Backstage with The Ambitions

The Ambitions:

Caz Gardiner: Vocals

Jeff Booth: Guitar

Bill Dempsey: Keyboards

Jorge E. Bañales: Bass

Paul Foreman: Drums

1. How did everyone meet to form the band? What inspired you to make music together?

Jorge: Caz and our original drummer Sean Hissey asked me to be in the band in the summer of 2005. I had played with both of them in the ska band The Checkered Cabs. They had been playing in a ska band called The Pressure Sounds with Brad Wynn and he wanted to do a band that had a Northern Soul/Suedehead sound. We are all fans of Jamaican music, soul, and 60s rock, and specially the type of sound that was popular in 1960s Britain and which has gone several iterations such as the 2-tone ska revival, the mod revival, etc. The type of music that never really goes away because it retreats to its underground beginnings. It’s easy for us to switch from ska, rocksteady, and reggae, to Stax and Motown influenced soul, and very melodic rock.

Caz: Originally I was in a ska/rocksteady band called The Pressure Sounds with the drummer and the guitarist. The guitarist, Brad Wynn asked Sean Hissey and I if we wanted to do a mod/soul style band and we were totally into it. Sean and I immediately thought that Jorge would be a perfect match on bass for the band and Brad brought in the second guitarist Dan McNabb. We all brought to the table our own music interest but a common love of mod and soul influenced music and fashion.

 

2. If you met someone who has never heard of The Ambitions, how would you describe your band to them?

Caz: I normally tell them that we play 60′s influenced soul and rock.

Jorge: I think we basically play melodic pop rock with a touch of soul, maybe a little bit of funk. We’re not 1960s rock and soul purists. We are certainly influenced by 60s and some 70s sounds but we interpret them in our own way.

3. Who or what has inspired you to be a musician? What music did you grow up listening to?

Jorge: There was always music around me growing up. My dad was a big fan of The Beatles and I grew up listening to what is now classic rock, but what was then (early to mid 70s) just regular rock music. We also listened to a lot of Latin America folk and rock music. I took up the bass in 8th grade because I liked the sound of it in all the 80s songs I was hearing. I liked the melodic aspect of all those Top 40 songs; I listened to America’s Top 40 with Casey Casem every week. I liked how the bass was always there but you would not notice it unless you paid attention and even if you didn’t you would know it wasn’t there if it wasn’t there. We had a subscription to Rolling Stone magazine and they had sent us their Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll which I also studied. I became interested in the New Wave, Punk and 2-Tone ska revival movements via The Police, The Specials, The Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, etc. As I dug deeper I became more and more interested in bass based music, from reggae and dub to post-punk and art-rock. Later on electronic dance music would also become a big influence. In college I learned how to make walking bass lines for a jazz class I was taking. Nevertheless, I have always liked more melodic bands than rocking bands. From The Smiths to Deee-Lite. I’m still looking for that perfect, awesome, simple bass line.

Caz: I would have to say my families love of music and old movies really inspired me to become a musician. I got my first taste of performing at 2 and as I got older I noticed I could carry a tune and I just practiced and practiced and watched performers.

4. What was the first song you wrote as a band? Would you go back and change anything?

Jorge: I’m not sure what song was written first, but one of the first ones that I heard was “Barely Crawlin’” when I was asked to be in the band. We are actually getting tired and bored of that song. I think our original guitarist brought a certain energy to it. Also, when we first started we had two guitars and there was more interplay of that instrument in that song. But I would not go back and change anything about our initial sound. I think it was powerful and perfect. That’s why we are still playing those songs today.

Caz: I think it was Barely Crawling. No, each song written means something to me in some way.

5. What has been your biggest challenge as a band? Have you been able to overcome that challenge? If so, how?

Jorge: Getting people to commit their time and energy to the band. Getting band members to believe in what we are doing. Not sure if we have overcome it but at the moment we have musicians who are willing to do the work and that’s why we are where we are now, playing shows and making music.

Caz: We had a lot of strong personalities, still do but I think that at the end of the day it has to be about the music and the creativity of having those personalities together. I think that will always be a challenge so I don’t know if we will ever completely overcome it but we must keep moving and growing.

6. What are your favorite and least favorite venues to perform in D.C., Virginia and Maryland?

Jorge: One of our most memorable performances was at the Rock & Roll Hotel. It was actually our second performance that day. We first played in the afternoon at a Crawfish Broil and then hurried drenched in sweat to the club to play at a scooter rally. I really don’t have a least favorite venue in the area. I always like to perform and each space has its own charm and challenges. I’ve gone from playing at the 9:30 Club one day and the now probably defunct Electric Maid in Takoma Park the next and both had their ups and downs.

Caz: It’s hard to say which is a favorite or least favorite. Sometimes it depends on the night. I do really love a big stage because I get to strut around a lot more :-)

7. How has your music evolved since you first began playing music together?

Jorge: At first we had drums, bass, two guitars and vocals. Later on we only had one guitar and added keyboards. I think the keyboards give our music more of a funky/quirky feel with a tinge of psychedelia. Part of “Outta My Mind” sound like the Inspiral Carpets to me. Our songs have a lot of energy and are generally uptempo, so we are trying to slow things down a little bit to add some dynamics to our set.

Caz: For me I write depending on how I feel and what I might be going through in my life at the time. When the band first started I was
angry so a lot of those songs are angry. Then later I think I became more reflective and depressed so those songs are more thoughtful and sad in topic. Musically the band has changed members a few times so naturally song writing changes depending on who was there through the creative process.

8. What inspired the songs on the latest self-titled album?

Jorge:  I had a hand in writing the music to some songs but the one song that I can probably take credit music wise is “She Can Make You.” I came up with the first part of it and one of our previous guitarists, Kelly Marshall, wrote the rest. I just wanted to write a song that started with three hard-hitting chords in a sort of stop-start fashion.

 

Caz:

1. Leave Me: Lyrics were inspired by my introduction back into the dating world.

2. Look At Me: Same as above.

3. Sad Day: Same as above.

4. Be Careful: Although none of these topics are directly about them, this song was inspired by my friends, family, co workers, etc.

5. She Can Make You: My mother.

6. Outta My Mind: My Imagination

7. Choo Choo: My female answer to Sam Cooke’s “Ain’t That Good News.”

8. Wasting Time: I think this was my own frustration about life.

9. Barely Crawlin’: Defying someone putting me down.

10. Whatcha Gonna Do: My imagination.


9. What advice do you have for people who want to form their own bands?

Jorge: Learn how to play an instrument, possibly more, and practice. Then surround yourself with people whom you believe in and who believe in you. Don’t worry about what other musicians or bands are doing and just keep doing what you like. Make music you want to hear. Be committed to your instrument, band, and music. Be ready for failure. Nobody cares about what you do so you should, a lot. An old music teacher used to say to us in class: “If it was easy being a musician, everybody would be a musician.”

Caz: Write what you love, play what you love and keep trying even if you fail find people you love working with and keep them in your life. I do this because I love it and there is nothing like being a musician. It’s awesome and sucks but some of us must do it!

10. How can people find and listen to your music?

Jorge: Come to our shows. Go to Bandcamp — www.theambitions.bandcamp.com, iTunes, eMusic, etc.

11. Would you like to add anything else?

Jorge: Yes, I would like to thank our other current members, keyboardist Bill Dempsey, guitarist Jeff Booth, and drummer Paul Foreman for all their hard work in getting us up and running again. Bill and Jeff were part of the last version of The Ambitions a couple of years ago, and Paul is the newest addition.

Caz: Just that we’re back and people need to check us out!

 

Check out more of The Ambitions:

Bandcamp | Facebook | Twitter

 

Photos taken by James Campbell and Michael Andrade