This week we feature a favorite regional artist of ours, a groove-based rock band Big Something. These guys are based out of North Carolina, but they span the east coast as they consistently tour throughout the year. This year, they tracked their debut record, “Stories from the Middle of Nowhere” with Grammy nominated producer John Custer. We had a chance to get up with the band recently, and they filled us in on their action packed 2011 and also what’s in store for the new year.
So who is Big Something?
Nick MacDaniels – vocals, guitar, mandolin, and banjitar
Ben Vinograd – drums
Casey Cranford – saxophone, EWI wind synth
Doug Marshall – bass
Josh Kagel – keys, trumpet
Jesse Hensley – guitar, vocals
Quinn Ray – Lighting Designer, Tour Manager
Patrick Howard – Artist, Collaborator
Paul Interdonato – Lyricist
Tim Webster – Character Illustrations
Lee Crumpton – Manager
Chris Cate – Booking
we like to think that everyone in the audience is part of the big something too. our fans will often bring creative elements to our shows – live painting, light up balloons, glow stuff, costumes, bubbles. we love and encourage it!
You guys span so many genres that it’s difficult to categorize your sound. It’s clear through your music that you have lots of influences. Can you tell us about some of them and how you incorporate them into your original music?
Each member of the band comes from a totally different background. Our ages range from 21 – 38. And we each have a pretty different taste in music. It’s hard to imagine that our different backgrounds and influences work together, but somehow they do and you can hear how they come out in the sound. I really see the Talking Heads and Flaming Lips and the Gorillaz as big influences of mine, but I love all kinds of different music and can appreciate mostly anything. Doug is really into 80′s music and Rush, Josh likes Frank Zappa and Chromeo and Oingo Boingo, Casey is the hardest to pin down but he really loves Jazz, Miles Davis, Sly and the Family Stone, and 90′s alternative rock, Jesse really loves specific guitar players like Jimmy Herring and Jeff Beck but he’s pretty open to everything – he adds a nice Southern Twang to some of our songs. Ben our drummer really likes P.O.D. … a lot. Quinn is a born and raised Dead-head. Some of us love Phish. Some of us hate Phish. LOL. We are a pretty weird band.
How did the name Big Something come to be? We imagine it has something to do with your signature “BIG” sound.
It somewhat evolved from our old band name – anonymous. We were working on the new album with John Custer and we knew it sounded way different (and better) than anything we had ever done before. The line up had changed up significantly and it just felt like time to move on in a new direction creatively. We knew the CD had a BIG sound but it was hard to describe all the different styles of the band and sum it up with a name. A lot of the names we came up with we’re jokes. Big Something was basically a joke that grew on us the more we thought about it. Kinda self-deprecating but fun at the same time. We pitched the name to Custer when we were recording one day and he said “hell yea … I think you guys could rock the Big Something”
We know some band members have roots to the DC area, but you are now based in North Carolina. Can you explain how Big Something originated/evolved?
The band started in MD under the name “anonymous” as a 3 piece with Pat Howard (or Patches as we like to call him), our former drummer Hunter Gardner, and myself. I graduated from Georgetown Prep in 2003 and then went to Elon University in North Carolina where I met the rest of the guys in the current line up. Our new drummer Ben stepped in this past summer. He is from Bethesda and went to Whitman and we just happened to meet because our sister’s are good friends. I’ve known Paul Interdonato, who helps write a lot of the songs, since we were very young – we both went to Our Lady of Mercy as kids in Potomac, MD and we started our first band together in the 6th grade – he played guitar and I played drums. A few years ago we randomly started hanging out again when I would come home from NC to visit my family…. and we started writing lyrics and vocal melodies together. We just had fun with it and didn’t take it seriously – creating characters who found themselves in funny situations – and all of sudden – we had all these new songs that were completely new and fresh and fun to play and sing along with. Each song had a distinct feel and took on a life of its own. I think that was a big turning point for me personally and the evolution to Big Something.
Your instrumentation seems to have no limits. How often do you whip out the banjitar?
Man its been a minute since I’ve busted out the old Banjitar (a cross between a banjo and guitar) … but we did write 2 songs using the banjitar – “Graham County Courthouse” which is a twangy song about some mis-adventures in a local NC courthouse; and “The Moonshine” which is about an old man and his dog who go fishing and drink moonshine by a river every day. The banjitar gets used on the more Southern sounding songs (although lately I’ve been considering using it on a hip-hop, gorillaz-esque new song)
We also have a song called “Amanda Lynn” that I play with a mandolin… get it? The song is about a guy talking to a woman at a bar, but he can’t remember her name even though she’s told him 2 times already. The title of the song is the woman’s name, although he never figures it out in the lyrics of the song.
Casey, our sax player, also just started playing an electronic wind instrument – (EWI) – this thing adds a pretty cool electronic element to our sound – kind of like a saxophone that sounds like a synthesizer.
Josh is also a very versatile musician. He used to just be our trumpet player, but has gradually taken on a much bigger role playing both keyboards and trumpet. He’s help write a lot of parts to many of our songs.
“Stories from the Middle of Nowhere” is a favorite of ours over at Pick-Up. Can you elaborate a bit on the experience of working with Raleigh NC based, Grammy nominated producer John Custer? That must have been a pretty amazing experience.
Working with Custer was incredible. He was nominated for a Grammy for his work with a metal band Corrosion of Conformity, but he’s also recorded a lot of funk and straight up rock n roll. He really helped develop our ideas and sound with some crazy ideas of his own. Stuff like “okay now turn all of your distortion pedals all the way up and hit this one note and let it ring for as long as possible.” He’s really about trying to capture that 1 one magical take where even your mistakes can sound really cool. It forced us to grow as artists and musicians. He really gave the CD some balls. And once we had that album to use as a blueprint for our live sound, I think that’s when we really started to develop a legitimate live sound too. It was like getting schooled by a Rock n Roll Jedi master.
Can you tell us a bit more about the origination of Pinky, Big Something’s original character reminiscent of Robin Hood and Bonnie & Clyde? Are any of these tales based on real life experiences of band members or are they completely fictional?
Pinky is a completely fictional character although I’m sure he was partially inspired growing up near DC. He’s like a super-pimp, robin hood of the big city. A charismatic bad guy, who you want to love and identify with even with his flaws. He’s got no shortage of women, but there’s a special one in particular who he cares for the most. They plot the ultimate heist together and then make a run from the law with the money. He dreams of one day moving to country and “living off the land” with his woman. But – Pinky’s nemesis – Johnny Law – is hot on their trail. And Pinky’s woman has a secret plan of her own. She breaks Pinky’s heart, leaves him stranded and takes all the money behind his back…. The first song on the CD is called “Pinky Goes to Jail” – So, the CD starts at the end with Pinky in Jail … and then we go back and find out how he got there.
There are some other fun characters on the CD too – like the Saturday Night Zombies, and a mysterious Disco-Ball headed man waiting in the wings.
So what are the next goals for Big Something in 2012 and what can fans expect from you guys? Any new recording plans?
We are currently working on another CD with John Custer and really excited about it. Hoping for a summer 2012 release. Pinky will make a subtle return on this CD and his story will continue as he escapes from Jail and ventures down to Mexico. But there won’t be nearly as much emphasis on his story for this CD. We are exploring a lot of new themes both lyrical and musical. We’re really excited about the potential of these new songs. They are funkier and harder rocking songs that we have been playing live a lot already.
We will also be touring even more up and down the East Coast in 2012 as we make the transition from part-time to full-time band when Ben and Casey get done with school. We hope to play lots of BIG festivals and make the jump to some bigger venues too. We love incorporating art and creativity at our shows and we hope to take this to the next level in 2012. We want everyone to have as much fun as possible when they come see us.
We are very excited for your upcoming Washington DC show on January 28 show at Bayou. Can we expect another Huey Lewis cover this time around? Both Marty McFly and Pick-Up Productions love Huey Lewis!
Expect the un-expected! We love making each show a unique experience and busting out wacky covers that you would never guess we’d do. We’re currently working up a disco version of “Feliz Navidad” since it’s the most wonderful time of the year. I’m sure we’ll have something nice and saucy for the Jan 28th at The Bayou. We love playing there. Its always crazy!
Thanks for hanging out with us fellas, any last shot outs?
Shout out to all our family and friends in MD, DC, and VA. We love you and we hope to see you at The Bayou on Saturday Jan 28th!