More so than jazz, BADBADNOTGOOD is a trio that thrives with the prospect of experimentation. Fiercely inventive jazz covers span from Nas to Joy Division to My Bloody Valentine. Original tracks soar with the addition of unpredictable elements, most notably dubstep. Collaborative track “Seven” with Odd Future’s Tyler, The Creator has over half a million views on YouTube. Not bad for a band with an affinity for pig masks, 40s and tweeting in all caps. Not bad in the very least.
With recent release BBNG2, the group shifts from a gloomy, city-slicker jazz track “Rotten Decay” to covering Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights” with a swelling, orchestral bravado to everything in between. Yet amidst an undeniable penchant for experimentation, BADBADNOTGOOD still manages to retain a discernible identity as a jazz trio.
We chatted with Matt Tavares (keys), Chester Hansen (electric/upright bass) and Alex Sowinski (drums) right after the first weekend of Coachella, where they performed as Frank Ocean’s backing band and played several shows around Los Angeles.
How did the tracks from the album translate into a festival setting versus the house parties and award shows you’ve typically done before?
Alex: It’s funny, we’d never played a festival before. We got here and started watching people’s sets -- and it seems crazier than it is. Basically you just get onstage, and however many people are there, you’re there to literally play music for them. Then your set’s done. I honestly think it’s less intimidating than playing your own show because there’s so much going on, so many other bands performing. There’s such a cool vibe going on as well, everyone’s just having fun and down to listen to music. I feel as though almost any band can be transitioned into festivals, depending on what their sound is like and what they’re doing. It doesn’t really matter -- you’re going to go up, they’re going to mike your instruments and you’re going to play.
How does the live show compare to what’s on the album? Is there more or less improvisation than on the album?
Chester: We started following similar forms to how they are on the album, but they incorporate a lot of improvisation inherently. It’s not going to be note for note.
Alex: The thing with the album too is that we also put a lot of time into the production of it, especially with BBNG2. We focused on making the sounds really good, having it be really bassy, really punchy. The thing about a live show is that if you have a kickdrum that’s miked up that sounds really good, and you’ve got a keyboard and an audience, you don’t need that whole production element as much. It’s going to be a show, it’s going to be loud and in your face. The sounds are going to be hitting the people. We still retain the same chord structures, and sometimes we’ll just jam it out and fuck around. It’s more like the live show translates a lot like the festival idea does.
Matt: More of the jazz element comes in when we play live as well. We played a 16-minute version of “Stakes Is High” two days ago. And I mean, I had no idea that was going to happen, but it happened. The solos and interactions are different every time as well.
You run the gamut as far as genres and artists go for covers. How do you decide which covers ("Brooklyn Zoo," "You Made Me Realise") go on the album?
Matt: We’re all influenced by a lot. Someone will bring an idea to the table and we’ll try it out and see if it works. I mean, I really like My Bloody Valentine so I thought, let’s try this song ("You Made Me Realise"). Nobody had ever heard it, and we thought it turned out really cool. Then someone will bring in something we’ve never heard. Alex was into James Blake way before Chester and I were, so that was one of them.
Would you ever tour with a hip hop group or a rapper, or are you retaining BBNG a primarily an instrumental group?
Chester: I think it’d be pretty fun to do something like that if the opportunity came up. It’d be really cool.
Matt: We wouldn’t want to become anyone’s backing band because we are our own, but it would be fun to do. We’d definitely consider it.
Any upcoming collaborations?
Alex: We actually did a track a with Earl Sweatshirt for his new album, which we’re really excited about. It’s going to be awesome, it sounds like nothing we’ve done before. And let’s just say we have some other secrets in the works.
Who would be your dream musician or band to collaborate with?
Matt: I would say Colin Stetson.
Chester: Personally, my number one would be Flying Lotus. I think it would be amazing.
Alex: Fuckin’ Lil B for sure. He’s insane.
What’s next for BBNG? Maybe an upcoming tour soon to accompany the release of BBNG2?
Chester: We actually have a show in New York on May 4th and a couple of other things in eastern US over the course of that week. July we’re going to be in Europe and June we’ll be out in western Canada playing some jazz.
Alex: We want to keep producing more, so it’s tough to be figuring out tours since we want to keep putting our stamp on some other tracks at the same time.
The shift into dubstep tendencies in BBNG2 was unforeseen and cool.
Alex: Yeah. We wouldn’t even say we have a big dubstep influence even, we’ve just been getting into more of post-dubstep like James Blake, with more electronic added in. The shift into that was mainly because we went to London in January to play the Giles Peterson aware show and we had the chance to see really cool DJs play electronic with rhythmics that we had never seen before. We saw an amazing synth too so we thought, let’s try some new jamming shit, make it more electronic, James Blake-y inspired. So that’s how all of that came about.
What are you currently listening to?
Matt: Jerry Paper. It’s really sweet. It’s like the Beach Boys meets Ariel Pink, but with some weird synths. Really neat.
Alex: I mean, there’s a million Lil B albums to always keep up on, so that’s always been a thing. Matt’s always showing me really cool jazz or noise or shoegaze or experimental bands, there’s just so much fucking music out there. We saw the Buzzcocks live at Coachella and I hadn’t heard much of them before, so I’ve definitely been checking them out.
What era of music do you wish you’d been around for?
Matt: The '80s. My favorite bands are like, Husker Du and Minutemen, Gang of Four. That was such a cool era of music. We’re very ahead of those bands now though, because of the Internet.
Chester: Probably have to say the '60s, just because there was so much shit going on like Motown, all the crazy jazz happening, psychedelic.
Alex: Being around in this era is so fucking cool. You can’t predict what’s happening and there’s so much music accessible. We definitely live in one of the coolest eras of music.
Who would you rather challenge to a drinking competition: Tom Waits or Charles Mingus?
Matt: From what I know about Charles Mingus, he was one of the most fucking badass jazz musicians of all time. I think I read in his book that he slept with nine hookers in one night or some shit, pretty crazy. Have you seen the video of him with a shotgun where the cops are trying to evict him from his house?
Chester: I also heard this story about how he drank a ton of wine once before a show. One of his horn players screwed up and he literally picked up his upright bass and hit him with it.
Alex: So basically...Charles Mingus.
Matt: I mean, Tom Waits is alive and he’s fucking amazing though. He’s always making cool stuff. But Charles Mingus would be a great story. I guess it depends if you want liver poisoning or not...
Who would win in a fight: Iggy Pop or Tyler, The Creator?
Matt: Probably Tyler. Although Iggy’s in really good shape for his age.
Alex: If they both got riled up, it could be pretty fucking crazy. Iggy Pop’s definitely more hardcore.
True. I feel as though Tyler could have the element of surprise though.
Alex: Yeah. Although Iggy Pop does have the life experience of being fucked up.
BADBADNOTGOOD will performing at the Brooklyn Bowl this Friday, May 4th.