Interview

BadBadNotGood

BadBadNotGood

By Martyn Pepperell

Thursday 19th September, 2013 9:11AM

Chester Hansen (double bass, bass guitar), Matt Tavares (keyboards) and Alexander Sowinski (drums/sampler) came together in 2010 at the Humber College Jazz program in Toronto, Canada. Bonding over both a love of hip-hop and contemporary beat music, and an open-eared approach to sound, they formed BadBadNotGood (BBNG).

Kicking things off with a series of expansive covers of classic rap, beats, new wave, shoegaze and post-dubstep songs, they caught the attention of Odd Future's Tyler, The Creator, who introduced them to his audience. Since then BBNG have released two studio albums, two live albums and a selection of singles and remixes. Along the way they've opened for the likes of Roy Ayres, served as Frank Ocean's backing band, and recorded with Earl Sweatshirt, Idle Worship, The Wu-Tang Clan & Kool G Rap, in the process developing a well regarded reputation internationally.

In advance of their debut New Zealand shows, I spoke with the trio from a hotel room in Sydney. Friendly, talkative and generous with their time, they gave me a series of windows into why they chose to cover some of the songs included on their first two studio albums. Early next year they will release their third studio album, which will be completely cover free.

'Fall In Love' (Slum Village / J Dilla) - As explained by Chester Hansen

Me and the other guys have listened to Slum Village and J-Dilla for awhile. Donuts is one of my favourite albums of all time. In our early stage we were looking through random old hip-hop songs that we liked and trying to cover them. There wasn't a whole lot of premeditation. It was just like, oh, this song is cool, let's listen to it, and see if it sounds cool when we play it. So that was what it originally was. It was one of those things that evolved as we played it. Every show people would be like, play 'Fall In Love'. It became somewhat of a crowd favourite I guess? People really like it, and it's a great song.

'Mass Appeal/Transmission' (Gang Starr / Joy Division) - As explained by Matt Tavares

This came from the same session as 'Fall In Love'. It's off the same album. That album didn't really have a lot of thought into it. We didn't really choose or rehearse what songs we were going to play before we went to the studio. We only had three hours in the studio, and while we were there, we were like, hey, let's play 'Mass Appeal' because that song is amazing, obviously. It's also a similar vibe to the other songs we were doing. It had interesting melodic movement. After that, we were like, let's do something different, and this Joy Division song was in the same key. So, you know, that is how it happened. We were like, wouldn't it be crazy if we mashed the two together?

We all grew up loving hip-hop. That was basically the music we listened to when we were in high school and went to university and stuff. My relationship with Gang Starr is more personal than the relationship i have with the music of some other hip-hop artists I like. 

'Camel' (Flying Lotus) - As explained by Alexander Sowinski

Along the same lines of how we connected through similar musical artists when we were first meeting in school, Flying Lotus' name definitely came up. He is one of the most influential artists and beat-makers of today, especially with how he pushes boundaries with every album he puts out. 'Camel' was just song. I really like the vibe and the sample, just the playfulness of it. It was recorded during the same session as 'Mass Appeal/Transmission' and 'Fall In Love'. I think we just wanted to have some diversity. I don't think we were really thinking, oh, we have to cover Joy Division and Nas, I think we were just playing a bunch of music, because we thought they might be cool and translate. I remember we were trying to write down the drum part, and just jam on it, and see what we could create.

I think Flying Lotus saw it when we originally posted it up. That was pretty cool for the time. We were big fans and we didn't have any reach to him whatsoever. So we were happy and excited when he saw it. We actually met him a year later at Coachella. We've hung out a couple of times. He's come to Toronto to do shows. Not collaborations yet though. He is a really nice guy, and we are glad we got to meet him and stuff. He is an outstanding musician and producer. 

'Earl' (Earl Sweatshirt) - As explained by Alexander Sowinski

When we were doing our second album and mixing it, I was able to connect with Earl Sweatshirt on twitter. I sent him the song and he thought it was really really cool. Then we sent him a beat or two. A year and a half later, one ended up on his full album Doris. My covering that song and showing him what we were up to, we impressed him enough that he asked for some beats, and we were lucky enough to claim a spot on his album. That was really cool. He has a really open ear. He's a good young person who is always really excited to work on music and make music. Obviously he's a pretty outstanding lyricist for being only nineteen. The way he can make connections and his flows man! He's just pretty outstanding. 

I'll tell you a funny story about why we recorded that song. Matt got a synth for Christmas. We were looking through it and trying to figure it out. There was a patch that was the exact same synth as the one in Earl, so we were like, okay cool, we should totally do it. That was definitely a tying factor. 

'Limit To Your Love' & CMYK (James Blake) - As explained by Matt Tavares

The main reason these two songs came out is because we are huge fans of James Blake's music. We basically cover the songs that we are listening to the most at the time. They were both super easy to do. Sometimes when you cover a song it really takes a lot to adapt and arrange it. That can be sick, because it can turn out really different, but with those two songs it was just playing them on our instruments, you know?

We haven't met James Blake or heard anything from him, but funnily enough apparently Feist heard our version, which is sick, because it's her original song. She's a Canadian as well. I think she lives in Toronto. Chester was at some show and Feist's brother was there. He came up to Chester and said that Feist liked the version that we put out.

'Bastard/Lemonade' (Tyler, The Creator / Gucci Mane) - As explained by Chester Hansen

This was one of the very first things that we all played together. We met up randomly when we were all in school. We'd jam random stuff, and I think Alexander had the idea of trying to play a couple of Tyler The Creator songs. We wanted to see if we could reinterpret them or jam on them, or whatever? Then I think we played 'AssMilk' and 'Bastard'. 

After that someone said, why don't we try playing 'Lemonade' by Gucci Mane? At first it sounded kind of funny as a trio, but it kind of evolved into something that was pretty cool. We decided to turn the two songs into a medley. Lemonade is interesting because we have played it at every single show since we started, and it's just getting faster and faster, and louder and louder. It's a pretty awesome piece. I guess it is what broke us on the internet. People heard that first.

When we put up one of our first videos, Tyler The Creator found it and posted it on his twitter. Because of that it had something like one hundred thousand views. It was pretty ridiculous. So, we owe a lot to him, in terms of getting our music out there. I don't know if we would have the same reach if he hadn't originally posted the video. He is a really great dude. We have hung out a bunch of times. We did that jam session we have videos of. We've seen him a couple of times when he has come to Toronto. Hopefully we can work on some music in the future. He is a really awesome dude, a really great artist.

'You Made Me Realise' (My Bloody Valentine) - As explained by Matt Tavares

That was the last one we did on our second record, which was a way more rehearsed album. We put all the material together and arranged it beforehand. I think we worked this song out a day or two before we went in to record, whereas everything else on the record was worked out months and months in advance. It was like, wouldn't it be crazy if we had a song that was totally different? We had already covered Joy Division on the last album. I was really into My Bloody Valentine at the time. Even though that song was probably the least likely to be adapted into guitar, piano, bass and drums, I think it worked. We had our friend Luan Phung come by. Luan is a really amazing guitarist. It's funny though, because how he soloed on the song isn't even really how he plays the guitar normally. He is really into weird avant-garde guitar stuff, which he kind of did as well on that section of the song that is just him. That song came together super quickly.

My Bloody Valentine make music that I want to say is very loud, but it isn't. When you listen to it, it's very full. Even though their live shows are crazy loud, they don't necessarily sound loud. It is more a combination of a lot of really intense things happening at once, but then you will have these ethereal vocals happening that sound like they could be in some music that is completely different. I think it is an interesting combination.

'Hard In The Paint' (Waka Flocka Flame) - As explained by Alexander Sowinski 

I'm pretty sure we all knew the song. It's pretty amazing. I think a lot of the inspiration to play it the way we play it came from Waka Flocka's Flockavelli album. It had a lot of anger, and was pretty insane. Songs like 'Fuck This Industry', 'Fuck The Club' up, 'Hard In The Paint' just has such a hard energy. But the whole thing has a good connective vibe because of Lex Luger's beats. Lex was making such a cool sound. I think we really like the beat a whole lot. Waka Flocka is pretty amazing. I would love to see a session of him just recording his vocals in the studio, all those adlibs where he is like, Waka! Flocka! Huh! It would be pretty awesome. I think the energy of that song was very compelling. The melody is really awesome as well. We just figured, why not adapt this for three people and give it heaps of energy? You know, play the hi-hats as fast as possible, and see if we can hold the tempo down. That album really put Lex Luger's production on the map, and displayed some hard bangers in the rap scene.

'Flashing Lights' (Kanye West) - As explained by Chester Hansen

We all listen to Kanye West a lot. He is one of our favourite artists. That album Graduation is a classic in my opinion. I forget who had the idea to cover that song, but we all came together one day and jammed it. This was early on in the band, we were all still in school and stuff. There is this drummer we really like called Chris Dave. There is a video of him on YouTube playing along to the song. He was actually playing drums for Kanye, but there is a video of him sound-checking to the song. We thought it might be interesting to play it as a trio. After a few attempts we came up with the really long build-up at the beginning, the dropping into a crazy beat with Matt playing the strings. That is a really really epic song to play live. Everyone usually jumps around and really enjoys that track. We have played that at a lot of our shows because it has so much energy and is so interesting. We have a crazy double time middle section with Matt playing a crazy solo. It's just an awesome track, and we have a lot of fun playing it.

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BadBadNotGood playing two upcoming New Zealand shows:

Friday 27th September, Cassette Number Nine, Auckland

Buy tickets here.

Saturday 28th September, Meow, Wellington

Buy tickets here.


related gigs
MUM Presents: BadBadNotGood
Fri 27th Sep, Cassette Nine, Auckland
Good Shit 2013 (featuring BadBadNotGood)
Sat 28th Sep, Meow, Wellington


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