An Interview with BadBadNotGood

Photo credit: BadBadNotGood's website
Photo credit: BadBadNotGood’s website

BadBadNotGood is a Canadian jazz trio that fuses hip-hip with jazz in a very unconventional manner. Connor and I had the chance to chat with their drummer, Alex Sowinski, about the band, their inspirations, hip-hop and so much more. Be sure to catch their show this Sunday, June 15, at U Street Music Hall.

Lotanna Obodozie: How did you guys all meet?

We met at a jazz program studying music.

LO: How did you come up with your name?

It was basically Matt, who plays keys, was working on a fake television show and they just had a Youtube channel with that name. Our friend, Connor, went with that name and we just adapted that as the band name.

LO: You guys just came off of a pretty big European tour and you’ve already started your Riding In Cars With Boyz tour. What are you most looking forward to with this tour?

Um, I don’t know! Obviously tons of great shows, meet some new people. We’re going to New York to do a couple little sessions, I believe, so that’ll be really fun. Always nice to make music in between shows and stuff like that. Just looking forward to all sorts of little things here and there, for sure.

LO: I’m catching your DC show on Sunday so I’m very, very excited for that.

Nice! That’ll be a lot of fun. We’ve never been to Washington.

LO: What can fans expect during the live show? I’ve seen videos of live performances and there’s just a lot of energy and moshing and head-banging.

Yeah, we try to keep the energy up but then we try to create different moments here and there; create lots of different stuff. We do love to keep the energy nice and high and get people to jump around. We move around a little bit, kind of the whole nine yards.

LO: Do you draw your inspiration more from contemporary hip-hop or classic or even contemporary jazz? You guys obviously mesh the two together but do you find yourselves drawing inspiration from one genre more than the other?

I guess it’s kind of hard to say. We definitely listen to a lot of hip-hop and probably more hip-hop than modern jazz. We always go through phases, I guess. Just finding out where the samples are coming from and then that just leads to more digging and finding more cool soul records and compilations and crazy bands and that sort of thing. It goes kinda deep through the world of hip-hip.

LO: I was actually reading a really old interview of yours from 2011 and it said that you guys really wanted to work with a rapper. You guys actually produced the song “Hoarse” for Earl Sweatshirt so what was it like working with him and being able to actually work and collaborate with a rapper?

That was a pretty cool experience. I just kind of made this beat on a sampler and then I brought it to the boys and they added some keys and recorded the drums. Then we got in touch with Earl pretty quickly on the internet, just when he came back from Samoa, and started chatting with him a bit, sending him some ideas we were working on. He started writing to it and then a few weeks later, we got a call to go to LA to do some rehearsal sessions with Frank Ocean to jam some ideas out and try to help him out with live stuff. We actually got to go see Earl do some of the verses which was really, really cool. It’s really nice to actually be in the studio and just see where the energy and the atmosphere comes from, especially from an MC. So working on that song was really, really, cool and then it didn’t come out for like a year after that! We had a lot of time to do some revisions and just clean it up as best as we could. And he’s an amazing rapper!

Connor McInerney: You said you listen to more hip-hop these days, and hip-hop is such a sample-heavy genre that very much utilizes drum machines over actual physical drums. Do you think you’ve had any problems bridging that gap, being an actual drummer and trying to create an authentic hip-hop sound or do you find yourself relying more heavily on drum machines these days?

In terms of what we do and how we make music and beats, it always varies. Recently we’ve been trying to flip samples ourselves and write different ideas on synths and stuff and program drums on them to see if we can make something cool. Sometimes those kinds of beats have a different kind of character and presence. Then again, we also try and write and record these songs in our studio space just to tape. In terms of the live drum thing, it’s kind of hard to record a live kit for rap purposes and make it sound really dope but if you can get some good sounds, you can create a cool vibe that can work really well. We’ve also tried to record lots of drum breaks in our studio just to get some old crusty sounds and come up with some patterns. It all just depends on the application of it and what you can do and what you can make work.

CM: With your first two albums you guys obviously threw in some original material (not as much as your recent album) but I know you certainly have a penchant for Kanye West. When it comes to covering old songs would you guys say you have a better time covering old songs or playing your own original material?

 We like to do both, for sure. Playing a cover can be really, really awesome. It’s nice to be able to explore someone else’s ideas and then kind of work them out to make something that we feel is cohesive and portrays something that actually feels good live. We definitely like to do both and it’s satisfying now because we have a new actual album release with original material to play. It’s always rewarding, you just gotta make sure you can actually hold your game down as best you can and just wild out and have fun.

LO: How would you describe the process of working on the third album compared to the first and second ones?

The first two were way shorter in recording time. We did the first one in a couple hours and the second in like six or something like that. They were just very time-restrained projects and stuff like that. Since those two we’ve had a lot more time to explore song writing, synths, and just figuring out different things and trying to draw inspiration from soul songs and trying to get drums that sound like old drum breaks and stuff like that. Definitely a whole transformation in our sound and style where we’re at, musically and personally. It’s just been a big evolution and we’ve learned so much just doing research and meeting people and having conversations and getting to do some session work and stuff like that. The third album has been a big growth and transformation in terms of sound and style and our creative songwriting.

LO: It’s been out for about a month now. How’s the feedback been?

It’s been really cool! We got lots of positive responses, which is always really nice. It’s really hard to make this piece of work or whatever and you may really, really like it but it might not have nearly the same effect on somebody. We got some positive responses! From what I’ve seen it’s been mainly positive and that’s something that I’m really happy with and glad that people enjoy.

LO: Connor and I both loved it!

Thank you very much!

LO: If you had to pick any artist, living or dead, to collaborate with, who would you choose?

It’s definitely hard, just on the notion that if I say someone I don’t even know if we would get along or cross paths in the right way.

LO: In an ideal situation.

I think working with Big L would be incredible. Totally unique style and amazing flow and just super on point, lyrically. I wanna say someone instrumentally. Jamming with Jimi Hendrix would be super gangster, too. Probably a lot of fun if you can hang with him. Maybe living? Maybe Kanye or Lil B. Maybe Paul McCartney or someone crazy cool. It’s hard to pick just one person. I’d definitely toss in Frank Ocean.

LO: Before the interview, Connor and I were talking about how a BadBad and Frank Ocean collab would be the greatest thing ever.

Hopefully, hopefully. I heard some of the new stuff he’s been working on and it sounds fantastic. He’s just gonna keep crushing it so hopefully one day. We’re friends so hopefully it translates to making a track or something because that would be really cool.

CM: You guys should reach out to King Krule is what we were saying earlier too.

We actually did, but he was just really busy and touring and stuff so hopefully if something organic can blossom then that would be really, really cool. He’s got an incredible voice. I feel that our styles are quite similar in some ways.

CM: Just one more thing: Lotanna and I were talking about this. In the ebook for the first album, you guys threw in a note saying “nobody over the age of 21 was involved in the production of the album.” There’s a lot of really young talent in the hip-hop and also the jazz game these days, like with Odd Future blowing up. Most of them were under 21 when they got big. Did you guys have any particular motivation for that? Did you just throw it in there to be cheeky?

Probably a little cheeky thing. We were probably just really proud of what we came up with, I guess. It’s more of just a thing to inspire other people to do their thing and take a stab at something and see what you can create on your own. We’re super lucky because Matty has been super big into production and has been the most intuitive in the mixing, so he has always been helping us with mixing stuff. It was just more of a thing to say “this is what we created.” There’s no reason why anyone of any age, style or sound can’t create something they can be really proud of.

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