Bad Sounds are a genre-blending group of musicians. Ewan and Callum Merrett – the brothers at the centre of the Bath band – are the product of a musically rich upbringing, listening to everyone from Bob Dylan and Beck to De La Soul and Michael Jackson. A group that stands above the rest, they’ve found a way to combine their favourite aspects of each, carving out their very own space in the often saturated music industry.
Beginning their music making process by looping a beat, the Merrett’s take the best aspects of hip-hop, combine them with a great bass line, add lyrics that are inspired from day-to-day conversations – and after this medley is all put together in the Bad Sounds music pot – brilliant songs come to life.
Releasing their first EP “PHRESSH” earlier this year, a compilation of all the singles so far with new gem “Zacharia” also on the bill, the record debuted funky bass soaked in a 70s groove, with a kind of rap cadence on the vocals; Bad Sounds are like a pink and white striped bag of pick and mix – with all your favourites inside. Good harmonies, wacky music videos and a whole lot of fun, they are definitely a group to watch out for. So obvs we went and met them.
Congratulations on the EP, I love it – how would you describe the sound for people who haven’t heard it before?
Aaaah man thats always the hardest question aint it? I guess I’d say that its hip-hop influenced pop music… like Odelay ÷ Demon Days.
Your most recent single is the brilliant Zacharia. What was the creative process behind it?
Basicallyyyyy…. read a book about recording with Michael Jackson… listened to “Thriller”… tried to rip off “Thriller”… failed. Put it out anyway.
Callum and Ewan, as brothers, how did you make the decision to join musical forces and create Bad Sounds?
It’s something we’ve almost always done to be honest. We’ve been playing in bands together since we were about 12 to 14 years old. Then when we went to university we sort of went our separate ways for a bit, which I think was super important. We definitely learned a lot about playing music with other people in that time. We got exposed to totally different music, which meant that when we did eventually start working together again we had a lot of different stuff to share and experiment with, making it more exciting. That’s basically when Ewan discovered hip-hop and started making beats, and I learned how to record live bands and got really into soul and pop music. I would say that until the age of about 17 all I cared about was whether or not a song had a super shred guitar solo haha. Seriously. And now look at us! Not a guitar solo in sight (soz Charlie).
When was the moment when you realised you could make it a career?
Pfff I dunno if we’ve “realised” it yet to be honest. I mean half of us are still working day jobs to pay da rent. We’ve always dreamed about it but we’re pretty aware of how tricky it is to sustain a career in the music industry. We’re just gonna keep our fingers crossed and keep making stuff that we dig.
Fair. How personal are your songs; do you all get involved in writing the lyrics?
99% of our lyrics are just things that people have said to us that have stood out. It’s usually not poetic or anything, but when you put it in the context of a song it takes on a whole new meaning, and because it’s so conversational I feel like it’s way easier to relate to. Rather than epic tales of love and death and standing on mountains. Life isn’t always epic, I guess it depends on your perspective.
You’ve described previously yourselves as “predominantly and aesthetically a hip-hop band”. What aspects of hip-hop do you most admire and want to channel in your own music?
Beats. We make a lot of them. Sometimes when we’re writing we’ll do it the classic way, but usually our tracks are based around a beat or a loop. The beat and groove is obviously king, but I love the way that in hip-hop you can play around and blend the sonics – taking a really organic live drum loop and blending it with heavily programmed drum hits, and live vocals (where you can really hear the room) and blending it with something else that sounds super processed. Obviously there are other genres of electronic music that do that too, but our influences when it comes to making music this way are 100% hip-hop. Ewan’s massively influenced by Missy Elliott and I feel like his vocal delivery is becoming more and more spoken than sung, but in his own unique conversational style. Then there’s the live show – we went to a De La Soul show and immediately decided that that is how we want our shows to feel – from the moment we walked through the door it was just good vibes. There was a DJ playing great music, people were dancing and singing along, this is at like 7pm. De La didn’t come on for another couple of hours but nobody cared, it was just a great atmosphere. We’ve been to so many shows where bands just stand in front of bored people and play their songs and never interact with the audience. That’s not what we’re about.
Ewan, I read that before the band came together you were making beats and enjoyed using samples. Has your knowledge of sampling and how it allows you to play with different genres influenced the music of Bad Sounds?
For sure! The main thing that attracted me originally to sample based music is the idea of finding an amazing sample somewhere you’d never expect. You might buy a random prog rock record you’ve never heard of from the 70s that’s all trash except for one track or three seconds of magic that you can take and turn into a whole song. I always found it exciting that you might find an amazing song that no one knows ’cause it got lost on a bad album or just wasn’t released properly and then being able to show it to people. The idea of finding those tracks made me a way more eclectic listener, I feel like making hip-hop and crate digging taught me how to listen to music in a different way and to always look out for sounds or sections that might be amazing rather than whole songs or whole albums. It’s definitely not an intentional thing that it’s had an effect on the music we make but it’s the only way I know how to make music and I think of things in terms of loops and samples so it’s without doubt a part of what we do.
All the videos are amazing – there’s a lot of humour running through them and some really surreal elements. In the video for Meat on my Bones there’s a reference to Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, and in the Wages video there are clips from Bruce Lee films. How far films have influenced you and your image or sound as a group?
Haha! Erm, there definitely seems to be a Kung Fu B-movie theme that runs through what we do. There’s not one specific film that has influenced us though, it’s more the general aesthetic, and culture that goes with it. I think it’s kinda weird that everyone went mental for that shit for a couple of years in the 70s. Those films are soooo bad, but I guess that’s what makes them so good. Its not really about the film/story, it’s literally just about the choreography of the fight scenes… I’m not sure why they bothered with the story lines.
From what I have read, and what I can hear in the music, you have a really eclectic group of influences – people like…
I guess we grew up listening to different stuff, our dad was into blues, reggae, and folk (lots of Bob Dylan), our mum was into pop, and disco, and then our sisters were into punk and rock stuff. Then we got into records and we’d go record shopping and take lots of risks. A lot of money has been wasted on shit records. Jesus. Christ. We’ve bought some stinkers. But as Ewan said, even on a really shit record there might be a few seconds of something that is worth sampling and using in a different context later down the line. I think its important to be open minded about music genres. I feel like when most people say they dislike a certain genre of music, it’s more that they dislike the type of person they associate with that type of music, rather than the actual music itself. So I usually try and bear that in mind when listening to new stuff. It’s sometimes easier said than done.
Who is the one musician (living or dead), you would most like to see live?
Ya even have to ask??? MJ!
And finally, what does the rest of 2017 have in store for Bad Sounds?
We going on tour! We’re playing a bunch of headline dates in November, which we’re all super excited for. We’re also playing a handful of festivals over the summer… and hopefully… recording our first album.