Writing Love Songs With Bad Bad Hats: An Interview With Kerry Alexander
Bad Bad Hats
Bad Bad Hats, an indie rock band from Minneapolis, Minnesota band consisting of Kerry Alexander, Chris Hoge, and Connor Davison, are doing the cities’ most famous musical export, Prince, proud. Balancing sweet and sour, Bad Bad Hats, named for a mischievous character from the Madeline children’s books, pay homage to classic pop songwriting, with nods to the simplicity of nineties rock and the urgency of pop-punk. The music is highlighted by the impassioned vocals and passionate lyrics of Kerry Alexander.
The band formed in St. Paul Minnesota in 2012 and, in 2015, released their debut album, Psychic Reader on Afternoon Records which met critical acclaim through renown outlets including The New Yorker, NPR, Pitchfork, and Paste. The band toured extensively to support this record. Lightning Round, the band’s second full-length album released August 3rd, 2018, picks up where Psychic Reader left off, with a more mature and refined sound.
Kerry Alexander took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about the band, and about music and life in general. Give the interview a read, and don’t forget to grab the new record.
Justin W Price: Can you give my readers a little background on Bad Bad Hats? How and when did the band form? What are some of the various incarnations of the band, both personnel wise and in sound?
Kerry: We formed Bad Bad Hats when we were in school at Macalester College. Chris Hoge and I found each other's demos on Myspace and started exchanging song ideas. When we returned to school after studying abroad, we decided we wanted to form a band. We found out our friend Noah Boswell had a bass, and we asked him to play with us. Noah and Chris and I have been playing together for six years, with Chris on drums and me on guitar. We were a three-piece band for much of that time and that definitely informed our sound in the early years. We kept things simple and melodic and let the vocals shine. And it really helped me become a better guitar player, having to be both the rhythm and lead guitar. Connor Davison joined the band as our drummer in the fall of 2016.
JWP: What is the current lineup for Bad Bad Hats?
Kerry: Bad Bad Hats is me, Chris, and Connor. Noah is starting grad school this fall, so he is about to play his last show with us. We're going to miss him a lot, but he's off to do great work and we're really proud of him.
JWP: Who are your primary influences?
Kerry: We're all inspired by different people, which I think is great. All of our influences come together to make something special. When I was young, I was big into Sheryl Crow and Alanis Morisette and Michelle Branch and Letters to Cleo. The Josie and the Pussycats movie soundtrack was a very pivotal music moment for me. I think that's what made me want to be in a band. Feist and Ida Maria were very big for me in high school. These days, I just love discovering new music. There's so much to be inspired by.
JWP: If you could tour with one historical musician—alive or dead—as a touring musician with Bad Bad Hats, who would it be and why?
Kerry: Ooh, as a touring musician? Like they're in the band? Hmm, wow. Annie Clark would be up there. She's awe-inspiring. She is a great entertainer and she absolutely shreds. It would be an honor to play alongside her. I think I would learn a lot. Chris would understand if he was replaced by Annie Clark. Haha! I would love to play with Carol Kaye on bass. She's a legend. Great instincts, great feel. Or Dolly Parton, for sure. I want to be in a folk band with Dolly. Sing harmonies all the time. There are videos of her playing banjo and guitar with the longest fingernails I've ever seen. She's the real deal.
JWP: What is your favorite Bad Bad Hats song to perform live?
Kerry: "Joseph" has been the favorite for many years. It's been in the repertoire for a long time, so we're very comfortable playing it and the audience seems to like it too.
JWP: Are there any songs that you never perform live? If yes, why?
Kerry: We've never played "Spin" live. We didn't have time to put something together before our first tour. There's a synth part and a drum machine part that we weren't sure how to incorporate. And then we just never returned to it. Which is too bad because that's one of my favorite songs on the album. But now it'll be kind of special when we do decide to play it.
"Write it on your heart" by Bad Bad Hats
JWP: What are your five desert island movies?
JWP: Where do you see Bad Bad Hats over the next decade?
Kerry: Hopefully continuing to tour. We'd love to tour overseas. That's definitely a goal of ours. And we're working on new music always, so in a decade I hope we have a couple more albums out.
JWP: Is there any underlying lyrical theme for Bad Bad Hats? Is there anything you find yourself inspired to write about over and over again?
Kerry: Love songs, love songs, love songs. I just think that will be endless material for me. Breakups and crushes and unrequited love. And just everyday feelings of loneliness and desire and wanting to belong. Life stuff.
JWP: What is the songwriting process like for Bad Bad Hats? Is there a primary song writer or is it a collaborative effort?
Kerry: I am the primary songwriter. I write all the lyrics and most of the basic song structures. But then Chris and Connor help fill in the blanks in the studio or help me work through stuff in practice or in demo versions of the songs. The songwriting process has become more and more collaborative over the years, which I really enjoy. It helps me stay inspired and I write different things when I have other people's input early on in the process. And I really trust Connor and Chris's songwriting instincts, so it's wonderful to write with them.
JWP: What is your favorite part about performing live?
Kerry: It's a fun challenge to me. Playing the songs to the best of our abilities and putting on a good show. I love seeing our practice pay off. And seeing how different audiences engage and respond. It can be very fulfilling.
JWP: I’m based out of Juneau, Alaska. Have you had a chance to tour the fine state of Alaska?
Kerry: Not yet, but it's definitely on our list! I've never even been to Alaska, so I'd love to visit. And it's our goal to play all 50 states, so we'll definitely get there one day.
"MIdway" by Bad Bad Hats
JWP: Is there a particular show, festival or tour that stands out to you as the best one?
Kerry: We've been lucky to go on pretty much exclusively fun tours. It's impossible to name one best one. We've opened for great bands who have wonderful fans. And we've played so many different towns and made really great memories along the way. We did just play in Millennium Park in Chicago. We play Chicago pretty often, and we love the people we meet there. And that venue is so iconic and beautiful and it was a lovely day, so that stands out as one of my favorite shows.
JWP: How often do you guys perform?
Kerry: We try to play as much as possible. We average about 80 shows a year. But we're hoping to play more and more in years to come!
JWP: Do you have any advice to young musicians out there about how to handle yourself in the industry?
Kerry: I always say, keep making good art. And be good to people. It can be a grind sometimes, but if you're doing what you love and you're proud of what you're doing, then that's what's important. And you'll meet some wonderful people along the way.
JWP: What is your favorite food?
Kerry: Probably pasta bolognese.
JWP: What are your hobbies? How do you occupy your free time?
Kerry: I like photography quite a bit. Honestly, music is still my hobby, even though it's also my job. I still find it fairly easy to separate playing shows and running the business from writing songs. Writing songs will always be my favorite pastime.
JWP: Does Minneapolis affect your sound in any way? Are you connected to the Minneapolis music scene?
Kerry: I'm sure it does in some way. It's hard to say exactly how. But this is where the band began. This is where I started performing for the first time, so I think that does have some influence on what the band has become. We do feel connected to the scene. We've made many friends going to shows. And we feel like we've built a great network here. It's very supportive. Whenever you go out to a show, you always see a lot of friends out and about.
JWP: Bad Bad Hats is given the option to tour with four bands for your dream tour. Who are those bands?
JWP: What are your thoughts on Phil Collins?
Kerry: I would say positive overall, if not very strong!
JWP: Would you rather cover “Africa” by Toto or “Kyrie Eleison” by Mr. Mister? And will these covers ever come to fruition?
Kerry: Um, I'm gonna go with "Africa". And, you know, never say never, but it may never happen. But now it's on the table, so we'll see!
JWP: With all of the bands out there, why should people devote their time to listening to your music and going to your shows? What makes you guys different and special?
Kerry: Um, that's always hard to answer. We think we have a good thing. But there are lots of bands who make great music. And everyone has different tastes and preferences. So we won't be for everyone. But we take pride in writing songs and recording and performing. We think our music is easy to listen to, it's designed to be enjoyable. And we add a lot of humor to our live sets, so that in itself is a whole different experience than just the recorded music. If you like a good love song, I think we do that pretty well. I try to be approachable with my lyrics and my personality, so I hope people relate to us. I also think our producer Brett Bullion adds a lot to the recordings. He adds a lot of depth to our songs and arrangements.
JWP: Where can folks purchase your music and keep up to date on upcoming shows and events?
Kerry: You can listen on Spotify or iTunes, etc. You can order vinyl and CDs and wav files from Afternoon Records. You can purchase vinyl and CDs from us when we're on tour in your city. And if you do that, we can autograph it for you. And to stay up to date on when we're touring and just generally what we're up to, we're on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook. And Bandsintown is another great place specifically for tour dates.
JWP: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
I think that covers it. Hope to play in Alaska soon!