“Hope and passion are going to become less and less. I don’t want to call it a commodity… but as a resource, it’s running out faster than oil.”
Usually the moment when spring ends and summer finally starts is a joyful one, at least for most people. But if you ask Kacey Underwood, the Californian half of BIG DEAL, you might a different answer when it comes to explaining June Gloom. It’s not just the name of the group’s upcoming sophomore album but also a special weather pattern in Southern California that results in the cloudiest and coldest months in this area. Definitely nothing to uplift your mood. Although we and BIG DEAL’s other, British half, Alice Costelloe, might not fully understand this, it gives an impression of what to expect from the follow-up to 2011’s tender debut Lights Out.
Thus, in the middle of German spring NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION got the chance to catch up with the two musicians in the heart of Berlin, talking about their love for guitar music, the chemistry between each other and why society is heading into a quite hopeless direction.
I love your latest video “In Your Car”. What’s been the funniest or most bizarre thing that ever happened to you in a car or with a car involved?
KU: I was driving through the middle of- she’s been in a car like ten times in her life, she’s from London. But I was driving through the middle of woods one night and my car’s power kept turning on and off.
AC: That doesn’t sound funny.
KU: It wasn’t funny!
AC: She said “funny.”
KU: She said “strange” OR “funny.” You should listen. [laughs] It was totally bizarre because I was driving and I was having one of those moments when I was getting really into a band and listening to their music. The car kept turning on and off and I was wondering if I was going to get abducted by aliens. That’s how is starts.
Who directed that clip?
AC: It’s Danny Perez, he does all the ANIMAL COLLECTIVE videos. He sculpted the mask and then cast it, and his girlfriend made the fur costumes.
It was the perfect mix of the scary bunny from “Donnie Darko” and “Sexy Beast” bunny.
KU: We wanted it to be a mix of positive and negative things.
AC: Yeah, in our heads we saw these kind of, brown bear things, like scary and weird and Danny came back with these blue and pink things.
KU: I liked it, it was a good choice.
I was a huge fan of your debut “Lights Out”. What would you tell fans of the debut what to expect from “June Gloom”?
AC: Like Lights Out but better.
KU: The opposite I would say lowered expectations are the key to happiness.
AC: Really? I think we are much happier with this record, I think this is the record we really wanted to make, but whether it’s what people want to hear….
BIG DEAL: “There’s this resurgence in grunge fashion, but just the clothes, not the sound.”
This change, the new rhythm section with the drums, you didn’t have those on the first album. How did you guys get that idea?
KU: I guess it was just the way for the songs we were writing. We felt like we really didn’t want to make the first record again. I find that a really boring proposition anyway. We had such limited perimeters on the first record that they had to change. We are still writing the same way, as a pair, but before, but we always had the drums in our head. We lived in a fantasy world where we were rock band, some people shared our fantasy and some people saw us as a folk duo. We just didn’t want to have any confusion.
AC: This time around we felt like we didn’t want to have any limitations and be able to do whatever we went. I mean, we didn’t put synths on it or anything, it’s still pretty much guitars, drums, bass and vocals.
KU: We didn’t go crazy, there’s no gospel choir or anything.
No horn section?
KU: No horn section, no string sections. Still minimal.
But can we still hope for tender ballads like Homework or Swoon?
AC: We’ve still got a couple of quiet songs on there.
KU: It’s still sort of both extremes. Some more softer, ballad songs, as well as much harder songs. I think we went in both directions. Recklessly.
You recorded the whole album in just two weeks. Was that on purpose? Do you record an album differently within such a short time frame?
KU: The “why” is mostly economical. We were kind of thinking it would be fun to take our time and record in someone’s house. What was really important was to get a good drum sound. If we are going to be bringing that in, it’s incredibly important that it’s right and worth doing. We wanted to make sure that we recorded somewhere that people that we knew that would do a good job with it. That’s why we chose the studio we chose, but because it’s a proper studio, it costs money.
I also think having a really set time is really helpful. There are a lot of records I listen to where people have too much time. It ends up- it’s kind of like when someone spends too much time in their head. They go to say something to you, and it really only makes sense to them anymore. Whereas, if they had to think of something on the spot, it would come across as clearer and more concise. It forced us to be- we could only record just what was sufficient for each song. We recorded the way that we played them and that’s it. It was basically down to the minute.
I also read that you recorded in an old shipwreck. How did this idea come up?
AC: Everyone keeps saying that I think there must be a wrong translation. It’s a ship, a nice ship in real far East London, in a dock.
KU: It’s on the Thames.
AC: All the interviews we’ve had today have asked about the shipwreck. It’s a lighthouse on a ship, called a lightship actually.
KU: I didn’t even know they existed. There’s so much fog and limited visibility they would send these ships out to guide the ships coming in.
AC: But I thought the whole point of a lighthouse is that it would tell you where land is so you don’t crash into it so if you’ve got this ship in the middle of the sea …
KU: No, what it does the same thing, it goes to where it’s dangerous, where it’s shallow. To guide you through shallow areas. I am totally obsessed with lighthouses and I thought that was the most romantic beautiful idea to record in a lighthouse basically, on a ship.
Why are you obsessed with lighthouses?
KU: I don’t know, there’s something romantic about giving your entire life-
AC: To guide others.
KU: There’s something romantic and hermetic about it that I really like.
Your “new” musical style sounds way more edgy and reflects on rough lo-fi rock. Some compare it to the early 90s – some even to grunge. With other upcoming bands like PALMA VIOLETS do you see a certain tendency and longing from the audience for a return to that type music?
AC: We’ve just been talking about, how people have been telling us how out of fashion guitar music is, and how dated indie rock is. I think we kind of feel that a bit. Related to what’s doing well, mostly what’s on the radio is really eighties driven, poppy. There’s nothing offensive, nothing in your face. I don’t know if everyone’s hoping there’s a comeback but everyone seems kind of stuck in this eighties kind of music.
KU: In London, there’s this resurgence in grunge fashion, but just the clothes, not the sound. Wearing NIRVANA shirts but then playing the same kind of really boring eighties music.
AC: So the fashion is fashionable, but I don’t think the music is.
What was the first track or record that made you pick up a guitar?
AC: I’m not really a big fan of them now but the band that made me want to pick up a guitar was T. REX. I can’t remember if was Life’s a Gas or Cosmic Dancer. I hadn’t really heard anything like that before, and it also happens to be super easy to play.
KU: And Justice for All. Yeah, it was basically this and DEPECHE MODE. I mean, my family is so unmusical and I went to this guy’s house and he had a guitar and he played One by METALLICA and I was just blown away. My head exploded that you could- you could create magic that way. It just changed my world forever I thought it was pure magic.
That song and video was the reason I read Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Get Your Gun”.
KU: That video and that book are so disturbing.
BIG DEAL: “We do believe in building our own little fantasy world to live in”
One thing I really enjoyed about “Lights Out” was this romantic and somewhat intimate feeling within the lyrics and singing. It almost felt like a certain sexual tension between the both of you. You two have never dated. Is it easy to create that very specific feeling?
KU: I think a lot of that is down to the sonic – it’s when you just have the two voices and two guitars. You could be singing about just about anything and you would be looking for those meanings. We were also singing about that kind of stuff a lot of the time, it was pretty forward, I don’t think we were hiding much. The way we write has changed some. On the first record we would kind of write separately and put it together and now we write it all together.
AC: I think that also comes from we didn’t know each other that well. It’s kind of awkward to present someone with this thing that’s really personal that you’ve made. We used to just record a demo in Garage Band and send it to each other and the other person would record something over the top and send it back. Now it’s like “Here’s my song, deal with it.”
What are topics or things are currently a big deal for you. Certain artists, music or maybe political or social issues you think are important. I mean Margaret Thatcher just passed away.
KU: I’m not interested at all in Margaret Thatcher’s death. I wasn’t around then in England. Maybe if I was here when she was screwing up the country I would feel differently.
As far as an issue I would be curious what you think of is that life is just speeding up everywhere, but especially with music. Everything has increased: how much faster you can get your music out, how much faster you can get heard but it also means how many more people are making music these days.
KU: Do you know Ray Kurzweil, singularity? It’s a really interesting idea.
AC: I don’t know that.
Is it a philosophy?
KU: Yeah I guess it’s a super modern philosophy about the way technology is speeding things up exponentially every year. Obviously in music that really affects us, it affects people in a lot of different careers. The way things are speeding up, the way information is being shared basically there’s this idea it’s going to hit this mass critical point of something really, really far out happening.
Really? Like the Internet crashing?
KU: No, more like shared consciousness.
Oh, I have heard of this.
KU: I am a big fan of that stuff. I talk Alice’s ear off about all kinds of ancient civilizations and the pyramids
AC: I’m really bad about current affairs. I’m really purposefully ignorant.
KU: Alice tries to stay Zen. I’ll be like “Have you heard that horrible band?” and she’s like “No.”
AC: It really depresses me. If I go on YouTube and look up the bands that are doing well that are horrific it just makes me so upset. I might as well be living in Victorian times.
KU: I think we do kind of believe in building our own little fantasy world to live in, the best we can.
I just talked to a musician who mentioned that, to be creative she has to make herself bored; disconnect from society and the internet and everything.
AC: I don’t want to feel disconnected, I just don’t want to know about the bad things. [laughs] If there’s a band that we think are really great I will go watch them and see them.
KU: I do believe in not trying to keep up with everything as it’s happening. I have such a high level of distrust the way information is shared. Which is why I want to just be responsible for the information around me and learn about a band from a friend.
We always ask this: what do hope and passion mean to you?
AC: I am feeling a bit lacking in hope and passion recently, hard to define.
KU: It’s like gold. Do you know what I mean? There’s so little gold; that’s what makes it valuable.
AC: Nice analogy.
KU: Hope and passion are going to become less and less. I don’t want to call it a commodity… but as a resource, it’s running out faster than oil.
Why do you think that?
KU: Well hope, because of the way media works with constantly supporting negative things and that has a profound impact on people’s lives. Passion, being so stimulated all the time. It makes it harder to be passionate about things, it’s being over-stimulated and undernourished.
AC: Cheery thoughts.
KU: Obviously we are still here and making music and filled with hope and passion.
AC: We’ll feel better when we are playing.
KU: That’s the thing, when we are recording and making music and playing live, we are happy. When we’re sitting at home, not doing that, not so happy.
Interview by Kika Jonsson & Norman Fleischer.