The Big Nowhere started when Billy and I were working together and we’d make mix CDs to play at work. We were both in different bands at the time (I was in Brown Eye Superfly, and Billy was in Summersalt), and the kind of music we loved most was a world apart from what we were doing in those bands. We each had a bunch of songs written that we’d play for one another, kinda indulging in a little one-upmanship, when one of us would write something the other really liked, it would inspire the other to outdo it.
Over a few tequilas one night in an empty basement pub we sketched out The Big Nowhere on the back of a cigarette packet. We’d do the whole thing ourselves, recording in my living room, trying to capture a sound and more importantly a vibe that was just missing from music at that point. We wanted to recreate the feel of the albums in our record collections that had been handed down to us from our parents and grandparents like stone tablets.
We have an anything-goes attitude to music. The song dictates how it goes, not us. It’ll pull you in the direction or feel it wants to go in, and you just have to follow. Sometimes you end up with something completely different from what you started with, but that’s part of the excitement of writing music. When we play live, we switch up the instruments depending on who we have available to do the show, and that’s one of the things we wanted to do most when we first started the band. Every performance is different, and that’s how we think it should be.
Your track “Johnny Walker Red” is part of a story. Can you tell us about it?
“Johnny Walker Red” is the third of three songs that make up the “Hansen’s Trailer Park Suite” from Pull Down The Moon. The suite is in the tradition of the best murder ballads, but is entirely fictional. The three songs tell the story of the murder of Suzannah Grey at the hands of her abusive alcoholic husband, and his death at the hands of her Brother, Sheriff Bob Willis.
The story takes place in a nameless small town in the American South in the aftermath of the Second World War. Across the three songs, the story is told in a non-linear fashion – each song is the story from one of the main character’s point-of-view: Johnny, Bob and Suzie. The story as told across the three spans from Suzie’s childhood right through to the Sheriff’s reminiscences of the night he took Johnny down. Each song reflects on the toll taken on each character by their part in the story. Pure American Gothic.
I had written “Johnny Walker Red” as a stand-alone song, and Billy had written “My Name Is Bob Willis” around the same time. As we were doing demos for the songs, we realised that they were both telling the same story from a different perspective. So we decided that there was one character without a voice, who would probably have the most interesting perspective from a storytelling point, and that was Suzannah, the murdered woman. It’s probably both of our favourite part of the album.
Your album Pull Down The Moon was originally released digitally in 2009 and is now due for a relaunch as a deluxe CD box set. What is the thinking behind that?
We planned to release it this way on the one-year anniversary of it’s digital release, but just never quite got round to it. We found we were on track to release our second album Don’t Burn The Fortune at the beginning of this summer, so thought it would be good to get it out now, and create a little bit of buzz heading toward that release. We didn’t want to stick it out there as just a CD, so we thought about stuff we could put together that would be fun, and would fit in with the whole vibe of the band. It’s also a way to thank the fans who bought the download of the Pull Down The Moon, and give them something extra if they get the CD too, rather than just have the CD sitting on their shelf.
Who has influenced the sound of your music the most?
Honestly, it would probably be our parents and grandparents more than any one artist or band. It’s through them that we came to love the music we love. We love people like Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Nick Cave, Gram Parsons, Scott Walker, Alex Chilton, The Beach Boys, The Ramones, Captain Beefheart etc. and they definitely helped shaped our music, but then we also love Spike Jones, Lord Buckley, Howlin’ Wolf, The Louvin Brothers, Dizzy Gillespie, Leadbelly, Louis Prima, Chet Baker, Gene Vincent, Brecht & Weill, The MC5 – the people who influenced them.
We have a shared love of the girl-groups like The Ronettes, Shangri-Las, The Crystals. Also, we’re both suckers for a good torch-song, so Tammy Wynette, Marlene Deitrich, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Billie Holliday, all figure highly in our listening – Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Mary Coughlan.
What is the first piece of music that really made an impression and why?
Both from when I was a little kid, probably a tie between hearing “I’m Wishing” while watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and watching The Old Grey Whistle Test with my dad and hearing Tom Waits play “Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis.” The yearning in the words and vocal of “I’m Wishing” combined with the orchestra basically following the vocal melody just broke my heart as a child. I had no idea what it was that I was feeling, or why I felt that way, but I knew it was the music that did it.
That one performance of “Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis” on Whistle Test taught me more about music than I could ever hope to learn—that you could tell a story with a song, that you could become a character, that a song could just be one person sitting with their instrument and that be enough to convey what you want to say, and that it you could be a man and tell a story from a woman’s perspective. I was used to hearing songs sung by male singers where they’d change the words from the original female artist so it sound like a guy singing to a girl. It blew my head open that you could do that.
What are your plans and hopes for this year?
This year we’ll release our second album Don’t Burn The Fortune, and hopefully that will expand our reach as far an audience goes. It’s an ambitious record, we set the scope for it maybe just beyond our reach, but we think that’s a good thing. It’s important to grow as songwriters and musicians.
With this album we’ll show people exactly what we’re capable of. It’ll either be a glorious success, or it’ll be a glorious disaster. Either way, it’ll be glorious! We hope to play some more high-profile shows (we’ve played with First Aid Kit and Doug Paisley), and maybe book some more festival slots in addition the ones we already have.
Name one thing no one knows about the band?
One of my ancestors was burned at the stake as a witch, for being in league with the Devil.