Bad Bad Hats’ Kerry Alexander on the band’s evolving sound and returning to Asbury Park

No matter goes in life, music follows Bad Bad Hats lead singer Kerry Alexander.

Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, she listened to Tom Petty in her mom’s car; and in her parents’ house, David Bowie, Yes and Marshall Tucker Band constantly played. At one point in high school, her dad got into Elliott Smith—“I was like, ‘What is this dad? This isn’t cool,’” says Alexander on the phone from Urbana, Illinois. “But then I realized, this is kind of cool.”

Alexander started playing guitar and writing songs when she was 13 years old, but she ran into a problem. Although she had plenty of other artists’ music to be inspired by, she had no fellow musicians with whom she could create songs of her own: “I never played with anyone else. … I had trouble finding fellow musically interested people,” Alexander says.

Trouble finding other musicians persisted into high school in Tampa, Florida, but when she attended Macalester College in the vibrant music scene of Minneapolis-St. Paul, things finally changed. 

“I wasn’t really tapped into the music scene in Birmingham, and I knew [it] was a scene, but I was young when I lived in Birmingham. I couldn’t really figure out the music scene in Tampa. A lot of bands don’t play Tampa and Birmingham since they are hard to get to,” Alexander explains. “Going to college in the Twin Cities was my first time getting to go indie rock shows. It felt like my musical world opened up by going to the Twin Cities.”

Music was everything at Macalester for Alexander, and she got exposed to a whole new world when she joined her college radio station. As it turned out, her problem of finding people who were interested in music was solved, too. 

“You get CDs from all the labels and you get to listen to all this music. I got to meet kindred spirits who were interested in starting a band and recording music. It was exciting to meet that group of people.”

She would meet her bassist and future husband Chris Hoge at Macalester, and later would team up with drummer Con Davidson. Bad Bad Hats, born out of her musical awakening in Minneapolis-St. Paul, was the first and only band that Alexander has ever been a part of. 

And for Bad Bad Hats being Alexander’s first act in music, it’s going pretty well. The band is currently touring in support of its new album Walkman, and have previously released two albums called Lightning Round and Psychic Reader.

However, it wasn’t always smooth sailing for Alexander as she faced challenges compared to her more musically established bandmates. 

“It was a little bumpy because I was learning everything for the first time,” says Alexander. “I think back to some of the earlier shows and I think those shows probably weren’t so good. But thankfully we have been having slow and steady growth for the band, and we have been growing.”

That growth is evident on Bad Bad Hats’ new album. While the band’s signature style of easy listening indie pop is still present, the band experimented with some country and rock sounds on Walkman.

Walkman also marked a new venture for the band as all three members of Bad Bad Hats contributed to the album in some form. “This was the first record where Chris, Con and I as a trio fully collaborated on the entire album,” says Alexander. “What I love about this album is that I can hear all of our ‘voices’ in the songs.”

Alexander was also inspired to experiment with her songwriting after touring with other bands. “I wanted to write some more upbeat rock songs since we have been touring with the Beths and Ratboys, and I loved their energy on stage,” says Alexander. “There’s a lot more of that energy on Walkman.”

One listen to Walkman and you can see the energy and experimentation in action, and it’s shown on the song “Milky Way.”

“I really wanted to write a song with a guitar-riff hook, and I had an idea for the chorus line about throwing out half a Milky Way,” says Alexander. “I thought it would be a nice metaphor for both how in old age I cannot finish a whole candy bar and a metaphor to not take for granted small, sweet, adventurous moments in life.”

Alexander also puts her English degree to use with creative songwriting on “Detroit Basketball,” a song partially inspired by Bergen County-based band the Front Bottoms.

“The first line I wrote was the second verse—‘threw a party and cried in the kitchen’—and I really liked that line. And I liked ‘position/kitchen,’ and I slant-rhymed. So I started to make a list of words that rhymed and Pistons came up, and I was like, ‘Oh, Detroit Pistons.’ It reminded me of the time we went on tour with the Front Bottoms, and the Front Bottoms went to a Pistons game the night before, and the next day they kept on saying this cheer ‘Detroit Basketball,’ and when I saw Pistons in the song I decided to name the song ‘Detroit Basketball.’”

Bad Bad Hats fans can check out “Detroit Basketball” and more when the band comes to Asbury Park on October 26 with a show at the Saint. Even though Alexander grew up in the South, and cut her bones musically in the Twin Cities, she looks forward to playing in Asbury Park.

“Asbury Park has been our zone,” says Alexander. “We love walking on the boardwalk, and going to Cafe Volan and getting coffee.”

The Garden State also holds two major music memories for her: Asbury Park is where the Bad Bad Hats met the Front Bottoms for the first time, and were invited to tour with them. “They were like, ‘We’re in a band called the Front Bottoms,’ and I was like, ‘Cool, I will look them up,’ and I looked them up, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’”

The other big NJ musical memory? Seeing the Spice Girls at the Prudential Center in Newark. “They did a tour when I was in high school and I jumped at the chance to get tickets. I ended up seeing them in Newark when I was 18, and it was incredible.”

Bad Bad Hats will be playing at the Saint in Asbury Park on October 26 with Fake Pockets. Ticket information can be found here