Steeped deep in punk tradition but disregarding any confines which tradition entails, the four piece bristles with Midwestern aggression and has the biting guitars and vocals to back it up. Catching the band live in a grimy South City basement is a whirlwind of guitar trading, with members Ryan Macias, Lucy Dougherty and Eric Boschen switching up guitar and bass duties pending on the song. In the midst of that, the three founding members of Little Big Bangs all share vocals, providing a smeared canvas of shouting/singing/sneering that keeps each tune fresh. Drummer Drew Gowran pounds rock thunder, keeping the band from derailing from the pure adrenaline.
I caught up with the group to discuss its upcoming self-titled debut album, recorded with Jason Hutto at Smoking Baby Studios. The album will be released at Plush on Saturday, September 7, along with performances from the Union Electric, the Corrigan Brothers and Skarekrau Radio.
Matt Stuttler: How did Little Big Bangs get together?
Eric Boschen: We played a bunch of times a long time ago, then Lucy, Ryan and me all played for maybe a year. We changed our name quite a few times. We would all play different instruments. Then we stole Drew from Navigator.
Lucy Dougherty: He said, "I don't know, I'm in three bands already. It'd be four."
Drew Gowran: We played a gig at Cranky Yellow [which is Blank Space now] with my other band Cackling Hen. I guess the word was "We got to have that guy in the band." I ended up doing it.
How has the band evolved over the three years you've been together?
LD: I think with roles of who plays what, with a drummer that stays on drums, solidified our other instrumentation. I started playing bass. I hadn't played much before this.
EB: I think our songs have gotten shorter. They're more concise, tight songs. There used to be more noise parts.
Drew, you've mentioned you've played in other bands and still do. How do you approach Little Big Bangs differently than the other bands you're involved in?
DG: Oh, you know. I just get in that dark place. (Smiles). No, it comes naturally. I know what they're doing and it just kind of happens. You know, the chemistry works. Liking and listening to a lot of music helps being able to do that.
So how was recording your album different than your first release "Easter Egg Demo?"
Ryan Macias: It was really fun because we got to spend a lot more time on it. It was also a lot more draining. I never thought I could be drained so much from doing something that I loved. It was definitely exhausting, but it was a lot of fun too.
Who did you record with for the album?
DG: It's with Jason Hutto. He's great and does a lot of bands. Smoking Baby Studios.
EB: He's amazing. When we recorded, we did one or two takes on both "Easter Egg" and the new one. With "Easter Egg," we didn't double track anything and didn't really do much for the mixing.
When you went to record "Little Big Bangs" were all the songs ready to record when you went into Smoking Baby?
DG: Oh yeah, we played out like 500 times [since the demos], which made us to go in there. We did 17 songs in one day.
17 songs. Wow.
DG: We're only doing 12 for the album. We're keeping tracks to do future single releases.
EB: We were in there actually two and half days with instrumentation and vocals.
How did you decide what to put on the album?
RM: We thought about what other splits we knew we're going to do, what would sound good with them. Then from whatever we had left over, we just had a good order. We also knew what ones we definitely wanted on the album.
So what's the writing process like?
RM: I feel like we have a lot of different approaches.
LD: I was thinking about this the other day. We all write and some people are better at writing things than others. Eric writes great riffs, Ryan writes great lyrics, guitar chords, vocal stuff. I'm usually good at writing in between the lines of things that are already there. Drums are crazy to think about writing.
RM: It's just people bouncing off things on one another, trying to make at least one connection. Then if another person has something solid, you just kind of move from there.
EB: Our songs change a lot when we play them live too.
DG: Part of the writing process is playing out and being like, "What should we not do? Let's change this part." It's more stripped down when we first do it; then we make it sound different.
RM: I think another thing we do that I like is allowing space for it to change, sometimes you (looks at Drew) have just loose parts, then you pull something out of your ass live that is just like amazing.
DG: That's how it works. If it flows naturally, then use it. Start simple, go from there. It doesn't usually happen in the basement. It'll happen on stage, when the moment is real.
Are there any re-occurring themes on the album?
DG: There's artwork and pictures of us inside the album, but it's pretty simple. Whatever you want it to be.
LD: There's not really a concept, but some of what people would call political.
RM: I think it has a lot to do with not being passive, loosely.
A lot of bands kind of shy away from being political anymore.
EB: People hate us because of it. I don't think anybody is like, "Oh, we're writing a political song" or anything.
LD: For me, it's just part of how I see the world. Anything I create will have a critical aspect in it of what's around me. That might be a theme. I wouldn't want to do something that wasn't like that. It'd be fake for me.
EB: I think it's about doing something authentic, or whatever. A lot of why I do this is I feel like I have to do it. I don't know what else I'd be doing. It's something to come to, to vent. You have to express that, or it stays inside.
LD: I feel like our music is expressive. It can be messy, in that it becomes so expressive. I like to keep that.
RM: I think a lot of lyrics are frustrated and angry. It's weird, because I don't know where the line is. Most people write angry songs and sometimes yeah they're considered political. Sometimes they're not. It's kind of strange.
LD: It's like the song "Doll Parts" by Hole. That wouldn't be considered a political song, but it totally is. It's very socially mindful.
RM: I feel like songs that are political, it's not the songs themselves, it's who is singing it. Like the Clash. Those songs are political. Or Gang of Four or something. Or "Been a Son" by Nirvana. You wouldn't say that's a political song, but it is.
So what sets Little Big Bangs apart from other bands?
DG: Not being able to play venues. (Everyone laughs.)
EB: I like that we play with a lot of different kinds of bands. Bands with more pop sensibility or more proggy or noisy. That's cool.
LD: Our description one on recent Facebook flyer was like, "If pizza was music, this is what it would sound like."
RM: I think Joe Hess wrote that. His descriptions of us are always bizarre. One was like "everything you hated about the '90s made palatable." I think most people say we're political, or '90s. Which is weird. I don't know. It's like, okay.
LD: I wouldn't know what to say either. I usually just tell people, "Punk rock."
EB: Yeah, that's just an umbrella term that means a lot of things. I'm fine with that kind of ambiguity.
What kind of effect does the city have on you?
LD: (Looking towards Drew) What were you saying? That dark spot? (everyone laughs) It's a deep dark river. It feels Midwestern to me.
DG: I feel like people have something to prove musical wise in St. Louis, because you're not on the coast and no one's listening. Maybe they are. All those other bands are trying to do the same thing. They want people to listen to them. I guess we have an attitude that we're going to put our best foot forward with whatever we're doing.
EB: Sometimes, but then I think bands from here don't try that much.
DG: Then there's that effect. Why even try? But it's supposed to be fun.
EB: It's fun as shit.
LD: Yeah, I like St. Louis a lot.
RM: I think there's a framework for a lot more, like house venues and stuff like that. It's somewhat cheap to live here, you know? It's easy to have house venues and DIY stuff a bit easier. I mean, that's still hard to do but a little bit easier. I don't know, I've always lived in St. Louis.
LD: I think we've all always lived here, or around here. We don't really have any other reference points.
EB: I think what's weird about St. Louis musically is there is a lot of bands that are nice people, really open and you can talk to them like people. Then there's some that are mean, real apathetic, jaded.
DG: Real short with you.
EB: It's like, "I don't understand why you're so mean."
DG: I can be that way too though. I can give that impression off sometimes, if I'm in a bad mood. I guess it's just the nature of the beast, living in St. Louis.
EB: When you tour and you play with a band, it's kind of like, "Oh, this is cool!" You're going to meet this band, maybe be friends and work together. Then bands, a lot of times here, don't have that. It's like people don't even talk to each other sometimes. That's not true for every band. There's quite a few bands that are incredibly nice people. It's cool that it's cross genre too.
Which I think is something cool about St. Louis. There's not too many bands doing the same thing.
DG: There needs to be a dynamic for me for a show. There needs not to be four rock bands. A rock band, a noisy band like Skarekrau Radio, then some electronics in the mix.
RM: I think what's more important than the actual music getting along as far as it sounding similar, is the people getting along. It's just a lot funner when you can hang out with people.
LD: One of my favorites was like when there would be a party at Pig Slop. There was a DJ. At the end of the night, it was like, "It was a show. Okay now it's a dance party!" It's kind of best of both worlds in that situation.
RM: I remember those shows too because they were fun. People were just like, "We're going to dance all night." It's fun being a rock band when people come to dance.
DG: We had people hanging from the ceiling at one of our shows we played with Japanther. We did a ping-pong set, they'd play a song, we'd play a song. Sometimes they'd be playing their song before we're even done with our song. It was amazing. People are pushing and shoving each other, having a good time.
EB: I feel like the best shows we ever play are the weird ones. Another show we did with Brother Gruesome in Champaign-Urbana [Ill.]. They're an awesome band, but yeah we did that back and forth. Then we did a noise thing with all of us playing.
So you have some release shows coming up.
DG: Yeah, September 7th is the album release at Plush. Then September 21st, Tower Groove Records 7" Little Big Bangs/Peck of Dirt split with Tok at the Heavy Anchor.
Any more information you can pass on about the album?
EB: It's 12 songs, pretty short. We intentionally picked some songs that were different sounding. Some fast songs, catchy ones, slow ones, noisy ones.
LD: I think it represents us way better than the demos, personally.
DG: The demos gave us a lot of direction though. If we didn't have Glenn [Burleigh] do that, we wouldn't have what we have now.
EB: That was really helpful. Jason's studio is limited by what he can do with the space, but he's fucking amazing. He's got such an ear, knows all these tricks and is just easy to work with.
RM: I feel like we learned a lot. I know I did.
DG: He coached us on a lot of stuff we were doing like vocals, or "Why don't you try this?" or "Add this over the bass line."
LD: He put my vocals through a Twin Reverb and double tracked it on that and I was like "Ah! This is so good!"
DG: If we ever have a third guitar player, we'll add Jason to the lineup.
RM: I can't wait to go back and do that again. Record more. Such a good experience.
If you had to pinpoint why it is you play in Little Big Bangs, what would it be?
DG: I feel like I got lucky to be in this band. I've always had a vision to play in a really good rock band, but this kind of accidentally happened. Playing out a lot, you'll find a band. This kind of naturally happened for me. I'm just glad.
EB: Yeah, we didn't know Drew, just the three of us knew each other. Just saw him play and were like "Hey!" Worked out really awesome.
DG: I didn't think they were from here. I thought they were from out of town because they were so different. They were so charming. I was thinking I would take away the charm. I think it's evolving and it's turning out really nice.
"I Don't Wanna Talk About It" from the album "Little Big Bangs," out September 7, 2013.