Still riding on the coattails of their latest LP Animal, Big Scary were pleasantly surprised when The Opposite Of Us came in at no. 17 on the Triple J Hottest 100, and are now preparing one final tour for Animal taking in Metropolis Fremantle on July 1. JOSEPH WILSON caught up with one half of Big Scary, Joanna Syme and talked about the latest album and the qualities of playing as a two-piece band.
How has the year been treating Big Scary so far?
Pretty cool, we had a really nice surprise in the Triple J Hottest 100, we have never had that reaction with a wider audience before. It’s been funny because Tom and I aren’t full time Big Scary, we have all these other things on and we kind of just jump into the Big Scary world when there is a tour or some writing and recording. It hasn’t been the forefront of our activities except now we are preparing for the next tour.
Does being part-time Big Scary differ from being a full-time musician?
In terms of being full-time musicians – Tom is a full time musician because he is a producer as well. He gets cash from being a producer from other bands and I still do some work outside of the band and the label, but it’s in the music industry. I think I would be weirded out if I said I did nothing but play in the one band that tours once a year, I don’t know what I’d do with myself.
How does it feel having your third LP under your belts?
It’s been a fairly slow growth, something in that song (The Opposite Of Us) connected in a way that things hadn’t before. We have noticed the festivals that we have been playing now the crowds have been packed. I think something has clicked a little bit and I think we must have just tapped into something else this time and the dance was good in terms of the live show. It makes so much more energy when people are singing along. It’s pretty incredible.
Do you think the different subject matter of the latest album has resonated with more people?
Potentially because (previous album) Not Art was really reflective on us in the world and our situation and being a musician is not common to most people. Talking about being on tour, talking about being on interviews, talking about not having a normal job is exactly not relatable to most audiences and this was less about those questions and more just about humanity in general. I hadn’t really thought about that but potentially it helped the connection.
What made the band take that more philosophical direction with Animal?
I can’t fully talk for Tom because he is the lyricist but I think there was just a time in life when writing for this album that we were both in love with our long term partners. We had income, we had steady lives and once you’re comfortable in your own growth you’re like what else is there? Humans like to feel like shit about something I suppose. So when everything’s well in life what’s the greater things inside these greater moral questions. What our brains and our emotions urges, less about your own struggle, because we were fine in our lives – I think that was what prompted the broader topic.
Do you think the album is a reflection of what stage you two are at as musicians?
Yes, maybe more of where we are as a band as well. Definitely where we are in our lives, I can see lyrics from each album and remember. I remember really specific moments – for one song I was driving along and thinking about those lyrics and thinking how much I related to them. Those are little bookmarks in my life. Even more as a band, Animal was written deliberately going back to Tom and I going back to playing as a two piece because it was a reaction to Not Art where the songs didn’t work as a two piece.
It was very much a reaction to the touring of Not Art, so we had to change the song writing again back to an earlier chemistry.
Is the whole two-piece aspect of the band something you have to consider a lot when making new music?
We wanted to this time and I think that is because the live show hadn’t felt the same energy. Back then people thought we were The White Stripes, it was just really loose guitar and drums music – and it worked, because it worked so well as a two piece. After Not Art I still felt good, I always loved playing live more than Tom and I think he said all he was hearing live was what was missing because we couldn’t recreate that, even if we had extra musicians on stage.
Sometimes you want to make the song what it should be and not worry about the other stuff. But in this case we were like, every song from that album we jammed together as a two-piece and in principle stands up as a two piece song and we still have extra musicians to bring in those sprinkles of fun but they should be the spirit more so, not all songs, the spirit of the two piece.
Do you think it is the dynamic between you and Tom that is what the core of Big Scary is? Has it changed at all?
It grows, it’s changed. The longer it goes on the more I appreciate that dynamic. We’re funny, we’re quite opposite people. Tom’s very quiet, reflective and slow to react but he is so considered and pretty much always right when he always has ideas. I am more talk and want to make people feel comfortable always and a bit more emotionally reactive. Like if I don’t like something I’ll think it’s shit at first but a week later I’ll put it into consideration – and think it’s good.
Sometimes I feel like what would have happened if Tom had not worked with me and what if he was with someone who knew how to record the way he does. We sort of fill the gaps in each other’s personalities for the bigger picture of a band, I have the enthusiasm for the live stuff (and) can kind of action things and get things happening where he’s the skill of the songwriter.
Does that difference ever cause clashes?
Sometimes at first, for a brief period of time – there was definitely tension in the making of and release of this album. There were things that I hated about it, like I didn’t like the album artwork and there were tensions and always emotional moments.
But if you give it time those things can be ok. Ours are more, sometimes creative – they are healthy and ok and talking through things ends up as a better result usually.
Has the band become more observant with what it writes and produces?
No, I don’t know what will happen for the next one. We have sort of started jamming but nothing has been effectively written. This theme, the animal theme with the journey of the animal and the human that wasn’t even a topic in the recording phase – that was something that tied together with the album.
I guess still the lyrics were there and I think Tom just started writing with nothing planned and as a reaction. Never have we gone in with a subject matter. The lyrics are always a last thing to happen in any song anyway. Even stylistically I think I have finally learnt to have no expectations because after Not Art I felt like Not Art was a successful album and I thought ok time to write some songs like Not Art and I remember recording some drum ideas into my phone and sending them over to Tom and his reaction was like nothing I was expecting and none of the songs turned out like what Not Art was.
At first I was a bit disappointed as I really loved doing Not Art and then I ended doing something that I love equally. So I just have expectations, we jam and something will come out it.