s bass player.

In Toronto, Retterath worked for a talent agency, which gave him access to a room in the basement. “I just invited friends to come over and jam,” he reminisced.

Collett soon followed (after earning his UW science degree), and after a summer of jamming, Retterath, Schmidt, and Collett approached Steve Benjamins to become the lead vocalist for the band.

Last May, BamBoo released their first extended play (EP), Mountains, which is currently available for free on their website. “We had a lot of fun doing that,” Retterath recalled. “We actually recorded it and we did that whole EP ourselves.”

Now that BamBoo is working on their first full-length studio album, Chances — set to be released on Sept. 10 — Retterath declared that, “It’s time to step it up a notch.” As a band, they all agreed to “throw some money at it, do a proper job of it, [and] not just record it in the basement of a talent agency this time.”

Chances will reflect the band’s artistic growth, and Retterath has described it as “more complex and refined.”

“There’s a nice cohesion to all of it. It all sounds like it’s coming from the same story … and there’s been more time taken to write [the songs]. The music … it’s just elevated a little bit. … It’s a little smarter.”

This year, BamBoo has had a pretty busy schedule with balancing shows, practice, and recording sessions. Prior to NXNE, BamBoo performed at Canadian Music Week — a 10-day industry and music festival held in Toronto in May.

Now that NXNE has wrapped up, BamBoo will hit the road and continue touring. The band will perform at a cancer benefit in King City later this summer. In August, BamBoo will play a preview show at Lee’s Palace for TURF, the Toronto Urban Roots Fest.

Chances’ launch date coincides with their first show as part of a 10-day mini-tour across Ontario and Quebec. BamBoo will play eight shows within 10 days, and the tour will finish off in St. Catherine’s.

So will they be stopping at Waterloo?

“We’re trying to work out Waterloo close to the launch,” explained Retterath. “We originally wanted to do a Southwestern Ontario thing, and do Hamilton, London, Guelph, Kitchener, and Toronto.”

If BamBoo does end up stopping by in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, they would love to perform at Maxwell’s, where Retterath and Collett first played together over nine years ago.

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