INTERVIEW: Big Scary
BIG SCARY is controlled by two beings – Tom Iansek and Joanna Syme. Syme hits the drums and occasionally belts out some vocals in the background. Iansek mans the electric guitar when he’s not playing his keyboard and also occupies the lead mic.
With all these elements combined, they create a bold sound, incorporating a series of genres in every tune that ultimately blur into one another; whether it be a bit of pop, grunge or blues.
They’re currently on the last leg of their tour with Bernard Fanning – just one of many names that BIG SCARY have performed with; not to mention a series of their own headlining shows and festival appearances both here at home and internationally.
They released their sophomore record Not Art in Australia last June, and are gearing up for its overseas distribution this coming October via Barsuk Records. (BIG SCARY being their first Australian band signed!)
To keep them just that little bit more busy, Tom Iansek gave us 15 minutes of his time so that we could talk all things BIG SCARY!
So to kick things off, I asked Tom how he and Jo came to be BIG SCARY.
Well initially Jo and I got together, not as Big Scary but just as a way to kind to start playing some song ideas I had. I met Jo through a friend from school and said I should “check out this drummer who played with the school jazz band, she’s really sweet” so yeah, we kind of met that way. And just through the year we kind of morphed into Big Scary, and we started playing lots of folk originally. And then we sort of started playing more electric guitar rather than acoustic, and you know, getting the drum kit involved and yeah, that’s the way it went.
After hearing that, it was easy to assume that the two had always been playing music?
Yeah, I grew up learning piano and then I went to drums and singing and bits and pieces through high school. Jo’s the same, Jo learnt a bit of piano and guitar and stuff when she was little and then focused more on her drumming through high school and then into uni.
Curious to know, how did Tom and Jo choose the name “Big Scary”?
We got the name from a sort of hobby of mine – I like to collect band names. I had a list of names in my phone and Big Scary was actually one of the first lists. I just sort of pull them from wherever I can see them and whatever words I like the sound of. I’m not quite sure where I got Big Scary from. I remember maybe reading like a kids book or something, you know? Like what a kid might say. I put that in the list and forwarded it to Jo and yeah, it won.
Tom Iansek and Jo Syme started up their own label called Pieater [pronounced pie-eater] Records. What provoked this?
I guess it’s mostly a commitment to being independent in Australia. I mean it didn’t really change anything about how we went about being – we still just have our team with our manager. And then people outside of that: booking agent and publisher and publicist and stuff. I mean I guess the cool thing is you know, when we do have a bit more time and money I suppose to want to just do other stuff. Then I guess the label is a cool way to be able to do those things.
Alongside the independence of starting their own label, Iansek also self-recorded and produced their new record, Not Art. Considering this and the writing process, how much time was spent on the record all up?
It’s hard to tell with writing it, we sort of wrote a lot of it as we went. But we had some little song ideas before we started the official recording process. The first day of recording was in March last year, and we finished just before Christmas. It was a nine month process from start to finish, and a lot of the writing was done throughout so we sort of recorded even unfinished ideas and just risked it, and drum lines just as they were and let them become songs in their own time throughout that process.
Although everyone absorbs and interprets music in their own respective manner, I asked Tom if Not Art follows a specific storyline upon listening to the album.
It doesn’t, I would say. Not lyrically or how a concept album might do. Lyrically I suppose it’s a collection of stories, you know? From here and there. But they do tend to hone in on certain themes and ideas that were bubbling away in our heads throughout the whole thing. So there are some kind of unifying themes and definitely what we’re trying to do with the production and the actual sound, I think there’s a bit of a continuous storyline from start to finish.
Is there a track off Not Art that resonates with Tom more so than any of the other songs?
Yeah! Well lots of them actually, I mean a lot of them are kind of a new territory for us. You know we sort of tried different genres and with that a sort of different playing style. Trying lots of things we weren’t entirely comfortable with to begin with, and even just lots of new production techniques and engineering kind of things. But I think the one that I consider listening to the most is a track called ‘Why Hip Hop Sucks In ’13’. I kinda like that one because it was the most out there and the biggest gamble for us, and just something that I’m glad we took a chance on because it’s not even us singing, we have other people singing and it’s sort of all based on loops and I find that just sort of sums up what we’re trying to do with the album; which is like I said, pushing ourselves out of what we’re comfortable with and yeah, I think we’re kind of rewarded with that track.
“So it was more of a thrill that one I guess”
Yeah! We could have easily left that one out because it wasn’t technically Big Scary, you know, it wasn’t Jo and I singing. I know Jo was very uncomfortable with putting it on. Also the idea of this kind of guy I put you know, not really worrying about those kind of things. I thought that was what I wanted the album to be all about, and really in the end if we’re trying to be true to those ideas, it would have been silly to have left it out.
Big Scary have had their fair share of touring, including a SXSW appearance for last year’s showcase. Throughout it all, I asked Tom for his most memorable touring experience.
Well they’re all kind of memorable in their own way. We don’t sort of seek out you know, crazy adventures like some bands do when they tour. Touring for us and sort of long touring is probably more sort of a, you know, a survival mode type thing where we just make it through the best we can without losing our voice or getting sick, or performing disastrously.
Our first national tour with the Vascoe Era was pretty awesome because you know, that was our first time on the road and it was exciting and new, and I guess we kind of did go pretty hard on the party front there and we learnt a lot of subsequent lessons from that. Even now, we’re on tour with Bernard Fanning and we’re playing all these incredible theatres and really big venues. All those sort of places are pretty amazing experiences in their own right. So yeah, little things here and there on every tour and overseas is of course awesome because I guess we’re just mostly excited to travel and get over there and play music. We went to India as well last year and just being able to play music is just a very different experience to if you were over there travelling. It’s quite a unique way of seeing a place and experiencing a place for sure.
At the end of June, Big Scary played one of FBi Radio’s All Our Friends parties, as part of the station’s tenth birthday. Clearly a good relationship there, I asked Tom what the station means to Big Scary.
FBi’s one of our favourite community radio stations. We really love and respect what they do and how they go about things. They’ve always been a big supporter of our’s so it was a really awesome thing to be able to play. Whenever we’re in Sydney, we’re tuned into 94.5.
Speaking of touring, the duo are just about to kick off their own Australian tour at the end of the month. Although Tom explained that every tour holds it’s own individual merit, I asked if there was a place or venue that Big Scary were most looking forward to playing or revisiting.
Well I guess new places, we haven’t done a gig in Ballarat before, so that’ll be interesting I guess above all else. But we’ve played a few of the venues before. We’re excited to be getting out on the road. We’ll have a bit of help on stage which will bring a lot of love to some of the songs that we couldn’t have achieved otherwise, so we’re really excited about that as well.
And to wrap up, what can we expect from Big Scary for the rest of 2013?
Well there’s always lots of planning and scheming. With the industry, you know, it’s never really happening until it’s happening. For example, we signed a deal with a record label a few months back, so we’ll be getting back overseas October/November, so it’s all kind of up in the air at the moment. We’ll have to get back to you on that one!
Words by Hannah Galvin.