“We do a Combo of Everything We Listen to”: An Interview with BADBADNOTGOOD

Chris Daly speaks with Chester Hansen from BADBADNOTGOOD about their place in the jazz world, collaborating with vocalists, and their vault of unreleased tracks.
By    June 6, 2016

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Three may be the magic number for De La Soul, Christian missionaries and School House Rock aficionados, but BADBADNOTGOOD make the case that it takes one more to really get going. On IV, their upcoming July 8th release on Innovative Leisure, the Canadian jazz trio expand to quartet mode, bring in a gaggle of guests, and branch off into myriad new directions to create their best album to date.

Even a cursory listen shows that Matthew Tavares (keys), Chester Hansen (bass), Leland Whitty (saxophone), and Alexander Sowinski (drums) have moved further beyond their hip-hop-centric beginnings into deeper shades of jazz, R&B, funk, and dance. IV also marks the first time the band has invited guest vocalists to join (their Ghostface collab notwithstanding, as that wasn’t a BBNG exclusive, per se), and the results are spectacular.

Sam Herring takes it old school on “Time Moves Slow,” dropping a track that sounds like a perfect compliment to any 60s/70s soul gem, and Charlotte Day Wilson creates a similarly engaging and compelling vibe on “In Your Eyes.” Slide either track onto your next mix featuring Marvin, Curtis, and Al, and no one will be any the wiser that you’ve jumped decades. Sharing sax duties on “Confessions Pt. II,” Colin Stetson and Leland Whitty perform a Master’s class in saxamaphonolgy that is not to be missed, resulting in one of their jazziest performances to date. And yet, it’s the gooey goodness of “Chompy’s Paradise,” a post-cool meditation that proves Frank Zappa’s premise that jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny, that might be my favorite here.

Following a series of poorly dialed, missed phone interactions (who knew calling across the border could be so much fun?), I had the opportunity to chat with Bassist Chester Hansen to find out what’s what with Toronto’s finest. Here’s an edited transcript of that conversation. All references to Trump were avoided to make sure no one’s work visas were revoked at a future date. —Chris Daly


On first listen, I thought this was your ‘jazziest’ album yet, but upon further spins, you clearly are going in multiple directions here, from laid back R&B to funk-jazz hybrids. What were you guys going for here?


Chester Hansen: Honestly, there wasn’t anything special planned. We actually had problems with the track listing, as this wasn’t a focused effort to sit down and write an album. IV is just a combo of what we’ve been writing over the past two years, not a set concept, per se. There was no ‘unified thing’ we were going for, but we tried to put it together in a way that makes sense. I think it ties itself together and has a consistent feel. That ended up being our goal.


Is this a new direction or simply your evolution as a band?


Chester Hansen: Honestly, I’d say both a new direction and our evolution. IV sounds different in in a lot of ways from our previous albums. That was purposeful.


With the exception of “Hyssop of Love,” you guys seem to be veering further away from hip-hop on IV. Was this a conscious move?


Chester Hansen: I think really IV has that hip-hop feeling underneath, and that influence always is going to be there in our music. It’s what links us all together as bandmates, as well as the music. We do a combo of everything we listen to. We did the features they way they turned out. Maybe next time we have five rap tracks, but this is what we wanted to do this time.


Speaking of guest stars, you’ve assembled some impressive ones here. Stetson’s sax on “Confessions Part II” is incredible, and Sam Herring and Charlotte Day Wilson give emotional heft to both their contributions. How do you pick collaborators?


Chester Hansen: A lot of the collaborations on the album came through other things we had done before or through mutual connections. We’ve been working with same production company as Sam for a while now, for example. Someone there suggested we get together to cut a track, and we jumped at the opportunity to work with Sam. He’s one of their most bad assed musicians.

Charlotte is friend of Alex’s from their high school days. They didn’t really hang out that much together after school, but we all started playing together recently and were blown away by her vocals. So when we wanted a female vocalist, she was an obvious choice.


Strictly out of curiosity, what did Leland Whitty do right to get official band member status?


Chester Hansen: [Laughing] He’s been practicing more on his sound. It’s kind of funny, he’s almost been a member of the band forever. We’ve been playing together on and off forever, but as of last year, we were able to bring him to almost every show. He’s been unofficial since day one, and it felt like it was time to make it official.


We appear to be in the midst of a jazz renaissance that BBNG arguably had quite a hand in launching. What is different in the jazz scene today that has people—younger kids in particular—interested again?


Chester Hansen: First of all, we’re flattered to even be part of this scene. The public is looking for something different than what’s been coming out recently. People want to check out new musicians that make good music and put on great shows. We watched Kamasi Washington blow it up at Coachella, and it was probably one of the most incredible stage experiences I’ve ever seen. The way he approached his set, every song was funky and danceable, but still had that raw, amazing jazz sound he has. Lines are becoming blurred between jazz, hip hop, rock, and that’s awesome.


Other than the obvious launch of IV, what’s next on the horizon for you guys, either collectively or individually?


Chester Hansen: For the moment, it’s all about focusing on the album. We’ve got a bunch of shows in the States and Europe over the next several months. We do have a lot of music we’ve been working on that’s hasn’t found a home yet. We’re trying to take a lot of things out of the vault to share with people. There’s quite a lot of stuff to come.


Taking the anti-Prince approach. Good; I approve of that. That stuff does nobody any good locked in a vault.


Chester Hansen: [Laughter,] (possibly forced, but that’s what makes Canadians better people than most everyone else on the planet.)


I always like to close with this one—what band are you digging right now that you want to give some love to (because they’re not getting enough on their own already)? In other words, who’s your sleeper pick band of the moment?


Chester Hansen: There are quite a few in Toronto that deserve quite a bit more attention. Obviously, we love people like Sam and Charlotte and hope they start to reach a much wider audience. Personally, I’m really into Daniel Caesar and Kilmanjaro, a super under the radar Tornoto electro music outfit.


Coolio, man. Thanks for the time.


Chester Hansen: My pleasure. Thank you.