The number of times an article has been written on jazz at VICE is probably three because jazz blows. Sure there’s the odd artist from decades ago that people actually still get excited about, like Miles Davis or Nina Simone or whoever. But let’s face it. All of those guys are long dead and it’s well past due time for some new blood up in this bitch.
BADBADNOTGOOD is a hip-hop jazz band from Toronto who’s doing a pretty admirable job of kicking the jazz world’s ass back into relevancy. If you haven’t already thrown up in disgust from reading the descriptor “hip hop jazz band” I encourage you to download their mixtape, which got sorta famous right around the time Odd Future’s Tyler and BBNG recorded a few live tracks together. I’ve listened to it about 40 million times because it’s full of creative covers of rap songs and because I like listening to jazz that makes me think of love, drugs, and money. It’s refreshing stuff that got me wondering why more jazz musicians don’t cover ODB’s “Brooklyn Zoo” instead of bringing up that “Stella by Starlight” melody over and over again. So on my way home for the holidays I made a stop in Toronto to have a little chitchat with these guys.
BBNG needed new band outfits so we decided to go on a hunt for some onesies in Toronto mega-outlet Honest Ed’s, a massive and massively weird Broadway-inspired merch warehouse full of dead ends, funhouse mirrors, and creepy black and white photos hanging all over the place. It was a little freaky being helpless victims of ol’ Ed’s scheme to trap their customers in his creepy labyrinth forever, but it somehow made sense as we talked about platypus jazz and crying at music auditions while completely lost in a hodgepodge of Jesus statues, Elvis busts, and two-striped Adidas tracksuits.
This is weird. What the hell is this place?
Matt: Where are we? Were we on this floor already?
Chester: I dunno, but I should really get a tablecloth for the house.
Hey, why does Jazz suck so much?
Matt: Jazz sucks because they only play the same stuff over and over. For the most part, everyone’s playing the same material and are playing in lame cover bands. Why not make something new?
Alex: There’s also not a lot of cross communication going on. People in Jazz don’t know who Clams Casino is, who Odd Future is, who Lil B is. They just think oh, those bands are stupid and there’s no art to it. It’s stuck in a time warp. There’s nothing original and nothing creative going on, so no wonder it’s not prominent. It’s gotten to the point where people are just re-creating music. Like no-one’s going to make the exact same film so why is that okay in music?
Alex: Woah, that’s a huge pile of dog training videos. Dog training for Humans: It’s PAWsibble! is only $1. That’s cheap isn’t it?
Chester: Not bad.
What do your teachers think of what you guys are doing?
Matt: They don’t really even know.
What do you mean they don’t know?
Matt: Well I think I told a few of them, but they didn’t make too big a deal about it. My teacher didn’t seem too hot on it.
Alex: Yeah, it’s weird. For one of our final exams we had to perform a bunch of songs and we almost failed. We played “Assmilk,” a few other Odd Future rap covers and “Have you met Miss Jones” and one of them wrote on the examination page that there was “no artistic merit” in our performance.
Wow. That sounds like a real buzz kill.
Alex: I’d thought about scanning it and putting it up on our blog because it is pretty funny. But I didn’t in the end because it would probably ruin the guy’s career.
Matt: Yeah, it’s not really their fault. They’re just a little out of touch right now.
Who does all your production and mixing?
Alex: Matt. He also just did our website. This guy does everything! We just fucking show up, put on a mask, bang around on our instruments, and basically do what he tells us. We owe a lot to Matt MacNeil, Sam Zaret and Conor Olthuis too, but Matt? This guy is the real brains, the brawn, the everything of the operation.
Did you learn all that at school?
Matt: Naw. On the internet, where I was born and raised.
How old are each of you?
Alex: 19, 20, 21, So we were born in ’90, ’91, and ’92. We’re internet babies.
Do you guys remember the first song you pirated?
Chester: I downloaded “Thriller.” And some other shit.
Alex: I just remember trying to download Nelly’s “Batter Up” and I accidentally got porn. I was just sitting at my computer at the time waiting for Nelly and then was kinda like “Wait, what is this?! Full screen, full screen!!” In its early days, the internet was deep space for porn.
It still is deep space for porn, kinda like this place. Why the hell can’t we get out of here?
Matt: At least if we have to stay the night we can sleep in these big fluffy bins. Or make a music video.
Alex: The internet is different now though. Earlier I think most of the domain names were porn related, like Alanna.com or Martha.com and all those. I remember playing tricks on my friends. I’d say “Hey, you should check out beaver.com it’s a really great game!” Then he’d go there all innocent to play this game and a porn window would pop up. That was hilarious. The internet is a place for first time epiphanies, kinda like when you realize you can really play the drums and your feel feet and hands can move at the same time. That was a crazy feeling. I feel like any of you guys could play the drums at this point though, you’ve heard the pattern so many times.
Matt: Well, I applied at U of T for drums but I didn’t get in.
Alex: I didn’t get in either.
I cried like a baby after my U of T audition. They were fucking assholes.
Alex: Yeah fuck U of T man.
Alex: There are probably less assholes in the jazz program than the classical though. But with U of T it’s a prestige thing. I think people at Humber are as good or even better at people at U of T, but the thing with U of T is they only accept people who are prodigies. Like, if you don’t know how to modulate from V to IV when you’re like 16, then they assume there’s no way for you to have a good music career.
You can be technically awesome and still be a crappy musician though.
Alex: Exactly. There’s that argument from classical people when they say “Oh, I can’t jam.” And I’m just like, “Are you stupid? Can you move your hand up and down and hit the notes? Ditch the book just hit the fuckin’ keyboard. Come on, man.”
Matt: There’s a lot of fervor against classical people at Humber.
Alex: That painting up there really looks like Rick Ross, eh?
Was there a big moment when you guys thought okay, we’ve got something now?
Chester: It was pretty crazy when we went to play The Red Light and it was completely fucking packed. They had the patio open too and everyone was standing and watching through the window.
Alex: We were just like OK, really? These people are here to listen to this motha’ fucka’ [Matt] play some piano solos? Oh okay. It’s awesome but it’s just funny that there’s a jazz label on our music and that people are actually excited about it or wanna see it. One guy came up to me and was like “Yo, I wanna show you this!” and whipped out this huge ass Zelda tattoo. He was like “Hey, I was hoping you were gonna play your Zelda medley!” and I was like, cool man.
That is cool. Are you guys video game nerds?
Chester: Yeah, yeah. Sort-of. The Zelda thing was my idea. You know the Song of Storms? With the guy in the window? You know, ba daaah bah daaah da deee da dadada dee daa daa. And then there’s that part when you have to open the trunk.
Matt: That was a great game.
What’s missing in jazz then?
Alex: Hype. The whole music industry is hype. And hype is really difficult to predict. What is the hype trend of the next year is going to be? Will it be Clams Casino like crazy pitch shifted stuff, or Lil B type based stuff? Are 808s going to be like the worst thing and everyone will be sick of them? Do people want to here live drums in hip-hop now? Led Zeppelin “When The Levee Breaks” type drums? What’s it going to be?
Matt: Hip-hop is one of the least predictable genres. If someone had told you in 2010 what it was going to be in 2011, you probably wouldn’t have believed it.
Alex: Hahahaha, hey Kara! Bang one of these pots! Chester has perfect pitch, so he should be able to tell you what note it is.
Chester: Uh… G.
How do we know if he’s right?
Matt: You just believe him. Chester will tell you everything you need to know about music. He has perfect pitch, perfect GENRE…
Alex: He’s basically Shazam without the Wi-Fi connection.