BAD BAD HATS
- January 2016 -
HAVE A BEER WITH BAD BAD HATS
Bad Bad Hats is an indie rock band from Minneapolis, Minn. Kerry Alexander (vocals, guitar, wisdom), Chris Hoge (drums, courage) and Noah Boswell (bass, power) met while attending Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minn. Kerry and Chris began writing songs together in 2010, recording a collection of demos that would later become their first EP. The addition of their friend Noah in 2012 solidified the line-up. The indie rock trio's songwriting quickly caught the ear of Minneapolis label Afternoon Records, whose alumni include Yellow Ostrich, Now Now, Haley Bonar and One for the Team, among others. Afternoon Records signed the trio and released their It Hurts EP in early 2013. And in July 2015, the trio released their bold debut LP, Psychic Reader, which Paste calls an “effervescent record worthy of refill after refill.”
Bolstered by the experimental touches of the album's producer, Brett Bullion, Psychic Reader draws from the influences of all three members, exploring a number of musical styles over the course of 33 minutes. Kerry's strong vocals and lyrical sensibilities (Kerry sings "both sweetly and with fists up," says NPR) tie the songs together as a cohesive unit, making for an album that is both surprising and universal.
We sat down with the band at Lincoln Station before their Lincoln Hall gig and covered Tarot card readings, awkward dance moves, touring with Hey Marseilles and the dating life of pop culture icon Justin Bieber.
The Show: Hey Marseilles with Bad Bad Hats // Lincoln Hall // January 29, 2016
Drinks of Choice: Brews from Surly
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: Okay, first things first: What’s your drink of choice?
Kerry: I think generally we're beer people – although I like red wine with a nice dinner, especially if my parents are buying.
Kristen: Oh, yeah. Always makes a difference who is buying.
Kerry: We like a lot of local breweries in Minneapolis.
Kristen: I visited for the first time a month-and-a-half ago and absolutely fell in love with it. It’s the only place colder than Chicago that I would consider moving.
Kerry: It's a great place to be. We're in Loring Park, which is very close to downtown and close to the Walker Arts Center – and also Loring Park, thus the name. Noah lives in Stevens Square.
Noah: It’s just across the way. It's the next neighborhood, just downtown.
Kristen: Do you have a favorite brewery up there?
Noah: I like Surly, which is what we’re drinking now.
Kerry: I'm a Fulton fan myself. But I like Surly, too.
Kristen: So aside from the beer, what would you say has kept you in Minneapolis as opposed to moving to another music-centric city?
Kerry: Or sunshine-centric city.
Kerry: There are a lot of really great things about Minneapolis. It's a very manageable place. It feels like it has a lot of the things that you'd want from a bigger city, like a good music scene, but it feels more compact and is easier to get to know and feel a part of. That's spoken from someone who hasn't lived in New York or Los Angeles or Chicago.
Noah: It's like a big city on a diet. It's really great though. My favorite thing is the first day of spring, which you can relate to, living in Chicago. It's unreal. I grew up in the desert and it's always nice weather-wise. In Minneapolis, when it gets nice out, everyone is outside.
Kerry: We have a lot of really great parks. I think we were voted "Best Park System in the U.S." or something.
Noah: Number two is New York. Real talk.
Kristen: I lived in New York for a little while. I was not cut out for it. I need a diet city. You released your debut full-length, Psychic Reader, in July. Important question: have you guys ever been to a psychic before?
Kerry: I guess I haven't been specifically to a psychic, but I had my Tarot cards read at a Renaissance festival once.
Kristen: What did they say? I've never been – to a Renaissance festival or a Tarot card reading – so I'm very intrigued.
Kerry: This was a long time ago, but I remember them putting the cards out and saying, “I see here that you make art." I was like, "Yeah, I do make art! How did you know that?" It's just the most general statement. I think everyone thinks that make some sort of art.
Noah: "Are you creative?"
Kerry: I was like, "I am. I am creative!" Once I said that I made art, they're like, "I see here that you're going to do well with that." And here I am.
Noah: Nailed it.
Kerry: Here I am.
Kristen: I went to a handwriting analyst when I was in Venice Beach. He asked me: “Do you sleep on the righthand side of the bed or the lefthand side of the bed?” And based on my response, he read me a bunch of generic – but applicable – statements. Afterwards I thought to myself, “Wait…this is totally about perspective. Is it the right side of the bed when you’re lying down, or is it the right side of the bed from a bird’s eye view?”
Kerry: I'm trying to remember which side I sleep on now.
Chris: You sleep in the center.
Kristen:Do you have your bed pushed up with the side against a wall, or are you a headboard-at-the-center-of-the-wall sort of bed person?
Noah: I'm in the corner against the wall.
Kerry: We’re in the center. I wonder what that says about our personalities.
Kristen: What do you guys not get asked that you want to talk about?
Noah: My bed position. That's pretty fun.
Kristen: Well, got that covered.
Kerry: When we get asked what we would like to add to the interview or talk about, I can’t think of anything. I try to rack my brain and be like, “What’s something fun I could say to showcase my personality?” but nothing comes to me.
Kristen: Well then, I'll ask you guys some strange questions to showcase your personalities, if you don't mind.Let's say you guys are out in a bar on a Friday night. Which one of you is most likely to be the one at the jukebox, and if so, what song are you putting on?
Noah: I think Kerry. I would say Kerry.
Chris: Kerry constantly tries to DJ every situation.
Kristen: Don't you get stressed out? DJ-ing is so stressful for me.
Kerry: I think I have a talent for it. I think it's because I don't usually enjoy parties, as in a boisterous party. I'm more inclined to sit on the couch and be able to hear what my friends are saying to me – I'm that kind of person at a party. When I'm at a more rambunctious party, I enjoy being behind the music because it's a way for me to amuse myself.
Kristen Who would be then most likely to be the one making the drinks, hopping behind the bar and getting the party started?
Kerry: I feel like Noah would be...
Noah: You think that would be me?
Noah: I don't know if I'd say very good bartender as in...a drink-maker.
Kristen: Do you think they’re saying that because you’re the most outgoing out of the three?
Noah: I don't know. None of us are really that outgoing.
Kristen: You guys are doing well with the interview so far.
Noah: I'm good with people in the music business that are strangers. At shows though Chris and Kerry are way better.
Kerry: Noah is the most spontaneous of us, though.
Chris: Yeah. You talk to people in the street with your dog and you'll learn their stories.
Kerry: If someone approaches him and says something like, "Hey man, I’ve got this green chair that I get people to sit in two blocks away from here. Do you want to try it?" Noah would be like, "That sounds like it could be interesting."
Kristen: What about dance moves on the dance floor? Any of you have good moves?
Kerry: Also not our skill set.
Chris: Noah does this thing where he… [Punches the air with alternating fist pumps].
Noah: Get out of here. You don't know what I'm doing.
Chris: …It’s like he’s punching the air or something, with both hands.
Kerry: I think the amount that Chris doesn't like dancing – that’s the strongest emotion. Noah and I will dance. We like to dance.
Chris: I've been known to dance.
Kristen: You're on tour right now with Hey Marseilles. When you're at the shows, do you go and do your thing after your set? Or are you guys in the back dancing, punching the air?
Kerry: I've never been one to hang out in the green room too much. I like to roam around, see the show and talk to people. We usually plant ourselves by the merch table. You can usually get a pretty good view of the show from there. We toured with The Mynabirds last September. It was like a one-week tour. Every night we were out after our set listening. Definitely by the end of it we knew the songs and the set backwards and forwards, so we had some choreographed moves. I would love to get to that point on this tour.
Kristen: How has it been going so far?
Kerry: This is day three, so we’re pretty early in. This is our third tour, and I always wonder before every one how it’s going to go and how our music is going to vibe with the audience. But so far on this tour it seems good.
Kristen: You've got a definite range to your music, though. I feel like you're approachable from a variety of genres in a really good way.
Kerry: Hey Marseilles’ songwriting is so good. It seems like their fans appreciate the lyrics and the melodies that are going into it. I think we're also a band that focuses on the craft of songwriting, so I hope that that translates for people.
Kristen: For sure. I read your interview with Interview magazine and there was a discussion surrounding Katy Perry and pop songs. Are there any pop songs out there right now that you can’t stop listening to?
Chris: Ellie Goulding.
Kerry: Ellie Goulding's "On My Mind."
Chris: Oh, man.
Kristen: The first time I heard that song I hated it, and now I’m in the car singing along with it. The beat is super catchy.
Kerry: The flow of it feels very “Kendrick Lamar-inspired” – something about the delivery of some of the words. I'm not saying she's as good as Kendrick Lamar, but I think his sound is penetrating the pop world in a cool way.
Chris: I've been listening to Carly Rae Jepsen’s "Gimmie Love" song on her new album.
Kristen: She played the Metro here in Chicago, which seemed like a strange venue choice for her, to be honest. It seems like she's trying to get away from all the teeny-boppers.
Chris: And be cool.
Kerry: Speaking of being cool, on the way home from our last tour with Hippo Campus – another Minneapolis band – we drove from Omaha to Minneapolis. Chris did his own thing in the back while Noah and I listened to Justin Bieber's new album all the way through.
Kristen: I love it. I feel like everyone prefaces that with, "I'm embarrassed to say this, but his new record is really good."
Kerry: There are definitely some hits. While we listened, we took the time to look up his relationship history with Selena Gomez. We found a very helpful timeline.
Kristen: They're done, right?
Kerry: You never know.
Noah: It's crazy…That whole timeline is crazy.
Kerry: It seems like they haven't found someone who makes them feel the way they made each other feel. Even though I think there's a lot of hurt…
Kristen: I always think he and Selena are communicating with each other…
Kerry: …Via song.
Kristen: Kerry, when you write, you mentioned that you often step into your friends’ or other people’s shoes. Do you ever feel like you’re running out of material?
Kerry: Sometimes you'll have writer's block, but there’s always something there. I'm certainly inspired by my own experience, and experiences of my friends. I approach the creative process by trying to think about different kinds of love stories – good or bad – and trying to tell them in a way that speaks to people.
Kristen: What do you do when you get writer's block?
Kerry: Sometimes I try to push it. When it's ready, it's ready. But more often I've had ideas that I don't record or write down, and then they're lost to me forever. On some level I'm like, "Maybe it wasn't a good idea if I can’t remember." I like writing things down in a notebook and recording little melodies. Sometimes it's helpful to go back and listen to things, and at a different moment it'll make sense in a different context.
Kristen: And when Chris and Noah bring their unique sounds to the writing, it probably changes ideas and morphs the songs.
Kristen: So in that case, is there a song on Psychic Reader that you felt made a total 360?
Kerry: There are a few that took a really long time to get to the place that we wanted them to be, but "Fight Song" is one that we toiled over forever. Finally, once we got into the studio, it had a different way of playing out and it made a lot more sense.
Kristen: What was difficult about it?
Kerry: I think we knew what the song was in its basic form: here are the chords, here are the parts, here are the words. We were trying to record it ourselves, and it didn't have the mood or the atmosphere that we wanted it to have. We couldn't figure out how to give it some “oomph.”
Kristen: I’m guessing Brett Bullion [producer] was helpful on that side of things. How did you decide to work with him?
Kerry: He'd been suggested to us really early on when we started playing, and we just weren't at that stage yet. When we were looking around for people to record with, we remembered that some of our music friends had suggested him. We just looked at some of the records he'd worked on. It seemed to be a fitting sound to what we were trying to do. People we really liked and respected were vouching for him, that he was going to do a good job. We felt confident.
Kristen: Did you record the album in a small, concentrated period of time or did you spread it out?
Kerry: We had two or three weeks, I think.
Chris: We took two weeks of work off. I think we ended up finishing it with a few random days here and there.
Kerry: Yeah, I had to do some wrap-up on the vocals.
Kristen: And how have the songs on the record transferred into a live setting? Have they changed?
Kerry: Oh, yeah.
Chris: Yeah, for sure.
Noah: I don't know exactly how, but I know they've transferred differently. We toured these past two times with a four piece. Chris was on guitar. We had our friend Arlin on drums. So, we had to reconfigure the songs to fit a three piece again, which required manipulating a lot of guitar parts. Kerry's doing a lot of work vocally, too.
Chris: A lot of the songs are very layered, so playing live as a trio, we just get rid of all that and go for the simplest version of the song that’s also fun.
Kristen: How do you decide your set list?
Noah: Trial and error.
Kerry: We try to practice a song and sometimes we’ll say, "We're not doing that song. That one's not going to work."
Noah: Yeah, there are a few that just don't work with three people. We actually haven't been playing the title track, "Psychic Reader," because we haven't been able to find a way to make it fun or engaging.
Kerry: Yeah, that's the biggest thing. We try to curate a three-piece set that feels a little bit more upbeat, and pick songs that we can be a little louder on and a little more rocking. Some songs on the record are harder with a three piece because there are textures and other sounds that are missing.
Kristen: That makes sense. I'm excited to see you play tonight. I love seeing how a band translates from a record to a live setting. Some are totally different and some sound exactly the same.
Kerry: Hey Marseilles definitely feels like a band that really does justice to their recordings.
Chris: They pull it off.
Kerry: Just because they have the know-how and…
Chris: Six people.
Kerry: We've been playing as a three piece for a while, but we've always recorded with many layers and different tracks – recordings that require more people than are actually playing. I think we're used to recording as though we have a 10-piece band. And I don't feel the need to stop doing that.
Kristen: Moving forward do you think you'll add a fourth person? Or will you keep it a trio?
Chris: I think if we found the right person, four people would be ideal in terms of keeping the cost of touring reasonable, balanced with doing the songs justice.
Kerry: We can do a lot with four people. We don't do anything too crazy on our recordings.
Kristen: What would your ideal fourth person be like, personality-wise and/or music-wise?
Noah: Our friend Arlin. He's a great drummer and a fun guy who was always positive when something was stressful on tour.
Chris: Yeah. He's got great presence.
Noah: Somebody who doesn't drag down the morale in the band.
Kerry: That's always nice. We've played with a lot of great people over the years. We're lucky to know a lot of musicians. I think the main thing that helps us as a trio is that Chris can play a lot of instruments. He can play drums, he can play guitar. He's playing drums now, even though I think guitar is where his heart is.
Kristen: Is that true?
Chris: Yeah. I'm better at guitar than drums, I think. It feels more fun.
Kristen: I imagine drums being an intense workout. Do you find you're more tired when you're playing drums than guitar?
Kerry: I actually wonder that as well.
Kristen: The drummer is always so sweaty.
Noah: So ripped.
Kerry: I know a lot of skinny drummers, actually…
Chris: I'm interested to see if I pass out after a week of tour or something. I've never toured as a drummer. I've done shows with this band as a drummer, but not three weeks in a row.
Kristen: In the middle of the set tonight, you should rip your shirt off to reveal your strength as a drummer.
Chris: And blind everyone with my pale, pale skin.
Kristen: What's the vibe like in the van or just being on tour in general?
Noah: We were all friends first before the band, so that helps a lot. If anything comes up, it's like, "Whatever."
Kerry: I feel like Noah and I are most likely to get existential.
Noah: Yeah. Today at breakfast we went from talking about Tabasco to Communism in the time it took Chris to go get a coffee.
Kristen: How did that transition?
Kerry: It's all red. Chris got back from getting coffee and was like ...
Noah: "What happened?"
Kristen: What other sort of deep conversations have you gotten into on the road?
Chris: I think politics ends up getting a little bit heavy.
Noah: We talk about feminism in music a lot. That's Kerry and I's go-to a lot.
Kerry: We go in a lot of circles.
Kristen: Do you talk about female presence in a band, or do you talk more about females in the music industry?
Kerry: All of it. I was reading some article about women in rock music, and I looked up the Grammy award nominees for best rock album and realized that a woman has not won best rock album since Evanescence won in 2004.
Noah: Also, as we've been sitting here [in the bar] not one female-fronted band has been played on this station.
Kristen: True. Good observation.
Kerry: I think people have their own thoughts about the Grammys and whether it's a valid showing of what's happening in music. But I thought it was interesting that women weren't showing up in the rock category. Also, now that Top 40 doesn't really have much rock representation the way they used to when we were younger. So I’ve been musing on if that means anything, and if it does, what it means, and how women are playing a part in whatever rock music is now.
Kristen: I once interviewed a band with a female drummer. I remember asking her, “How do you feel about being a female drummer in a band?" She said, "I can't wait for the day when someone doesn't have to ask me that." I thought, That's a really good point.
Kerry: It's something I hadn't really thought about either, but I was talking to my friend Maya the other day about that question. She was like, "You mean, how does it feel to be a person?" When you ask that question, I guess the assumption is that women don't usually do this, so what are you doing?
Kristen: I see the way women are perceived in the publicity and journalism industries, too. I’ve gotten stopped in greenrooms before or stopped on my way to an interview. There's an assumption that I’m either sneaking backstage, or that there's some hidden agenda for me being there to interview someone. I'm here to do my job and do an interview. I feel it span the entire industry.
Chris: It's true.
Noah: We talk about it all the time.
Kerry: Like I said, this is our third tour. We're still kind of new to this. This will be the first tour where I'm the only woman in either party traveling. Which is good in that it means I finally get the bathroom to myself.
Kristen: We're going to end on a deep note here. If you had to pick a slogan for your band, what would it be?
Noah: We’re just trying to have a good time.
Kerry: That's Noah's go-to. That's definitely part of it. We do try to have fun and try to write music that makes people feel good, even if it’s a sad song. Trying to connect with people, but definitely also trying to have a good time.