Big Scary… Actually Quite Friendly and Popular

So Big Scary might be a new name to you, but they’re actually quite a big deal.  They’ve toured alongside the likes of Midlake, Editors, and Florence and the...

So Big Scary might be a new name to you, but they’re actually quite a big deal.  They’ve toured alongside the likes of Midlake, Editors, and Florence and the Machine; they’ve had a song in an AT&T advert, in addition to an episode of Grey’s Anatomy; they’ve released half a dozen EPs and equally as many singles.  Their debut LP, Vacation, was released last October in their native Australia to critical acclaim and is set to hit stateside shelves next Tuesday, September 18th.  Big Scary are duo Jo Syme and Tom Iansek, who started making music together in 2006.  The two began writing minimalistic acoustic numbers in Syme’s parents’ living room.  However, their sound quickly evolved to encompass a postmodern mix of both modern (electric guitars) and traditional instrumentation (mandolins, ukuleles, etc.) for a product that has been categorized as a number of things, ranging from “garage” to “piano pop.”  They have upcoming October dates in LA, SF, Seattle, and NYC.  I recently got a chance to chat with Jo Syme about the experience of touring and promoting their first album, just where their sound came from, and where they would love it to end up.

Izzy Cihak: I have to ask, what is it that inspired your moniker?

Jo Syme: We were just texting each other names we liked back and forth and this one stood out – it was really just the greatest common denominator between us, the name we both actually liked, or neither hated.  But it is reminiscent of the kind of the thing a kid would say and I immediately thought of a favourite childhood illustrator, Richard Scarry, whose pages I’d stare at. I don’t know why, we apparently liked something associated with childhood.

IC: Your latest release, Vacation, has been out for a while now in Australia.  What have been the highlights of its promotion and reception?

JS: We were really flattered to have a kind response from most media about the album. In Australia there’s a popular alternative radio station that broadcasts across the whole country, and they featured it the week it was released and included it in their nominations for Australian albums of the year. We did a small tour upon its release, but waited a few months to do the proper album tour, and the response from the audience at those shows was completely a highlight. Every show was sold out and we got to go to the remote city Darwin where we didn’t realize there was such a hunger for music.

IC: Your sound seems to draw inspiration from quite a wide variety of genres.  What do you consider to be your most prominent influences, between the two of you?

JS: I think we first really bonded over Bon Iver and we’ve both grown up with Led Zeppelin. Arcade Fire, DJ Shadow, Black Keys, M. Ward, Beach House, Bibio, and Midlake were really formative bands, both when we were getting to know each other and, some more specifically, when we were recording Vacation. Lately, Bruce Springsteen and Kanye West have also been pretty strong influences.

IC: And what about non-musical influences?  I often find them to be even more interesting than musicians’ musical influences.

JS: I’ve never really thought about that, apart from the obvious of relationship status, novels, family… I’ve worked a lot in hospitality and the emotions those interactions create tend to take up a lot of my day, just because that’s what I’m doing all day, rather than thinking on a higher plain. Maybe we’re influenced by the desire to travel, which we’ve both done a bit of and, with that, the awareness of a big world.

IC: Your songs have had quite a few notable appearances in mainstream US media.  Is there any place in the spectrum of media where you would especially love to find your music?

JS: In a well-curated, well-made movie. I love soundtracks – I always wanted to be that person putting the songs in a film. And I think that can almost be the most powerful application of a song, when done appropriately.

IC: I understand that you have some plans for US touring in the near future. What can the yanks expect of the live experience?

JS: It’s just Tom and I on stage, with Tom switching between keys and guitar. I guess it’s a more informal set than some. The energy is quite dynamic: some tracks can be fun and loose and others are lot more controlled and intimate. We never want the two-piece thing to be a gimmick, so we’ve really worked hard to ensure there’s still a full sound on stage and the songs are done justice.

IC: In addition to this touring, what are your plans for the rest of the year?  I understand you’re already working on your next LP.

JS: The next album is well under way. Tom’s been holed up in his little bedroom studio, with a lot of time up his sleeves, working on this one. I think he’s just getting better and better as a songwriter but, especially as a producer, and I’ve never been more excited about our music. But the nice thing about this album is that there is no deadline or pressure to get it out. We’re completely taking our time, so I’ve got no predictions about its release date. So that will be our focus, along with the trip to the States. Plus maybe enjoying some quiet time in Australia, between albums, to actually see friends and family before the cycle all starts again.

Band Interviews

During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.