BEWILDERED BY BIG DEAL
Signed to the prestigious indie record label Mute, UK duo Big Deal have been making waves with their critically-acclaimed 2011 debut Lights Out as well as their 2013 sophomore album June Gloom. The latter's fuller sound unveiled a magnificent melee of fuzzy guitars, saccharine melodies and dream-pop inflections that have consolidated Big Deal as main contenders for the indie crown. Michael Bugeja speaks to Big Deal's Kacey Underwood and Alice Costelloe ahead of their performance at Pjazza Teatru Rjal as part of the Bewildered Music Festival this Saturday.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how sick are you of interviewers asking if the two of you are in a relationship together and what's the weirdest answer you given to the question?
KC: It’s been a while since anyone asked, so this would be a well-timed 4. The truth is usually the weirdest answer, which I don’t think we’ve ever given. We’re like family; not like the White Stripes or the Jackson 5, more like the Mansons!
Both of your albums had you earmarked as a band to watch out for by the music media. How much pressure did this put on you to meet expectations?
KC: Living in the London you see a lot of that talk , people getting really excited and hyping the next new band for about ten minutes, and then there’s always a new one. We do the same thing we did then as we do now, just put our heads down and work. Anyway, the pressure we felt from the outside world isn’t much compared to the pressure we put on ourselves.
AC: I think part of our problem is that we've always just made music for ourselves so we weren't all that aware of the pressure from the outside world. The new record we've made we thought about the band we wanted to become rather than just sitting in our bedrooms writing with each other, so I guess maybe the pressure has cracked us!
I find it rather interesting that you're an Anglo-American duo with a stronger Anglo-influence in your music. Kacey, being Californian, what drew you towards the British sound?
KC: I never saw it that way. The only bands that I was consciously aware of being British were bands like Oasis and Blur, who I wasn’t in to at all. My dad's records made a bigger impact on me. He had all these old Led Zeppelin and Beatles albums, but they seemed to me to be from another world altogether.
What was it that connected the two of you so strongly on a musical level; common musical tastes, spontaneous musical chemistry or both?
KC: A mix of the two. Any time Alice says “you need to hear this” I know I’m going to like it. I can’t think of a time we haven’t agreed that way. Though I don’t know if she’d agree on what I share with her!
AC: KC’s right, we are super-connected in our tastes. When we don't both love something it's a bit scary and sad. The only thing we can't agree on is KC's love of the Afghan Whigs. I cannot bear to be within earshot of Greg Dulli's voice. Our bassist Jesse also loves Dulli so in the van they like to play all his worst albums just to aggravate me.
Lights Out's sparser arrangements were instrumental in raising your profile, while June Gloom saw you add a new dimension to your sound, taking your music to a new level. What prompted you to bring in more musicians and pursue a fuller sound, and how has the expansion affected the band's dynamic onstage and in the studio?
KC: We recorded Lights Out within a year of forming. We had no time to think about what it would be like to tour what we considered rock songs, without any percussion. Our booking agent wanted us to tour with folk acts, which made us rethink things. We still write the same way, the songs could still work if just the two of us got on stage, but now we have a lot more fun doing it.
AC: We also just wanted to be able to travel round the world and bring our friends along. More people in the band equals more friends on tour.
What has been the best thing about being signed to Mute?
KC: Working with Daniel Miller so closely is something I’ll always remember. I think being on that kind of label got certain people's attention. What those people thought of us, well...
AC: I think the best thing has been being able to make all of our records exactly the way we want, without any one interfering with the way they sound. Mute believe in artists' creative freedom and integrity and amazingly that is a pretty rare thing to find in a record label!
Further to last year's Sakura EP, what's next for Big Deal?
KC: We've just finished a new album, so you can expect to hear that by the end of the year. We’ll be previewing it at Bewildered...most likely getting exactly that reaction!
What should the audience expect from Big Deal when you perform here next weekend, and what are you most looking forward to do besides playing live here?
KC: They can expect us to be very happy to be there, and hopefully to feel the same way. I read a lot of non-fiction, and love history , especially the kind that Malta is steeped in. I am going to spend as much time as I can exploring Valletta and the temples.
AC: It’s raining here in London and I’ve just looked at the weather forecast for Malta, so I want to transport myself there right now!
Bewildered Music Festival will be held on Friday, August 28 and Saturday 29 at Pjazza Teatru Rjal in Valletta. Doors open at 8pm. Advance tickets cost €10 (1 night/€15 at the door) or €18 (2 nights/€20 at the door) and can be purchased online either at www.showshappening.com or bewilderedmusicfestival.com. Apart from UK acts Big Deal and Leave The Planet, the full line-up includes local acts China, Plato's Dream Machine, Fastidju and Berlin-based Jim Hickey.
An edited version of this article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta's ESCAPE magazine (23 August 2015)