the evolution of badbadnotgood



FEBRUARY 24, 2017

words |interview by: uma ramiah

It’s a lo-fi, grainy, black and white sort of YouTube video, the camera panning across a jam session. The three musicians look not so unlike those kids from high school who smoked a little too much and jammed in basements, but the sounds here are something else. Rich, informed, layered - across piano, bass and drums. The drummer’s in a pig mask (you read that right) - but it’s the intricacies, the physicality of the guys, their relationship to the instruments and their visceral response to the music that make it hard to take your eyes and ears off of them.

Amongst the comments: 

"Make LOVE to that piano boy! Got damn."

In an age of machine beats, BADBADNOTGOOD - the Canadian, live-ensemble trio-turned-quartet of former schoolmates - sound like something special. Just a few years ago, the group was busy posting jazz interpretations of hip-hop covers - from Nas to ODB - straight to YouTube when they caught the attention of Odd Future’s Tyler, the Creator. After producing an entire LP for Ghostface Killah (see Sour Soul), all still in their twenties, they moved on to creating their own original music, drawing on their wildly eclectic musical tastes to release the album IV in 2016.

And so Chester Hansen (bass), Matthew Tavares (keyboard), Alexander Sowinski (drums), and recently added fourth member Leland Whitty (sax/guitar) have joined the realm of "musicians’ favorite musicians," having now worked with Kaytranada, Sam Harris, the rapper Mick Jenkins and Frank Ocean. But despite the rising fame, Canada-kind is what reads in conversation with bassist Hansen, who’s breezy and generous with his time the night before taking off for a Europe tour.

“We’ve been so lucky to be able to travel so much and play these shows all over the world,” he says. They’ve been a bit of everywhere now with these past couple albums, from Amsterdam to Singapore to Globetrotter's home base, Jakarta (for Java Jazz). But as their context swings global, the band tries to keep it tight.

“I think the way we approach playing hasn’t changed much, other than getting more experienced as musicians, writing new material and adding collaborations. We try and keep it simple but play with as much energy and emotion as possible and try to bring the whole audience in on that.”

Given the new platforms and exposure, he says, they’re trying to hold on to the root simplicity and pure love of music the classically trained musicians started with - when they met at the Humber College Jazz program in Toronto.

Hansen says there isn’t any real tension between the group’s academic training and their increasingly experimental style.

“I could see how someone learning classical music might have that problem, but jazz is such a free thing - in theory you can apply that knowledge to any style of music,” he says. “We use what we learned at Humber all the time now. Like what’s the chord that would theoretically would work here? On the other hand you can just be like, what sounds and feels good? Having the balance of both is what we go for.”

Their latest album, IV (their second all-original effort), takes a leap in sound with the the addition of Whitty on saxophone. It’s a turn to a looser, more vintage sound than their earlier projects. The record features five collab artists, including Kaytranada and Toronto’s Charlotte Day Wilson.

“Those collaborations put us into a different headspace and really changed what we were going for,” Hansen says. “And we have a bunch of instrumentals that are quite different from our last album. It’s just more thought out. Matt (piano) mixes and engineers everything - so sonically it’s on another level compared to anything else we’ve ever done."

B sides may be coming - Hansen says they have near endless close-to-finished songs that could be curated into something good.

“We might try and do a collection of B-Sides with everyone that was on the album - we have so much extra music, probably 30 almost-finished songs with Kaytranada that are just floating around.”

After IV, Hansen says they’re looking to focus on studio work, making albums, writing music with collaborators - even moving into film scores and soundtracks.

“Playing shows is amazing but we haven’t really had time to put a lot of effort into studio,” he says. “We really kind of thrive on creating music together.”