People that claim folk is dead in the Northwest have one thing in common: they have never seen the Bad Things play live. Formed from the ashes of Seattle underground favorites A Midnite Choir, the Bad Things have been performing in pubs, clubs, and your local Seattle sidewalks for the past year and a half. Combining elements of gypsy, folk, klezmer, hillbilly ballads, mariachi crooners, and a vaudeville theatrical aesthetic, the group has a reputation for drunken debauchery and feverish dancing at their live shows. The instruments are all acoustic: banjo, percussion, accordion, guitar and upright bass, and the group blends their old-fashioned style with a post-modern sense of black humor in the lyrics. Their name is derived from the Midnite Choir song, “When the Bad Things Come for You,” a twisted fable of being attacked by a demonic legion of supernatural beings in the night. “There’s definitely a punk influence just in the way we go about it, just not with loud guitars or anything,” notes Jimmy the Pickpocket, the group’s lead singer and accordion player. “It’s all based [in] different kinds of folk music—Mexican, Russian, tango and hillbilly. Now it’s become more of our own sound.
Recently the group underwent some line-up changes, including the departure of percussionist Miss Holli Decker and the addition of a conventional drummer, a saxophone player and a female vocalist. Decker, along with McBee, currently plays in the Felinas, a female-fronted acoustic project based out of Seattle. “I’d say in the beginning there were definitely certain personality dynamics that helped the band flow; over the course of the year those became different, and eventually started clashing,” Decker observes. “The Felinas do murder ballads on women killing men, and the Bad Things do murder ballads on men killing women, so it all works out in the end!”
In addition to regular appearances at the Nine Pound Hammer, the Beacon Pub and the Funhouse, it is not uncommon to stumble upon the Bad Things playing outside Westlake Center or at Pike Place Market in the spring and summer. “That’s what this music’s about, it’s meant to be played on the streets. When I traveled through Europe, the one thing I really loved was seeing the gypsy musicians and accordion players out on the sidewalks. There weren’t people just brushing them off; they were part of the culture. That’s something that doesn’t happen in America enough,” adds Jimmy. However, the group has limited their appearances on the waterfront and at Pike Place because of new permits that buskers and street musicians are now required to purchase before performing. McBee remarks, “The crowd you’re going to encounter on the street is so different from when you play a show; it makes you feel good to be a musician, especially when someone stops and pays attention. You’re just kind of naked out there.”
The Bad Things plan to record a full length album in May with producer Kearney Barton (known for his work with the Sonics), with intentions of releasing it on Silent City Records, their own label. Miss Holli Decker will appear on the album despite her departure from the group, and she’ll continue to collaborate with the Bad Things in the future.
The Bad Things play live next at Re-bar’s Clinic on Tuesday, April 20.