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Credit: @phillipquinn

Bad Snacks’ electronic journal entries

In life’s messier moments, it’s only natural to seek out a place of comfort. On her new ‘Home Music’ EP, the violinist and producer known as Bad Snacks tells the story of how she regained a sense of belonging through soaring instrumentals and a soothing spin on upbeat house

There’s something inherently comforting about the “This Is Fine” meme. You know the one, where the dog is smiling numbly into the abyss, enjoying his coffee in a flame-engulfed room. He and his little hat are absurd reminders that when life collapses around us, we have no choice but to move forward. And more often than not, everything eventually falls into place. There was a time not that long ago when Jesse Hanson, the violin-slinging artist better known as Bad Snacks, related hard with that cartoon pup.

“I don’t want to sound too ‘woo woo’, but I finally listened to my therapist when she was like, ‘home is wherever you make it, home is wherever you are’ — she really challenged me to think about how home is inside of your body,” she tells DJ Mag on a call. “It literally wasn’t until I didn’t have a home — when I literally didn’t have a mailing address — that I thought, ‘ok, I guess I’m just here now.’” Her house didn’t literally burn down, but life as she knew it certainly did.

Listeners will hear that story distilled across the five lush, string-laced tunes, which together make up the ‘Home Music’ EP. In Bad Snacks’s Nettwerk Music Group debut, the instrumentalist, vocalist, and producer explores the titular concept with ample emotion, and lighthearted moments, too. Brimming with deep and groovy textures, the EP marks a departure from today’s brand of pumping, four-to-the-floor house — it’s much cosier, in both an audible and philosophical sense.

“On a production level, I wanted to explore that centralising theme of ‘comfortable’ house music — it’s like that sparkly thing without being too overly shiny,” the self-proclaimed homebody shares of its foundations. Defined by an overarching warmth that comes from Hanson’s hazy vocal treatments and deftly-filtered instrumentals, ‘Home Music’ is a collection that will make fluffy slippers sway between warm sips of chamomile tea, but much like the “This Is Fine” dog meme, it’s propelled by a deeper meaning. “The EP was written over a pretty tumultuous little chapter,” Hanson reveals (though the bittersweet lyrics scattered throughout make that much abundantly clear.)

Photo of Bad Snacks wearing a pink and blue jumper against a pink background

“Honest to God, if I hadn’t gotten into production and found a way to make violin work for the music that I really resonate with, I don’t think I would still be playing violin.”

When DJ Mag catches up with Hanson, she’s back in Los Angeles — the city where she fell in love with DIY beat scene spaces. She's reclaimed a physical address, but such details are always inevitably subject to change. In the past seven years, Hanson has lived in nine different residences across four states, and that’s not including the temporary hotel rooms she’s inhabited on the road, most notably when she served as direct support on LP Giobbi’s 2023 ‘Light Places’ tour.

The “tumultuous” period she refers to came before that run of shows, when the musician departed LA and returned to her Boston hometown. After years on the opposite coast, cutting her teeth in instrumental hip-hop and lo-fi beats, the Covid pandemic left Hanson yearning to be closer to family. She accepted an assistant professor role in the Electronic Production and Design department at Berklee College of Music, not far from where classical music became the driving force of her youth.

“It’s funny, I thought I’d feel a lot more at home in Boston than I actually ended up being,” she explains. “I was trying to have what felt like a more stable, grounded life, and it fell apart — every aspect of it, fell apart.”

Revisiting Boston as an adult was bound to be different. From three-and-a-half years old, Hanson’s life was consumed by violin lessons and musical curriculums. "I’m the youngest of five and my mom was like, ‘let’s experiment with this one,’” Hanson laughs. “I think she really wanted to just see it through, this approach of what happens when you instil discipline — that was kind of the goal — but also she wanted her kid to have a skill.”

A strict practice regimen and years of isolated homeschooling led to complex feelings about her craft. “I refer to my relationship with the violin as a familial one, where I love it so much — it’s never gonna leave me, it’s a part of me... But I was never in love with it. Production is my love,” she says, before showing off the synth processor she uses to manipulate the strings that weave through her buoyant singles and experimental mixtapes (for a real treat, listen to 2023’s ‘Technicolor’, a string-ensemble piece with grandiose swagger that harks back to Hollywood’s gilded era.) “Honest to God, if I hadn’t gotten into production and found a way to make violin work for the music that I really resonate with, I don’t think I would still be playing violin.”

Photo of Bad Snacks performing with a violin on stage
Credit: @sar.raw_

It wasn’t the professional job that contributed to chaos (in fact, working at Berklee marked a full-circle moment — Hanson planned to enroll there about a decade prior with a partial scholarship but was ultimately unable to pursue her degree due to financial restraints). Rather, it was a series of unfortunate events that led her to question where she belonged. Upon second immersion, Hanson’s first home base just didn’t feel like home anymore. She struggled to reconnect with old friends, or forge a new community that fit. And when her domestic partnership ended abruptly, she lacked actual shelter to boot. 

“A lot of the EP ended up being these sonic journal entries, and some of them are quite literal, others a little bit more abstract,” she explains of compositions that tackle personal topics such as heartbreak and surrendering to the unknown.

In ‘Home Music’, Hanson has constructed a place of refuge, built through healing, humor, and personal growth. The intro, ‘trustfall’, is a swirling 120BPM melter driven by subtle vocal chops and arpeggios built from an unexpected source. “That stutter that you hear at the beginning, I did a bunch of harp pads and threw them through a granular delay to create this huge washed-out texture — I’m a really big texture person,” she says, her eyes lighting up similarly to how they do when she speaks of inspirations like Flying Lotus and the late J Dilla. Awash in rich, rhythmic melodies, some selections are seductive, others are just downright silly. Take ‘...anyway’, for example, which samples a particularly inarticulate speech from the 48th President of the United States.  

“There’s a little bit of that flirtatious element, lyrically I’m saying, ‘meet me on the dancefloor and we’re gonna create this little vibe.’” She doesn’t get far in her description, before chuckling. “But the funny thing is, it makes it sound like I’m trying to mack on Joe Biden.” To include that clip, Hanson says, was as much for comic relief as it was an effort to remind herself that dance music doesn’t have to be so serious. The bubbly cut ‘alright, ok’ (which spotlights an adorable cameo from Hanson’s seven-year-old cousin), echoes that sentiment and embodies ‘Home Music’’s central message in two simple words. “I realized that it’s like a self-gaslighting anthem, which somebody told me is called ‘gaslamping’, this idea that you’re just lying to yourself until it becomes true. That’s the whole idea behind ‘I’m alright, I’m ok,’” she says, mimicking the song’s cadence.

The EP’s closer, ‘like u do’ is a collaboration with R&B vocalist and Philly beatmaker chromonicci., and it is among the collection’s most sentimental. What began as an open letter to Hanson’s ex plays back like a vulnerable conversation about romance’s fleeting embers. It marks the first time Bad Snacks brought a featured artist on her production — a fortuitous circumstance, given that the “nicci bounce” originator was facing similar struggles at the time of its genesis.

“I mix everything myself, so to hand over stems — especially stems that I cared about so much — and to have them reciprocated with such care and artistry, I really can’t express how enjoyable of a process this was,” Hanson offers of working alongside her friend.

Photo of Bad Snacks wearing a pink and blue jumper against a pink background

A four-minute and 22-second symphony filled with emotional twists and an avalanche of distorted strings, ‘like u do’ is a “bit of a doozy” (her words, not ours). “The outro is just so dramatic,” she shares of the EP’s big finale. “It’s almost this kind of Radiohead-ish sequence that happens — just this huge, insane thing. But where it comes together, it just makes sense.”

Like Hanson’s own journey, ‘like u do’ culminates in a reverberating calm after the storm. After life’s messiest moments, the tour offers rolled in. Hanson departed Berklee on good terms after two semesters (“It was the softest quit of my life,” she adds), and she shipped her belongings off to a friend’s spot in Oregon, before eventually relocating back to the West Coast herself, with fresh perspective in tow.

We can’t say for certain what happened to “This Is Fine” dog after his house burned to a crisp, but, we expect he’s thriving. He had the right attitude all along. It took Hanson a little longer to reach this same conclusion, but it’s all good. “For me, the project really has been just a huge lesson,” Hanson says in a satisfied tone. “I’ve come to the realisation that home is wherever you are, and that things really are going to be okay.”

Want more? Read DJ Mag’s list of the eight emerging artists you need to hear in April 2024 here

Megan Venzin is DJ Mag North America’s Deputy editor. Follow her on X @Meggerzv

Pics: Phillip Quinn (@phillipquinn)
Live pics: Sarah Northrop (@sar.raw_)