Minneapolis’ Bad Bad Hats first made a name for themselves in 2013 with the release of the delightful EP It Hurts.
Minneapolis’ Bad Bad Hats first made a name for themselves in 2013 with the release of the delightful EP It Hurts. The five track collection offered up an innocent take on indie rock with saccharine melodies and exuberant harmonies that’s perhaps best exemplified by the excellent title track. In the two and a half years that have followed, the band’s patient fan base has been waiting and waiting for more infectious songs to come out and this past July, the trio finally delivered, though it was with something nobody could have expected.
Psychic Reader, out this past July on Afternoon Records, is almost everything It Hurts wasn’t. It’s expansive, gritty, introspective, and wildly creative at times. There are still clear elements of Bad Bad Hats in the songs, but it’s hard to imagine many bands making such a jump like they did from their first EP to this full-length. For lead singer Kerry Washington though, it was a natural shift that really just came from the band having more tools at their dispoal as well as better opportunities:
“We had a sense that we wanted to something bigger and bolder, but it was also a function of working with Brett [Bullion] for Psychic Reader in the studio. Chris [Hoge] and I did It Hurts at home in our apartment. We programmed all the drums and we used mostly acoustic instruments because that’s all we could use in our small space so we weren’t too loud. I think being in the studio this time gave us the chance to stretch our musical legs in a sense and really leap over the EP. We were not only writing songs with a bit more flare, but we also had a great environment to expand upon them.”
Despite the opportunities and desire to do more, it wasn’t smooth sailing for the recording process, especially for Washington who frequently wrestled with apprehension whether it was from working with someone new like Bullion or just by incorporating new sounds atypical for the “Bad Bad Hats sound.”
“I was under the impression that we didn’t want synths or too many weird instruments because we’re an indie rock band. Guitar, bass, and drums – that’s what we do. Then we got in there and Brett thought we should really try a synth part for this specific part and I was very unsure saying “I don’t know.” The second he did it though, it was just perfect and it rounded everything out. Two weeks into it, I had switched and was just wondering what we do could with the synths to create intrigue in different parts for a lot of songs. I was really surprised at my quick turnaround on that, but I’m glad I had it. The songs would have been good without it, but for instance on ‘Cruella,’ I wrote a part on the Rhodes piano that I think completely made the chorus. We really struggled making that song pop the way we wanted it to and adding that part just instantly made it. Without the Rhodes or the synths, the record wouldn’t have been quite right.”
Washington’s own apprehension surely mirrors a lot of their fans initial feelings to the record as it does migrate greatly from their already established sound. She admitted being very conscious about how this new work would be received by the fans they worked so hard to gain, but that uneasiness was outweighed by a deep desire to just push the band into a bigger and better sonic direction.
“We tried to keep a lighthearted and pop sensibility that the EP leaned more towards, but from a creative standpoint, I was excited to challenge myself to expand on the sound that we had been working on. “Shame,” for instance, is a song we were very concerned about and it’s like the black sheep of the record in that regard. We just tried to keep everything short, sweet, catchy, and melodic just like the EP even if they sound different and I think those things are the strings that bind the two together. It’s our sound – just keeping it simple and lighthearted, but also trying to experiment in subtle ways that keep us moving forward.”
That string stems mostly from Washington’s own songwriting style that’s deeply rooted in melodies and joy. Whether it’s a sadder song or a brighter ditty, she strives to find that perfect moment in the song that makes it click in a way that will truly stick with people. As she explains, “when you finally come up with the melody or you figure out the perfect transition into a chorus, that’s what keeps me writing songs.” Her love of melodies and having the parts fit perfectly in a song has been a staple of Washington’s sonic palette for as long as she can remember, but it’s also not something she’s pigeonholing herself into. While she admits to never being fond of dissonant or experimental music in the past, she credits her Bad Bad Hats cohorts as helping her explore those musical terrains in order to truly broaden her horizons.
“Everyone has different playlists that we play in the van and I’m starting to get into those sounds more. I’m trying to keep an open mind even if my favorite songs are the ones that are easy to listen to. Noah [Boswell] just had a Neurosis CD on in the van and I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it, but I really enjoyed it. It was a lot more mid-tempo than I thought it would be and I was lot more intrigued with it than I thought I would be. I just love exploring sounds. Even if I don’t end up loving that particular sound, it’s still more you know and more you can then put into your music.”
It’s perhaps this sonic exploration outside of Bad Bad Hats that most influenced the band’s evolution from It Hurts to Psychic Reader. With songs like “Fight Song” and “All Nighter,” you still get a great sense of what made Bad Bad Hats notable in the first place, but it’s now coupled with great admiration for their ability to take such a simple charm and make it so vast across a full length record. It’s this ability that makes Psychic Reader one of the year’s most fascinating record, but also makes Bad Bad Hats a band everyone should keep their ear on moving forward.
Bad Bad Hats play Strange Matter opening for The Mynabirds along with Venus Guytrap. For more information on the show and where to buy tickets, just click here.