Since the release of their debut album, Psychic Reader, in July, Minneapolis-based trio Bad Bad Hats have been the focus of local media, as well as sparking national coverage. This weekend, I spoke to frontwoman Kerry Alexander about the trio’s recent tour, their new album, and being young in the music industry.
GMN: How did you all come together and decide to form a band?
The three of us went to Macalaster College in St. Paul, and all three of us had been making music independently in different ways. When I got to college, I was hoping to continue making music, especially since I was in a bigger city than I had been living in before. I was really excited to explore the music scene, and the other people who made music. I hadn’t really met people like that before. So when I met Chris [Hoge, guitar/drums], I heard some of his demos and he heard my demos, and we decided to start writing together. That was our sophomore year of college, and when we met Noah [Boswell, bass] our senior year, that was about the time that we wanted to bring some of our demos to life. We knew [Noah] bought a bass and asked if he wanted to jam with us, and here we are.
GMN: I know this is the question that everyone hates getting asked, but how would you describe your sound?
Yeah, it’s always a tough question. I’ve dabbled in music writing, and it’s really hard to even describe other people’s music. But I like to think that our songs are upbeat, and there’s sort of a sense of joy even when the songs are a little sad. But it’s like indie rock, indie pop, you know, short and sweet.
GMN: Has your sound been consistent since you started writing, or has it kind of evolved?
Yeah, I guess it has evolved. In my really early writing I was writing more folk-leaning, slower, introspective, singer-songwriter stuff, because that’s the kind of music I really enjoyed. For a long time I had been wanting to rock out more, and make songs that were a little more upbeat, but I never had other people to play with, so I never played along with a drummer until I met Chris. Once I had that experience I was like, “oh yeah, I’m ready to rock”. So yeah, I think it’s a bit more upbeat and peppy as it’s gone along, which I really like. But I think it’s cool, because we try to make it catchy and fun, but I think my past of focusing on the lyrics and things has stayed with us.
GMN: You just came out with your debut full length, Psychic Reader, in July. What was the writing process like for the album?
Most of our writing, and this may change for us as a band as we move forward, but for the most part I start everything. I write the lyrics and the basics of the songs, like the structure and things, and then the band sort of finishes it out. So that’s what we did. I had written a bunch of demos, and Chris and I live together so we do a lot of demoing in our apartment. We had all these demos and we were thinking we were just gonna record it ourselves, but it was being a little tricky. But it was good, because we had all these demos that were pretty much how we wanted them to sound, they just needed that extra something-something. So we went into the studio with Brett Bullion [Bon Iver, Poliça], and he had the goods that were missing from our songs.
GMN: So did it take a long time or did it all come together pretty quickly after you had the demos?
We released our EP in 2013, and then were were just writing and trying to play shows and demoing at home, and then a year later we were like this is taking forever and then we decided to go into the studio, then once we made that decision, it happened instantly, it felt so fast. But I think it was fast because we had put the time in, you know?
GMN: You recently were on tour with Hippo Campus. What was that like?
It was awesome. I think it was very different than the tour that we’d done before that, just because they were a lot more all ages shows. They were mostly all ages shows, which was cool because one of the main reasons I wanted to do the tour was so that we could play to younger people. It’s an awesome experience. . . .the Hippo Campus guys are extremely friendly and awesome people to see play every night, you don’t get tired of it. But it’s really inspiring to be surrounded by young people who are enjoying music in the way I enjoyed music when I was younger. You really feel the songs, and you relate to them, and just to see people respond to Hippo Campus that way was amazing, and to see these people show up early and try to get to the front of the stage. It made me feel good because it’s like, yeah, people still connect with music and music is important to them, and they wanna buy a vinyl, which is awesome. I don’t know, it was cool, so we were really happy to talk to so many people. And I’m glad that they showed up early to see us [laughs]. That was nice. Yeah, it was a really positive experience overall.
GMN: That’s my favorite thing about all ages shows. I’m still underage so I really rely on them, but they have such a good atmosphere.
Totally! And growing up I lived in places where there weren’t that many people touring to the cities, so I love music and there’s so many bands that I never got to see. I felt like I was living vicariously through all the people coming to the shows. Like, yeah, this would’ve been me, of course I would’ve showed up early and rushed to the front of the stage. That sort of energy is awesome to be a part of.
GMN: What was your favorite city to play in on the tour?
That one’s tough, because they all have their own thing. And some places maybe the show felt weird, but we always were picked back up talking to people after the shows. I think New York’s always fun because it’s like, New York, big city glamour, and you’re like “ah, we’ve made it to New York!” [laughs] But we had some really surprising times, or things where we didn’t know what to expect. And we’re like, I hope people come out or I hope they like it. I think Charlotte, North Carolina was one where it was like, we don’t know if we have any fans here, but hopefully. And we were really surprised by how many people stayed to talk with us, and said they enjoyed the show. But playing in Minneapolis is always really nice, it really feels like coming home.
GMN: What’s your favorite song to play live?
I think ¨Joseph¨ is definitely one for the band; I know Noah especially loves playing that one. It’s pretty fun for me as well. But I think ¨Super America¨ was really fun on tour because Noah and I got into our power stances, so it was always fun to see if we could stick the landing every night. A constant thrill ride, you know. So those are fun. And ¨Super America¨ is one that when I wrote it, I was like “I hope people like this!” It feels a little silly, but it was something that I liked writing. A lot of people seemed to enjoy a song about going to a convenience store.
GMN: You just announced a tour yesterday! Tell me about that.
In February, we’re opening for a band called Hey Marsailles. We like doing the support gigs, we just get to follow people around. And half the cities are places we haven’t been to before, so yeah, excited to explore new cities. We’re gonna try this one as a three-piece, which is historically what our band has been. So that’ll be fun! I have to do a lot more, in a three-piece, but I really like that challenge, it makes me better at guitar. We play things a little differently, which is challenging beforehand, but once we get into it, it’s really fun.
GMN: After the tour, what are your other plans for 2016? Continuing touring or recording?
Yeah, hopefully all of the above. Basically anywhere – we’re game to go anywhere and play anywhere if people will have us. And I’m also really excited about some songs we’ve been working on, so I would really like to spend some time doing some demoing.
GMN: Since The Garage and GMN is very centered around all ages, what advice would you give young people who want to be a part of the music scene?
Oh, for sure. I’m trying to think of what I wish someone would’ve told me. I think the main thing especially is follow your voice, but that doesn’t mean you have to be completely new and completely different, you know. It’s so cool to discover new music that you love, and to channel that into your own stuff. That’s how I got started writing; I bought all these CDs and just really listened to a lot of music that inspired me and it’s like, I wanna play like this, and I wanna write like this. Eventually you will find your own voice. But yeah, I would say don’t let anyone tell you that what you’re giving to the music world isn’t important, because there’s room for everyone’s voice and everyone’s take on music.
GMN: What made each of you pick the instruments you did?
It’s kind of funny. . .we were all guitarists to start, but obviously we can’t all do that onstage. Maybe we should, maybe that’s our new side project, we all just play guitar.
GMN: New album, all guitar.
Yes, exactly! But I got to play guitar because I’m the frontwoman, and I’m in charge. Then Chris started playing drums, probably because he was the only one who knew how to when we started. Then when we first met Noah, we didn’t actually know that much about his music history. But we were all hanging out and he was like, “you guys, I bought a bass!” and we’re like “oh, you play bass”, and he was like “yeah, I just bought one!” and it was like, oh, okay, you can play bass. And then we learned later that he played more guitar in high school, but had learned the bass because he had lied about whether he could play in high school to be part of an AC/DC talent show cover band. So he was like, yeah I play bass, but didn’t actually know how to, but then learned to play an AC/DC song for the talent show. So yeah, we all sort of fell into them, but it’s cool that all three of us are passionate about many other instruments as well, because it makes for a more interesting creative flow because we all have more ideas for each other.
GMN: If you could collab with anyone, who would you pick?
I’m trying to think of who would make a good collaboration. If I think of who I would love to meet and like, hang out with, then Feist, or Sheryl Crow. We just played a Sheryl Crow set and it was amazing. I would literally die if I got to play a show with Sheryl Crow. That would be sweet.
GMN: What’s your favorite thing about being a Minnesota band and a part of the MN music scene?
There are so many good things, it’s really hard to choose. There are so many good venues, and there’s so many good media outlets for bands. It’s amazing that there’s this amazing radio station that plays local music, and all these local papers that really support the scene. But I think mostly for me, I really love that before band practice we get burritos on Monday, and pizza on Wednesday. There are places we go to every week, and I’m very thankful for those places, they are the literal fuel for our band.