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Big Scary on the Aussie invasion overseas, hip-hop and the perils of road trippin’

Written By Sam Murphy on 05/09/2014

Kermit Cintron vs Walter Mathysse

 It may seem hard to picture in Australia but the Australian invasion in America right now is fiercer than ever. This month already, Iggy Azalea has entered the top 10 on the US charts, Courtney Barnett has played Jimmy Fallon and boy band Five Seconds of Summer have stormed the charts with their debut single. In addition to that, Elizabeth Rose, Flume, Jagwar Ma, The Preatures and Anna Lunoe have been touring the country, impressing widespread crowds.

Big Scary are currently touring the country with Indie-Electronic artist Say Hi, contributing to the mass attention directed at musicians downunder. The Melbourne pair consisting of Tom and Joe have moved from LA to New York where they played two shows.

They’re signed to Barsuk records which is the home of artists like Death Cab For Cutie and Phantogram and have just released their sophomore album Not Art in America.
Tom spoke to us from a van touring from New York to Philadelphia. Despite being plagued by terrible weather and a minor car accident, he managed to chat us through the overseas tour, hip-hop and re-designing the live shows with a smaller band.

the(in)terns: How did the show go in New York?

Tom: It was awesome actually, really good. It’s just a really cool venue with a lot of vibe and we felt really relaxed.

How have the shows been going in the US overall?

Generally really good. I think we’re a bit surprised at how well we’ve been doing but more in our own capacity as performers. I thought I would’ve got sick and lost my voice but I’m still hanging in there. I think we’re happy about that and we definitely haven’t had any train wreck shows. Some have been better than others, but it’s been really good so far.

Kermit Cintron vs Walter Mathysse

Is it odd going through the whole album release again overseas?

It kind of is. It’s not odd it’s more, we know the songs so well. So it’s different like that. When we were touring with them back home in Australia they were kind of fresh and new to us so there was a nervousness about playing them along with the excitement of doing something new. Now, we have performed them plenty but we also don’t have that nervousness like “am I going to remember what to play in this part” or “what happens here or there”. It’s more relaxing and we can concentrate on the performance on the night which has been really cool.

Is this your first time touring in the US?

I guess as a proper tour, yeah. We’ve come over and done CMJ and South by Southwest before and a few little showcase shows and so we’ve been to New York and LA but this time we’ve just driven from West coast to East coast then down South before we head back West. It’s a completely different thing really.

Have the songs developed in the live arena since the release of Not Art?

Absolutely. I think more out of necessity. Back home we had two other band members to help us out with new songs but over here we couldn’t afford to bring them over. We were thinking we would do it over here as a two piece but just by chance it worked out that Say Hi was available and his album release cycle was going to line up. The tour together was looking good and along with that he was willing to learn a few songs and play along during our set. We’ve had to strip the songs back a bit and kind of re-interpret them in different parts. Back in Australia we had the other guys doing quite technical things with more instruments involved but with Eric we only had a few days where he had to learn everything and we didn’t want him doing too much. We didn’t want him playing three different keyboards so we re-interpreted just for him to play on a bass guitar. I think we’ve been quite successful though.

Is it exciting to come overseas and see rooms fill up on the other side of the world?

Yeah absolutely. Two years ago we played the Mercury Lounge and it was pretty empty, but last night we had a full room. Having been there before, it struck us as something pretty cool. We’ve played a string of shows rights through the country. Some shows have been bigger than others but every show there’s been at least a fan or a couple of fans just there to see us. It’s cool that we can make music in Melbourne, Australia and someone overseas has heard us and loves the music enough to want to pay money again just to see us.

Are you finding you’re encountering lots of Australians over in the US?

Yeah. I guess it’s like even when you’re travelling you tend to bump into Australians wherever you go. It was nice to bump into Courtney [Barnett] and her guys. We toured together back home and so that’s how that friendship started. She’s doing so well over here so it was cool to see them and give them a hug before they headed off to the UK.

[Tom interrupts the interview]

Sorry, this weather is insane. It’s seems to be getting worse and worse. Jo just got out of the van because this guy just pulled up and slammed his door into the van.

Is everything okay?

Yeah, Jo is inspecting the damage. Sorry to interrupt.

How did it all come together with Barsuk records?

It’s something that initially started from connections we built from our early trips in 2012. We made a really good connection with a music lawyer based just outside of New York and once we got him on board he started working on getting us out there and doing his thing amongst the labels out of our sights. It was handled by a manager and we were back home. And then we got an email through that Barsuk had heard the album and loved it and were keen to do something with it.

Are you writing and recording over here?

We had every intention to. Jo and I had a writing session a few weeks ago and we had a bunch of cool ideas so I bought my iPad over and put GarageBand on it. But time just seems to be swallowed up on the road.

Are you finding it’s harder to break the US than it was in Australia?

It’s hard to tell. Nothing ever really happens as suddenly as it appears on the outside. It might seem from someone watching us on the outside that this has happened quickly but it’s never really the case. Jo and I have been playing together for seven or eight years so even in Australia we’re still an up and coming band even though we’ve been playing together for that long. Over here it’s kinda the same. It’s a slow but steady thing for us. Things are definitely moving in the right direction and slowly which I think is a healthy thing. The Barsuk guys are in tune with that. They want to do things organically and do things when the time is right. It’s a long term thing and it has to be for it to work.

I wanted to know if you actually think Hip-Hop sucked in 2013, as alluded to on Not Art?

That tracks actually a reference to another similarly named track. It’s a nod of the hat to an artist who influenced our sound on the Not Art record. It’s not a reprint action of our feelings towards hip-hop. Hip-hop production was a really big influence on the sound of the album and how we approached recording and arranging. It’s definitely not how we feel. Hip-hop has been a new discovery for me personally and I think it’s the most exciting genre in terms of production.

I thought the drum loop on Luck Now was reminiscent of that sentiment. Were you trialling new production techniques on the record?

Yeah absolutely. Production is something I’ve been getting into and we were keen to try new things. When the album was being made we had a whole lot less time together to play because of other commitments. And so it had to be made in a different way than the first record. We didn’t have the same time to write and then go into a studio. We did it on the fly.

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