Last year, I happened upon the Minnesota-based indie trio Bad Bad Hats’ show at the Echo in LA and was instantly taken by them. Their sound is a pleasing blend of sweet and sour, ranging from sentimental songwriter to straight rock. Frontwoman and songsmith Kerry Alexander brings much of the “sweet” with sugary vocals and Midwest charm, behind which rests a depth and an edge that captivates. Their debut full-length album Psychic Reader came out earlier in 2015 on Afternoon Records (standout tunes include “Midway,” “Joseph” and title track “Psychic Reader”).
I caught up with Kerry and bandmate Chris — turns out they’re as charming as their music. Here’s our conversation:
How did you guys meet and form Bad Bad Hats?
Kerry: We met at Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN. Chris and I had met our sophomore year (2010) and began working on a few songs together. We met Noah our senior year (2012). At that point, Chris and I had a few demos finished and we were hoping to put a band together so we could play at Macalester’s Battle of the Bands. We were hanging out with Noah in the campus center one day, and he told us he bought a bass. Not knowing whether he actually knew how to play that bass or not, we invited him to play with us. Thankfully, he did know how to play, and, well, here we are.
What was the inspiration for the band name?
Kerry: It’s a reference to the Madeline books. You know, the little girls in the two straight lines with the yellow hats? There’s a character in one of the stories named Pepito, who’s rotten to the core. And they can’t think of a word to describe how bad he is, so they call him a bad hat.
What is the songwriting process like for you?
Kerry: I’m the primary songwriter. I write all the lyrics and most of the songs begin with my demos. Chris and I spend a lot of time recording at our apartment. He helps me fill in the blanks on a lot of the songs. He’s got a great sense of how best to translate certain parts to make them pop on a recording. But I’ve written several songs around Chris and Noah’s initial ideas. “Cruella” came from a bass line that Noah came up with in practice. And “Fight Song” and “Joseph” evolved from Chris’s early demos.
I just caught the last show of your tour with The Mynabirds at The Echo in LA. How was the tour? Have a favorite show or city you played along the way?
Chris: Tour was awesome. It was fun to end up in LA and to have a few days to just hang out and explore. Honestly, LA was one of my favorite shows. The Echo is a cool venue and although it was kind of a bummer to be saying goodbye to The Mynabirds, it was fun to celebrate the last night of tour together. It felt like the last night of summer camp or something.
Really enjoying your album Psychic Reader, especially the song “Midway.” Where did you record it?
Chris: We recorded the album in Minneapolis with a producer named Brett Bullion. At the time, his studio was in the first floor of an old duplex. It was a cozy spot. We took two weeks off from work and recorded all day every day from about 10am to 10pm. Brett has an amazing ear for recording and mixing.
I’m traveling to Minneapolis this winter…any advice for me?
Kerry: First of all, don’t panic. But do pack many layers. Thick socks! And depending on when you’ll be here, long underwear may be warranted. And if you wanna know how Bad Bad Hats gets down in Minneapolis, here’s the scoop. I like to hang out at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. It’s free on weekdays. And warm! As for food, we like to eat dinner together before band practice and we always go to either Maya Cuisine or Punch Pizza. As for drinks, Noah’s partial to Marvel Bar. I’m a sucker for Icehouse’s cocktails. Fave local beers would be Fulton Lonely Blonde, Summit EPA, and Surly Furious. Bogart’s Doughnuts is our donut hang. Bull Run Coffee and Five Watt are our coffee hangs. Bull Run happens to be across the street from our favorite guitar shop. And if you’re into record stores, the Electric Fetus is the classic spot, but Hymie’s has an excellent selection too.