Posted by Andrew
Open mic nights are interesting. A lot of what’s played is good, but nothing mind-blowing or eyebrow-raising. It’s a great platform for an artist to perform live without the pressure of an actual show, to be able to hone their skill while keeping the bar safe from jukebox trolls. But every once in a while you hear a band that actually stands out, that gets the crowd into it. This is how I became introduced to Bad Bad Meow. Originally from North Carolina, drummer Sarah Sydow, singer/guitarist/evil genius Alen Khan and an ever-rotating cast of characters have been kicking around the Chicago scene for the past couple months. If you drop by the Gallery Cabaret on a Sunday night, odds are you’ll see them perform. More interested in a full-length set? Check ‘em out at a free show this Saturday, October 16 at the Mutiny opening for the Pear Traps.
I had a chance to talk with Sarah about her musical bond with Alen, silly band names and Meg White.
WCR: So you don’t have anything recorded right now...
Sarah: Well, we’re still in the process because I just got up here at the beginning of August. We have 20 songs that we did, because Alen writes really fast. I always have to be careful what I say around him because next thing you know he’s going to turn it into a song. We were having a conversation about something that will remain a mystery, and I was like, “Al, write me the song ‘Touch it Where You Touch It’” because we thought that was so funny. The next day, he’s like “I got it!” and it’s quite the local favorite here at Gallery Cabaret. We’ve got a bunch of females that scream for it.
There seems to definitely be a sense of humor within the band.
Absolutely. I think that’s one of my favorite things about being in this band. When you get a bunch of musicians that are really good together, and you can just absolutely have fun with it. We take ourselves only half seriously. It’s just life. It’s just music.
You all just seem to be very casual. 'This might happen, this might not happen, no big deal either way.’ Does that translate into the songwriting process as well?
Yeah, dude. Al is like an evil genius. His brain is just always going.
Quick backstory: We met in New Bern, North Carolina. He’s from Charlotte, I grew up in New Bern. He just happened to move there. I was running the bar back home and started an open mic. Al and his buddy Frank moved down there, me and my best friend who was my long time bass player, we’re like ‘this guy is awesome, he’s crazy, this is fun.’ So we just all connected. Played at open mics for two years. And then me and Alen went to a Waffle House one time. It was the most we’d ever hung out at one time. Bonded over a waffle sandwich. He moved to Chicago in November of last year and was trying to get me to move ever since. I came to visit in June, by the third day I was sold on it.
When I was running that bar, it was like 5 o' clock on a Friday night and the band canceled, so I had just randomly texted Al, and I was like ‘Hey man, I was going to pay them $500, I’ll pay us $500 if you think we can play all night.’ And it was only me and him and we played for four hours. I had never heard any of the songs except maybe a dozen that we had played at open mics and we just went for it. He and I just have this weird synergy with each other.
Any reason Alen chose Chicago?
He kind of fell in love with it, too. You know, we’re grownups, we’ve got our regular jobs. He was working for US Cellular at the time. I think he ended up coming up here and same thing. I don’t know how anyone couldn’t love Chicago. I’m from New York and we lived half an hour outside New York City and I’ve spent time in Los Angeles, but there’s no city like Chicago.
So is Bad Bad Meow the final band name?
Oh man, we were going back and forth with band names. Back in the day it had been Perfo and then for awhile we were the B-Sides, but then there was a couple bands that had the B-Sides, so we scratched that, we were the Slapchops and then we were going to be Always the Bridesmaid. Then Alen had ended up having this conversation with this girl about being allergic to cats and I remember he texted me, I was on the way to the friggin post office and he sent me the name, and I laughed so hard. It was the stupidest name ever, I loved it. Our slide guitarist [Chris] hates it [laughs] so we knew it was perfect. It was just one of those names you don’t forget. You should hear the album names we come up with.
Care to divulge any?
[laughs] The funniest one is, uh, "Pussydoodle." Obviously just hearing the name Pussydoodle conjures all types of mental images, I think that’d be hilarious. "Dirty Happiness" is another we’ve kicked around. Chris hates Pussydoodle, which of course makes me think it might be perfect.
So you’re recording right now. What’s the timeline for that, when do you anticipate a release?
It’s getting pretty close. We knocked out the drum tracks pretty quick. I have my company 8th and Grace Recording. We have a big practice space at Music Zone - we do all the drum tracking and vocals there, all the live recording. We’re doing all of the cello tracks and all that stuff at our apartment, which is driving our neighbors crazy, but it sounds really good. They can deal with it, our lease is up in a month anyway. By the end of the month I don’t see any reason why it’s not gonna be at least, if not done mixing, really close and then shoot it off to get mastered.
What would you say are key influences?
Alen listens to a lot of indie stuff. I don’t really listen to this kind of music at all, which is kind of fun for me. I listen to everything from A Fine Frenzy and Adele to contemporary Christian rock to Angels and Airwaves and the Used and Taking Back Sunday. Alen listens to the more obscure stuff. We get compared to the White Stripes a ton. I think because we’re a duo with a chick drummer. No offense to Meg, but I’d smoke her [laughs]. We hear that Al sounds like the guy from the Violent Femmes a lot and we’ve been compared to the Pixies.
Hold on, that’s Alen [answers phone]. What are you doing? I’m talking to Andrew and he’s recording me talking to you on the phone right now. Want me to put you on the speaker phone? You wanna sound all sleepy and creepy? Where are you at? Get on the train and bring your ass. Oh, you’re still there. What time do you get off? [laughs] Hold on, let me put you on speaker phone, because that was funny. What did you say?
Alen: I said I’m glad that I’m not there and it's you doing this and not me because I’m really bad at those kind of things. Have you started yet?
Sarah: Yeah, we’ve been talking for half an hour and drinking a pitcher of PBR. We wanna drink Old Style!
Alen: I should be there.
Sarah: You should bee!
Alen: So what are you talking about?
Sarah: I said that I would smoke Meg White! [laughs]