Lids off 

Bad Bad Hats tips toward elegant synth-pop that recalls top-shelf Fleetwood Mac.

click to enlarge Bad Bad Hats plays Sept. 12 at 89th Street — OKC. - PROVIDED
  • provided
  • Bad Bad Hats plays Sept. 12 at 89th Street — OKC.

If Kerry Alexander had gotten her first choice, there might not be any Bad Bad Hats. The band, which plays Sept. 9 at 89th Street — OKC, 8911 N. Western Ave., began after Alexander met multi-instrumentalist Chris Hoge at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. They started playing music together and dating at about the same time.

“It’s kind of hard to distinguish what really came first,” Alexander said. “I guess the relationship, honestly, but the relationship did start because I really wanted to do a duet with a male voice, and my first choice wasn’t available, so then I asked Chris if he would do it. That’s where it began.”

Bad Bad Hats, named for a character in the Madeline children’s book series, officially took off in 2012 after Alexander and Hoge teamed up with bassist Noah Boswell, who recently left the band to attend grad school. Hoge played nearly all the instruments on their debut EP It Hurts and follow-up full-length Psychic Reader, but the band recruited Connor Davison to play drums on sophomore LP Lightning Round, released in early August. Alexander said having more people in the studio made for a better recording experience.

“I think actually Chris was very happy to have other people playing instruments, because I think it sort of frees him up to be a little more creative on different instruments since playing alongside people is a lot more inspiring than just doing everything track-by-track,” Alexander said. “That can be a little exhausting. So I think he was happy to be freed up a little bit. To be able to feed off your band mates is really cool.” 

Rolling Stone said Lightning Round’s “richly-produced synth-pop sound echoes Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk.” Alexander said she couldn’t wait to hear how the audience feels about it.

“We still think it’s pretty good,” Alexander said. “We’re really excited to perform it on this tour and get really comfortable at performing the songs and hearing how the crowd responds to certain songs.”

On tour, Davison will be stepping out from behind the kit to fill in on bass, and Reese Kling will take his place as drummer. The lineup changes will give the songs from Lightning Round a different feel in concert, Alexander said, but the way the album was recorded wouldn’t be possible to recreate on stage anyway.

“We don’t limit ourselves in the studio,” Alexander said. “We’re like, ‘Hmm. What would sound good here?’ ‘Oh, a brush on a box.’ ‘Yeah put that in.’ ‘Oh this part, that sounds good; might as well do another synth on top of that.’ ‘Oh, bring in a modular synthesizer.’ So that all sounds good on the record, and I’m very happy with all that, but then, yeah, when it comes time to play it live, you say to yourself, ‘This is not going to be exactly that,’ but we like to think that we have captured the essence of each song. It will be a different experience for the live audience.”

The band had three songs left over from the Lightning Round recording sessions that didn’t quite fit the album’s aesthetic. Alexander, who plans to release them later on an EP, called the songs “garage-y, nervy rock music” and said they’re closer to the band’s sound in concert.

“Those are kind of our favorite live rockers,” Alexander said, “so I’m excited for that to come out so people can hear those songs, ’cause we’ve played them live for a few tours now, so people are fairly familiar with them. … That is a part of the band, but I had to agree that Lightning Round, what it became was just sort of a different vein that is still true to Bad Bad Hats, but I feel like we have a few different sides.” 

Exchanging vows

Whatever form they take later, most of Bad Bad Hats’ songs are written on a nylon-string classical guitar that Alexander’s father bought from a coworker for $20.

“At 13 is when I remember really starting to learn guitar and play guitar,” Alexander said. “I had another guitar. I have an acoustic guitar that Santa brought for me one year, but the classical is a really small guitar, and with the nylon strings, I’ve always really loved the way that it sounds and it’s easy to play, so it’s a nice guitar to spend a few hours with. … I played my acoustic guitar and my classical guitar all through high school when I was first writing songs, and I owned an electric guitar, but it was like really, really shitty and I never played it.”

Alexander said she didn’t really begin playing electric guitar until after the band formed, opening up an “entirely new world” of musical possibilities.

“I will never forget the first time I played guitar along with someone playing drums,” Alexander said. “It was just the coolest feeling in the world. It feels like it’s all happening. It’s like karaoke or something. It’s like, ’I’m doing it! It’s so fun! It sounds awesome!’ I’m sure it didn’t sound that great, honestly, but in the moment, I got chills. It was like, ‘OK, this is all I want to do. I want to be playing in a band.’”

click to enlarge Bad Bad Hats plays Sept. 12 at 89th Street — OKC. - PROVIDED
  • provided
  • Bad Bad Hats plays Sept. 12 at 89th Street — OKC.

During the recording of Lightning Round, Alexander and Hoge got married, but she said she’d rather listeners focus on the music than the relationship. 

“We like to keep it fairly ambiguous, but we don’t mind if people know,” Alexander said. “We aren’t trying to keep it a secret, but we figure we’ll focus on the songs for the most part. People like to ask us after the shows, but now we’ve got rings so it’s a little more obvious.”

But their marriage does complicate things for at least one of her bandmates.

“Our one-year anniversary will be on this tour,” Alexander said, “so the pressure is on Chris to do something really special.”

Hoge and Alexander returned from their honeymoon with two songs to record for Lightning Round, “Nothing Gets Me High” and “Absolute Worst.” Alexander said the song titles should not be taken as an indication of how their trip went.

“I hadn’t really thought of that, but it is pretty funny,” Alexander said. “That was not on purpose.”

Their relationship, which has inspired many multi-faceted and emotionally intelligent love songs in the Bad Bad Hats catalog, is a good one, at least for the time being.

“Right now, we feel pretty solid; it feels pretty strong,” Alexander said, laughing. “At the very least, we’ll get some good songs out of it if it doesn’t go well. But I think we’re in it for the long haul.”


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