Minneapolis-based Bad Bad Hats released their debut EP, It Hurts, in 2013 shortly after vocalist Kerry Alexander and guitarist Chris Hoge graduated from Macalester College. Their label’s website hints at what makes the band’s sound so satisfying: it “honors classic pop songwriting, with nods to nineties rock simplicity and pop-punk frivolity, [and] through it all, Alexander’s unflinchingly sincere lyrics cut to the emotional heart of things.” The juxtaposition of sincerity and frivolity defines the band’s charming live shows as well. They just set off on a North American tour over the next few months, along with New Zealand’s The Beths.

Ahead of a sold out show at Music Hall of Williamsburg on March 1, Kerry gave us some insight into what makes the band tick: how they write songs, where they got their name, and the concept behind their new music video for “Girl.”

Photo credit: Amy Anderson

How do you describe your band to people who haven’t heard your music before?

We have come to describe our band as “indie slapstick.” Haha! The music is pretty solidly in the pop/indie form, but we have a few extra tricks up our sleeve. And we try to imbue everything with joy.

Your band name comes from a character in the Madeline series of children’s books. Why did that character make such a big impression on you? How did they inspire the name?

My mom would read the Madeline books to me when I was younger, and there was a video series that I loved and watched all the time. In the books, a “bad hat” describes a trouble-maker or bad apple. And when I was misbehaving as a young person, that’s what my parents would call me. People who know me know that I am the opposite of a trouble-maker. I’ve always been an over-achiever and a rule-follower. So I think when it came time to name my first rock band, I liked the sort of winking humor of naming ourselves after a bad boy from a children’s book. We’re a very wholesome band deep down.

 

 

You just put out a music video for “Girl.” Which came first—the footage of your sweet dance moves, or the concept for the video?

I had an idea for a video for a long time where I would come up with dance moves as a non-dancer and then have an actual dancer put the moves together. My friends will attest, I’ve been doing the “Pizza Roll, Dippin’ Sauce” for years now. That idea morphed into what became the “Girl” video. I thought it could be a fun play on the classic tour footage video, with a little unexpected twist. I’m happy the rest of the band was down to contribute some moves of their own. And I’m happy we were able to put the moves together ourselves. I haven’t choreographed anything since the 5th grade talent show when I put together a horrible routine for *NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye.” I am much more proud of our “Girl” dance and feel personally redeemed.

You have a lot of fun with your music videos in general. Do you have a favorite memory from filming one of them?

We like getting the opportunity to show our personality in music videos. I have trouble being too serious. I don’t feel comfortable. So we tend to default to sillier music video ideas. “Shame” is a great example of that. We had a very loose concept, basically riffing off of the “women laughing alone with salad” meme. But we had a lot of fun running around town and coming up with ideas for shots as we went. Probably my favorite memory of that video was filming our friend Dustin doing the guitar solo. He was behind me so I couldn’t see what he was doing, but Chris was behind the camera dying laughing at every take, so I knew we had something good.

 

 

How do you think your songwriting process has changed since you released your first EP in 2013?

It’s funny because, in some ways, the basic process hasn’t changed that much. I still write everything on a classical guitar that I got in high school. I record little voice memo ideas here and there and write down lyrics ideas in my journal. I finish most songs as just a vocal and guitar arrangement. I think the main thing that’s changed over the years is the process that follows. So for the EP, Chris and I just recorded ourselves in our apartment. Our debut album (Psychic Reader) we worked with our friend Brett Bullion in the studio. For Lightning Round, we had Con (Connor Davison) playing drums. I do think I’ve gotten better as a musician as well. I think touring so much and playing in the band for so long has allowed me to expand my playing style as well as my field of influence. But I also think the inclusion of several different x-factors (Brett’s production and Con’s drumming, namely) have considerably enhanced and shaped our current sound.

One of the band’s original members, your bassist Noah Boswell, recently left to go to grad school. How do you think that will change your sound?

Yes, and he’s doing amazing in school we are happy to report. Noah was one of the founding members of the band and we played together for six years. When we first started, we were very raw. I had played music by myself for so long, I wasn’t really sure what a band playing my songs was supposed to sound like. But we learned so much along the way and from each other. It is hard to transition from a playing dynamic that you are so used to and that so shaped the vibe of the band. But I’m just thankful I got to play with Noah all those years. And now I’m at a point where I’m very confident in my vision for Bad Bad Hats. So, the dream continues.

 

What are your favorite venues to perform at, and why?

We’ve played so many great venues around the country, it’s hard to choose a handful of favorites. Our general criteria for a great venue are friendly staff, comfortable green room, and good food nearby. We don’t ask for much. We love playing at First Avenue/7th Street Entry in Minneapolis. It’s our hometown venue, but it is truly one of the best places to play in the nation. We love The Sinclair in Boston and 9th Ward in Buffalo. I really enjoyed Mississippi Studios in Portland. But that’s just to name a few of many wonderful places.

 

 

You just began a tour with The Beths, who are from New Zealand. How did you connect with them?

Twitter.com! Haha! I discovered The Beths on Spotify a couple years ago and loved their EP. And I was so excited when they announced their album. I was playing it in the van one day and everyone in the band was like, “what’s this cool music!?” Chris said, “you should tweet at them and say hi.” So I did, and that started a little online friendship that eventually led to a US tour. Haha! The internet can be very awesome sometimes.

What do you like about touring? What is difficult or strange about it?

There is definitely something inherently wacky about touring. Sitting in a vehicle for so long, the late nights, being in so many different cities in so few days. I’ve often had the sensation of waking up in a hotel room and having no idea where I am. But getting the chance to interact with your fans and to meet new people who are hearing you for the first time–that’s really nice. Because so much is on the internet, it is really special to be able to bring the experience out into the real world. And performing the songs definitely works a different creative muscle than writing or recording the songs, so that’s fun too. And! I love exploring the country and seeing small towns and big cities and most importantly sampling all of the delicious food this nation has to offer.

What else are you working on at the moment? Any idea what 2019 holds after you’re done touring?

Well, we will be releasing a little EP at the very end of March. So we’re excited to share those songs.  We will definitely be playing more shows. And we are working on new songs, doing some demoing when we’re home. So we are not slowing down anytime soon.

Follow Bad Bad Hats on Instagram as they tour the country and sample different foods. Also stay tuned to their Bandcamp and listen to their new EP in late March.

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