Up and Up and Up with Big Scary
Big Scary's third album is their best yet.
In 1993 Belinda Carlisle, formerly of The Go-Go’s, had just released Big Scary Animal. A mildly successful single from her album Real and for the first 10 seconds you might make mistake it for a Big Scary song. Last Friday Big Scary released their third studio album Animal. But funnily enough Joanna Syme, drummer of the band, and Tom Iansek, lead singer, didn’t even make the connection until “…I Googled the band and it came up with Belinda Carlisle’s Big Scary Animal,” says Syme. It’s this habit of, “stepping on people’s toes,” hat has occurred throughout Big Scary’s career.
Big Scary’s latest album is broken into four parts; Hunting (Oxygen, Organism, Double Darkness and Savior Add Vice), Lurking (Lone Bird, The Endless Story, Flutism and Up and Up and Up), Resting (Breathe Underwater, The Opposite Of Us and Heaven On Earth) and Waking (Over Matter and Lamina) and was showcased over a series of listening parties on Facebook. Syme explains the concept of the four parts formed out of a fear the album wasn’t even going to work so instead of forcing different genres together they let them co-exist. All the different parts deal with, “…this duality of complex thought and basic instinct… the idea of the development of the Animal helped shaped it together, so although it’s presented as one movement it’s shaped as a whole.”
But hold on, haven’t Big Scary done this before? Aren’t they just stepping on their toes now?
Syme laughs as she explains this: “…We didn’t even click we had done this before with the Four Seasons, we hadn’t even realised that. And then I realised and it’s like, 'Oh we’ve come back to this have we?'" The Four Seasons Syme is referring to are four different EPs released throughout 2010 coinciding with each season and are aptly titled Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer, which were later collectively released as The Big Scary Four Seasons. In a way this sense of sonic difference within their releases is a clever way of picking out how listeners often don’t dive into an album but choose three or four songs they love and play them on repeat. Animal allows for this too and is reflective of the band’s desire to move forwards sonically. “It’s very natural to Tom and I, we can’t write the same genre, it just never happens," she laughs. "It’s never been about success… Maybe it comes from Tom having the producer hat on while he’s writing. Tom is not just influenced by one genre, he plays with lots of ideas thus the eclectic idea."
Eclectic Animal may be, but it’s also Big Scary’s most cohesive work to date, you can see Iansek and Syme’s skills blurring increasingly together. But for a period of time Syme couldn’t find her passion. Prior to joining Big Scary she went to jazz school, a hallmark of the potential talent she held if she was accepted as a drummer, just take the film Whiplash for example. As Syme explains: “I had quite low confidence at jazz school because everyone was so good, I felt so behind them. I didn’t play live, I wasn’t in any bands and then when I finally dropped out I started playing in rock‘n’roll bands and I found that live spark. Then I thought, 'I can do this, I enjoy this!'" And although for a while Syme felt alienated from playing jazz, over time she admits she’s come back to it and Big Scary have clearly embraced it in songs like Up and Up and Up, which has manic jazz mood laced throughout the throbbing track.
Syme also spoke about feeling comfortable discussing politics, in particular on the topic of asylum seekers. To understand this you have to backtrack to Perth Laneway 2016, Big Scary started the day with a strikingly different poster to other bands, it stated: “Big Scary AGAINST offshore processing,” and later that day they gathered together a bunch of fellow Laneway acts, including Violent Soho, Japanese Wallpaper, Kucka, Will Wagner of the Smith Street Band, Hermitude and Airling among others for a photo in support of the #LetThemStay movement:
Syme explains why this happened; “At this point in life Tom and I were a bit more aware of all the awful shit going on. We had talked about it, we don’t talk about politics a load but we had talked about this. And at this time I was really taken by doctors and nurses who had taken photos for #LetThemStay and I think a lot of the reason people don’t speak up is fear. Not so much a fear of the law but fear of not knowing enough to talk about it confidently.” This fear of saying the wrong thing is something rooted in us all, right down to the most meaningless of activities where many of us will just choose to remain silent instead of maybe being wrong. But Syme believes just because the two major parties agree on off-shore processing doesn’t mean we have to accept them. Para-phrasing Edmund Burke’s ‘Good men do nothing’ quote Syme says, “The bad stuff happens when the good do nothing. I really believe that, I volunteer but it’s not like I’ve flown to off-shore and protested but the more everyone talks about it and realizes what’s wrong with it then it does make change.”
So with this new confident Big Scary ready to show Australia what does Syme feel most proud of to date? “I think it’s pretty cool we have our own label which is trying to create a platform for musicians to share their music… I’m really stoked with it and if we can stick with that record label and release friends’s music then I’m proud of that.” It’s a brag but a humble one for such a band like Big Scary considering the honours they’ve been awarded and the places they’ve played.
And on Animal there’s a song titled Heaven on Earth which in another amusing twist of fate is a case of Big Scary stepping on Belinda Carlisle’s toes again without meaning to. But this time they’ve referenced Carlisle’s Heaven Is A Place On Earth, Carlisle’s biggest song to date. So maybe Big Scary’s Animal is their Heaven Is A Place On Earth?