Somewhere in Allston, there’s an over-caffeinated barista/drummer bitching about Bad Rabbits. In less than a year — and with no album — the new-crack-swing pioneers have gone from nowhere to surfacing on every party flyer worth a damn. What resentful indie haters might not realize, though, is that Bad Rabbits didn’t pull sudden renown from a top hat. They’re the latest incarnation of Eclectic Collective, who spent half a decade headlining shows that your band opened. How does that taste with your bitter latte?
Abandoning a hard-earned rep isn’t easy, but for all the irrationality attached to suffocating EC once and for all, only the prospect of the name change left Salim, Santi, Sheel, Graham, and Dua queasy. They all wanted nothing short of the Michael Jackson treatment — which is to say, a full creative reinvention of their former selves, and a fresh sound that could inspire Bob Dole to dance the funky chicken.
“That was the biggest kick to the balls,” says drummer Sheel about the handle switch. “But we were ready to throw in the towel. We knew that everything we learned would roll into this.” Adds lead singer Dua: “It’s as big of a departure as I can imagine. A lot of people tell me that there are hints of EC, but I like to think of it as a whole new style. As far as who stuck around and who didn’t, it was a matter of dedication, and who was ready to ride until the wheels fell off. Some people leased the idea. We bought it.”
But if old EC habits were broken easily, finding new purpose proved tricky. The crew had smashed every kind of show: roots, rock, soul, blues, hipster laptop jamborees, and metal nights with Sheel’s other band, Irepress. For a while, they were even pigeonholed as hip-hop — in part because some members are black and former MC/trumpeter AfroDZak spit rhymes, but more so because they turned so many heads opening for major rap acts. Those included Slick Rick, whom they’ve backed on multiple national tours.
“Eclectic Collective was all over the place,” says Sheel. “At first, Bad Rabbits lacked focus — we wrote about 12 songs that were straight dark rock. But at the end of one of those songs — which is now called ‘She’s Bad’ — we wrote a hook that we knew hit something with this new funky sound. From there, we took that and focused it.”
Composition ensued, and so far the Rabbits have at least seven certifiable slam dunks, each reflecting the group’s affinity for the King of Pop and Michael Bivins while at the same time being grounded in live-rock æsthetics and hinging on Dua’s Santigold-sharp vocals. Their debut EP, Stick Up Kids, drops next month; it’ll be preceded by a star-spangled mixtape featuring Kid Cudi, Chester French, and Clinton Sparks.
Window dressing? Maybe — but their affiliations are telling of where Bad Rabbits are headed. “There’s been a void,” says bassist Graham. “A lot of people have been capitalizing on throwback ’80s music, but mostly on white music like the Cure and Tears for Fears — not black music from that era. New jack swing was a huge influence on us, as was Michael Jackson, of course. When he died, people were reminded of how great his music was. They’re ready for that type of shit again.”
And if you’re jealous of all the attention the band are getting for a “new” outfit (they just opened for Cool Kids, and on September 29 opening the Mayer Hawthorne show at Great Scott), you’ll hardly be happy to hear that they’re being escorted to the pinnacle of hipster cool by none other than Boston’s pre-eminent trend arbiter, karmaloop.com. In addition to hooking up gear, the retailer will promote the band through various outlets, until every black, white, and polka-dotted scenester from here to the edge of the Web hops in line.
“We’ve always made your neck snap," says Salim. "But now we’re on our business game, too,” adds Sheel, before Salim chimes back in: “It sounds generic, but we’re going after anybody who’s interested in having a good time. We think about the House Party movies, and how Kid ’n Play were always the shit and everybody wanted to go to their jam on Friday night. Anybody can relate to that — I don’t care if you’re an indie-rock kid or just a corporate cat who likes to dance.”
BAD RABBITS + REDD FOXX + CHESTER FRENCH + DJ CLINTON SPARKS at FASHIONABLY LATE | Liberty Hotel, 215 Charles St, Boston | September 17 at 9 pm | RSVP required: firstname.lastname@example.org | W/MAYER HAWTHORNE + BUFF1 + 14KT | Great Scott, 1222 Comm Ave, Allston | September 29 at 9 pm | 18+ | $12 | 617.566.9014 or www.greatscottboston.com