I met BADBADNOTGOOD (Matt Tavares, Alex Sowinski and Chester Hansen) at Hotel 71 in Chicago and we talked. We talked about pianist Matt Tavares’s late night, too-much-weed, oddball television show idea. We talked about Chester’s missed encounter with A$AP Rocky. Alex talked about underrated Chicago emcee Tree. We talked about Gucci Mane and Lil B. And, we talked about how really, “We all like Gucci Mane.” We talked for just shy of 30 minutes. You might already be familiar with the Canadian hip-hop, jazz, punk, ever-evolving trio, but did you know they recorded BBNG2 in only 10 hours? Crazy. The group has two full length releases under their belt, cover after cover of pure gold, and it’s only just begun.
You guys got the name BADBADNOTGOOD from a TV show?
Matt: Uh, yeah it’s from a show me and my friend Connor and Sam were going to write. My friend Connor came up with the name and I thought it was a super cool name. It looked really good on paper.
Is the show ever going to see the light of day?
Matt: Probably not. Probably 100% not.
What was it about?
Matt: I don’t know if I really want to go in depth about it.
Alex: No, say what it’s about.
Matt: It’s complicated.
Chester: I don’t even know what it’s about, he knows.
Matt: I don’t know. It’s about doing thangs. [laughs] Did you ever see Tim and Eric? It’s about really abstract situations and stuff, I thought it was kind of cool but it never really became anything.
You guys are in a jazz group or would you even call yourselves a jazz group?
Matt: I want to say we’re a music group. [laughs] I would say we’re more like a hip-hop beat based music. It’s kind of crazy because we’re like–especially because we’ve been playing a lot more live so people think it’s more of a punk, jazz, pop type of thing. It’s kind of like genre twisting kind of thing.
Matt: I wouldn’t even really say beats.
Chester: We’re definitely heavily inspired by it.
Alex: The thing is, like, if you first asked us when we first started jamming I would say like, “Yeah we’re more like hip-hop, like we’re making hip-hop jazz,” but now it’s kind of like we’re getting synth influences and drawing influences from everywhere.
For BBNG2 you’ve started sampling–
Matt: More so like synthesizers and stuff, definitely a bit of sampling but not too much.
Chester: We try to keep it light.
Matt: Yeah, I think the whole thing is just balancing the improvisational aspects and the structural aspects of the music.
Alex: I guess in terms of the sampling thing, definitely not for the live show. The sampling I guess like I’ll do vocal samples or cue samples, but we wouldn’t like be making beats and stuff. We would be sampling our old material and stuff like that and making samples just out of like playing different instruments and pitching and stuff like that.
Chester: Basically the mentality of different sampling old records or whatever but actually like playing the shit first and then working on content.
Alex: Everything is 100% original, like the sampling kind of stuff.
As a music writer there’s some need to label things. Would you call what you’re doing ‘covers’, or something else?
Matt: I wouldn’t, the only thing we would approach it is the jazz side really. Like, if you play a song it’s called a standard you’re not playing a cover of “Autumn Leaves” you’re playing “Autumn Leaves” which is just how you play it. I think we’re just playing a version of the songs.
Alex: I would disagree, because like–I mean like– I would technically say if you’re playing a standard you’re playing a cover because you’re literally playing the beat the exact same way. What we’re doing is not–we’re changing up the form , we’re changing up the essence. But, usually those types of things, especially with standards, are usually kept the same way. That’s if you’re playing the standard.
With standards you can improvise and go off the cuff a little though–
Alex: Totally, totally, but it’s usually improvising changes after you play the head or whatever kind of thing. So it’s that.
Matt: And, nothing is like the standard. It’s the most rigid uniform version of a song, but when we play it’s like form isn’t in existence. We go for however long we want, we will extend a part for however long we want. It’s kind of like everything is up in the air and it’s up to Alex, Chester and I to cue time and next section when it goes when we play live. That’s normally how it is in normal jazz. A section is 8 bars every time. When we cycle around form it’s going to be 8 bars regardless.
Alex: On the internet it’s going to say you know, “covering” or something like that and I guess it’s the appropriate term. It’s the same thing as saying “interpreting” or something like that, but obviously a more widespread general term is “covering something.”
What were you doing before BADBADNOTGOOD?
Alex: I’ve just played in a bunch of bands in Toronto with a bunch of friends I met in high school. And then with friends I met after high school. We’d just like play a lot of shows around the city and try to promote shows and like throw parties and stuff like that. Yeah, and until I met these guys that’s what I was doing. I still did that while we were still doing some things, but it wasn’t really a band seriously after until like the last 6 months. So…we’ve been doing that.
Chester: Pretty similar story, I started playing bass in high school and I was in a bunch of different bands–a rock band, ska band, hip-hop band, you know anything to get out and play. From there I decided to go to music school to continue and that’s where I met these guys.
Matt: I just played a whole bunch of music in my mom’s basement–well, my parents basement I guess and yeah–I don’t know we’ve all paid dues musically in different ways. Yeah, I was in a punk band for a while and yeah I don’t know we just did a whole different bunch of stuff and we’ve all played a whole bunch of different styles.
Can you describe each other’s approach when you’re working together on a track? You know, is Alex throwing down a beat and then Matt, you’ll jump in with a chord progression? How does it work?
Alex: I guess the thing about it is about like when we’re making music and stuff there are so many different musical–different music situations and it’s never really been the same. Like, I remember working on BBNG2– We have different formulas–We’ll come up with a little chord progression action, and, like, form. Then we’ll come up with ideas and jam on it and see where it goes and take the best parts and try to stick with that. We like keeping it pretty freeform, but then we’ve been doing a lot of beats recently where that kind of productions style has a 100% different form. The process has been a different kind of thing and, yeah, so basically when we’re doing our arrangements we’ve been playing live. It’s–it goes everywhere like Chester will come up with a chord progression, Matt might or I might play and we might just vibe off it and jam it up until we figure out how we’re going to play it. I wouldn’t say that’s even the end. When we play it live we might do something in one show and be like, “That’s fucking amazing we’re doing that!” or “That’s an idea we want to stick with.” So, it’s an always evolving kind of thing.
Is it cool to be doing live shows and never know what’s going to come next? For me, as an audience member it’s exciting to know you’re doing something different at each show. It’s like you’re creating a “moment.”
Alex: Yeah, I think it’s fucking fun. Well, at the same time BBNG2 is a “moment.” I don’t play the exact same parts–I think it’s cool that the live show gives us variables and options to be sloppy. It’s not that we want to do that, but that can happen. Just, like, the energy might build and you might fumble off of what you want to do or execute it perfectly. And, I think it gives us so much more room for a great show to happen because there’s not going to be the same thing every time. We’re not playing everything to a metronome. We’re not playing the same thing. It’s not like a big pop show. I think it’s an awesome thing.
Chester: Yeah, that’s what makes it super exciting for us as players, as well as, for the audience. Never knowing exactly what’s going to happen and always being on your toes and just like creating in the moment.
Matt: And, another thing I’d say is that like lives shows are way more–I guess– there’s less restraint. You listen to BBNG2 and I feel like we kind of play that way because we have to. It’s like we kind of really, well you know what I mean, we had a limited amount of time and it was kind of structured. We were coming to Chicago and I was just like you know hitting my keyboard with my palms and Alex was playing weird modulating and things were happening that we’ve never done before. And, I feel like we wouldn’t have done those things unless we were in a live scenario, you know what I mean?
Alex: Also, that’s just a progression of playing the songs more, because when we recorded BBNG2 we practiced for a week. Then we practiced the songs, we worked out the songs and we had ten hours to record it because that’s all we had and in terms of free time our friend Neil got the hook up for us. And, yeah, everything is always evolving so it’s fun.