It's been 14 months since The Badlees released their last album, "Love Is Rain." And as the band gears up for its second annual Christmastime show this Sunday night at The Woodlands, we thought it'd be a good time to catch up with the group's principal songwriter, Bret Alexander, to reflect on the year that was.
"Love Is Rain," which was the band's first album in seven years, received fine reviews in both the press and from fans. And Alexander admits he took a peek at what was being written.
"I tend to read what people say," he says. "Usually, if they hit a nerve, or say there's something wrong, or that something's not there, we probably already know. There are some people that just like you, no matter what you do. And that's nice. But sometimes, people like what you do for all sorts of different reasons. Maybe somebody says, 'I proposed to my wife six months after 'River Songs' came out, and that was the record we were playing to death when we were at the beach.' I can't compete with that in 2010. I can't compete with that memory. So I don't really try to. But the reaction to this record was awesome."
At the time of its release, Alexander had said he felt "Love Is Rain" was the band's best work. With more than a year to reflect, he still feels the same.
"Obviously, you always hope that your newest one is your best," he says. "And I still think, pound for pound, that it has some of the best songs we've ever written. I'm really proud of it. One review hit it pretty well on the head and said that it was almost like two records - and not just because I sang a few songs. There were two separate feels to this record, and in some ways, I think that's just the way it is with The Badlees. And I think that's OK. Or maybe it's not OK. I don't know. But that's just the way it is if we just go about the natural course of trying to make something that we like. There's going to be two sides to it."
Another new facet The Badlees unveiled over the past year was the idea of presenting special-themed shows. In October, for example, at the Mauch Chunk Opera House in Jim Thorpe, the band played its classic 1995 album "River Songs" in its entirety.
"We've been trying to do something a little bit unique for as many shows as we can, and we thought that would be a nice setting," says Alexander, who notes that another new wrinkle to some shows has been the frequency at which guest musicians have joined the band on stage. Guitarists Aaron Fink of Breaking Benjamin and Dustin Drevitch of Lemongelli have each played with The Badlees at various gigs, as has violinist Nyke Van Wyk. Alexander says he has enjoyed it, and that it's even changed the band in some ways.
"I've become a jammer, which I never was," he says. "To me, to have somebody like Dustin or Aaron on the other side of the stage - where you can just look out and go, 'You take one. Take a solo,' or have Nick there - a violinist extraordinaire - that's new territory for The Badlees. We were always a tight song band. Tight arrangements. Good songs. Good production. That was always what it was. It was never, 'Let's stretch out for three minutes here.' Now, we do it every night."
Tragedy also hit The Badlees in 2010. Marisa Palladino Donati, the sister of vocalist Pete Palladino, lost her 10-year battle with cancer last month. Alexander, who speaks very highly of her, says Palladino is doing as well as can be expected. "I guess he's doing alright," he says. "I've e-mailed him a few times. He says he's looking forward to playing. With something like that, it takes you a lifetime to never get over it."
Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the The Badlees first full-length album, "Diamonds In The Coal." Alexander, who says he's always wanted to remix the record, says it might be re-issued to note the milestone. He adds that a new Badlees album should also be out by year's end.
And as for this Sunday at The Woodlands, he says the band is ready to roll.
"We've played The Woodlands so many times, and we enjoy it," he says. "I go there and see other people play, and we're happy to be doing it. It's a good place to hang."