"I think the press focuses too much on our cover songs," says The Bad Plus' bassist, Reid Anderson. "Come to a Bad Plus concert or listen to one of the albums, and the majority of the music is original."
And what original music it is. Over the course of four studio albums, including the recent "Suspicious Activity?" The Bad Plus--which shares more, musically, with Radiohead than Wynton Marsalis--has carved out its own niche by taking a traditional jazz trio (bass, drums and piano) and adding a rock aesthetic.
You're also more likely to catch them rubbing shoulders with the likes of Wilco, Kings of Leon and My Morning Jacket (as they did at 2004's sweaty summer music fest Bonnaroo) than headlining a concert at New York's stoic Lincoln Center. And when it comes time to pick a cover tune, you won't catch them playing a tired standard like "My Funny Valentine." Think "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or the "Chariots of Fire" theme song.
It's enough to make you think these guys could--and would--cover anything. We asked Anderson if that was the case.
Ever meet a cover song that just didn't work for The Bad Plus?
We were doing [The Blue Oyster Cult's] "Don't Fear the Reaper" for a while, but it didn't really click for us. We love the idea, though.
Did your version have cowbell?
See, that was the problem. We couldn't cover the cowbell as well as our own instruments. We would have had to get a guest, and taking an extra person on the road just for the cowbell part would have been fiscally irresponsible. [Laughs]
Does naming your album "Suspicious Activity?" constitute suspicious activity?
Of course it does. [Laughs] At the end of the day, it's about the music, though. We believe in peace, freedom and human rights. It's safe to say, we're pretty liberal-minded individuals. And, I think, so is our audience.
You may now be a target of the White House's secret spying.
We might. You know, the name of the record comes from a sign you see on your way to the Minneapolis airport. For the last five years or so, the government has been trying to create an atmosphere of paranoia and a society where people are compelled to inform on each other.
If the White House was spying on The Bad Plus tour van, what would they find?
Oh, we'd be in a lot of trouble. I think they'd consider us quite subversive and dangerous. We disagree with what they're doing so passionately. We think they're truly corrupt and evil people.
That's pretty tame stuff. What else?
Oh, man. [Laughs] Do you work for the Bush administration?
I think they'd have a hard time finding a reason to put us behind bars. We're not doing anything that major. But, you know, once you start asking people to inform on each other, how far is it until you can't state your opinion about the president or the government? It's a very slippery slope.
If you could conduct secret, warrantless spying on someone, who would it be?
I'd really like to know what the government is doing. If we could spy on them and know what's going on behind closed doors--what kind of deals are being cut, how they justify the senseless sacrifice of human life for their material gain--that'd be worth finding out.
How noble. No ex-girlfriends then?
No. That wouldn't be that interesting. [Laughs] Too painful.
Matt McGuire is a metromix senior producer.Originally published Feb. 8, 2006.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times