Toronto trio Badbadnotgood (Matthew Tavares on keys, Chester Hansen on bass, and Alexander Sowinski on drums) is no ordinary jazz group. Their new album III is proof that jazz doesn’t need to be incomprehensibly free-form or play the standards to be welcome under the umbrella of cool cats. BadBadNotGood draws on hip hop and electronica to inform its percussive driven pieces. Once known for their covers of hip hop songs (Lemonade by Gucci Mane and Hard in da Paint by Waka Flocka Flame, collaborations with DOOM and Bootsy Collins), new album III consists entirely of originals and each one is a joyous journey down a different path. Some songs are cagey like Can’t Leave the Night and others more expansive. Many of them are moreish, as in, can’t stop listening, want more. While each track is distinct, it’s not an incoherent album. Badbadnotgood has its own sound, convention-thwarting, but also sonorous and wicked.
I spoke to the trio via skype before they jet off to Japan, and they were as playful and as a box of kittens. Hard to catch, constantly at play, one immediately on the move before the last one was pinned down for a moment. Just a bunch of lively, slightly sinister kittens.
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Rachel Levine (RL): So how would you guys characterize BadBadNotGood?
BadBadNotGood (BBNG): Three dudes and we love to play music and write music and improvise and jam out and hang. It’s funny to talk about the band, but we’re passionate music lovers and passionate about sharing music and doing what we can musically. And that encompasses everything. That, and maybe djing. We are doing a dj thing for the second time ever in our lives.
RL: DJ-ing? How did that first time go?
BBNG: Our manager is a professional dj. We didn’t have the skills to play yet, so he came on for the rap stuff
RL: What was it like to put III together?
BBNG: It’s our first real album – properly pressed, all originals with some tidbits. It took two years. Basically the story is, we rehearsed in my dad’s [Alex’s] basement in an apartment building and tenants were getting annoyed with the snare coming through all the time. They said, “You guys need to find a spot.” We did some city-wide searching to find a place. We put a deposit on a place and lost it. Then we found this old space through our manger’s wife. It was owned by the Cowboy Junkies. When we took over their old space, we redid the flooring, rewired the electrical and that’s where we started. We got space ready to start jamming and make a zillion more iphone demos and eventually rehearsing them down to what we thought we would do and then went to Studio Revolution.
RL: Was it recorded in one go and how did you get so many different sounds when there are only three of you? Are there sampled sounds?
BBNG: We took it back to our studio and reworked it. It wasn’t a one-time thing. We did a bunch of over dubs in our studio. We had to figure out how to put guitar on and how to make it work. When we write stuff, we’re always switching posts and constantly changing. You can come up with something different on an instrument you’re not comfortable with. After using another instrument, you can voice your own in a new way. There is only one sampled sound on it. Otherwise, we played with real instruments. Everything was done live on a real instrument.
RL: What’s it like now that it’s released?
BBNG: It’s cool to see people responding, that they finally got it. It also leaked too. It felt really good to put it out. But after so much time and effort, it’s not as exciting as when you first finished it. We don’t have the same sense of the first time. It took so long to make it and because of manufacturing, and a long time to master and mix it. It’s now eight months after finishing it. We’d heard it so many times and so many friends had it. It was a little underwhelming.
RL: What’s it like to take your album to a live audience?
BBNG: A lot of the songs have evolved to be different things. You play them and you find new ideas. We try to keep all the performances open to different changes here and there, especially in the improvised sections. We play a lot of songs faster than the record and louder. I guess there’s the challenge of trying to play with only three or four people, and recreating strings and horns, creating energy at the same level in a new sonic sense. So, live shows use energy and create different moments and create different vibes than the records. It’s not entirely different. The vibe can be similar. We leave some ideas open. The solos are totally different. It’s probably 60-70% the same, and 30% totally different.
RL: What’s in the immediate future of BadBadNotGood?
BBNG: We’re going to Japan on Monday. We’re going to Europe in July. We’re always traveling. We’re just excited to be playing music. When we’re in the studio, if we make something cool, that’s neat. We’re just excited and not think about it too much. Hopefully releasing more music. There will be more stuff to come out and more collaborations. We’re excited to come to Montreal Jazz Fest. We played there last year, but our show wasn’t part of festival. We’re extremely excited and want to catch other great musicians and share the love and passion.
BadBadNotGood plays on July 5 at Club Soda. 11 p.m. – 3 a.m. $25.