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Polaris 2017: 5 things you didn't know about BadBadNotGood's IV
By
Jennifer Van Evra

Published

August 28, 2017

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The founding members of Toronto jazz rock group BadBadNotGood first met while going to school for jazz at Humber College in 2010. But in just a few short years, Matthew A. Tavares, Alexander Sowinski, Leland Whitty and Chester Hansen's quirky mix of modern jazz, hip-hop and rock turned them from college students to international jetsetters, thanks in large part to high-profile collaborations with hip-hop legends including Kendrick Lamar, Tyler, the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, Danny Brown and Ghostface Killah.

The band's 2015 album, Sour Soul with Ghostface Killah, landed it on the 2015 Polaris Music Prize short list, and now its aptly named fourth album, IV, has also put them in the running for the esteemed award. For each of this year's nominees, we're sharing five things you might not know. Here are five things about IV.


Related: BadBadNotGood's Chester Hansen on the making of IV


1. If it sounds like it’s a little all over the place, that’s because it is

When the bandmates started writing and recording the songs that became IV in fall of 2015, they had no defined direction and ended up with so many different styles that they were unsure the songs would work together. At first they were going to make an all-instrumental album, then decided instead to toss together “a salad” of feature tracks and instrumentals.

“When we started to look at it and see how different some of the songs would be between the most soulful groovy songs versus something that’s much more crazy with an up-tempo jazz improv vibe. It was looking kind of weird. We were like, ‘I don’t know if it makes a lot of sense,’” said Sowinski in an interview with Noisey. “But I’ve grown to appreciate what it is now and how everything comes together. There is cohesiveness because it’s us playing, and it’s our instruments and our studio and all these flavours. I’m quite proud of it, but it’s taken a bit of time to develop it because it is such a different-sounding album. It’s not your typical concept album where it’s a few themes that are regulated throughout. It’s just straight-up very different between song to song.”

2. It’s the first album featuring Leland Whitty as a full member

Saxophonist Leland Whitty has been recording and touring with the band for years, but IV represents the first album with Whitty as a full member. “Aided by his hovering saxophone melodies, their songs have gotten leaner, and the various freewheeling moods they channel have become more potent,” raved Spin magazine.

3. The album features a string of top guests from a range of musical worlds

Among the guests are Future Islands frontman Samuel T. Herring (vocals on “Time Moves Slow”), Montreal producer Kaytranada (synths on “Lavender”) and Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins (“Hyssop of Love”).

The easiest to work with, says Tavares, was Kaytranada. "That was the most organic thing that's ever happened," he said in a Billboard interview.

"He did a huge solid for us and gave us a remix for one of the songs off of III named 'Kaleidoscope,' and then he came to one of our shows when we were playing in Montreal and then did a huge solid for us and came to Toronto and played a surprise DJ set at our show, which is pretty intense because he's a pretty expensive bill and he's a legend," added Sowinski. "The next day we went into the studio right away and made a bunch of stuff."

The biggest suprise was seeing Colin Stetson doing his thing. "I've seen him play shows, but to be right next to him in a room, acoustically, and to see him do this circular breathing process and the volume he projects with only his lungs — I've never experienced that before," said Tavares. "I've always seen him at shows; to stand right next to him is insane. It doesn't make sense how that sound is coming out of him."

4. The song 'Chompy’s Paradise' was inspired by Steely Dan

The band was in part inspired by classic jazz/rock band Steely Dan, especially when it came to the languidly trippy song “Chompy’s Paradise.”

“We'd been listening to a lot of Steely Dan and the use of chords throughout their forms and arrangements is amazing. Chordal sections will come out of nowhere, so we tried to incorporate a little bit of that,” Sowinski told Interview magazine. “Once we had the base of the song, Leland went in on the sax and experimented with what lines might work, just playing something funky and fresh. We came up with this quarter-tone-y line that had a weird R&B sax feeling. That completed the song.”

So who’s Chompy? It turns out it’s Whitty’s high-school nickname. “I used to be a rapper in high school. I went by the name Chompy Lee,” he admitted. “Since then I've stopped rapping, unfortunately. That song was a beachy, vacation vibe, so we thought that name suited it.”

5. The front cover was supposed to be the back cover — and represents the band’s shifting direction

Have you wondered why the the album’s front cover looks a little like a back cover? “Me and my friend designed the cover. It was originally supposed to be the back cover, but as we did more and worked with it, it started to look cool,” keyboardist Matthew Tavares also told Interview magazine. “The cover we were originally working on was more like stuff we'd seen on Pitchfork or a music website or in a magazine. This looked so much like the back of the album and I haven't seen that used too much, so we were like, ‘This would be unique.’”

The unusual design also reflects the unique nature of the album itself, said Tavares. “We wanted to represent ourselves on the cover. We skirted around that for the last few albums and this album is so different. It's an amalgamation of everything we've done, from features to jazz-sounding music — I don't know if we can be categorized necessarily as jazz music — so it seemed right to make it as different as possible. The rest of our catalogue is all black-and-white and vague, dark shots. This is the extreme opposite,” says Tavares of the cover image. “We're all on the cover with our shirts off in towels, putting ourselves out there 100 per cent.”

More to explore:

Polaris 2017: 5 things you didn't know about A Tribe Called Red's We Are the Halluci Nation

Polaris 2017: 5 things you didn't know about Gord Downie's Secret Path