Q&A WITH BIG SCARY
SHK took a break from CMJ marathoning to speak with the duo behind Australia’s latest Indie Pop export, Big Scary.
Australian duo, Big Scary, have been steadily making roads in the U.S. market. After building a strong fan base down under, embarking on a supremely successful sold out national tour and the release of their debut LP Vacation, the group has shifted their attention to the States. A series of successful shows at this year’s SXSW and a quick tour in the northeast allowed the band to finally gain momentum with Vacation here in the U.S. marketplace, followed up with a fall tour taking and the epic CMJ Music Marathon. We were able to sit down with the delightful Jo during the marathon (Tom wasn’t felling too good after, unsuccessfully, taking on a Reuben from Katz’s Deli, so he couldn’t join us). — James Fletcher
SHK: HEY JO, THANKS FOR JOINING US. HOW ARE YOU GUYS DOING AND HOW ARE YOU ENJOYING NEW YORK SO FAR?
JO: It’s really cool. We’ve had two really great shows, yesterday was like a surreal dream. We had a show at the Gramercy Park hotel and it was like the OC in there. We had a room and dinner on the terrace and we were like “this is not our life.” The crowd was really cool, as they were at Fat Baby. They’re genuinely interested in hearing your music, I feel.
IS THIS YOUR FIRST TIME AT CMJ? HOW IS IT GOING SO FAR AND HOW DOES IS COMPARE TO SXSW WHICH YOU ATTENDED EARLIER IN THE YEAR?
Yeah, so last march we did SXSW and we visited New York afterwards, so, we only had a really short time and didn’t get to see any of the city. This time we have 10 days. We have a few shows, one tonight and then Aussie BBQ on Saturday. We’re actually recording at Stratosphere on Sunday, we’re gonna’ get some soul singers in. It’s gonna’ be awesome!
WHAT ABOUT SETS, LIKE THE ONE YOU JUST DID, ONLY PLAYING TWO SONGS? I IMAGINE IT’S HARD TO GET INTO THE GROOVE AND REALLY SHOW WHAT YOU’RE ABOUT. ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU GUYS HAVE SO MANY DIFFERENT STYLES WITHIN YOUR SOUND.
In two songs it’s hard to portray that somebody who’s totally new because they’ll think, “What the hell did I just see… I don’t know if you’re a rock band or this pop band.” So in two songs it can be hard. Yeah we always try to do one keys and one guitar just to try to show that, otherwise people miss 50% of what we do. But I think it also makes a bit of an impact, I hope (laughs). I don’t know. With the higher volume of shows sometimes I get worried. Bears is already sick, (I call Tom Bears, there are too many Toms in our lives…) Usually he just goes crazy on tour and gets these red eyes and loses his voice, but that hasn’t happened yet. Now he is just genuinely sick, but he will be all right.
I SAW YOUR SET ON TUESDAY NIGHT AT FAT BABY, GREAT SHOW BY THE WAY. WHAT’S IT LIKE GETTING YOUR SET ENDED ABRUPTLY LIKE THAT WHEN SOMEONE JUST COMES UP TO YOU AND SAYS “THAT’S IT, OVER…”
Well that’s why we didn’t play Purple, but that’s alright. You’ve got to expect that and people probably have a super short attention span and they have to see so much music so really less is more, so it’s not really too bad. If you’re relying on your last song then you’re gonna’ struggle anyway.
WHO ARE YOU EXCITED TO BE SEEING HERE AT CMJ OR TO BE SHARING THE STAGE WITH?
Gramercy Theater on Saturday has the Brazilian band Bonde Dol Role, Theophilus London & Com Truise, and for me that’s like the stand out line-up, of the official line ups. I haven’t had a chance to look at all the parties that are going on and I’m trying to keep a rule because it’s so easy just to hang out with your Aussie friends and other Aussie bands. With a lot of the showcases we do we’re lucky because they’re sort of organized by some kind of Aussie interested party, so you’re always on the bill with some Aussies. I think, this is really cool but I do have to try and see new music.
THERE ARE A FEW AUSSIE BANDS PLAYING, WHICH IS GOOD TO SEE. ARE EVENTS LIKE CMJ REALLY IMPORTANT TO YOU GUYS AND YOUR PEERS IN TRYING TO CRACK THE US MARKET?
I think people are clueing on to that. I know some of Australia’s biggest bands — Powderfinger are a good example — where there is just this wall and you can’t leave the shores successfully for whatever reason. I think a lot of our contemporaries like The Jezabels, Boy and Bear and Cloud Control are leaving the shores. It’s not because we don’t like it, but you can only tour once a year in Australia anyways so it’s not like anyone misses you. There is such a limited market back home that you just have to put everything into finding some kind of niche market overseas.
WHAT ABOUT YOU GUYS? DO YOU HAVE PLANS TO MAKE THE MOVE OVERSEAS?
Yeah, I don’t know when it would come to the point when we think we would need to move overseas, or here (New York). The internet makes the world a lot smaller so if someone wanted us to come over and make it easier that would be cool, but we’re definitely focusing on starting fresh, from the very bottom, and just trying to establish some kind of market over here and just doing shows everywhere we can.
LETS TALK ABOUT VACATION FOR A BIT. YOU GUYS JUST RELEASED THE DEBUT ALBUM HERE IN THE U.S. AND INTERNATIONALLY. YOU MUST BE EXCITED, HOW HAS THE RESPONSE?
Yeah it’s cool. “I was telling Leslie (our publicist) and she was giving us updates on reviews that have happened in The States, and it’s so weird. I had literally just finished a ten hour shift back home, I sitting at my computer and then sent this nice review from across the world — a year later from the Australian release of Vacation — when we felt connected to it, so that’s really cool. It’s encouraging being here and meeting people face to face and hearing some Americans say, “Oh I listened to Vacation, I really like it.” It’s nice to know it stood out somehow to some people.
WHAT TOOK SO BLOODY LONG TO GET IT OUT OVER HERE? IT’S BEEN OUT IN AUSTRALIA FOR A YEAR NOW.
Well I think, at first, no label had been into releasing it really, so we had to do what we’ve done in Australia and do it independently. I think we were waiting to see who we could meet at SXSW and then from that releases always take at least six months. You want people to know its gonna’ happen and not just be like, “Hey, there is it” with no build up to the release.
THE RECORD IS A GREAT DISPLAY OF YOUR DIFFERENT STYLES WITH HEAVIER GUITAR TRACKS AND THEN REALLY DELICATE SONGS LIKE “OF DESIRE,” WHICH IS PROBABLY MY FAVORITE SONG. WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THAT TRACK?
I know that one. Tom basically, I don’t know how much I should say, but there was this girl that he kind of was in love with and couldn’t be with, and she was sending mixed messages. I actually know her really well so it was kind of… Not awkward or anything, but it’s funny when he writes these songs. Not that he sits you down and tells you what they’re about, but when I recognize different things I think, “Oh, it’s so weird…” [laughs.]
“GLADIATOR” IS DEFINITELY ONE OF MY FAVORITE TRACKS ON THE RECORD. THE VIDEO CLIP IS ALSO VERY INTERESTING, TELL US ABOUT THAT?
I love grunge and the great momentum that track has. So, I really love to play it. With the clip, we have these friends that do this weekly blog called “Podshow” in Melbourne, and we just approached them. They always make these really crappy, Tim and Eric style clips on their show so we said, “That’s what we want.” We’re happy to be in it and be made fools of. They said, “We can get high-definition cameras.” We were like, “No, we want this to look shit.” It’s so funny, on Youtube people comment and people are like, “WTF, is this seriously like the official clip? This is so shit!” Some people hate it and some people love it and we just thought this is exactly how we wanted it to turn out.
DO YOU THINK YOUR STYLE IS DISTINCTLY MELBOURNE? DO YOU THINK THE CITY HAS INFLUENCED YOU SOUND AND STYLE SIMILARLY TO SOME BANDS IN THE US THAT ARE DISTINCTLY EAST COAST OR WEST COAST BANDS.
Well possibly. A lot of it is quite introverted or has a cold indoor feeling. You don’t get that in Sydney because you want to be outside. I think the weather really has a huge influence on Tom’s writing, so that’s definitely true.
IT IS JUST THE TWO OF YOU PLAYING LIVE, SO HOW DO YOU FILL OUT YOUR SOUND? SOME SMALLER ACTS TEND TO SOUND HOLLOW WITH JUST THE TWO PEOPLE, BUT YOU GUYS DON’T.
It’s good that it gives us more of a chance to play with dynamics because when the two of us bring it right in and then explode… It’s so much different than what five people can do. The thing is though that we don’t want the two-piece thing to be a gimmick, so actually in the future with new stuff we’ve been writing, we might look at getting more people on stage. Still, up until now its been a fun challenge re-interpreting what we’ve recorded because when tracking we’ve never tried hard to just make it sound like two people. So we’ve just worked hard to re-interpret stuff for the live stage and Tom has some sweet pedals and effects.
SO YOU GUYS HAVE A NEW ALBUM COMING OUT?
We’re nearly done tracking. We’re just trying to lock down the mixer at the moment. People are really bad at e-mailing [laughs]. We’re just trying to choose who is going to be the right sound and then it will be ready before we set a release. From now on we want to release worldwide, and we’ve just released Vacation so we want to do it all — at the same time — sometime mid 2013-ish.
HOW ARE THINGS GOING BACK HOME ONE YEAR AFTER THE RELEASE OF VACATION?
It was really a moment of, “Oh god, this actually works.” We released it last October and did a small tour, we call it an intimate tour, in these beautiful venues like halls and churches and things like that. We waited six months so people could digest the album, then we toured again and every show was sold out beforehand and it really felt like that was our first financially successful tour. Suddenly it’s like, “Wow, this is actually working really well.” It was received really well, we got nice reviews and it was really cool and a big relief.
SO WHAT IS ON THE HORIZON FOR BIG SCARY IN 2013?
Yeah we’re working on finishing the album. We’ve actually just got a new studio. It’s not really “real” though, it’s a terrace house and we’ve got to sound proof it. We’ve built a room within a room and then we had to do a bit of roofing. There are literally neighbors next door and they weren’t happy when they heard a band was moving in next door [laughs]. So we’re gonna’ work on that. We’re also gonna’ have it as a recording studio so when bands travel through that are friends, then Tom can just record them. So we’ll be developing that and rehearsing with new people to see if that is going to work.
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