Live & Listen's 'Bands You Should Know': BIG Something July 15, 2016 01:38
Photo by Jordan August Photography
Live & Listen is pleased to introduce a brand new weekly feature known as Bands You Should Know. This new concept will highlight a different band each Friday with an interview, general background information, current happenings, as well as videos and audio from each band. After nearly two years of various interviews and artist spotlights, we feel that installing a consistent weekly feature is the perfect move as we progress forward.
For our third edition of Bands You Should Know, we sat down with Nick MacDaniels (guitar/vocals) of BIG Something, a North Carolina-based band who is making major noise across the country. Thanks to the power of SiriusXM JamOn, we were introduced to this band in early 2015, and they have been a mainstay on our personal playlist ever since. BIG Something blends elements of rock, funk, pop, reggae, and even hip hop, all while providing truly compelling lyrics and a distinct level of improvisation. If you're in the market for a band that offers the total package, today is your lucky day.
Interview by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
BIG Something formed in North Carolina in 2009, and it didn't take long for things to really start clicking. Tell me a little bit about how everything came together, and how things have progressed since.
Nick: Well, I grew up in Maryland but ended up going to a small school in North Carolina called Elon University. That’s where I met a few of the guys in the band. We played in another band called Anonymous, or The Anonymous Band, for a little while. We got started as a college band and played every week at a local bar. Slowly but surely, we met a few of the other guys, and that’s how BIG Something was formed. Everybody came into the picture, and things kind of fell into place from there.
Right on. So it didn’t take too long for you guys to get into the studio and cut your first album. You worked with Grammy-nominated producer John Custer on Stories From the Middle of Nowhere in 2010, right?
Nick: Yea John kind of helped us create a new identity for the band. That first album that we released was how we introduced the name of the band. It kind of took off from there.
It seems like the initial response from that album was strong, to say the least. You guys won an Homegrown Music Network’s “Album of the Year” award. The album spent several weeks at #1 on Jambands.com’s charts.
Nick: It was received a lot better than I was expecting. Ever since then, every album that we have recorded has been with John (Custer). We try and grow a little bit on each one and give them their own unique touch. We actually have a new album that we’re releasing sometime this fall. We haven’t really released too much information on it yet, but it was recorded with John, and we’re all really excited about it. It will be our fourth full length album.
Very cool. It seems like whatever he is doing in the studio certainly works. Makes perfect sense to continue working with him.
Nick: Yeah man. John is awesome. He’s kind of like our seventh man, in a way. He helps keep the band moving forward and really brings the best performance out of each of us. It’s really great having him there in the studio.
So I was first introduced to you guys thanks to Sirius JamOn. I distinctly remember the first time I heard "Megalodon" in the car in early 2015, and it's been one of my go-to songs ever since. It grabs people’s attention from the first note. It took me a while to realize that the song is about a shark, right?
Nick: Right. It usually takes people a couple of listens to figure out that it’s about floating in the ocean with a shark kind of circling around and waiting to attack. It can be interpreted in a bunch of different ways. We kind of left it open to interpretation on purpose.
I can see that. That song is really powerful. I guess maybe a better word would be explosive. It’s one that you just can’t turn off once it starts, and I’ve yet to get tired of hearing it. DJ Logic really adds a nice touch to it as well. It had to be fun to bring him in for that one. Had you guys worked with him before the recording?
Nick: We had done some shows with him and he ended up sitting in on that song live with us one night at a Widespread Panic afterparty in Wilmington NC. And it was just so dope and such a perfect fit for the song. We knew we were about to record later that year and everyone was like 'lets get Logic to sit in on the track.' So we invited him to do it, but he wasn't available to come record in person so we actually had him send in his parts digitally. Really happy we got him on there and made it work cause I love the way it turned out.
Watch BIG Something's official music video for "Megalodon" here:
I've noticed what seems to be a recurring outer space theme with you guys. You have the live album Live From Uranus, the song "UFOs are real"…And it really seems to fall in line with the Big Something funk sound. Would I be correct in assuming this is a special interest for you guys?
Nick: Absolutely. I think we’re all kind of space geeks, and space in general is a big theme that happens with the band in a lot of different ways. Even with the name of the band, BIG Something, it’s kind of a metaphor for outer space in and of itself. The sound of the band definitely has a spacey influence that kind of plays into that imagery. There are a lot of lyrics that deal with outer space as well; UFOs and things like that.
That’s a really cool concept. Outer space is obviously an endless topic. I’m sure that delving into that world through the songwriting process can take you to some really interesting places.
Nick: Yeah…it really all comes from the name BIG Something. Looking at that bigger picture of the universe at large is a big part of it.
So we already talked a little bit about the band’s debut album. You’ve since released the live album (Live from Uranus), as well as BIG Something and Truth Syrum. Now that you’ve finished recording the next release, how would you say that each experience has been different from the other? Have you taken a different approach each go-round?
Nick: (laughs) Yes. The first two albums (Stories From the Middle of Nowhere and BIG Something) were recorded in a private home. The second one (Truth Syrum) was recorded in a storage unit. And the new album was actually recorded in a really legit, nice studio. We spent a week at Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, North Carolina. A bunch of great artists have recorded there. Making this album in a real studio was a really special experience. I think you can definitely hear it in the final result.
So how did you guys end up recording in the storage unit?
Nick: So, it’s kind of a makeshift recording studio. It was actually a nice space and pretty decent studio, but it just happened to be inside of a storage unit (laughs). Each album has definitely had their own feel and unique qualities.
Watch BIG Something perform "UFOs Are Real" at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater in Wilmington, NC here:
I know you said you guys aren’t revealing much about the new album, so I won’t ask much. Is this going to be a lot of totally new material, or do you guys like to test them out in a live setting and let them develop before taking them into the studio?
Nick: Absolutely. A lot of the songs have been played out on the road, so it’s really road tested and still has a great live feel to it. What usually ends up happening with us is we will write some new material, and then we’ll tour on it and let it develop and tighten. Then we will record it. None of these songs had ever been recorded, but they have all been played on the road many times. They have taken on a new life in the studio so it will be cool to see how people respond to that.
That seems to be a pretty common practice. Getting that initial crowd reaction, feeling the energy in the room, and seeing how that translates over must make a big impact on the decision as to what makes the final cut for the album.
Nick: Absolutely. We try to be a good studio band and a good live band. That’s not necessarily the same thing. There is a balance to how you do stuff in the studio. We’ve learned that over the course of doing each of these four albums. It’s definitely going to have a slightly different feel to it. It’s going to be a little heavier, a little darker. I think it will be the most progressive sounding album we have released yet. I’m excited about it. We’re still figuring out when it will be released, but we’re looking at the fall.
You've had a very busy year; touring with The Werks in the spring and landing several great festival spots. Just finished up a run out west, and it looked like this weekend's set at The Ride Festival was a big one. What are a few of the highlights from 2016 thus far?
Nick: You know you pretty much just covered all of them. That run with The Werks was really great. We got to play a lot of awesome venues and new cities with them. We had a great show out in Denver on that run. We played Detroit for the first time. It was a packed house, and that was awesome. This past weekend in Telluride was really special. I’d say that was probably in everyone’s top 5 experiences as a band. The setting was so beautiful, and playing that little stage tucked into the mountains in front of one of the biggest crowds that we have ever played for was such a rush.
We’ve got our own festival, The Big What?, coming up, and that’s always a big highlight for us. The experience of recording the album in Asheville was amazing too. We got to all stay together in an artist house in Asheville. We cooked dinner every night and had a lot of fun with it. It’s the first time we’ve ever recorded like that, where we’ve had a little band retreat; shacking up and cutting off communication with the outside world and knocking it out over the span of 2 weeks instead of a little at a time over several months. Its a more clear snap shot of the band. We just focused on recording, and it was really, really cool.
There’s a lot of great things happening. Wanee was absolutely incredible. We played at 11AM, and I was on stage brushing my teeth literally 10 minutes before we started. All of the sudden, out of nowhere, a couple thousand people came down to the stage. It was packed. I wasn’t really expecting it to be like that, but it was great. Jam Cruise is coming up, which is really exciting. Peach Festival is another really big one we're honored to be a part of.
That venue (Wanee) is absolutely amazing. That amphitheater stage, surrounded by all of the Spanish moss trees, might be my favorite place to see a band. I haven’t had the chance to get out to Red Rocks or The Gorge yet, but I absolutely love Suwannee. I can’t imagine how great the energy is as a performer.
Nick: There is a palpable energy there. That’s for sure. You kind of have to soak it up. There isn’t much you can say to describe it, but it is a very special place. It’s one of my favorite places to play music as well.
If I’ve ever been anywhere that has felt like there is a little bit of magic in the air, it’s definitely Suwannee. You know?
Nick: Oh yeah. I would suggest trying to see a show out in Telluride. It has that same type of vibe to it. There’s just a spirit in the air.
I definitely need to spend some time out there. Let’s talk about The Big What?, which is coming up next weekend in North Carolina. You've put together an amazing lineup this year with The Werks, Turkuaz, Zach Deputy, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, etc. The festival is now in it's 5th year. How did this event originally come together, and how critical has it been for the development of the band to have this big annual party?
Nick: It’s interesting. It’s been through a progression on it’s own in a lot of different ways. When we first started doing it, we had already been doing our own little festival-like parties out on farms in North Carolina. Through doing that, we started meeting more and more people within this community in North Carolina. Everyone started coming together, and we decided we wanted to do a BIG Something-themed festival and bring all of these different communities together. We wanted to do our own thing and make it unique.
So we called it The Big What?, which is kind of a joke and a play on the band’s name itself. People always ask us if we forgot our own band name. “The Big Something? The Big What?” That’s where the name of the festival came from. It’s been a really awesome way to help spread the word about the band. People come from far and wide. It has become such a positive weekend for us, and there is just a great community of people involved. It’s all about southern hospitality, and everyone seems to take care of each other.
Here lately, we’ve been trying to not let The Big What? take over our entire focus as a band. We have our sights set on playing other parts of the country and not letting the festival define us. Obviously we still put our heart and soul into it. It’s a great piece of the puzzle, but we have a lot of other stuff that we want to try and get to as we continue our musical adventure.
Watch the official recap video from The Big What? (2015) here:
I’m sure it never hurts to have an event like this, where so many of your biggest fans get to come together for the weekend. It’s cool that you get to include so many other bands who are in similar places as a band. Like you said, it brings a really great group of people together, and it seems like it’s mutually beneficial for the fans and performers alike. I’d love to make it up there next weekend.
Nick: You should definitely come if you can, man. If not, no worries, but it’s definitely a good time. I think you would like it. It’s kind of got a vibe like Suwannee, where there is just an energy in the air. It’s a special thing for all of us.
Where is it located in North Carolina?
Nick: It’s kind of near Chapel Hill and Durham. It’s right between Greensboro and Raleigh on a 300-acre farm right off of Interstate 40. It will be three nights, Thursday to Saturday, July 21st-23rd.
I’m a big fan of the Thursday to Saturday schedule. There’s nothing worse than having to leave a festival on Sunday afternoon and miss an act you really wanted to see. It happens though, as sometimes you have a long trek home and obligations on Monday.
Nick: It makes it a lot easier on our staff too. People are pretty worn out by that point in time.
I think everybody wins with that formula So I know you’ve had the opportunity to share the stage with some amazing bands: Robert Randolph & The Family band, The B52s, Galactic just to name a few. What do you consider some of the biggest moments this band has had on stage?
Nick: All of those that you just mentioned were really special. Playing in front of The B52’s in front of 8,000 people at an outdoor amphitheater was probably our first “big moment”. That was crazy. We ended up meeting a lot of people after that show. That was actually on a day where we played three shows in one day. We played a beer festival in Charlotte at like noon. Then we drove to Raleigh and played at the amphitheater with the B52’s in front of 8,000 people. Then we went and played small, crazy hippie festival in the woods that night in front of like 500 people. It was such a wide range of shows. That was a fun day.
Opening for Galactic at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater was really awesome. Same thing with Robert Randolph. We’ve done a bunch of shows with other bands that we really love and look up to. Dopapod…it’s always fun playing with those guys. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong…we’ve done a bunch of great shows with them. Our buddies - Spiritual Rez up in Boston. We’ve had some great shows with Zach Deputy. Our first time out to Colorado was such a special experience; just because of the way people embrace music out there. All of our first shows out there were just crazy. We weren’t expecting it at all. It was just like, “Wow! Let’s keep coming back here. Its like the promised land."
Well before we wrap things up, I know you mentioned several big festivals coming up. It looks like you guys have dates announced up to early October at this point. Then you have the album release this fall. What else can people expect from BIG Something here in the second half of 2016? Will you guys be spending most of your time on the road?
Nick: Yes…we’re going to pick up touring in September, and from that point on, it’s going to be pretty heavy. We’re going to hit as many spots all over the country as we possibly can. We’re trying to team up with a bunch of different bands over the course of the year, so there should be some really good shows in there that we haven’t announced yet. We also do our own Halloween show at The Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh called The Big Something Costume Ball. That’s always really fun. We always plan our set around some crazy theme, and it’s always a surprise. Last year, it was two sets, and we did an angels set and a devils set. The first set was all kind of heaven-inspired songs, and the second set was all related to hell and fire and all of that.
We’re doing New Year’s Eve again at The Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh, which is always fun. We’re playing Catskill Chill for the first time. That’s going to be great. We’re really looking forward to playing Marvin’s Mountain Top, where All Good used to be. That’s for a new festival in September called Deep Roots River Revival. Then of course there is JamCruise, which is a dream come true. We’re really excited about that.