They released stunning album Animal earlier this year, a record that swirled generic conventions, timeless songwriting, and ingenuitive flair into an addictive collection of songs, yet there’s slim chance of seeing them on our shores.
Meet Big Scary, a new old band, a paradox. To UK fans, Jo and Tom are a brand new prospect, but back home in Australia they headline venues, dominate radio station Triple J, and regale festival crowds with an expansive line up that has all the panache of a long-toured stadium show.
They began playing as a duo, releasing four well received EPs ahead of their debut full length Vacation in 2011. Follow up Not Art, released in 2013, was nominated for multiple accolades including Triple J’s Australian Album of the Year, and won the 2014 Australian Music Prize.
But until late last year, they’d never ventured to the UK. Championed by Courtney Barnett, they opened for their fellow Melbourne ally around the country in December, playing to two sold out Kentish Town Forums before headlining their own show at The Lexington.
Sitting with Tom and Jo a few months back, I ask how they would want new fans to find them; with a knowledge of their career to date, or fresh through their newest material? “I was just thinking about that the other day. We’ve been playing for ten years now, so a long time, and I was sort of unsure because in a way I feel we’re kind of really hitting our stride now musically, and as artists, and there is a sense of detachment to everything that’s come before,” says Tom.
“I wouldn’t be upset if someone just discovered us and our latest music is all they’ve known. I feel like that would be a good place to build the story for those listeners as opposed to ten years ago.”
Both brunettes of average height and build, Tom and Jo could pass as a brother, sister duo. But their rapport with each other is more that of old friends who’ve been through the twists and turns of a long-winding career path. In our conversation Tom is the more focused and articulated, while Jo brings a self-deprecious, warm sense of humour to proceedings. But on stage the dynamics shift as Jo becomes the backbone of the show; a reliable and considered drummer, she allows Tom to charm and attack songs with flair and emotion.
Still on the subject of new vs old, we talk about the anti-buzz of being discovered three albums deep. “In some ways it works against you because people are like, well if they’ve been around this long then I would know about them anyways,” shrugs Jo. “And I probably do it as well. But we are a band that I think are getting better at writing songs. You see people who do these incredible albums the first time out and then people almost don’t want the later stuff because that was the pinnacle moment for them.”
We had to make a kind of hands in, all together choice to release what we'd already been told by more than one record label was too challenging.
The duo felt the pressure of success when creating new record Animal, approaching the record in a different manner, with their live show in mind. “It's really different to our last album,” Jo explains. “I was expecting a lot of fans to find Animal distasteful or disappointing. It turns out I was completely wrong, but at the time we had to make a kind of hands in, all together choice to release what we'd already been told by more than one record label was too challenging.”
“What was really good about us originally was the energy live,” continues Tom. “Our first two albums were great fun to make in the studio, but replicating them live was such a tricky thing, it’s always sounded like there’s been something missing. It was loops and samples and it meant it was really hard to replicate live, and it felt like we lost a bit of the essence of Big Scary.
I think a lot of that is me learning to know the difference between playing live and recording, and being OK with that.
And so the new stuff was a bit of a reaction against that, trying to get back to the energy we have playing, just us two. We’ve produced ourselves the whole time with our tastes developing as producers. I think a lot of that is me learning to know the difference between playing live and recording, and being OK with that.”
“The songs are looser, more playful, which means the shows have a bit more audience energy,” agrees Jo. “We're playing really well because we don't have to focus on parts so much, which makes the whole time on stage just fun.”
I couldn’t agree more. Seeing Big Scary earlier this year with their full band was an uplifting experience. Their songs came to life with sunkissed grooves and spilled through a thoroughly fluid crowd. But do they have any plans to bring the full entourage back to our shores?
Jo’s hesitant, “It is very humbling to have people overseas listening to our music, but the reason we're not touring is because we want to present ourselves properly, with as many of our live band members as possible. So we're just going to wait until the demand and money and opportunity is right.”
Get listening, get discovering, and get your friends on board. Rack up those Spotify royalties and stats and maybe in the new year we could ring in the new, old band.