Bad Bad Hat's Kerry Alexander
Minneapolis’ alt-pop rockers Bad Bad Hats are smart. You can tell from their lyrics and their musical influences which are eclectic and classic. The fact they are working on album number three and tour constantly, having performed alongside such bands as The Front Bottoms, The Beths, Hippo Campus and San Fermin also suggests they know what they’re doing. As if there was any room for doubt, singer-songwriter and founding member Kerry Alexander’s answers to my email questions proved articulate and interesting, only heightening expectations for their March 6th show at Madison’s High Noon Saloon.
MAXIMUM INK: News of the band working on another album makes me wonder if Madison might get a dose of new material when you play the High Noon in a few weeks?
KERRY ALEXANDER: In general, we like to build suspense for new material, so unfortunately the audience won’t hear many new songs until the album is out. But there will be one new tune!
MI: Do you spend a lot of time figuring out each tour’s setlist or do you give yourself the liberty to change things up each night?
KA: We do spend some time figuring out the setlist before a tour. And it is a really rewarding experience to get really comfortable with a set order. Once we’re a few shows in and I’m in that tour rhythm, I feel like I have a little more mental energy to focus on singing and engaging with the crowd, that kind of thing. But we do often switch things up halfway into a tour. Gotta keep on our toes!
MI: When you settle down to making a record is it because you’ve accumulated enough songs? You seem to be touring a lot, what’s usually your motivation to get into the recording studio?
KA: Yes, I’d say it feels like recording time when we have a pile of songs that feel like a cohesive unit. I usually have twenty or so songs written at any given time, but they don’t always go together well. But then sometimes you start working on some demos and putting them side by side and you start to see the vision of a completed album. Also, we just start to miss recording, so that’s a big motivator too.
MI: Can you write on tour? What’s the oddest place or situation that inspired a writing session?
KA: When we started touring in 2015, I hoped and assumed I would be able to write on tour. I brought my iPad with Garage Band on it and I brought an acoustic guitar. But I found I really struggled to write on tour the way I write at home. At home, I sit down with my classical guitar and come up with a chord progression, then I mumble along melody ideas until something clicks, and then I work on the lyrics. But I realized that I need to be alone to do that and I am hardly ever alone in a quiet room on tour. So it just doesn’t work for me. But what I’ve started doing is focusing on writing lyric ideas on tour. And that’s been fun because when I first started writing songs, I always would start with the lyrics. So it’s actually been a nice return to my old writing style and it’s yielded some interesting results. The oddest situation that inspired a writing session has to be going to an Italian restaurant in a small town in Pennsylvania and getting a great deal on spaghetti. Trust me, there’s a metaphor in there somewhere. I’m working on it.
MI: I understand your last full-length, “Lightning Round,” was recorded differently than your first where instead of laying each track down individually you recorded everyone playing together. Are you sticking with the same strategy this time around?
KA: We are definitely continuing the trend of playing together on most of the songs. It doesn’t make sense every time, but when it does, it makes for really special live takes. All the touring we’ve done has tightened up our playing so much. We’re a rock band and we love playing together and learning from each other and we get better every show we play.
MI: Brett Bullion produced the first two albums plus last year’s, “Wide Right,” EP, will he be on board for number three?
KA: He certainly will! We can’t speak highly enough of Brett and what he brings to our music. He has an incredible ear and makes everything sound beautiful and deep and nuanced, but he also brings an artistic vision and a creative drive to every session we do with him. Brett and I have different music tastes and we often approach songwriting from different paths, but I believe where we meet in the middle is the Bad Bad Hats sound. He’s been an important collaborator and an integral part of our musical journey. We feel lucky to work with him.
MI: Bad Bad Hats 2020. What would you say were the most interesting challenges the band faced over the last year?
KA: Last year we started the process of transitioning into truly being full-time musicians. Which was a little scary, but also very liberating and exciting. We like running the business of our band and we want it to succeed, so being able to focus all our energy on that will be really rewarding. We also finished our contract with our longtime record label Afternoon Records last year. We’ve been with Afternoon our entire career thus far. Ian Anderson, the owner of Afternoon Records, is one of our dear friends and we are so grateful that he saw something in us at our second ever show and signed us (true story). But we find ourselves at the start of a new journey, so we’re looking forward to seeing what the future has in store for us.
MI: If you had to describe a Bad Bad Hats performance in three words, what would they be?
KA: Songs, stories, joy!
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CD: Lightning Round Record Label: Afternoon Records
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