After shaking up Rotterdam, the very talented gentlemen from BadBadNotGood made their way to Amsterdam, so we followed! The show at the MC Theater was everything we’ve come to expect from the guys – vibrant, energetic and full of little twists and turns.
The trio managed to improvise their way around much of their newly released album ‘III’, performing ‘Triangle’, ‘Can’t Leave The Night’, ‘Kaleidoscope’, ‘Differently, Still’, ‘Hedron’ and ‘CS60’. In between these tracks we were also treated to a rendition of Flying Lotus’s ‘Putty Boy Strut’, as well as TNGHT’s ‘Bugg’n’, before it all came to a close with an awesome drawn-out version of ‘Bastard/Lemonade’ that had the crowd all over the place. After the show we sat down with Alex, Chester and Matthew and got to talk a bit about their latest album, the recording process surrounding it, and their plans for the near future, among other things.
First off, we wanna say awesome show tonight, really great vibes and the audience loved it! Now, you’ve been touring in various countries for a while, how would you compare the crowds in North America and in Europe, for example?
C: It really depends on every city almost, or regions I guess. Because there’s certain parts of North America where we’ve been where it’s… it’s amazing and people are just crazy and stuff. But other parts it’s different, it takes a while to get ’em warmed up and same deal here. But I think in Europe the people are a bit more open-minded in general and receptive to weird or new things and that kind of works well for us.
M: I would say it also depends on the night, what day of the week it is, what kind of venue you’re playing, what time you’re playing. Cause all that affects the audience that comes out…
A: Age restriction too, like when we play in the States and their drinking age is 21. So if someone is 17-18 years old and they can’t get it, they go “Please play an all-age venue!”… and you know a couple of times we have.
Is it harder to book a venue like that?
A: Well it all depends on what makes sense for the day of the week, the actual booking. Some venues can’t sell alcohol if they have all ages and that’s a bit of a turn-off for promoters. But I think it’s always way better when everyone can come and enjoy themselves.
We recently came across an interview with you guys on a Canadian website, from a few years ago, in which you at one point say that “nobody is doing a major landmark in jazz right now”.
M: Did we say that? … Well yeah, I’m sure that’s what we said a few years ago.
Yes, you talked a bit about the concept of jazz as it was created back then, and how that part is pretty much over or should be considered ‘done’, and a new chapter has begun since. We’re curious if you think the same way now, about three years and three albums later?
A: I would say, probably not ‘nobody’ is making any landmarks in jazz right now. But I would almost agree with the whole ‘chapter’ thing, because I feel like jazz is in such a different place from even 20 years ago, 10 years ago…
M: 5 years ago!
A: Yeah, even that. Just based on where music is going, the fusion vibe of various music and jazz which has probably been the most prominent form so far… Whether it’s electronic stuff, or psych-rock, or whatever the hell. That kind of stuff, I feel is the most prominent thing right now. Or even hip-hop jazz – between Robert Glasper, Thundercat, all those kinda guys…
C: Taylor McFerrin!
A: Yeah, yeah! There’s a big scene like that, musicians and players… Like Hiatus Kaiyote as well, bands that are making this modern fusion of jazz and hip-hop and all sorts of stuff with that neo-soul kind of vibe… I feel like that’s what’s very prominent right now and it’s what we get to see when we look at festival bills, whether it’s a jazz festival or not. But I would say there are actually quite a few people doing their own thing, in regards to what they play and how they craft their sound, what they choose as their material, their arrangements and so on. It’s just a different kind of day and age for making music, recording music. It’s totally different from 20 years ago, early 90’s when it was mainly analog and you had to have such a different mentality. And then you go back even further, where you’re practicing your instrument every day just to get by, and you take shows all the time, and get in different bands. You hustle in a totally different way than how you hustle now, where you can do a couple of things and post them online, and you can start from there. Before it was all about touring, playing shows, recording as much as you can, getting your name out.
So all that having been said, would you say all of that is reigniting interest in jazz, or improvisational music as a whole? And especially within the younger crowd? We’re saying this because at least some of the people who come to your shows have probably not listened to any jazz and found out about BBNG through other channels.
A: In the beginning we were talking a lot about hip-hop and stuff, we started playing some Odd Future, because that movement inspired us. This DIY spirit, them doing their own thing and building their own sound and vibe, it’s the same thing like in any new genre, people within it are coming up with a whole new idea for sound and production, style of concerts, merchandise and all the rest. It’s so different that if you don’t push it, you might never even get the chance to do it again. Even in a genre like hip-hop that has only been around for 30 years, or a little bit more, people might not know who Grandmaster Flash is, or A Tribe Called Quest, or Big L. You know, even if we take someone like J Dilla, a very common name, they might not know him, because Odd Future, Kanye West, Jay Z – those are the names that are passed around a whole lot nowadays. And because of jazz being even older, it’s even harder to connect. I feel like there are people who listen to a couple of our songs, something we covered for example, and they go “Oh, I’ve never listened to jazz before” and start to get into this and that. But we’re not trying to push anything on anybody, we’re just trying to enjoy and spread the love of what we like to do and the love of music. If someone then responds to that, it’s an absolute bonus. If that happens and someone starts listening to this and that, of course we’re like “Yes!”, but it is a bonus and not the main thing.
Your third album, aptly titled ‘III’, was released in early May, and less than 2 months later you made the long list of 40 nominees for the Canadian Polaris Prize. How did that feel?
M: Feels cool! (laughs) I mean what’s weird is that album, it took almost one year to make, and it was a year and a half ago or more when we started making it, so it was done almost a year before we released it. So when it did happen, to us it felt a bit like old news. At the same time, no one has heard it, no one knows what any of the songs are, so everyone is tweeting at us, getting excited about it and we’re cool with it. But you know, it’s a weird thing to grasp, cause we’ve heard it for so long. It’s a different perspective, a bit harder to understand maybe. The Polaris thing is really cool though, I think.
A: With the Polaris Prize, the long list is super exciting and then you’re just thinking “Are we gonna make it into the shortlist?” And you don’t make it in, and it’s all good.
C: I saw it on a live stream, with Jay Baruchel.
A: Yeah he was announcing the names and it was super awkward cause no one would respond and so he had to say them again. (laughs) But anyway, it’s great to get any appraise… all that stuff, to be honest, is very cool but it’s not what really matters. What matters is people coming to the shows, if they like it, if they’ve checked out the music and they like that. You know, if it’s an actual response from someone, because a response from a council, from judges, that’s cool but it’s not what we’re after. We’re just trying to make something that we feel is a good representation of where we’re at musically and keep on exploring different ideas. If that resonates with people, then that’s the panel of judges that are most important to us. The Worldwide Prize! (laughs)
Did you change a lot in the recording process for the album, given that it’s all original material?
C: Definitely! Ever since we started writing the songs that were gonna be on the album, we’ve just been evolving constantly this whole time. From the way we write music to the time we spend doing it, we were just trying to use all the experience we had gathered as band up to that point, all the shows and all the stuff that we got to do. That really developed us, and once we got in to record this album, it was like a whole new world. You know, recording the tape and trying to get everything sounding really the way we want it to. We had the opportunity to spend a lot of time on the recording process, which we didn’t get to do before. For ‘1’ and ‘2’ and everything else it was just free studio time from friends. So I would say the whole thing was a huge learning process and it changed pretty much everything we do.
A: You know we’re talking bass tones, patch cables, inputs, outputs, channels, chimneys, compression…
C: Yeah, it’s been a huge evolution, and since then we’ve been so excited to record new things and just keep learning more about writing and just jamming.
M: This all goes back to what I was saying earlier. It took a whole year to make, and it was done a year before we released it, so I feel that even when it came out, we were looking at the album and going “Oh, we could have done this so much differently and better!”. Even now if we record an album, I think it would be so different from this one. In that sense, I guess ‘III’ is a documentation of where we were at in 2013.
A: If we were to go now and record it again, having played the songs A LOT, it would be a big change. But that’s what it’s about, progressing and exploring.
C: Some of the songs we finished writing a week before we recorded them, and then once we recorded them it’s like “That’s a song!” and that’s it. That’s the final version.
We had the opportunity to spend a lot of time on the recording process, which we didn't get to do before. For '1' and '2' and everything else it was just free studio time from friends. So I would say the whole thing was a huge learning process and it changed pretty much everything we do.
So after all this whole ordeal the album just stayed put for a year?
M: Well it’s the whole process, between getting the artwork done and figuring out when the proper release date is. This is the first time we did something that was going to be properly released on a label, so to us it was really all new. When we were done with something before, it was more like “Oh cool, it’s done, let’s put it out next week”. (laughs) Normally on any kind of label you will have 3 to 6 months from recording to release, and with us 6 months was already when we started playing everything. After that we recorded it, then it needs to be mixed and mastered, the whole thing took four or five months. So basically from start to finish it was close to a year, which is crazy, it’s a long long time for such a project.
A: Of course this is cool too, since we get to play these songs so much and we can come up with new ideas and inspirations, we can try out different stuff during live shows. It has a positive side to it, definitely. Now I feel that we get back to the studio it’s going to be a different process because we’ve had this long pause. We’ve learned so much, we’ve been accumulating our own gear in our studio, trying out new techniques like getting new drum sounds or fat bass-tones.
Do you plan to focus more on original stuff in future releases?
A: Yes, because it’s one thing to cover someone’s work, it’s totally different to try and create something original and really invest yourself in it. We might start with an idea, record an iPhone demo, listen to it and decide that it doesn’t really work, try and re-shape it, record it again. But I think we do still want to adapt some covers and keep doing that, mostly because it’s fun to play with material that is not your own. You might even create a whole new idea that is original, just by using whatever arrangement and melody that someone else wrote. We will try to keep that more for the live setting though, at least that’s how we feel right now.
C: Maybe some secret mixtapes…
A: Yeah, exactly!
People online are definitely talking about you collaborating with other artists or covering them, we’ve seen some stuff on Kendrick Lamar for example. In that sense, it’s good to hear that you are still going to pursue this, albeit in a slightly different form.
M: Wait, a Kendrick Lamar cover or working with Kendrick Lamar?
Well, either one, although the comments in question were about you covering some of his material.
A: There’s been no TDE camp… (Matt gestures at him) … Oh, true, yeah! I guess…
M: We can’t talk about that though.
A: Kendrick has not called me for drums… We haven’t talked in person, but if he calls me for drums I’m down! I’m ready! (laughs) I loved the FlyLo song that he did, that was dope..
If we, for whatever reason, got a major label deal and we were on massive billboards and being sold at Walmart, then maybe our fanbase will say “What the !@#$, this is weird..” and they probably wouldn't even buy the record anyway.
You mentioned earlier that it took some time before the cover for ‘III’ was finished. Is there a specific reason behind the black & white covers of all your albums so far?
M: Yeah, we don’t have a color camera, it’s very expensive to shoot in color! (laughs) The first one was black and white because our friend Connor shoots abstract film photos. We didn’t spend much time thinking about it at the time.
A: I mean he shoots in color too, but I would definitely attribute the choice and the general aesthetic to this man right here (points at Matt), he is the one behind it.
M: That specific one was what we had to work with. I literally asked Connor “Hey, do you have a cool photo lying around?” and he said he did.
A: It’s almost been a learning process with the covers, and black and white is something that is much cleaner..
M: A bit more timeless, I would say.
A: Now we are kind of dealing with some color, maybe…
M: Are we?
A: Maybe, maybe strips of color.
M: Oh, fair enough! Oh for … another secret thing. But anyway, I think it’s just that it looks timeless. Not that the first cover is ‘timeless’, not at all, with that terrible video game font on it. (laughs) When it was time for the second cover, though, we decided to stick with it since the first one was black and white too. And then the third one came and we were all “Well, we already had two…”. Though we did have some color photos, actually, of that exact same shot on the album cover for ‘III’. But the black and white ones looked amazing, the contrast was insane. It made it way more abstract, with the color ones it was really clear that it’s just three dudes and a mirror, but in the black and white ones it was really high contrast film and all that was left was our silhouettes.
A: It’s also easier to age. If you take a picture of someone and you’re wearing all these colorful clothes and that already points to a certain era, a certain trend at the time. If it’s a black and white photo you would be looking at just the photo itself.
M: Sometimes you look at old album covers and you think “Wow, what an amazing color scheme”. But that’s just because those colors are ‘in’ right now, you don’t know what the situation was back when it was released. Same thing with fonts as well, one of the reasons we didn’t have anything on ‘III’ is that it’s really hard to decide what’s going to look good 10 years from now or 15 years from now, or even next year. Every year in one of these design magazines they are saying that Serif is the new font, now its Sans Serif, now it’s a graffiti font… Things are moving so quickly, it’s hard to grasp sometimes.
C: There are so many taste-makers in visual design.
M: We look through an insane amount of blogs just to get a sense of what the trends and get ideas, which we never actually end up using, I guess. But just to see what these “taste-makers” are saying right now… who knows what they are actually saying right now, for that matter! (laughs)
You released ‘III’ on Innovative Leisure, where artists like Nosaj Thing and Jim-e-Stack reside, among others. Considering the tricky process of choosing the right label for the right period of your development as an artist, or a band, was the video for “Can’t Leave The Night” a sort of a warning for others?
M: It wasn’t that serious, for sure. It is based on a real story though, but I don’t wanna go into that because I don’t wanna offend anyone. Innovative Leisure is incredible, it was more other people sending us ideas from these really big companies that produce music videos, and not really understanding the concept of the song, or even what we really do. They were really overgeneralizing it, being all “oh, it’s a hip-hop song, it’s gotta have flashing lights and breakdancing and stuff” So yes, I guess it is a kind of warning. The funny thing is that when we showed it to Jamie, the owner of Innovative Leisure, he was amazed. And that just shows you that when you choose the right label, you can have this super goofy VHS video that was shot on almost no money…
C: … and we had no idea of what we were going to do until a week before we shot it, and even still, it took shape as we were doing it.
M: And they were cool with it. So the fact that we were on Innovative allowed us to make a video like that.
A: If it makes people curious and pushes them to make their way into the music industry, but still take notice of what surrounds them, then that’s even better. It’s really important to be able to analyze what is the right move for you right now. If we, for whatever reason, got a major label deal and we were on massive billboards and being sold at Walmart, then maybe our fanbase will think “What the !@#$, this is weird..” and they probably wouldn’t even buy the record anyway. But because Innovative Leisure is just going for a proper release, not trying too low or too high but just trying to hit the bar, because of that we are confident of not overshooting or messing it up. These guys really understand what makes a strong release – first of all the music, then keeping the aesthetic or the feel of the band ‘absorbable’ by your fans.
M: And I think also just letting the artists decide for themselves, at the end of the day, even if the label doesn’t agree with it. We just met up with Tropics, who played here yesterday, and we know those guys, they’re awesome. So they were doing the artwork for their next album themselves, editing it in Photoshop. Which is really nice, because most labels will be “Oh, we gotta get Terry Richardson to do the shoot” or something like that. And that works for some, but not in our case.
C: It’s just great to be able to do what we do and still have a team of people that know what is good and know what to advise us on.
A: They were friends with our manager and came to a couple of our shows, and really enjoyed what they saw. They were already fans of most of the stuff we were covering, and that’s where it started. A few years later, and there’s talk of potentially releasing an album that was not covers. So a few phone calls were made, and here we are with an album of original material that is actually out there, which is something we probably wouldn’t have thought possible a few years ago.
We were recently treated to a great collaboration between you and Black Milk for the second edition of the Cons EP. Anything else in the works that you are willing to share with us?
M: One thing I can say is, the song that got released recently, ‘Six Degrees’ with Ghostface Killah and featuring Danny Brown, there are potentially more songs from that same project, or those sessions.
C: And maybe a new BBNG original on Soundcloud.
M: We have something that we wanna release, but we’ll figure it out.
So will you be getting more busy now?
A: Yes, we have been traveling and touring a lot these past few months, so we are really excited to go back and eat some groceries at home… (laughs) … and hopefully make some music, you know, just try to create as much as we can. There is really a burning desire to just write and jam and get back to it.
'…we have been traveling and touring a lot these past few months, so we are really excited to go back and eat some groceries at home... (laughs) … and hopefully make some music, you know, just try to create as much as we can. There is really a burning desire to just write and jam and get back to it.'
Last question before we let you cool off after that amazing show, promise! What are some of your favorite albums released this year, across all genres?
C: I don’t even remember what was released this year!
A: What about you Chester?
C: I’m still trying to remember (laughs)
A: It’s crazy because it’s only September, there is so much stuff still to come out. New Flying Lotus album is coming, supposedly a new Kendrick Lamar album as well… It’s been what, two years since the previous one?
C: I think this summer at least was very much about singles. A lot of hot tracks coming out.
A: Yeah, ‘0 to 100’!
M: Chester played bass on Drake’s ‘0 to 100’! (laughs)
C: I really liked a lot of rap singles, like the T.I. And Young Thug one, ‘About The Money’.
A: What else came out this year? There’s been some good albums, I really liked the Future one.
C: That’s an album of singles, though, just one after the other.
A: Yeah, I can’t think of a full-blown, front to back great album right now. I honestly feel like looking at my phone, and that’s cheating, right?
M: I was into the Mac DeMarco album for a bit, ‘Salad Days’.
A: Oh, sorry, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib!
M: Oh yes, that’s 100% the album of the year so far, ‘Piñata’! I don’t even know how I forgot about that one, actually. I’ve listened to it a 1000 times, it’s so good.
A: I feel like an album with more than 6 or 7 songs that I really wanna listen to, that’s my judgment call. And on the Madlib/Freddie Gibbs one, every song is amazing.
Before we wrap this up, anything you want to add? Any shout-outs, threats to rivals and competitors?
C: I just wanna let Darth Maul know that I still got my light saber, it’s still working. John Williams, if you’re reading this…
A: John Williams x BadBadNotGood record coming soon, in two weeks!
M: Exactly, September 26th we’re releasing it. John Williams x BBNG…
A: Featuring… what’s his name, not David Hasselhoff… what’s the name of the lead singer of Van Halen?
M: David Lee Roth!
A: Yes, featuring David Lee Roth on improvised jazz vocals! And maybe Santana, or Slash, that would be cool!
M: Shout out to Los Bangeles!