Though their catalog’s as scant as a sock drawer on laundry day, Bad Bad Hats are brimming with contradictions. Lovelorn lyrics are contorted into whimsical melodies. Grown-up problems drowned in callow candy sprees.
Even the thematically somber “It Hurts,” the title track off the indie-folk trio’s proper debut EP, comes cloaked as a chipper, kazoo-laden ditty. Yes, kazoos. The irony seems curious if you don’t know about the fledgling group’s origins.
Bad Bad Hats were born after songwriters Kerry Alexander and Chris Hoge met at Macalester College in 2010 and hooked up on a song (and eventually in real life). The female folkie and self-described “guitar-rock guy” came from different places musically and their inaugural collaboration, called “Sincerely Yours,” wasn’t great, Alexander admits. By the time the two started working on the “It Hurts” EP, the now-cohabiting couple found a winning balance between Alexander’s dimmer solo tunes and Hoge’s “breezy pop gems.”
“That’s when our sound became more solidified and became less of an acoustic-folk thing and more of a real band,” says Hoge, the group’s soft-spoken drummer.
A year after “Sincerely Yours,” the duo added bassist and Macalester mate Noah Boswell while gearing up for a school-sponsored battle of the bands. Despite a losing effort, the newly christened threesome impressed judge Ian Anderson of local label Afternoon Records enough to offer them a deal. Not a bad consolation prize. Now Bad Bad Hats are one of three bands selected to compete for a trip to South by Southwest at Vita.mn's Are You Local? concert Friday at Mill City Nights.
Prior to recording “It Hurts,” Alexander spent last spring studying abroad in Paris, where she sharpened her craft while playing open mic nights and jotting down lyrics on the Metro. One train-riding writing session yielded “9 a.m.,” a perky, quasi-apologetic ode to impetuousness, inspired by a friend’s one-night stand. “I like to write songs that feel like they could have a screenplay-esque quality to them, like they can complement a scene in someone’s life, you know?” the 22-year-old poetry major says.
Like Ellen Page in “Juno,” Alexander shows a wise-beyond-her-years wit, but she simultaneously exposes her inescapable youth in her lyrics. As far as we know, Alexander has never tackled teen pregnancy, but in “Super America” the hair-bunned frontwoman broaches heartache with maturity, despite romanticizing a junk-food catharsis. “It’s not my fault that you can’t sleep alone,” she sagely sings, later admitting she just wants “an Icee and a nice boy to date.”
Some critics have questioned the merit of love songs written by artists with relatively little life experience. When prompted, Alexander — who stands to get carded for the foreseeable future — defends her youthful vantage point.
“You have your whole future ahead of you, so there’s that element of ‘This is the most important thing, but also I’m going to do something new tomorrow,’” she says. “There’s something fickle and hopeful [about it]. I think that’s what love is.”
Years and slushies from now, the still-raw songbird’s observations could grow even more compelling. But first up is Friday’s Are You Local? competition. Bad Bad Hats have already had some early success, but the show could be their greatest opportunity yet.
“Regardless of whether or not we go to South by Southwest, it’s going to be a big moment for our band,” says Hoge.
Bad Bad Hats
Who: Kerry Alexander (guitar/vocals), Chris Hoge (drums), Noah Boswell (bass).
Music: “It Hurts” EP on Afternoon Records.