Exclusive: BADBAD NOTGOOD Give Hip-Hop a Hell of a Makeover

Hip-hop connoisseurs still haven’t fully recovered from what hit them in the summer of 2011. It wasn’t Kanye West, it wasn’t A Tribe Called Quest, it wasn’t even Gucci Mane. It was all of the above combined, with the addition of animal masks thrown in for good measure. They were a jazz trio that hailed out of Toronto, Canada, and they go by the name of BadBadNotGood.

Formed in 2010 and comprised of Matthew Tavares (keys), Alexander Sowinksi (drums) and Chester Hanse (bass), BadBadNotGood are all of your wildest rap dreams come true. What may initially sound like a joke has grown into a fully fledged jazz/hip-hop anomaly, one that has seen the band collaborate with the very artists they frequently cover. They can add to their ever-growing list of collaborators the likes of Frank Ocean, James Blake, and Tyler, the Creator

This year marked the release of their fourth album, Sour Soul, a record that is a collaborative effort with hip-hop icon and Wu-Tang clanmember Ghostface Killah. Understandably taken in by the scope of their lively imagination, Milk Made’s Jordan Allen sat down with bassist Chester Hanse to learn a little bit about the making of their new album, being a Youtube success story, and just why the hell they wear pig masks.

What made you decide to amp up the jazz scene?

We didn’t even think of it really as a formal band when we started playing together. We ended up meeting through the Humber College jazz program in Toronto and decided to have a couple of hip hop jam sessions together. We just video taped one of our rehearsals on a whim and the internet went crazy.

How did you guys decide to start recording your jazz sessions?

Ever since we first got started we’ve tried to improvise and that’s what’s really evolved over the last three years. Now we have a sense of being able to know what the other person’s gonna do. Even if it’s a song with set melodies we try to improvise. It’s how we keep the music fun.

Who came up with the name BADBADNOTGOOD?

Matty and some of his friends were writing an idea for a TV show and that was going to be the name of it. The show never really took off so we just used the name for the first thing that we ever put online.

What was the first platform that you guys put your stuff up on?

It was YouTube. The first thing that we ever recorded was a couple of Tyler, the Creator songs. We literally recorded that in one of our classrooms. (laughs)

Your cover of "Bastard/Lemonade” was huge. What usually makes you choose a particular song?

It really depends. If we like a song, play it, and it sounds good in our format, we use it. A lot of our favorite hip hop songs don’t really have the same feeling when we play them live. We’ve tried to cover a bunch of songs that just haven’t sounded good. We want our covers to have an original sound but we also want to bring something fresh.

The first statement on BBNG is “However you do it, stay creative.” How do you guys stay creative?

The number one thing is really staying on the lookout for new music and discovering old music that we haven’t heard. Matty’s the best at finding old records. He’s into Brazilian jazz and pop music from the 60’s now. We’ve been listening to a lot of that lately.

Do you have any go to artists?

There’s this amazing record by this guy Erasmo Carlos called Sonhos e Memorias. It’s super dope.

Do you usually write sheet music or play by ear?

For some of the music that we’re working on now we’re writing stuff down. It’s the first time we’ve really done that. We usually kinda just play it all by ear.

Love what Alex says about Coltrane’s Giant Steps on I.

We’re all huge John Coltrane fans. He’s a super OG. But when we recorded that stuff we were still in school and we were just fed up with the way that school takes certain pieces, teaches everyone how to play them and treats them like exercises. Like it’s a badge of honor. It’s weird to take a snapshot of culture and people that’ve had long, inventive careers and buckle it all down to one song. It’s weird to take stuff that people have created and analyze it so much.

How’d you guys get into wearing the pig mask?

Our drummer Alex brought it to the first thing that we filmed and he wore it to a few shows afterwards. But a couple of years ago we played a show with MF DOOM, and after meeting someone who wears a mask for such an important reason Alex decided to stop wearing it. It’s also really hot and sweaty to play in and you can’t really see.

Do you guys party often?

(laughs) We don’t really party often. We kinda just like to chill and meet people in different cities when we’re on the road.

What’s been your most exciting performance experience?

The first place we ever played outside of Toronto was in London at Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide. It was our third or fourth show ever and we ended up playing in front of a thousand person crowd among all of these crazy people—Thundercats, Hudson Mohawke, SBTRKT, Jamie XX.

Who’s the funniest out of the three of you?

Definitely not me. (laughs) Matt’s actually pretty hilarious.

How did the Ghostface collaboration come about?

A little over three years ago our friend Frank Dukes came to our first show then invited us to NYC to record at Dunham Studios. He had us record a few instrumentals to send to Ghostface in hopes of making an album happen. Frank started sending beats to Ghostface and he sent verses back.

You didn’t spend any time in the studio together?

No we just sent beats for him to record on whenever he had the time. But it was cool. We were able to change our instrumentals to match what he was talking about at the time. We ended up meeting at an ALIFE event in NYC. Having created music together made our connection stronger.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

We always try to be honest and make things that we know we’d want to listen to.

What’s a day off of work look like for you guys?

That’s kinda hard. We make music so often. Whenever we’re home we try to stay in the studio as much as possible, balance out our personal lives and eat some good food.

What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?

I love cooking. Oh, and I used to write a lot of cheesy science fiction.

There was definitely some mad science behind the “Can’t Leave the Night” video. What’s the concept behind it?

We had just signed with Innovative Leisure so we were getting all of these treatments but it was starting to turn the music into something that it wasn’t—like people dancing in clubs and break-dancing. We just wanted to make a goofy video. A bunch of Matt’s friends came through and filmed it on VHS.

What’s next for you guys?

We’re trying to write new music for our fourth album. It’s a lot different than what was on III. A little more jazzy.

Anything else that you want to share with the readers of Milk Made?

We’re hoping to have a show out in NYC really, really soon.

Check out their website here

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