College bands shapeshift as swiftly as Gremlins devouring a midnight feast. It’s only natural. Social groups change, people develop new passions, lose interest in old ones, transfer schools, lose themselves, find themselves anew; nearly every aspect of a 19-year-old’s life exists in a constant state of flux. What’s amazing, then, is how quickly some college bands not only develop a sound and an identity, but solidify that into a reputation, regular gigging and an avid fanbase. Just look at Bad Lab.
The Seacoast-based hip-hop band — featuring Anthony LiPetri, on guitar; Nathan Marks, on bass; Jordan Grant, on drums; and Nick Paris, aka Baby Spoons, rapping — formed only last October, and already have a sound, style and ethos briskly losing oxygen in a stranglehold. That’s probably because all four members, all under 23 years old and students at the University of New Hampshire, possess rare ambition and a cavernous musical knowledge. Marks and Grant both play in a hodgepodge of bands of varying genres; LiPetri, the youngest member, displays precocious control on the guitar; and Paris, as MC, wields a gravitational stage presence and deep reverence for the craft. A student of ’90s New York hip-hop, the cheekily-named Baby Spoons combines Action Bronson’s wit and whimsy with the intense lyrical onslaught the Golden Ages were known for. You can find him breathlessly blurting out multisyllabic rhymes, bantering with the crowd in between songs, delightfully tip-toeing the line between playful, thoughtful, youthfully ignorant and hilariously brash, all scattershot over jazz-influenced, loop-style instrumentation via his backing band. And although they’re relatively green, and undeniably jocular while performing, they take their craft seriously.
“When people make the decision that, ‘Hey, tonight I’m gonna come together with my friends, maybe get some drinks going, maybe get some smokes going, and I’m gonna go out and see a show,’ I want that show to be the best goddamn show they’ve ever seen,” Paris says. “It’s up to the performers. They have a job. It’s fun to do, but at the same time, if you’re gonna do it and you think it’s fun to do, you better do it right or not do it at all. If I’m not sweating halfway through the first song, I’m not doing something right.”
Bad Lab stopped by New Hampshire Magazine’s office in June to perform three songs for our Cubicle Concerts series. Watch their performance below and follow them on Instagram (@badlabband) for updates on where to catch them live. Video created by Alex Kumph (@akumph) and Michael Dowst; sound engineering by Ben LeBeau.
New Hampshire Magazine: If we can imagine your style as a reanimated Frankenstein monster made up of the body parts of your influences, who would be the arms?
Nick Paris: I feel like we need a jazz guy.
Jordan Grant: Nate Smith is the arms for me personally, but I can’t say that for everyone here.
NP: I think Wes Montgomery is the arms, straight up. How do you guys feel about that?
Nathan Marks: That sounds about right, yeah.
NP: The inventor of lo-fi (laughs). Maybe Joe Pass.
JG: Nah, I like Wes Montgomery.
NP: Okay, Wes Montgomery. Yeah. He’s a sick jazz guitarist.
NHM: Why the arms?
NP: Because…uh…you know…he played guitar with his f*****g arms (laughs). Oh yeah, he played everything with his thumb. Well, also, that’s what grips you — you hear that riff, you hear that guitar lick and that’s what grips you, that’s what draws you in. You see a hand reaching over and f*****g fondling your nuts. Sorry (laughs).
NHM: Jazz plays a big influence on your guys’ sound though, huh?
NP: Definitely. Very much jazz influenced. Essentially it’s like, I love hip-hop, I love ’90s hip-hop, I love ’90s New York hip-hop, and literally no other type — specifically ’90s New York hip-hop — and in that is a lot of sampling and a lot of chopping up old beats, old jazz sections. So essentially, for Bad Lab, we’re just playing live samples.
JG: Our heart is ground beef ’90s hip-hop R&B.
JG: Our heart is ground beef of ’90s hip-hop.
NHM: It’s chopped up (laughs).
NP: I mean, yeah I guess, (laughs), but all of our music’s original. We’re not really sampling, but we’re definitely inspired heavily by old jazz tracks.
NHM: You’re playing loop-style jazz.
NP: What people do on the computer, we’re doing live…in front of people…sweating…on strings.
JG: Ain’t no copy and paste.
NP: Yeah, ain’t no copy and paste. We’re in the f*****g trenches working our asses off.
NHM: Who’s the torso?
NP: I’d say KRS-One. KRS-One be like, “Woop-woop, that’s the sound of the police!” That guy. He’s a crazy MC. He has such a presence onstage. He walks around a lot, just, like, getting up in people’s faces and he’s super commanding with a booming voice, and I love that, I respect that. He’s not crazy well-known but in the hip-hop community he’s very well-known, he’s a legend. My boy KRS-One. Not my boy, but like, big-ups KRS-One.
NHM: He was at the forefront of hip-hop, right? Late ’80s, early ’90s?
NP: Yeah, he was late ’80s, early ’90s. Boogie Down Productions, he was BPD, and then with that he grew more with the Brooklyn scene. He got Mad Lion on his label…I love KRS-One, he’s been doing a lot. He’s collabed with a lot of people. He’s important to this group and to my belief of what rapping, hip-hop, should be.
JG: Can we make Nas the head?
NHM: Well we’re gonna do brains and eyes.
NP: Oooooh, okay. Brain: Action Bronson. The brain is Action Bronson. For real. He has influenced my lyrics very heavily. The eyes? I don’t even know. Lauryn Hill? Erykah Badu? Something like that. Jill Scott? Nah, I don’t like her (laughs).
NHM: You don’t like Jill Scott?
NP: Nah, she’s alright. I like Jill Scott, I like Jill Scott, I take that back. Mary J. Blige. That 2000s R&B. That’s definitely the eyes. Be looking fresh. Style points. That’s what I want to go for. If that makes sense.
NHM: What’s your favorite Action Bronson album?
NP: “Only for Dolphins” is great. “Cocodrillo Turbo” is also great. “Lamb Over Rice” is awesome. “Blue Chips 7000” is great. I would say “Only for Dolphins” is my favorite, though. It’s a very easy listen. Although I love Action Bronson, with “Mr. Wonderful,” I get it. He was trying to be very commercial with that, I understand. Not my personal favorite but there’s a lot of good tracks on that album. “White Bronco” is great. I love Action Bronson. He’s hilarious.
NHM: I just listen to him and laugh. The things he says are so ridiculous.
NP: A lot of the inspiration goes there. He just says cool s**t that he’s done and I like saying cool s**t that people aren’t expecting to necessarily hear. At a lot of our shows, the most entertaining part, aside from the show, is the commentary. I like to do a lot of commentary in between songs and just say random s**t, kind of like stand-up, just say jokes, try to get people laughing, moving, point people out randomly in the crowd, describing them, blaming stuff on people in the crowd. Being involved, trying to keep everybody on their toes (laughs). That’s a big deal for me.
NHM: It’s a different experience when performers don’t go back and forth with the crowd.
NP: Definitely. If I’m not sweating halfway through the first song I’m not doing something right (laughs).
JG: There’s definitely a huge disconnect that some bands can have where they don’t go far enough to connect with the audience. I was actually talking to a friend about this today, I believe that, to fully complete the act of making music, you need audience participation in there. You need that direct feedback and that response. You need those people moving. If that’s not happening, then you’re not fully musicking.
NP: When I see that people aren’t paying attention, people are just talking to each other, no one’s moving, it sucks energy out of me. It makes me be like, “What the f**k is going on?” For real. I’m like, “Woah, I’m losing power.” It’s terrifying. Scary.
NHM: You want it to be a give-and-take, where they’re responding to it.
NP: I say it at pretty much all my shows: You give me that energy and I give it right back, which is very true. You scream in my face, I will scream louder.
NHM: I think all we’ve got left is the legs.
JG: F**k you.
NP: I don’t think it’s Nas. I don’t think it’s Nas.
JG: So you’re gonna pick all the guys?
NP: I’m not gonna pick all the guys. What was the forefront of this band? What was it built upon? It was built upon Rage Against the Machine, A Tribe Called Quest, I guess Jungle Brothers-esque.
NM: Earlier jams we were doing a lot of A Tribe Called Quest.
NP: We can do Tribe. Yeah. Tribe. But at the same time, Rage Against the Machine — they don’t do jazz, they don’t do anything like that, they do live band rap, and one of the first songs we did was “Mack Truck.” That’s super Rage Against the Machine-y. But it’s also super Das EFX-esque, because I say, “Bri-bri-bri-bring it back,” you know. Stuff like that. I don’t know. I guess it’s a mix. Tribe: left leg. Rage: right left. Agreed?
NP: Alright. The EXPLETIVE is Nas (laughs). Fine, it’s Nas.