Hailing from Popblerd’s homebase of Boston, MA, Bad Rabbits have been crafting their blend of r&b, funk, and rock (sprinkled with elements of hardcore) for six years. Building a reputation for their energetic live shows and gaining national recognition for their recorded output, 2013 marks a milestone for the band: the release of their first full-length LP, American Love (2013, Bad Records). What’s more, they’ve got another completed full-length LP in the can. We caught up with Bad Rabbits just before their show in Pittsburgh on August 9 as their summer tour was winding down.
Listening to Bad Rabbits’ music (especially their 2009 Stick Up Kids EP), it’s evident that the group is well versed in the school of funk, through their beats, breaks, bass grooves, and synth lines that nod to the Minneapolis Sound of the 1980s. Even with all of those elements weaving their way into Bad Rabbits’ work, the band manages to synthesize them in a way that sounds compellingly fresh rather than a simple retro throwback. Guitarist Salim Akram explains the funk dimension to Bad Rabbits’ music as something that developed organically:
“At the time [that Bad Rabbits began], we were actually writing the opposite of funk music, it was this dark, Mars Volta, fuckin’ seven and a half minute progressive indie rock, space rock songs and shit. And then we had what ended up being ‘She’s Bad,’ which was just a little 30 second interlude, and we were like ‘wait a minute, we’re actually not dark, depressing people, maybe we should try to write more songs kind of along those lines.’ And at the time, we were listening to and being heavily re-influenced by new jack swing, like Teddy Riley, Michael Jackson. So we kind of just went along with it, and it kind of evolved into this fun type of sound that happened to be funky, I don’t think it was a conscious effort like, ‘let’s write a funky record.’ When we started to where we are now, funkier music is starting to become more mainstream. Which is ironic, because when we first started, people told us it was too throwback, and it was too much aesthetic of a funk sound. And now, it’s like you know, artists like Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake’s new record and like these mainstream artists are starting to kind of, I guess butter up the mainstream for lack of a better term to actually be more open minded to funk music. Because five years ago, if you said ‘funk’ to like a 20 year old kid, they would think of their parents’ record collection and something old, and not contemporary, you know?”
Interestingly enough, after having built a reputation for their take on funk music, Bad Rabbits’ latest LP American Love has more of a rock edge to it than the band’s previous recorded output. Bassist Graham Masser explains, “That was because we wanted to put more guitars and more of our work into it as opposed to collaborating with someone as big as Teddy Riley. Brad Lewis from the Bay area, he really helped us kind of shape that sound as well. And he has this background different than Teddy Riley. He’s a young kid from the Bay area, and he’s into metal, to you know, really, just everything. And he just definitely helped shape that sound and we put more guitars into it consciously, to have more of our band aesthetic to come through on the record and on stage.”
Salim agrees that this incorporation of rockier styles partly came out of the band’s on-stage dynamic. “After performing Stick Up Kids for so long, and our live show has always kind of naturally evolved towards showcasing the heavier influences that we’re into [...] and everybody kind of has their various backgrounds that lend to I guess the rock side, like the aesthetic of our live show. I think that was just playing so much on Stick Up Kids [and] it kind of naturally evolved into us wanting to have that be evident on record because that was definitely lacking on Stick Up Kids. Because we went in there with like a specific purpose, like we’re going to put out a 21 minute fucking party banger record, and that’s the only focus and goal that we had, and we nailed it, we achieved that goal. That was the only bad feedback we got – ‘yeah it all sounds the same.’ We‘re like ‘thanks, man that’s exactly what we wanted to do!’ And on American Love,we definitely wanted to showcase more of the heavier side of the band, but also not go too far left or too far right but try to like keep all the elements that people loved about Step Up Kids but also have the sound evolve.
Cross-pollinating musical styles and weaving together elements from all over the musical map is only natural when you have five band members who are avid music fans from across various genres. As vocalist Fredua Boakye put it,“It goes, for us, it’s always a grab bag, it’s always something different. I mean, one week it might be like it’s metal playing through the van, and another week, it might be Cocaine 80s like James Fauntleroy type stuff or hip hop, or r&b. I mean, it’s really a variety of different things inspiring us.”
Masser agrees, noting that “It’s always kind of been like that for us, it’s just, you know – I guess we all have a lot of stuff that we listen to collectively, but then you know, Salim has his own tastes, Santi has his own tastes, Sheel, everyone has their own tastes, and you know we like get together and people play stuff for each other.”
Fredua interjected, “Yeah, I was playing some gospel for Graham yesterday, straight up praise music. It just sounded good, you know what I’m sayin’? Whatever I feel sounds good, I listen to. And I think that goes with everyone’s tastes, you know, whatever they think sounds good, they listen to.”
Although the band just released its full length debut in May, they’re sitting on another completed LP, this one produced by the legendary Teddy Riley. Salim enthused, “working with him was just incredible, it was more like a daydream, a fantasy. For a week and a half we recorded basically all of the the stems and general music tracking for the whole record in nine days or something like that. We just were on like 24 hour studio lockdown, working literally around the clock, when like the band would start and they would finish around 4, 5, 6, in the morning some days, maybe even later and then maybe [Fredua] would start singing at like 6 or 7 in the morning and sing ’til like noon, and then pass out, wake up, and we would just do the whole cycle again.
Fredua chimed in to underscore the rigor involved: “I would start around like 9 o’clock at night and end at like 4, 5, 6 in the morning. I never sang like that before in my life.”
“It was like studio boot camp for us,” Salim emphasized. “But I think overall it taught, it kind of just broadened our eyes to how to write big songs, I don’t want to say big songs. But just writing with a different purpose in terms of songwriting, because before we’d just kind of write in a specific tense, I don’t know if that makes sense. But [Teddy Riley] kind of helped us write to make the lyrics like broad and universal as opposed to this song is specifically catered towards like a black dude in college versus a white dude that’s 50, kind of relate to the lyrics on a broader scale. So he kind of just helped us overall on our songwriting and production-wise, too I know we definitely sat there and watched, and I know Sheel and everyone else kind of just studied you know, what he was doing and he has these stories. So I think he just kind of helped us evolve as a band, and we applied a lot of that to American Love, and realized that we didn’t necessarily have the story complete to put that record out next, so we kind of scaled it back and went back in and started doing American Love. And there’s a couple other things that kind of allowed it to happen that way. But I think on American Love we went back more conscious of like having the band being showcased a little bit more as opposed to the Teddy record, because it was just really, I guess pop, r&b polished, ready for radio, so it was really stripped down. In American Love, there’s just so many layers and depths to how we recorded that record that if you‘re really listening to it, you’ll hear the band more evident on it.”
Guitarist Santiago Araujo assessed the Bad Rabbits’ past achievements and future goals by saying that “We’re in a unique situation as a band because we put out Stick Up Kids which was just you know a short EP and then we didn’t release music for three years, and it was because we were working on that music. And so when we finally did release a full length album in American Love, we released it correctly, and we prepared ourselves like Graham was saying, and it was very effective. And the fact that we have another full length album that we’re sitting on that’s produced by such a legend, it’s just a great situation to be in, I think, because the work is already done, it’s ready to go, and now you just kind of have to figure out how you’re going to put it out and when you’re going to put it out. And it puts you in a good position to talk with various people in the industry as to if they’re interested in putting it out, so there’s very very many options in terms of how we’re going to release this music.”
Even with another full length LP in their collective hip pocket, Bad Rabbits is consistently working, creating, and looking forward to the group’s future projects. “I think for us too it’s really important to always stay actively trying to write and collaborate with people,” says Masser. “You know, we just put out American Love and a month later, we’re in the studio with a couple of people in L.A., just continuing to write music and not just rest on your laurels.”
In staying so active, Masser also noted the value of working with creative forces outside of Bad Rabbits’ core group. “We were writing with John Feldman the lead singer from Goldfinger, The Used, and James Fauntleroy who just wrote with Justin Timberlake, he did Rhianna, Chris Brown, Frank Ocean, a few other people. And we’ve got some other collaborative stuff that we did that we’re going to be putting out at some point, so just continuing to write – that’s always in the mix for us.”
While the band’s performance schedule tapers down momentarily, it’s clear that they’re always seeking new collaborations and working together to create new music. And although Bad Rabbits’ recorded output is helping to spread that music around, they bring a whole new energy to the music on stage. Following our brief chat, I caught the band’s set at The Smiling Moose in Pittsburgh – a tight, energetic, sweaty, well-oiled performance that makes a convincing case for the band’s growing popularity. What’s more, it’s clear that Bad Rabbits is not content to simply stay in a confined comfort zone – a disposition that is likely to make for an interesting and rewarding artistic trajectory.