How Jazz Trio BadBadNotGood and Odd Future Became Unlikely Pals
The hip-hop-inspired jazz trio BadBadNotGood are in a car driving to a show in Vermont while bumping the new My Bloody Valentine album. Comprised of keys player Matthew Tavares, bass man Chester Hansen and drummer Alexander Sowinski (who likes to sport a pig mask while playing out), the Toronto-based BadBadNotGood's music received a publicity bump when Odd Future captain Tyler, The Creator re-tweeted YouTube footage of the band running through instrumental reinterpretations of some his crew's songs. Since then they've been invited to back-up Tyler and Frank Ocean during live shows while also building up a reputation for launching into covers of rap standards by A Tribe Called Quest and Kanye West. Ahead of BadBadNotGood's crowd-funded show at Glasslands tonight, we tapped up the trio to talk about covering Gucci Mane, helping to shape the direction of Earl Sweatshirt's album, and Tyler's all-important pizza topping preferences.
What was the first hip-hop song you decided to recreate? Chester: The first couple of songs were like Gucci Mane's "Lemonade" and Tyler, The Creator's songs and some Odd Future songs like "Bastard" and some things off that first mixtape.
Matthew: The very first song we played together was some standard like "Milestones" or "Footsteps" but the first hip-hop song we all played together was "Lemonade."
What was the hardest part about recreating "Lemonade"? Alexander: I think it wasn't really tricky at all 'cause it almost came out of a joke where we were playing the really simple piano melody of it as a joke and then we realized it sounded really cool. Then Chester threw in his interpretation of the baseline and it worked.
Matthew: With songs like that, a lot of rap songs are meant to be rapped over so the music is pretty minimal but that's cool 'cause we can put our own spin and interpretation on it.
Were you surprised when Tyler tweeted some footage of you guys playing? Matthew: Yeah, it was super crazy 'cause that video was just us rehearsing that song for fun 'cause we wanted to do something other than jazz music. I have no idea how it got to him 'cause we definitely didn't tweet it at him. But he tweeted it out there and it was the most amazing thing that really helped us out.
You went on to hook up with Tyler in the studio. What was he like? Matthew: He was just a really nice guy, man. Everyone thinks he's this crazy hyper guy but he's really motivated and a lot of fun. It was only a couple of hours but we got a lot done. And we got pizza.
So what's Tyler's pizza topping of choice? Matthew: It was bacon and pepperoni.
Did you have any conversations with him about jazz music? Matthew: Just very briefly. He showed us this cool band we'd never heard of called Air -- not the recent one but this fusion band from the '70s. Jazz-wise, when we first kinda met him we didn't hang out 'cause we had a show to drive to right after, but he hit us up with that band that's really cool.
What's the story behind Alexander wearing the pig mask while performing? Alexander: I bought it at a costume shop a couple of years before I met the other guys when I was playing with another band at a halloween show in an old funeral show. I decided to wear it as a joke but I couldn't 'cause it was 100 degrees in there and I'd have passed out from the heat. But then I pulled it out one day when we were jamming. So it kinda happened randomly.
What animal mask do you think would suit Tyler the best? Alexander: That's a hard one. [Pauses] Like a lion unicorn fusion, for sure. That would be cool and suit him.
What about Frank Ocean? Alexander: What's fly? A tiger is pretty fly. But maybe like a panda 'cause it's the most quiet animal possible.
Have you had many rappers approach you to work on original tracks? Chester: Only a few, though that's something we'd like to do more of.
Alexander: We've done some songs we can't talk about yet but we can talk about one which is we have a song on the Earl Sweatshirt album. It's really cool and weird. And we've worked with Frank Ocean too.
What's the vibe of the song on Earl's album like? Matthew: It's very dark and has a weird almost krautrock influence on it. It doesn't really sound like a hip-hop track but it's pretty cool. It's really dark and we're all really excited about it.
Does the song have a title yet? Matthew: We don't know what the title is yet because he may be changing it. We just sent him the beat when he got back; we worked on a bunch of songs.
Finally, what can people expect if they come to see your New York show? Matthew: A lot of noise, a lot of feedback! We'll be playing about five songs on the new album and seeing how people react to them. We're all about having a good show and making energy and not just being this spectacle of watching us play our versions of hip-hop songs they already know.
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