ABOVE: BAD RABBITS. PHOTO COURTESY OF MIKE DRAVIS.
Since self-releasing the EP Stick Up Kids in 2009, Bad Rabbits have carved out a niche thanks to their unique musical fusion: a contemporary latticework of sound that reflects the band’s varying musical and cultural backgrounds, ranging from tireless rock ballads to funk sodden tracks reminiscent of the likes of Prince.
After having trouble getting the attention of major record labels, Bad Rabbits have forged their own way independently. In 2011, the band called upon B. Lewis to co-produce their album American Love, which bassist Graham Masser describes as “hungry” and “well-rounded.” On the album, Bad Rabbits revive classic R&B with smooth instrumentation and vocals that seamlessly transition from soulful melodies to penetrating hard-rock interludes. Since American Love‘s release in May, the band has already recorded a follow-up, American Dream, with Grammy-winning, multiplatinum producer Teddy Riley. We chatted with Masser in advance of Bad Rabbits’ headlining show at Bowery Ballroom tonight.
LEA WEATHERBY: What’s your history as a band, and how did you come to the name Bad Rabbits?
GRAHAM MASSER: I was playing in a band with Santi (Santiago Araujo, guitar), who was in my dorm freshman year of college. Dua (Fredua Boakye) and Salim (Salim Akram, guitar) were playing together and they knew Sheel (Sheel Davé, drummer), so he kind of bridged us together and we started a band and played for about four years under a different name. We were called the Eclectic Collective, which is pretty much the worst name for a band ever. So we decided to take it in a different direction. At the time we were on tour with our old band, our opening act was Gavin Castleton, who is a really amazing singer songwriter and producer, and he has this song called, “Bad Rabbits.” We were covering it on tour, and it ended up on our list of names, and we ended up going with it.
WEATHERBY: You guys are from Boston right?
WEATHERBY: What’s the music scene like there?
MASSER: It’s pretty amazing. There’s Berklee there, and New England Conservatory, and a bunch of other music schools within universities. Just a ton of music students, so that obviously created opportunities for people to group together and start bands; not to mention all the venues and places for people to play. It’s a pretty diverse music scene. There’s a metal, folk, and hip-hop scene, and musicians who are involved in every genre you can think of.
WEATHERBY: What was it like creating the latest album, American Love with B. Lewis, versus American Dream with Teddy Riley?
MASSER: They’re totally different in their approach, and also just in the stage of where they are. Teddy was really prevalent in the ’80s and ’90s so his style is totally different and he has a little bit more of a minimalist approach. When we met Brad (B. Lewis), he was about 21 and just hungry and really creative. As soon as we heard his stuff we were like, “Damn, we gotta work with this kid!” But his approach is a little more maximalist; a lot of the songs have different instruments and soundscapes. It was different from what we had done previously. But he’s just such a well-rounded producer, which is similar to Teddy, who is a prodigy and really amazing with vocal production.
WEATHERBY: There’s something for everyone in your music, because you incorporate so many elements from different genres. Is there any song in particular that you feel is a testament to your range as musicians?
MASSER: Definitely. I would say “We Can Roll,” the first track. Right off the bat you can hear that. I know when I heard it, not to sound pretentious, but I had never heard anything like that. It has this really heavy rock feel with R&B style. I think that song is the best example of the fusion between rock and R&B.
WEATHERBY: Bad Rabbits have been compared to huge funk bands and hardcore rock bands in the same breath. What would you say has informed your style as a band?
MASSER: It is incredibly flattering. I didn’t really listen to hardcore as much when I was young, I was more into punk and alternative rock music. A bunch of other guys grew up on metal and hardcore. But at the same time, we were listening to a lot of R&B in the ’90s, like Blackstreet, Bobby Brown, Michael Jackson, and SWV. Dua, our singer, grew up in the Church, so that’s where he started his direction in music, by trying to emulate that sound. So a lot of it is in our blood, that’s just the music we listened to. We all played in garage bands, punk bands, metal bands, and we always had an ear for pop production.
WEATHERBY: Bad Rabbits recently made some late-night TV appearances. Was that a big moment for you guys?
MASSER: I’d say for the band, Kimmel was a highlight of this year. It was definitely a goal for us to get on late-night, but it was a stretch, you know? It’s a high-pressure situation but it was also just really positive and everyone was there, fiancées, girlfriends, brothers, sisters, cousins, my mom flew out for it, and it was extremely celebratory. But then the next morning we woke up and we did a studio session, so we enjoyed the moment but we kept moving. And now we’ve been on late-night three times this year, and it’s been such a great experience.
WEATHERBY: To really emerge the way you guys have after this album must be so gratifying.
MASSER: I think this year was pretty much the validation that we’ve been striving for. We’ve been passed over by a lot of the industry in terms of labels; they never really paid us much mind, but we worked incredibly hard on the album and the first real grabs we got were late-night, then around the same time, American Love came out and went to number 1 on iTunes and it charted on like 4 different billboard charts, all were completely unexpected. We got asked to open the first Boston Calling Festival and we just won two Boston Music Awards for Artist of the Year and Pop R&B artist, so it just feels good just to know that our hard work isn’t going unnoticed.
WEATHERBY: So your cover art… I’m gathering that you guys like women with nice butts, but who doesn’t?
MASSER: [laughs] Who doesn’t!
WEATHERBY: [laughs] Can you tell me a little bit about the cover art you guys chose?
MASSER: We work with branding designers called Factory 77 and MerchDirect, which is run by Justin Beck on Long Island; and we put out the first single, “We Can Roll,” and that was the art. Ultimately, his idea was to brand everything in that fashion, and we trust him. Obviously, there was a little bit of backlash, but we’re not misogynists; we all have mothers, sisters, and girlfriends, and if you know us personally and you know the music and the band, then you know a lot of what we do is tongue-in-cheek.
WEATHERBY: What would you say is the overall concept or mood behind American Love?
MASSER: I think the overall mood is just the spectrum of love and relationships. There are songs on the album that are about falling in love, there are songs about falling out of love and there are songs about lust, and I think it encompasses all of those emotions and all of those experiences when you’re in a relationship, getting into one or getting out of one.
WEATHERBY: You don’t have planned release date, but what can people expect from the album, American Dream?
MASSER: It’s going to be released, but we don’t know when. It’s completed, but we’re also working on a bunch of other material for 2014. That album is there, and it’s going to come out at some point, but we always keep creating new material and whatever we feel is best at the right time is what we’re putting out.
WEATHERBY: Do you have any other exciting collaborations coming up?
MASSER: We’re working with James Fauntleroy, who co-wrote Justin Timberlake’s new album and a few of the songs on Beyoncé’s album. His solo work is also amazing, so we’re really fortunate to work with him. We also did a project with a classic hip-hop artist, I don’t know if I’ll say who yet. There are a couple other things in the pipeline too.
WEATHERBY: You’re headlining a show at the Bowery this Friday; what’s a New York headlining show like for Bad Rabbits?
MASSER: It’s such a great venue. It’s just an awesome place to play. It’s a classic spot in New York, and New York is always so good to us, the people just go wild at our shows and have a lot of fun and we have a lot of friends here. It’s the closest city to Boston, so we’ve been playing here a long time and just developed a lot of relationships and it feels like a hometown show. Boston is our home, but this is definitely our second home.
AMERICAN LOVE IS OUT NOW. BAD RABBITS WILL PLAY THE BOWERY BALLROOM TONIGHT, DECEMBER 20. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, PLEASE VISIT ITS WEBSITE.