Minnesota rockers Bad Bad Hats maintain freshman charm with sophomore album
It sounds a tad awkward: writing songs about breakups and other romantic entanglements at home while your longtime boyfriend is in the next room over.
For Kerry Alexander, however, that formula is working beautifully.
I know I have something good when I overhear Chris coming into the kitchen humming what I was just playing, the Bad Bad Hats leader said, referring to her bandmate and as of last September husband, Chris Hoge.
The newlyweds have been recording and performing together since their senior year at Macalester College in St. Paul in 2013. Alexander, however, has been strumming out songs on guitar since she was a high schooler in Tampa, Fla. (She also spent a large chunk of her youth in Birmingham, Ala.)
One of the great charms of her music is how it still seems to capture the bright-eyed romanticism of those teen years.
During a gig in April at Winonas Mid West Music Fest, Alexander explained to the packed crowd at Eds No Name Bar how her songs follow four tenets: crushes, breakups, unrequited love and the story line of A Walk to Remember.andthinsp;
Sitting down for an interview with Hoge and new drummer/bassist Connor Davison three months later at St. Pauls Lake Monster Brewery (which conveniently neighbors their rehearsal space), she explained how those cornerstone inspirations still apply with a few very notable exceptions on her groups second full-length album, Lightning Round.
Its been a long time since I had a breakup or that kind of young crush, said the 28-year-old singer, who took her band name from the Madeline childrens books. But thats what I like about songwriting, how it allows you to tap into those kind of feelings.
Whether theyre feelings I remember before I got into a relationship with Chris, or theyre things that friends of mine are going through now, I like to attach myself to those emotions, almost like watching a romantic comedy. A song can be like a character in a good rom-com.
Lightning Round offers a lot of lovable characters. The album, which landed two weeks ago on Minneapolis indie imprint Afternoon Records, echoes the jaggedy, dorm-room-escaping pop-rock stylings of Tegan Sara, with a little Death Cab for Cutie moodiness to boot.
The release party Saturday at First Avenue in Minneapolis is triply meaningful to the band. It also marks their first headlining gig in the First Ave main room as well as their last gig with bassist Noah Boswell, who formed the group with Alexander and Hoge while still a Macalester student himself but is now quitting to attend grad school.
Its so bittersweet, because on one hand were happy Noahs pursuing something else, said Alexander, but on the other hand we wish he could be in our band until were 80.
Known from his own group Wingman, Austin, Texas, native Davison joined on drums in time for the recording of Lightning Round with producer Brett Bullion, the Poliandccedil;a associate who also steered Bad Bad Hats 2015 debut, Psychic Reader an album NPR Music hailed as programmed to fire all neural pathways associated with carefree indie rock fun.
Hoge remembers, Kerry and I wouldve been happy essentially making the same record, but it was Brett who said, That was good, but andthinsp;
New energy, old formula
Bullion urged the band to add Davison on drums before making the album. Up to that point, Hoge had done all the drumming in the studio. That freed me up a lot, and I think it gave the songs a lot more nuance, Hoge said. And it was a lot less ProTools editing.
Davison fondly remembered knocking out one of the albums poppiest and most charming tunes, 1-800, his first day in the studio: Brett kind of just threw us in the room together and said, OK, lets just try it. And the creative energy was just awesome right away. Thats actually still my favorite song on the record.
However, Davison will switch to bass once Boswell leaves, and his friend Reese Kling of Candid Kid will then join behind the kit. Were a very adaptable band, Alexander proudly said, summing up the musical chairs.
In a few of the new songs, Alexander shows her own adaptability. The single Nothing Gets Me High its video premiered via RollingStone.com last week is a more mature celebration of being back in love again, rather than an ode to the thrills of new love.
Likewise, the albums slow-bobbing, sharply hooked opening track, Makes Me Nervous, riffs on the disconnect that couples can feel in the cellphone era when theyre not in constant communication: Kinda makes me nervous, baby/When my phone gets no service, baby, Alexander sings.
Alexander admits she had to make a concerted effort to write more from her current perspective of being in a long-term relationship. I did it as a challenge to myself, and it was a challenge, she said. Breakups and heartache are sort of easy fodder for songwriting.
Easy, but effective. Many of the new albums best tunes still channel the familiar terrain of earlier Bad Bad Hats favorites, including the 89.3 the Current-rotating heartburner Write It on Your Own Heart and the Psychedelic Furs-flavored gem Talk With Your Hands. Both those tunes are ones Alexander started to write years ago but only recently finished.
Its fun to collaborate with your younger self, she quipped.
Its rewarding for listeners to revisit their younger selves, too, something Bad Bad Hats is still good for.
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