In between tours and releasing a new album, Bad Bad Hats lead singer Kerry Alexander spoke with Rare Candy about their new album, Lightning Round, the band’s homemade game of tour bingo, and what their personalized hats would look like.
By Paulette Arnold
RC: You haven’t released an album since 2015, how has the band evolved in the past three years and how does that show in the new album, Lightning Round?
Kerry Alexander: Sometimes I think it’s hard to know how you’re changing while it’s happening. Before Psychic Reader came out, we hadn’t really toured at all except for performing a few shows out of town on weekend runs. But afterwards, we did all of the touring that we’ve ever done. So we were on eight or nine tours between Psychic Reader and Lightning Round. I think when we got into the studio to record Lightning Round, it became clear that we were able to do a lot more recording live in the studio. When we recorded Psychic Reader we pretty much recorded everything track-by-track because that was how we were used to recording and that is what made sense for us. We had gotten so much better at playing ourselves and playing with each other. Brett Bullion, who produces our albums, had suggested that we hire a drummer to record Lightning Round and that’s where we met Connor Davison who is now the drummer of the band. Just having him present and being more confident playing together created a way different studio environment where we could be more spontaneous and let the songs lead us where they may.
RC: How do you feel the single, “Write It On Your Heart,” previews the rest of the album?
KA: Well that’s funny because I feel like when I write songs for an album, I hardly ever think that all the songs have to have a theme. I just write what comes to me, and because of that a lot of times the songs are not all very similar. I think “Write It On Your Heart” is reflective of the mood of Lightning Round. I’m still writing love songs and I’m still trying to write songs that feel easily enjoyable that grab you right away. I think that it’s indicative of the rest of the album in that it has more instrumental twists and turns.
RC: Where does the title of your upcoming album, Lightning Round, come from?
KA: It was actually just something that I had jotted down while we were recording Psychic Reader. I was trying to come up with phrases that conjured nice images and were fun recognizable phrases. Psychic Reader became the title for the first album, but I always had the phrase “lightning round” in the back of my head. I think I liked using it for this album because, to me, I associate the lightning round with game shows and trivia. First of all, I love game shows and trivia, but also the second album is like the sophomore slump album—sometimes, I hope not. I feel like the sophomore album is where bands prove themselves. The lightning round is where a person proves themselves in a trivia competition. You get a chance to show what you really know, and I like how that works with the sophomore album.
RC: So the new album came out on August 3rd, how do you think this new record fits in with the rest of your discography?
KA: It feels like a natural progression forward, and you can still feel the ties to early Bad Bad Hats because it’s still all my songwriting and all my perspective. I think that as it moves along, it feels like it is getting a bit moodier in the way it sounds or is presented even though I feel like I still try to write songs that have a vein of joy and hope in them. The EP It Hurts is like playing with a beach ball on the beach, but Psychic Reader is like driving to the beach with the windows down with all your friends. Lightning Round is like the end of the day when you are driving home and reflecting on your day at the beach as the sun is setting and you’re sleepy from being out in the sun but you’re still happy because you have a great group of friends that you can do fun things with.
RC: This album also marks a change in the members of the band—how has the creative process and the music itself changed with the addition of Connor Davison on drums and departure of Noah Boswell on bass?
KA: It has been a journey the whole time—which to me is really wonderful. When the band started we were all new, and Chris [Hoge], who is normally the guitarist, was on drums and I, who had only played guitar and written music in my bedroom, was playing an electric guitar in a band for the first time. No one knew what any of us were doing, but the three of us—Noah, Chris, and I—really grew together. It’s been a really wonderful process to see the band play together, improve together, and write music together over the years. Seeing how far we came for me personally, was really important because I was trying to figure out how to play music in a band. I feel very lucky to have had Noah and Chris who were very supportive and down to learn with me along the way. With Noah leaving, I feel very sad and as if a part of the band is leaving and we will never get that back. I’m really happy that we found Connor because he brings something else to the band that is very special. Now that I feel like we have gotten to the point where the three of us are feeling very confident and we know how we want the band to sound, it’s hard to bring in a new person who has not been on that quest with us. I really feel like Connor fits in the band and pushes us forward even more with his talents and skills. Connor plays in another band, Wingman, and he has a solo project, so he is a songwriter himself. Having another songwriter in the band has been really exciting for me because I feel like Connor and I can really level with each other on the nitty-gritty of the process. That has been a wonderful new chapter for the band. I feel lucky that I have been able to find all these amazing friends who I have been able to make music with and who have been down to be part of this project—that is mostly my songwriting project—and feel like they can put their own heart into it.
RC: This new album was recorded live in studio while the first album was done track-by-track. Do you have a preference towards one recording style or do you feel like you will lean towards recording albums one way over the other in the future?
KA: Not all of the album was recorded live, but many parts of it were recorded with multiple people in the room together. In some ways it was hard as a songwriter. When we did it track-by-track, it was a lot easier to have it be exactly like the demos I had and check through all the parts I wanted. The way I think Brett wanted us to think about recording was: “just get in there and play and see what happens!” But that was hard for me at first, because as a songwriter I felt like my songs were getting away from me. But once I sort of got over that feeling and kind of just let myself be wowed by the magic of what was happening, it became a really inspiring process. So I don’t know which I really prefer, but I like both. I think because I’m an organizationally-minded person, something about doing it track-by-track will always appeal to me. I am certainly sold on recording live in some instances, and some of my favorite moments on the record happened that way. I was able to even surprise myself with things that I could come up with, and it’s a funny thing to be surprised by a song that you wrote. You end the day like, “Woah, that went somewhere that I had no expectation of it going.”
RC: You talked about how you mostly write love songs, do you find something about love songs specifically that motivates you to write them?
KA: Maybe because I’m a Cancer and that makes me a very emotional person and that may also be why everything makes me cry. It is also partially because I just really enjoy music and enjoy listening to really great songwriters. I think the classic canon of songs that I enjoy are love songs, and I like being a part of that songwriting tradition. There is something that I cannot get over about a good romantic-comedy, they really get to me. I really like writing the type of stories that move people. When I was young, I definitely was always swooning over or pining for someone. It was all very dramatic. Even though I am older, and I do not feel love as dramatically as that anymore, something about it is still that “high school, hand-on-your-head-sigh” kind of love and inspires me to write love songs.
RC: Do you have a favorite love song to listen to?
KA: There are so many good ones! One that comes to mind is Mitski’s “Francis Forever” because that, to me, is one of my favorite love song songwriting that I have heard in a long time. When I was younger, the albums that really inspired me were Michelle Branch’s The Spirit Room when I was about ten years old, and then the Josie and the Pussycats soundtrack. That was what made me want to be in a rock band specifically. “3 Small Words,” became my favorite song for forever.
RC: How does the live show experience change playing as an opening band versus as a headliner?
KA: That’s a good question, I feel like it does change a lot, just in the experience. We are so used to opening that it feels more natural to us. With opening, you have to keep the set short and tight and keep your banter to a minimum. It feels more like you have to win people over. We go on stage knowing it is not our show, so we have to get on stage and do our thing and just hope that people like it. Whenever we open, I always feel more nervous about connecting with the crowd because you do not know who is there to see you as the opening band. Even headlining, there are still some new faces, so we still try to woo the crowd and make sure it’s a good show for them. It’s fun being the headliner because I feel like we get to be a lot looser with the banter and we get to play different kinds of songs that we would not try if we were an opener. We get to be more leisurely and see more of the deeper cut. But, we also have to play longer, which is testing my stamina. I think it is going pretty well so far! I am making it through the whole show.
RC: If you had to choose, what name would you give to this fall tour?
KA: I feel like normally, we are opening, so the name is just the name of the headlining band. This is not really an answer to your question, but because this is Noah’s last tour with us, we are commemorating it by playing a tour bingo game that we have created. So I think this is our “Bingo Tour,” but that is just the insider’s name.
RC: What goes into “tour bingo”?
KA: Basically, there are a lot of re-occurring things that happen on tour that we use. For instance, a light gets knocked on a lot of the time when we are packing the van or when someone outside the venue notices us and says “hi”. Things like that happen so often that we thought we should make some bingo cards. We have some prizes and some consequences, so it is going to be fun.
RC: Do you have a favorite song, artist, or playlist to listen to on the road?
KA: Yes, I feel like every tour has its own playlist that develops. Especially when we are opening because we listening to a lot of the headliner’s music. I feel like for me, lately, I have been listening a lot to the band Ratboys and a lot of The Beths, which I have mostly been bumping in the van. It is cool because all four of us have our own set of music, which is nice because being on tour lets me hear a lot more music than I would probably be listening to otherwise.
RC: The band still sells music on CDs as well as on vinyl, what do you think is the appeal to having physical copies rather than just listening online?
KA: It’s funny because all four of us in the band have vinyl record collections, so we all really enjoy buying and listening to vinyl. When you print stuff you do not know if you are in the minority of people who enjoy doing that, but we have been surprised by how many people want the vinyl. For me, I love vinyl because I do value having that physical piece of music. I just love the big art on it, so I think that appeals to a lot of people.It’s fun to have a stack of CDs for the car. The CDs are the cheapest thing on the merch table and I think some people buy it just to be supportive, so we sign it for them to have even though they may not have any way to play it. It is a nice way to support the band and get something for us to autograph, which we really appreciate.
RC: If you could design a uniform hat for the band that each member would have to wear to every show, what would it look like?
KA: Individual hats? Or team hats?
RC: One for each!
KA: I think the team hat would include the things that define us most, especially on tour. There would have to be some sort of coffee mug because we really enjoy our coffee, and there would have to be our van because that is really special to us. There are so many wonderful things to choose from, but I think that is the main gist.
Now individually… Connor usually wears a hat, and he is the true coffee king on tour. His specific hat would have a tiny espresso cup and some running shoes because he is fit and loves caffeine. Chris is our rock and our tour dad, so his would be a sword in the stone, like King Arthur style. He would also get a milkshake because he is addicted to dairy. Noah’s catchphrase is “I’m here for a good time, not a long time,” so his hat would need to have that somewhere. Noah is all about keeping things easy-going, which is good for us on tour. I think his hat would also have some modular synthesizer on it and a corgi head because he has a corgi named Levi. Now for mine, I feel like my biggest role on tour is finding where we eat, so I would want my hat to have a dinner plate on it and possibly a fork and knife, but instead of knife it would have my guitar!