Published Jul 11, 2016"We wanted to change things up and create a new feel of where we're going as people and grow and expand our palette of ideas: music and artwork included."
For BADBADNOTGOOD drummer Alex Sowinski, even IV's blue cover is a form of progression for the eminent jazz band that had stuck to eerie black and white photos for their three previous covers, he explains in a recent Exclaim! interview.
In many ways, IV a benchmark piece for the trio-turned-quartet. Despite being the band's fourth band-only album, it is the first record to feature vocalists and the first with long-time touring member, sax player Leland Whitty, as a permanent member.
Whitty's addition was almost born out of necessity — his contribution to the band's 2015 Sour Soul tour became undeniable.
Sowinski says, "After touring with Ghostface, and having played consistent live shows with us on guitar — he's always played shows when possible on sax — it was just a good feeling to have him join us and create a vibe."
Whitty, who in the past has taken a lead role on tracks like "Earl" (BBNG2) and "Confessions" (III), adds extra firepower to each offering on IV, bolstering arrangements with understated guitar or powerful sax.
Along with that addition, the vibe for IV is collaboration, allowing guests to shoulder much of the burden of taking the music to new places.
"It was a desire to experiment more in the studio," Sowinski says. "We wanted to do a lot of this on our own and see where we could take our ideas with other people. Finding a love for working in person [with others] in our space was a big part of the execution of these songs."
Going beyond just being features, IV is heavily driven by the distinct vocal sounds of outside influences, namely Future Islands frontman Sam Herring's grainy voice, Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins' animated delivery, and the sweet soul of Toronto newcomer Charlotte Day Wilson. The band applied the same tactic for each vocalist: to go "old school" and have the songs evolve organically in the studio.
Sowinski claims that, despite the difference between R&B, hip-hop and jazz grooves, the process was very similar.
"All three vocalists were quite fast. With Mick, we wrote that instrumental and he started writing to it, and we went with the vision as he was writing it. With Charlotte, she had an idea that we workshopped together, which we recorded at a later date. If they're trying to search for a melody or a lyrical part to complete a phrase, we kind of try to create an openness that is comfortable for them to just try a bunch of ideas until one feels good."
The evolution of BBNG is, as keys player Matt Tavares puts it, a better understanding of the underlining importance involved in nurturing creativity. When comparing the opposing styles of Ghostface Killah and their recent collaboration with L.A.-based singer Jerry Paper, Tavares says, "It's still music. I think they're not that opposite. [Ghostface and Jerry Paper] are still doing the same things in the sense that they're both making songs. The approach was very similar [for both] — we just wanted to augment what they were already doing in the subtlest way possible."
When asked who has challenged them the most musically, Tavares reveals that it was "Confession Pt. II" collaborator Colin Stetson (Bon Iver, Arcade Fire). "He's amazing, he's so talented, we just did free improvised jams for a few hours before we started getting a theme down. He's thinking of these very complex ideas on the fly."
However, it's their work on "Lavender" with Kaytranada that best exemplifies their adventurous spirit. The bass-y electronic track is one of a plethora of cuts the boys have laid down with the Canadian producer in the past two years (one of which also landed on Kaytranada's 2016 album 99.9%).
As for the rest, some of the ideas have gone to other artists and others are too raw to release at the moment, Sowinski says. But rest assured, if IV is any indication, the group are continuing to evolve into an even better and more versatile force.
Check out "In Your Eyes" featuring Charlotte Day Wilson below. IV is out now via Innovative Leisure in the U.S. and Arts & Crafts in Canada.