Bad Bad Hats on 10 Years of It Hurts & Finding a “Dancier” Sound for Their New Album

Returning to South by Southwest, indie pop band Bad Bad Hats talk Austin bites, anniversaries, and self-producing their upcoming fourth LP.

Bad Bad Hats
Photo: Zoe Prinds-Flash

This article was featured in Den of Geek magazine, which was published before artists pulled out of SXSW 2024 in protest of US military and defense company sponsorships at this year’s event.

Minneapolis indie pop band Bad Bad Hats are returning to South by Southwest to start promotion for their upcoming fourth LP. While the band has always been driven by smart lyrics, catchy melodies, and pristine production, their new record takes a more “collage” inspired approach, playing with different subgenres that will broaden their onstage setup. Fans can get a glimpse of this new era of the band when they headline the Don Giovani Records 2024 showcase.

We spoke with the band’s Kerry Alexander and Chris Hoge about the 10th anniversary of their debut EP It Hurts, food in Austin, and what we can expect from their new tunes.

Your website says that you like to sample the best local cuisine when you’re on tour. Is there anything in particular that you’re looking forward to getting while you’re in Austin?

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KERRY ALEXANDER: Veracruz [All Natural].

CHRIS HOGE: I was thinking Veracruz tacos.

KA: I love the Veracruz tacos. I like the migas tacos from there with the tasty salsa. Even though, whenever I’m there, there is like, a bird actively trying to get my tacos. And you kind of have to wrestle with them to eat. But it’s always worth it. 

We haven’t been in a while, but I also really enjoy Juan and a Million. We went there several years ago, and I thought it was so, so good.

Last year was the 10th anniversary of your EP, It Hurts, and you guys did a vinyl re-release. What was it like looking back on that time period and putting together that new package for the release?

KA: One thing that was cool about [the re-release] was that It Hurts had never been released in a physical form. People would ask us at almost every show we played if we had it for sale, and sometimes would be very upset that we didn’t. But it all worked out in the grand scheme of things because then we could sort of have a really special moment for the [10th anniversary]. So we had a lot of fun making the back cover because there had never been a back cover before, and trying to tap into what we were into at the time. I was really into collaging back in the day and would collage together show posters and stuff, so I did some of that for the back cover. 

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Being able to celebrate and reflect on all the years is heartwarming and magical because it has been such a fun journey so far. We feel like we have much, much more to go. Thinking of the really early days, Chris and I made that EP in our apartment and my English professor’s apartment in the summertime. We had just graduated college and just started dating. So, just like all the warm, wonderful feelings of that time in our lives, I felt like I was right back there. I guess that’s kind of like what music does, right? 

There is a new album coming. This is going to be your second record with Don Giovanni Records. How have they been to work with as a label?

CH: They’ve been great. The main guy we work with is named Joe [Steinhardt], and he has the same outlook on the music industry as us, which, in a really nice way, is just do what makes you happy and do it creatively. He’s less concerned about playing all the little games that people seem to play to try to get noticed or something, and he’s really just up for putting out whatever we send him. I  feel like they’ve got a very artist-supported, supportive way that their label is set up, and I love the variety of bands that they have, too. The history of albums that they’ve put out is amazing. 

Your last album, Walkman, is a very pop-minded, hook-focused record. Is that a similar vibe to what we can expect from the upcoming record?

KA: With [second album] Lightning Round, we kind of went all in on production, having fun in the studio and using tape machines and every instrument, which was amazing. And that’s how I like to work in the studio. I don’t like to inhibit myself. But it did make it somewhat difficult to perform the songs to their truest extent. So, when I was thinking about [third album] Walkman, I was trying to write songs that felt like they would be fun to play live with even just three people. I do feel like with the fourth album, we maybe did a bit more of playing all instruments and doing a bit more sample-y, interesting sounds and sort of more collage arrangements instead of maybe more live-focused arrangements, which is kind of fun. So it’s maybe even a little dancier.

CH: We’re going to have a four-piece band again. So our hope is to cover it with four people.

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KA: We might have a synth on stage for the first time ever. We’ve never done that, even though synths are all over our albums. So that’s cool. So we’re hoping to fill in the blanks with a four-piece.

You guys are self-producing the new record. Did you find that to be a challenge or artistically inspiring?

KA: I think what helped was actually that we accidentally got into it. We did not set out to self-produce a record, but we started a Patreon page in 2020 as a way to stay connected to our fans, make a little money, and for us to stay creatively busy. And for the Patreon, the vibe was that every month, we’d write a new original song inspired by a theme. So we did pop-punk month, and we did country month. And it was fun. We’re still doing it. Our former bandmate Con (Davidson) would come over, and the three of us would just go down the basement and just have fun and be like, okay, what does the badass pop-punk song sound like?

And we’d make a song in two days, really quick, really easy, not getting too hung up on anything, just having fun with it. Before we knew it, we just had so many songs that we’re like, “Wow. Some of these are actually kind of cool, and I think could actually be on a record.”

So we had a few of those songs that were our guiding light of what the album could be. And I think because we weren’t thinking that we were making an album, we were just having fun, it is a little bit collage-y. Like, “How about a little bit of this? Or a little bit of this? Yeah, that sounds good. Try that!” 

So then we decided to finish the album, and we went out of the basement but kept the same energy of trying new sounds and gluing everything together. It has a scrappiness to me that only the basement could have given it.

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Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with South by Southwest?

KA: The thing that I really enjoy about South by Southwest is sometimes, being in the music industry, you meet so many people and make so many wonderful connections and tour with different bands. So you have this wide network, but you hardly ever get to be together and have that office camaraderie. So South by Southwest is kind of a time when we all get to be together and have that sense of community that you’ve built. So I really enjoy that aspect of it. It’s like I get to be with all my coworkers in the same room for a week. Don’t love hauling my stuff up and down hills. That part can be hard, but it’s good exercise for me.

Bad Bad Hats play SXSW 2024 on March 13 at Mohawk Outdoor (9 pm CT) and on March 14 at The 13th Floor (11 pm CT).