Montreal-based experimental metal trio BIG | BRAVE are about to kick off a tour where they (as immediate support) are sandwiched between post-metal supergroup SUMAC (featuring Baptists’ Nick Yacyshyn, Russian Circles’ Brian Cook, and Aaron Turner of Mamiffer and Old Man Gloom) and Tashi Dorji, their first U.S. tour since the pandemic. The tour will be making a stop at our very own Underground Arts on Sunday, August 14th, and will be one of the biggest rooms the band have played in the 215 (They’re normally on the cramped and sweaty stage of Kung Fu Necktie.) Earlier this week I got to chat via Zoom with BIG | BRAVE co-founder Mathieu Ball about touring, their new label, and their 10-year career.
Izzy Cihak: This is a really huge question, but I just realized that your band have been around for a decade now, so I’m curious: What have been some of the personal highlights of BIG | BRAVE for you?
Mathieu Ball: Mostly the touring has been the biggest highlight. To be able to travel all over the world has been kind of a huge blessing. Before I even had a touring band, that was my main goal, to just tour Europe once and I would be happy. And we were able to do it like eight times now. It still blows my mind.
Izzy: You’ve been signed to Southern Lord for most of that time. What was it like working with them and being part of that family all that time?
Mathieu: It was really great. We released one record on our own and then when we did the second record, Au De La, we just reached out to them randomly and, for some reason, Greg [Anderson] wrote back and that just sent everything to another level. After that we were able to play more and tour more extensively. We had done some tours, but it just opened up a whole bunch of doors. And then through the label and through Greg we met so many other bands, and it was quite affirming when that happened.
Izzy: That’s cool and I feel like you don’t see it that often anymore where a band sticks with a label for that long.
Mathieu: We are releasing a record next year with Thrill Jockey, so it has come to an end after five albums, not because we were unhappy or anything, but we just felt like after eight years it was time to try something else. I still love that label and everyone there. It just felt like we were at the place where we could try something else, and we’re just such big fans of Thrill Jockey, so we’re excited to see what will happen working with them.
Izzy: Your latest album, VITAL, has been out for more than a year now. Have you had any favorite reactions to it, whether it be from critics, fans, or live audiences?
Mathieu: It took a while to get reactions from live audiences, because it was released during the pandemic. When we finally got to tour this Spring in Europe for two months, then we really got to see that some people knew some of the songs, and that was incredible. But, before then, when something lives on the internet, it’s kind of hard to tell. I mean, you get some feedback, but it was really nice to finally get to play it live and hear that people like that record, because it was hard to gauge the response.
Izzy: You’ve put out a lot of really cool, and heavy, music videos over the years, including a few for VITAL, and I know you work on a lot of them – if not all of them – yourselves. Are there any visual artists or works of art that you find to be especially inspiring, or do you let the music itself inspire you?
Mathieu: Yeah, we do all the videos. We’ve never outsourced to anyone, for practical reasons, too, maybe budget reasons. The band has such a great output to do other stuff, other than music-related. Like, the album art, we’ll do ourselves, and the music videos, just because it’s so much fun to have a reason to work on the visual aspect of it. But, when it comes to videos, we’re often thinking more of performance art pieces or video art that’s very simple. We often keep it to one camera, no movement. We’re making music videos but, at the back of my mind, I’m always referencing video art and that kind of work.
Izzy: On a related note, I’m curious if you’re fans of David Lynch, by any chance?
Mathieu: Oh yeah, for sure.
Izzy: I don’t know if you know this, but the venue you’re playing, Underground Arts, is in a neighborhood that we call Eraserhood, because it’s where David Lynch used to live and the neighborhood that inspired Eraserhead.
Mathieu: Oh, really? I didn’t know that.
Izzy: It’s really cool and kinda creepy. It still kinda has that vibe to it. So, I’m curious, do you have any favorite works of his?
Mathieu: All the movies, but Twin Peaks — even the last season – but especially the original seasons, because they’re dark and they’re funny and I love that. I mean, our music’s very serious and dark, but we’re also pretty goofy people, so it’s nice to see that there are other people who are just blending all these worlds together. It’s always been a huge influence. Like, with the first EP we did, a lot of the lyrics were quotes from Twin Peaks that we’d just repeat because we couldn’t come up with anything else. So, we were often thinking of David Lynch from very early on.
Izzy: The last time I talked to the band – which was a few albums ago — you said that the writing process from song-to-song doesn’t change very much, but the writing process from album-to-album does change. So, I’m curious, how would you currently characterize your writing process, whether for VITAL or the album you’re gonna be working on for Thrill Jockey?
Mathieu: I kind of have to think about it, because once we’re done that process, I eliminate it out of my mind, because so much time goes into it. So, the moment we’re done and it’s recorded, we’re just trying to make room for a new process. But I think, from album-to-album, it’s quite similar. There might actually be differences in songs. I mean, they’re all very similar songs. It’s one very bare skeleton and then we’ll add on top of that. Up until VITAL, it’s all been all quite similar.
The one that was the most different was the record we made with The Body. That we did in the studio, just writing as we were recording. That’s something we had never done before, because we normally spend like eight months just cooped up in our jam space, just like painstakingly working at these five or six songs, or if there will be more, then we’ll go back down. The first time it really changed was that The Body Leaving Non but Small Birds record, where it was very quick and we didn’t think about it too much. And I think that did show us that we can work in different ways, so I think moving forward we might take from that and then utilize the studio a bit more as a place to improvise and take more chances.
Izzy: Out of curiosity, what have you been listening to a lot of recently, whether you feel as though it directly influences your own sound or not? I know the last time I talked to the band you all said that you mostly just listened to older music, rather than stuff that was of the moment.
Mathieu: Yeah, I rarely listen to band music. Ellen Fullman, who’s a composer with her Long String Instrument, or Tony Conrad, Arnold Dreyblatt… They’re all kind of like these older minimalist composers. That’s always the starting point. And none of them have percussions or rhythm sections, so I’m always trying to emulate what they’re doing and then figure out a way to add like a bassline and drums over that. So, that’s often my go-to. Robin listens to a lot of old soul music, and I think that’s kind of how she gets inspirations for melodies, even though there’s not that many. It’s not very melodic, but for her, I know it comes from that. And a lot of pop music, too.
Izzy: You’re about to kick off a tour with SUMAC, who you mentioned being a fan of at one point when we last spoke. Are the two of you already friends, or is this gonna be the first time you spend a lot of time together.
Mathieu: We’ve met here and there at shows, but it will be the first time that we get to hang out properly. I’ve gone to see SUMAC in Montreal, and then chatted, and then Aaron came to one of our shows in Seattle, but just very quick interactions. We just started chatting about this tour and he thought it’d be a good idea if we hopped on. We had another, longer tour planned and we cancelled that just so we could do this. We just had a feeling it’d be a good hang, a good show. And then Tashi Dorji is also on this whole tour. I met him when he played in Montreal and he’s just so nice.
So, it was just knowing that the tour would be a good tour, like good music every night, but the emphasis I think is on the hang, because that’s just as important. Because out of a day, while you’re touring, music is like 45 minutes out of a long day of driving and waiting around venues, not doing very much. So, if you can go on a tour with people you’re getting along with, those are the memorable tours. And the ones you don’t wanna remember so much are the ones with a band you didn’t click with. Nothing bad happened, but all we had is that set. That relationship makes it really worthwhile.
Izzy: Are there any venues you’re especially excited to play, or cities you’re especially excited to visit or revisit?
Mathieu: This is our first U.S. tour since COVID, so I haven’t played most venues on this tour. We played in Baltimore in 2012, so I’m really excited to play there, and to head further south and play Asheville and Durham. I’ve never been there at all, and I’ve just been hearing such great things about those cities that I’m really excited. And the tour starts in Chicago and we’re gonna go for a few days before just to hang out. We’re really trying to take advantage of the places we’re going, to get there early and make sure there’s enough time to do something. After being robbed of touring for so long, now the mindset is that it might be the last one every time you go on tour. I’m very excited for all these venues and cities.
Izzy: What can be expected of the live show this time around? It’ll definitely be the biggest room I’ve ever seen you in, by maybe like eight times.
Mathieu: It’s gonna be the same show. Playing bigger shows and then smaller shows on tour, they both have their pros and cons. The big venues are great because the sound is better, and then you go back to smaller rooms and they’re so sweaty and we’re really tight onstage, and that’s a different type of energy. I think we’ve come to realize, if it’s a bigger stage, bigger room, we still set up really close to each other. And there’s no drum riser, or if there’s a drum riser, we’re like, “No, please! None of that!” We bring drums to the front of the stage and we huddle up in this very tight triangle to try and keep the vibe of the smaller venues. So, if we can trick ourselves into thinking it’s a small, intimate room, it’ll be more or less the same type of a show.
*Get your tickets here.