Bedouin Soundclash opens up after 9-year break, remembers Bookie and radio roots

WATCH: 'When the Night Feels My Song' — Bedouin Soundclash's 2004 smash-hit

Fifteen years ago after the release of their smash-hit single, When the Night Feels My Songthe world was formally introduced to the sounds and talents of Bedouin Soundclash, the Canadian ska/reggae/rock duo.

For a time, the band was unstoppable and continued to dominate the music industry with releases throughout the late 2000s. They formed in 2001, while they were still attending Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., and quickly became Juno Award winners.

Though the band’s success continued to skyrocket thanks to their loyal legion of fans, the co-founding members, frontman Jay Malinowski and bassist Eon Sinclair, decided it was time to take a break shortly after the release of their fourth record, Light the Horizon (2010). The “break” lasted 9 years.

After much silence, the band is back on the scene with their fifth and latest album, Mass (2019).

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(L-R) Jay Malinowski and Eon Sinclair of Bedouin Sounclash in 2019. Brandon Artis Photography / Sony Music Canada

The album features 14 new tracks with new backers, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band — who have joined them on tour for Mass.

As well as When the Night Feels My Song and their newest critically acclaimed release, Bedouin Soundclash is best-known for the Top 10-charting Canadian 2007 radio single, Walls Fall Down.

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The song earned the duo a nomination for both the “Pop Album of the Year” and “Video of the Year” awards at the 2008 Juno Awards — only two years after being dubbed “Canada’s Best Music Group” at the 2006 Junos.

It was shortly after finding unexpected-yet-widespread success in the U.K. that Bedouin began to build their global following.

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After the release of When the Night Feels My Song and their accompanying sophomore album, Sounding a Mosaic (2004), the band was put on heavy rotation, receiving airplay on Canadian radio stations.

In the midst of their Canadian tour, Global News sat down with the Malinowski and Sinclair to chat about their radio roots, how their “hiatus” affected them and why it’s so important as a band to consistently look forward.

Global News: Welcome back to Corus Quay! You’re performing on The Edge today, right? What’s it like being back at the station where it all started?
Jay Malinowski: It’s so different, man. The first time we came here … well, it wasn’t even here, it was still over at Yonge-Dundas Square. [Laughs] But we never thought we’d get added to any rock radio station, let alone 102.1 The Edge. But they were one of the first places that added When the Night Feels My Song after it started doing really well over in England.
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The first radio show we did was actually Dean Blundell’s show — which no longer exists, but it was such a classic show.

Eon Sinclair: Dave Bookman [best known as “Bookie”] was actually the one that chose to put it on the air. He was The Edge’s music programmer at the time. It’s really unfortunate that he passed away, because he was such an amazing guy. Bookie put us on the rotation and that’s essentially when people started noticing us in Canada. He ultimately set the ball rolling for us at home. The Edge has always been monumental for us. Seriously.

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It’s interesting that you were picked up first in the U.K. before making it big in Canada. All it took was a bit of radio promo and then suddenly you had this huge worldwide following. Do you think things would have been different if that song didn’t make it big?
JM: It’s interesting, ’cause When The Night Feels My Song helped introduce a lot of people to our music. We still have those Day 1 fans coming to our shows and they’ve adapted to our later music too, which is great, but we still have a lot younger people coming to our shows as first-timers, thankfully. Oftentimes, they show up because they’re fans of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, but leave as fans. [Laughs]
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Back in 2004, these newcomers were probably around eight years old, or even younger. A lot of the newer Canadian fans usually remember When the Night Feels My Song as the CBC Kids theme song. We’ve even been told by many of them that it’s not until we actually play it, towards the end of our sets, that they connect the dots and realize that we’re the same band [Laughs]. It’s a pretty funny connection.

Judging from the current Canadian tour, how has the audience been reacting to Mass?
JM: The new material is being received really well so far. We’re still really excited about the album. The main thing for us was that when we started again, we wanted to be 100 per cent committed and inspired by what we’re doing onstage. It took us a while, but honestly, I love playing live right now, specifically on this tour.

ES: Yeah, it’s really been a lot of fun. Having a lot more people onstage helps bring more energy to the room and makes it a completely new atmosphere for us. We’re definitely feeding off of that right now too, which is amazing. Right now, we have three core musicians playing with us and they really add a whole different flavour to the show, which also gives us a different kick while we’re playing too. The energy just bounces back and forth between us and the crowd. It’s a completely new show for everyone in the Bedouin camp and when we go back to the U.K. in May, we’re going to bring the band again too so everyone can experience it.

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Next year marks 20 years since your first album. Since you’re a band that prides itself on looking forward, I’d like to know how you feel about anniversary tours. Would you ever consider one?
JM: Whoa, has it been that long? That’s crazy. Is anyone actually asking for that tour? [Laughs]

ES: Personally, I’ve never actually thought of doing it. For us, Bedouin is just a really fluid thing. So the idea of anniversary tours and looking back at records — although it’s easy for people to grasp — it’s not us. We try to bring songs from the past that make sense with the context of what we’re doing now. So right now, that would be Mass, and unfortunately, songs from Root Fire just doesn’t fit into that set. I think next year, maybe we can figure out some things, but the idea with a full anniversary tour, I don’t think is ever going to go down.

JM: I think if I wanted to play all of the songs from the past, it means I must have gotten it completely right the first time and that there’s no reason to write anything new. … Which absolutely isn’t true. There’s always a better way of changing things up and that’s by making something new.

Was there ever a thought in your mind that the band might cease to exist after your nine-year “hiatus”?
JM: Yes, absolutely. But the first thing you should know is that Eon and I are not band people. We never intended to be in a band in the first place. We were both doing other things when we met and became friends. But then when I saw him playing bass, we just wound up in this band and it kept going from there. Initially, I was thinking I was going to pursue visual art or something, but we really loved this music.

As for the common tropes that bands fall into like going on hiatus or doing a “reunion,” we didn’t have much to offer in terms of that. We just felt like we’d gone to the end of whatever Bedouin was at the time. We were still friends though, so it didn’t really matter whether we were in a band or not.

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JM: That’s why I think of bands like flowers. They have their time and you could try to overwork the garden or the soil, but it may not ever come back right … and that’s fine. We acknowledged that, but we just didn’t want to ever say, “Oh, we’re breaking up,” and then randomly come back and say, “Oh, I guess we’ve got a new record,” and, “Now go buy some tickets.” We didn’t want to do that at all.

ES: [Laughs] There was never a moment where we were like, “OK, let’s take nine years off because after nine years, it’s gonna be perfect.” [Laughs] We just had no idea, we toured more-or-less for a good stretch of 10 years straight. We needed a break, to settle our minds and get a new perspective. We did talk about coming back in that time away and we always knew we were going to do something again, we just didn’t know it would be Bedouin.

JM: Yeah, we actually thought we’d come and just do our own new thing together.

ES: Like two DJs just rockin’ to beats onstage. [Laughs] But that didn’t work out. We’re kinda old for that.
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JM: [Laughs] Yeah, I just couldn’t get the rhythm right.
(L-R) Jay Malinowski and Eon Sinclair of Bedouin Soundclash in 2019. Brandon Artis Photography / Sony Music Canada

So whether you were making music or not, what mattered to you guys is that you stay friends? A no-commitment kind of thing?
JM: Yeah, as we started working on stuff together again, we had the idea of producing a few tracks and inviting some of the artists we love to come in and sing on them. We had some old reggae artists in mind for those tracks before realizing we were just making another Bedouin record. It was our sound.

ES: We thought we might as well just make it, and that’s exactly what Mass is.

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Despite choosing to take time away, would you say you missed being in Bedouin?
ES: Not really, no. But to be honest, I think the one thing — that is always a by-product of being in a band — is that we’d spend a lot of time together. So when we weren’t a band anymore, we didn’t see each other as much, and that was something I definitely missed. We were always in touch, but being coastal is a lot different than being in the same hotel room or on the same stage, right? The flipside was that we were both sorting ourselves out individually, which in the end just made us a lot stronger as not only friends, but as the band again. So that time really was necessary for us.

JM: Yeah, I completely agree, but did I miss…

ES: The band stuff?

JM: I don’t know that I did, because I haven’t realized, until now, how much I enjoy playing live — especially with this new setup. It’s better playing together onstage now, but before we weren’t feeling super inspired by it. While we were apart, we realized the music industry changed and became a lot more narcissistic, so when you look back at what you had and compare it to looking at these new artists, there’s a lot of times where I said, “I don’t think I can force myself to do anything.” I remember thinking, “I don’t know if I know how to climb that mountain anymore.” It seemed like it would be a hard thing to do; to get back into that mind frame, but it actually wasn’t. It’s been different from what I expected and it’s been great.

[This interview has been edited and condensed.]
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Mass is now available both physically and digitally worldwide.

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The band will conclude their Canadian tour with gigs in two different cities in Ontario: Kingston (March 12) and Peterborough (March 13).

Updates and additional tour dates can be found through the official Bedouin Soundclash website.

Jay Malinowski and Eon Sinclair of Bedouin Soundclash and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band at 102.1 The Edge in Toronto, on Feb. 20, 2020. Joanna Glezakos / Corus Entertainment

— Global News and 102.1 The Edge are both properties of Corus Entertainment.

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