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BadBadNotGood's collaborative ways all add up to IV

Del Cowie

BadBadNotGood are branching out in more ways than one. Not only does their new record IV represent their fourth record, it also now represents the number of members in the band, with saxophonist Leland Whitty joining the trio as an official member. But the growth drummer Alex Sowinski, bassist Chester Hansen and keyboardist Matt Tavares display is more than the incremental increase would imply, as the assured sheen of IV shows a quantum leap in the group's musicianship.

While their previous releases always displayed a notable proficiency, this time the jam factor, while definitely still present, has been decreased in favour of carefully arranged songwriting bolstered by the use of multiple vocalists, a first for a BBNG album. Canadians feature prominently in that list as saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist Colin Stetson, Montreal beat merchant Kaytranada and former schoolmate Charlotte Day Wilson all make appearances on the Toronto-based band's project. Nimble up and coming Chicago MC Mick Jenkins makes an appearance as does Samuel Herring, who repays BBNG's remix of a Future Islands song fivefold with a stunning wizened performance on the vintage-hued "Time Moves Slow."

The band have clearly absorbed the lessons of working in the same studio environs of hip-hop producer and analogue guru Frank Dukes, with whom they've worked on tracks for Rihanna and Drake as well as the Polaris Prize shortlisted Ghostface Killah collaboration Sour SoulFor IV, released on July 8 via Arts and Crafts, the group have taken on the bulk of the production reins and their collaborative approach to the record has yielded dividends.

CBC Music caught up with BadBadNotGood bassist Chester Hansen on a Paris-bound train during their recent European tour to discuss the process of making IV.

Keep an eye out for an upcoming CBC Music First Play session with BadBadNotGood coming soon.


How was the group dynamic on this record different than on previous records?

Well, I guess the biggest difference is that we’ve been playing with Leland for the past year and a half. We’ve been playing with him for quite a while but he’s been involved full time when we had the means to. And since then he’s played every show with us, done every studio session and was basically a quarter of everything we do. In the studio, it’s just the four of us writing everything and doing everything. Having his talent has probably been the most change overall especially because he plays like 30 instruments and that’s certainly useful when we’re adding arrangements, which is something we’re getting more and more into. ... And the other main difference would be is that we have five guest artists on this album which we haven’t really done before, especially vocal features. That’s something we’ve never done on our own albums so that’s like a cool process. ... We essentially spent more time working on the songs and figuring out how we want them to sound. It was basically an extra two years of listening to music and taking on more influences from different places.


It feels like the songs have been lived in a bit as opposed to being the product of jam sessions.

Yeah, that’s definitely true. A lot of them went through many phases of writing and there was a whole batch of songs we recorded in April last year that we didn’t end up using for the album and plenty of other things that we finished or almost finished that at one time we were like, oh yeah, they will be on the album. We just moved on to something else but all that stuff is stll floating around in our hard drives and will find a home one day.

One of the key people you have been working with recently has been Kaytranada. You appeared on his album 99.9%, which is getting a lot of acclaim right now, and he’s on this record [on " Lavender " ] as well and there are other songs out there. Can you talk about what is so intuitive about working with him?

We originally met because he did a remix of one of our songs called "Kaleidoscope" and he came to one of our shows in Montreal and we got him to do a sort of secret opening DJ set for us in Toronto which was really, really kind of him. And then the day after that we did a few sessions. As soon as we hit the studio we really hit it off because he’s such a laid-back, nice humble guy and we really gelled. Just watching him work and connecting with him over music and finding out what his influences are and his approach is. ... He’s so incredibly musical and he can make anything sound good and can make something out of pretty much any idea, and he has like 30 to 40 things that we’ve worked on that we haven’t released. He’s so consistent with his output and so productive. He’s very talented and an inspiring person to work with so we’re pretty stoked about the songs that have come out recently.

How much did jazz inform the songs or what are the other influences you were drawing on?

I think to us what the essence of jazz is is really hard to define but it’s definitely music with the element of improvisation and spontaneity to it. It can be very rigid and form-based or it can be a million different things, but the way that we approach it is all the knowledge we learned about jazz, how those compositions work. We kinda use those compositions to look at songs that you learn and when we’re writing songs, it’s like how do these songs fit together? It’s a great lens to look at music through because you can break anything down to its core elements. It’s a really great tool but I wouldn’t consider the music really jazz 100%. It’s more like a combination of everything because that word is so hard to define and pin down and we don’t really know what our music is, but obviously it’s a fusion of sorts.


What were the things that you were listening to that bled into the recording sessions?

Matt in particular has been really getting into digging for records and discovering different types of music. He’s always been the super knowledgeable dude about every genre and through him we’ve been getting into Brazilian music. So artists like Arthur Verocai, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Marcus Valle, Lo Borges and Milton Nascimento. Everyone from that era just seemed to be making amazing, really, really, cool albums combining a whole bunch of stuff which is what we love to do. So a lot of the arrangements and like the chords and melodies are influenced by that Brazilian sound.

Follow Del Cowie on Twitter: @vibesandstuff

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