My favourite LP of the year so far has been the magnificent ‘Nature Experiments’ by New York’s the Big Sleep. The trio have just completed their first UK tour and after last week’s debut performance in Glasgow I managed to grab a quick interview with guitarist/singer Danny Barria.
A poor turnout on the night hadn’t diminished Danny’s enthusiasm and he was pleased with a couple of early shows on the tour.
“It’s been great, Brighton (the Great Escape Festival) was a highlight, I was worried a bit because all the bands on before us were pop, but it was great.
“Then we were in Manchester yesterday at the Castle Hotel and that was really awesome. I heard that John Peel interviewed Ian Curtis there, that’s just a rumour I heard and I was like ‘That’s awesome, that’s great, I love being here.’”
Despite it being the band’s first Scottish show, Danny was already familiar with not just Glasgow but also Nice’n’Sleazy’s.
“I have a friend here so I’ve been before. In fact I’ve hung out in this bar before but we’ve never played here. So it’s really cool to come back and actually be doing what we do.”
Once upon a time a band like the Big Sleep would have built a profile in the UK via the music press and key national radio shows. But in this internet age it’s harder to make the same sort of impact across such a diffuse medium. Danny explains how the Big Sleep finally made it to the UK.
‘You know I think it’s a lot of luck. But it’s taken a lot of work and a long time over in America to get to the point where anyone was saying ‘you’re doing well over here, so we want you to be heard over there’. So that was the key, tons of work back home. Our label lined up distribution in the UK and Europe and that’s why we’re here, our record just came out.”
Danny reckons that the new LP ‘Nature Experiments’ is a consequence of a change of emphasis for the band.
“The first two were a lot more like rock. I don’t want to say that this one isn’t rock because we still love our rock and we still love our riffs but it’s more open to melody. Before we weren’t afraid to take our time and build things up but on this record we’re about being concise and getting to the point. Not punching people’s faces but being like ‘this is the idea, this is how we’re moving it along, in and out’.”
If the move to shorter songs was deliberate, the absence of instrumentals, which took up a fair chunk of both ‘Song of the Tiger’ and ‘Sleep Forever’, wasn’t planned.
“No, it wasn’t deliberate. Just like before when the vocal songs weren’t deliberate choices, this time I would show Sonya the songs and she would have a melody for it. And whenever it happened before we wouldn’t be like ‘No this is an instrumental, you can’t have a vocal on it’, it was just very organic.
“So the fact that she had ideas for so many of these songs was just as organic as before.”
One of the big attractions for me of the Big Sleep is the way that Sonya’s subtle melodies contrast with the crunching guitars. It seems that that’s just the way that the Big Sleep are!
“She has this very calm thing going on which is cool and great and I love that juxtaposition. It just works for us. Everything she does kind of goes through the both of us – ‘does it work? does it fit?’ And if it doesn’t we’ll change it. But if it does we’re cool with it.”
The Big Sleep are one of these bands that give out an all encompassing sound it’s easy to get lost in, particularly live. It’s something Danny is very aware of.
“It’s the coolest thing in the world to strike a guitar and have it strike you back with all that sound. I love playing live. It’s my favourite thing about being in a band. I mean I love recording , I love writing songs but playing live is it, it’s really fun. I love being one of the people who make that noise.”
One of the surprises last week for me was that the show was a little looser than I imagined with a definite groove at times. Danny explains that there are some unlikely influences showing through in the Big Sleep.
“Sonya and I, the both of us love dancing, we like R’n’B a lot. I don’t listen to a lot of rock music, I listen to some indie music but most of the time I’m listening to R’n’B and soul hits.
“I love Aaliyah, I love Mariah Carey to death, just tons of music like that. So we love to dance. It’s not our aim all the time but it just kind of creeps in because we love it so much.”
After the Glasgow show the Big Sleep headed for London, Liverpool, Paris and Amsterdam before heading home. There’s to be no break for the band after they return home.
“The day after we land we have a show in New York then we’re gone for a month and a half just doing the States. And we’ve been gone for a while, we started at the end of February and we’re going to be gone until about the beginning of July.”
Danny is thinking beyond the forthcoming tour already.
“I really, really want to get to work on the next record, really bad! Hopefully we can have that ready for September 2013, I’m not making any promises or anything but I would really like to be in that position.
“The first two were about 18 months apart, then there was four years between the second and the third. We’re not going to repeat that, there’s no possible way.
“If I talk to anybody about being in a band it’s always about keep working. It doesn’t matter how many people are at your shows, who’s writing about you, just keep working. I love working on songs.
“Right now it’s all I’m doing. I’m gone so much, most of last year I was gone playing guitar for another band, so it’s all I do. It’s all consuming. You’re gone from the city so much, you can’t put any roots down or settle down, it’s just what you do.”
Thanks to Danny for taking the time for the interview.
This is absolutely one of my favourite songs of 2012 so far: