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The Bad Plus: Drama, Joy, Humor, But Not Irony

By Published: September 17, 2007
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Prog: Working With Producer Tony Platt and the Sound of the Record

AAJ: You recorded Prog in Minnesota in September of 2006—a little closer to home than the last three studio records, or for that matter, than Blunt Object, your live Tokyo recording .This is produced by the band with Tony Platt, who also recorded it, and who's got an enormous resume. But it's definitely a drier sound than with Tchad, or perhaps just a less-expensive sounding mix, although I think it demonstrates that what people took as rock production on the previous records was just the fact that you hit your drums hard—and still do. What sort of sound were you going for, and how long did it take to record the album? It sounds pretty live—in fact, the only overdubs I notice are on '1980 World Champion."

The Bad Plus / David KingDK: That's pretty much the only one. There is a mellotron that comes in on the David Bowie thing ['Life on Mars"], but that's only four notes.

We met Tony in London. He came to our show and was a fan of the band, and that made an impression, because we knew we were looking for someone that knew the music and liked what we were doing. We also wanted someone that wasn't coming from a jazz world, and this guy had recorded orchestras, and Bob Marley, and all these heavy rock records.

We did have an idea for this record sonically. We had a vision of what we wanted, which consisted of basically trying to capture the dynamic elements of the band. When you see The Bad Plus live, it actually isn't hitting all the time. It's a much more dynamic band at times than the Tchad Blake records showed. While I do play hard in a Tony Williams kind of way, I also play very softly live at times. What we noticed on the Tchad records—which we, of course, love—is that even the ballads sound big. Even the ballads sound like I'm kind of thumping away, which I'm not. That truly is the way Tchad mixes; he's a drum-heavy mix artist. And we love what he did, because we feel that those records stand out to some extent because of the way they sound, because of the way that Tchad did them.

But we thought this time around—and after seeing us live a few times, Tony agreed we should do—was go in and have those moments of that explosive thing that the Bad Plus does, but make it so you can hear the arcs much more. Make it so you can hear that the ballads are ballads, and that there is this large dynamic expanse that we cover. And of course, we are into extremes, so it does get up there in volume—but it also goes in the other direction. This record shows, more than any of them, how this band actually sounds if you're sitting there in the [Village] Vanguard or something listening to it.

AAJ: One does notice more, say, brush work on your part, and a wider range of sound in general. And it's a more realistic sound.

DK: Yeah, and it was time. We had made these kinds of boldly-mixed records—I would look at Tchad and say, 'Man, that snare is huge!" And he'd say, 'Yeah, but it's bold." I love Tchad. I was the reason we worked with him, mostly, because I worshiped his records. But what feels so good about Prog is that we feel it shows that other kind of thing. When you hear that Tears For Fears tune ['Everybody Wants to Rule the World"], when you hear that side stick, I'm not wailing on anything over there. I'm playing really softly.

So this record kind of represents that idea, and Tony wanted to get back to that idea of the band, where the instruments really sound natural. It's treated in a way that you would hear if you were to see The Bad Plus live.

AAJ: How long did the recording take?

DK: Just a couple of days. We recorded for about two or three days, and it was mostly first or second takes, as usual—we really try to go in there and get it. Then we did those few overdubs, sitting around listening to things to see what they needed. We recorded it at Cannon Falls, Minnesota, at this studio called Pachyderm, which is famous for doing the Nirvana record In Utero and a couple of other records. Then we went up to Minneapolis to mix it; I think Tony was mixing for about four or five days.

We actually recorded a lot more music than is on Prog; we originally envisioned a double album since we were going to be putting it out ourselves and labels hate double albums. But we started thinking about all the different ways of putting your music out now, like iTunes and everything, and so we decided to put out a single record and have all these extra tracks to put on things, like iTunes. We're just trying to be more modern about the record industry.

So we ended up recording fifteen tunes, so there are five extra tracks that floating around that are going to appear on different things. So it would about four days to mix, and that was it. We had Tony in from London for almost two weeks total.

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Thoughts on Cover Tunes

AAJ: I notice that after including only one cover tune on Suspicious Activity?, the 'Chariots of Fire" theme, you're back to including a good number of them on this record. About half the record, actually, is covers. Was there any thought behind that, or is that just how it ended up?

The Bad PlusDK: That's pretty much how it ended up. One rule we have is that we're just making the music we want to make. We don't have discussions like, 'We need this ratio of this." We try to just let things happen the way they always have. The way this band started was very relaxed, without any manifesto. It was more like a refugee camp, a sideman world. So we decided to not mess with that at all by being analytical, or messing with things much. We go with what we play at the time, and what we were touring with at the time were those tunes.

And with the idea being making a double album, we naturally had a larger amount of cover music. Usually, it's about two or three cover tunes on a record, and seven originals—something like that. Here there are four covers and six originals, and we did about that same percentage with the extra tracks. We just picked what we thought were the ten strongest, most balanced pieces. Four happened to be cover tunes.

But we try not to think about it like, 'Oh, this is someone else's tune!" We're again trying to possess that music, to make it our own thing and our own way of playing—our own standard, in a way.

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