Preparing for the release of their fourth studio album, aptly titled IV, BADBADNOTGOOD have relinquished their days as a jazz trio. Alongside newest member Leland Whitty, BBNG re-emerge as a quartet, and have sought to span across an even greater musical expanse than before. IV is punctuated with features from Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins, Future Islands’ Sam Herring, acclaimed saxophonist Colin Stetson and close collaborator Kaytranada. The upcoming album marks a step away from the jazz-hip-hop binary that gave way to last year’s Sour Soul, a full-length rap album with Wu-Tang’s Ghostface Killah. Written and recorded entirely in Toronto, where the group first met, IV continues to demonstrate BBNG’s ever-expansive palette of sounds. With Chester Hansen’s production on Drake’s “0 to 100” and collaborations with fellow Toronto artists Jordan Evans, Daniel Caesar and River Tiber, BBNG find themselves in the thick of the 6’s sonic boom. However, Leland Whitty is careful to note, “…there are so many distinctive things going on that I don’t know if I can say that what we’re doing is a Toronto sound.” While the single rap feature on the album is decidedly atypical, the group’s house and soul inflections are more pronounced than ever.
A week before the release of their first album as a quartet, BBNG sat down with us to discuss where they stand now musically, and what the future holds for the eclectic, genre-eluding musicians.
Your album came out earlier this month. How did you feel the week before the release?
CHESTER: We were excited that it’s all complete. We saw the vinyl for the first time a couple days ago and it looks amazing. To see everything put into production is really really cool. It actually leaked a couple months ago so a lot of people have heard it but we’re stoked for the general public to hear it as well.
This is the first album you guys recorded as a quartet. Was the process any different from previous albums?
CHESTER: Definitely, very different. We’ve been playing with Leland full-time for the past year and a half so to have that extra creative element was a huge part of it. He plays 30 different instruments and is super talented so that’s been very cool. We also had the chance to do a lot of collaborations leading up to the album which has been really great. It’s the next step in our evolution, the music we’ve listened to in the past couple years since the last album and all the experiences we’ve had.
What exactly is the new evolution? Is it a new sound?
CHESTER: We got the chance to have everyone come back to our studio in Toronto and do everything there, which is the first time we’ve done that. Matty, our keyboard player, mixed and engineered everything. It was an in-house family vibe. We wrote every song with the collaborators in the room which is super special.
Was there a concept that you wanted to tackle before you went in and started recording?
CHESTER: Not really. We had so many diverse influences that every week we’d write a song that sounded completely unlike what we had written before and we had so many different things going on. We really admire albums that have a consistent vibe all the way through with consistent sounds or themes; we’ve always wanted to make something like that. But as we opened the doors to all our influences and collaborators, it took shape as a set of very different sounding songs– by the end we had thirty songs that sounded really crazy and really different. We put a bunch of them together and went for it.
What styles would you say are predominantly found on this album?
CHESTER: The song with Sam Herring and the song with Charlotte Day Wilson are more like soul songs, and we’ve got Mick Jenkins on what is not really a typical rap song; it’s a psychy-sounding beat. Then we have jazzy stuff like the the title track.
Was everything acoustic or were you guys producing beats too?
CHESTER: On this album, like a lot of what we’ve done in the past, we would record a basic rhythm track, drums and bass with keyboard or guitar. And then we would add something on top whether it’s synths we have in our studio or Leland playing strings or woodwinds. There weren’t any programmed electronic elements, but that type of music is a heavy influence for us.
Who features on the album?
CHESTER: We’ve got Sam Herring from Future Islands and Charlotte Day Wilson, a good friend of ours. We’ve got Mick Jenkins, the amazing sax player Colin Stetson and another good friend– Kaytranada.
Did you guys name it IV because it’s the fourth album or is there more meaning behind that?
CHESTER: Not so much, it’s just the next thing in the discography. Because we write instrumental music, there’s no deep meaning behind it; it’s deep music we’re trying to make and be creative. It’s hard to come up with a title that encompassses all of that. Naming songs is a big challenge for us, trying to find words that describe a little bit of what the songs are is a process.
What was the biggest challenge in putting together the album?
ALEX: There were definitely challenges all the way through because we’d been doing sessions in the studio with all these different guests and doing things of our own, trying different things out like recording a grand piano and trying to see how we can record that in such a small place without all the drums bleeding into the microphones and making it sound horrible. We were working with a lot of different ideas with an album in the back of our heads, but we came to a point where we thought, shit, we really need to figure out what an album might look for us, what songs we can include and where something can sit, so we started putting stuff in folders and listening to the ideas, whether they needed to be re-cut or finished. It was intimidating to think, is this the actual album and does this make any sense?
"We have 30-40 songs [with Kaytranada] and we want to do a full-length instrumental album together."
When did you guys start and finish the album?
ALEX: We technically started at the beginning of last year. In February we started writing ideas and we actually went back to the studio where we recorded III, called Revolution Recording. We scrapped all those songs because we weren’t sure that was the direction we wanted to go in. What we recorded there was an experimental stage. By the new year, we booked sessions with musicians and singers we hadn’t worked with before like Colin Stetson and Mick Jenkins. We finished it in March 2016. The real rundown process took about six months; it was a hustled effort.
What was your favorite record on the album?
ALEX: It changes all the time because as I listen to things I remember different memories– the fun moments, the struggle moments… I really like “In Your Eyes” with Charlotte Day Wilson. I went to school with her and didn’t know she could sing. When we re-connected post-high school I was so blown away by how amazing of a singer-songwriter she was. I would say that and “Lavender” with Kaytranada. I have some great memories working on those songs.
How did you determine who featured on your album?
ALEX: We had no idea. All the features were awesome and we were stoked on it but at one point we weren’t sure if it would make any sense and that we should just do an instrumental record but in the final stages we began to accept that these features made sense, these people were friends we really love to work with.
Do you guys think you’ll do a collaborative album again, similar to what happened with Ghostface Killah?
LELAND: We haven’t thought about doing something to that extent right now. The only thing that’s in the books is working with Kaytranada, we have a lot of plans to keep working with him. I think we have 30-40 songs together and we want to do a full-length album that may be instrumental or may have collaborations. Aside from that, we don’t have set plans.
Did you just say you have 30-40 songs with Kaytranada?
LELAND: Yeah, unreleased things. We have another session with him in July.
Do those have features on them?
LELAND: Everything in the vault is instrumental. We’ve done a lot of stuff with him that’s been put out by different artists. There’s a song with him that Mick Jenkins ended up rapping on called “The Artful Dodger” that just came out recently.
What was your mindset before recording this new album? Was there a concept or sound that you wanted to incorporate?
LELAND: The album was a growing process for me. I’m an instrumentalist but I haven’t been able to use a lot of the instruments I play in this context until I started playing with BBNG, which helped me produce my ideas. Matt’s an amazing engineer and helped create sounds that I didn’t know I could achieve. A lot of the arrangements we came up with on the album were very unique; we didn’t know how they were going to sound beforehand. I didn’t necessarily have a distinct goal or intention before writing or recording.
You guys have talked about the Toronto music scene in previous interviews. There’s a lot of recording studios that are starting to pop up. On the flipside of that, there are a lot of bands that migrate to L.A. to jumpstart their careers. How is it different to come up as an artist in Toronto compared to L.A.?
LELAND: L.A. is one of the biggest cities for the music industry. From that, you get a broader spectrum of quality. Since there are so many people, there’s a lot of awful music coming out of there but also a lot of amazing music. Toronto is obviously a lot smaller. We happen to be a band in this phase of Toronto music scene’s growth, which feels really cool, even when there are so many distinctive things going on that I don’t know if I can say that what we’re doing is a Toronto sound.
What would you say is the Toronto sound?
LELAND: I mean Drake has obviously put Toronto on, as well as the Weeknd. What we’re doing is not related to that sound at all. We’re trying to do our own thing but through those artists putting Toronto on the map, they’re shedding light on what we do as an artist, which is nice.
Have you explored working with more Toronto artists?
LELAND: Chester co-produced “0 to 100” by Drake. Aside from that we actually have worked with a bunch of Toronto artists. Charlotte Day Wilson is from Toronto. We’ve worked a lot with Frank Dukes on Sour Soul, amongst other things. We’ve worked with Daniel Caesar, River Tiber, Jordan Evans and a whole list of other singers, songwriters and producers from Toronto.
What else is in store for BBNG in 2016?
LELAND: We’re gonna book more sessions with Kaytranada. We really like doing production and studio work; that’s where our heads are at. We’ve been touring on and off for the past five to six months, so it’s been insane. It would be nice to settle down in Toronto to write music.
If you guys were to work with anyone right now, who would you pick?
LELAND: Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean. BBNG was Frank Ocean’s backing band at Coachella 2012; I just met him at Coachella backstage this year, briefly. Nobody knows what’s going on with his album but he’s one of the greatest songwriters of all time. We’ve been really into Brazilian music and we got in contact with the amazing guitarist-composer Arthur Verocai. It would be cool to do a full album with Charlotte Day Wilson and to keep working with Daniel Caesar.