Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Sunday Conversation with Bigelf

Anyone who's seen our Ripple Music Round-up, our views on the best heavy rock of 2008, will know how I feel about these guys. Their last album, Cheat the Gallows, was a mind-bending, senses-shattering, IQ melting extravaganza of progressive, neo-psychedelic, retro-seventies rock/pomp mayhem. You don't believe me? Check out the lists of some of the other music sites who linked up with us to share our Year's End lists. Yup, you'll find Bigelf there also. Seems the world is rapidly forming a consensus, Bigelf is for real. With that in mind, you couldn't believe how freaking amped The Pope and I were when Damon Fox, the main elf at Bigelf, stopped by our office and plopped himself down on our red leather couch. Once I was finally able to find my tongue, I had questions galore for the man.

When I was a kid, growing up in
a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkle, the first time I ever heard "Detroit Rock City" by Kiss was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I looked at music, what it could sound like, how it could make me feel? What have been your musical epiphany moments?

Well, when I was a kid in the 70's, I was obsessed with the song "Black Sabbath". I would put it on to scare my best friend Chad. He would say, "No man, don't play that, it's too freaky." So I hit the play button anyway, Ozzy moans, "What is this, that stands before me?" then "Oh no, no, please God help me!" Actually, I was pretty scared too. We would almost shit our pants thinking we somehow sold our soul to the Devil or something. That was the cool part though, it made you feel special. What fucking music does that to kids today? Nothing! Here's another epiphany, I'lI never forget this. I was in my teens and at Shawn Cassidy's house (don't ask) and I found copy of "Abbey Road" on vinyl. I knew the hits but had never heard "Because". I remember listening to it over and over, I couldn't believe the sound of the vocals. It was a revelation for sure. I also recall hearing "21st Century Schizoid Man" for the first time with mature ears, I completely lost it. It was as if aliens made it, talk about reformatting of the brain. Music after that was like being yanked out of The Matrix. Can you imagine how people reacted to it back in 1969, holy shit!

Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?

It's random, there is no set process. Sometimes it's a title or melody, sometimes a riff or a chord progression. Song ideas can be in safekeeping or randomly living in my mind for years before I do anything about it. I've said this before but there have been many times where I sat down at the piano to finish a stubborn song and instead wrote three new ones. My songwriting style is unorthodox but natural, I try not to force it. Plus, I'm not under contract to churn out the hits. Not yet anyway.

In songwriting, how do you bring the song together? What do you look for in terms of complexity? Simplicity? Time changes?

I don't look for anything in particular, I just channel them and let it flow. Whenever I try to write in a certain style or with something in mind it never comes out half as good as it does when it happens on it's own. Ha, I sound like Bilbo Baggins, "I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve." As I write new songs, I group them into possible future albums (two currently growing) even while recording the current one. I've found that this allows the songs breath and grow on their own. Of course, if they're still incomplete come recording then I knock them out. They're kinda like little monsters that I keep and take care of until I have to unleash them on the whole world.

Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?

The music industry seems to keep me pretty sustained as far as subject matter, no surprises there. And when that well is running dry I look in the usual places...death, failure, pain, origins of existence, cataclysmic aftermath of nuclear holocaust. They all make for interesting art.

Genre's are so misleading and such a way to pigeonhole bands. Without resorting to labels, how would you describe your music?

A mad carnival rife with diabolical heaviness and demonic bombast. Where epic guitars, maniacal keyboards and rhythms filled with explosive hallucinogens are performed by none other than Satan's house band. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you...The Evils Of Rock & Roll! Not bad.

What is your musical intention? What are you trying to express or get your audience to feel?

On a serious level, hope. I hope to inspire people. Or maybe they'll feel something more chaotic like "Wonka's Wondrous Boat Ride"? As long as they feel something, that's all that matters.

The business of music is a brutal place. Changes in technology have made it easier than ever for bands to get their music out, but harder than ever to make a living? What are your plans to move the band forward? How do you stay motivated in this brutal business?

I don't know what's more brutal, making less money or every Joe thinking their music is relevant and releasable? Technology has clouded commonsense in some ways. Moving forward, everyone knows the future of music is live performance, which is good for us because our concerts don't suck like most do today. I believe mankind could be in the most futuristic, unthinkable state of existence like Blade Runner or something and there would still be a vital place for a live blues band, know what I mean?

Describe to us the ideal (realistic) record label and how you'd work with them, and they with you.

We're pretty close to that kind of relationship/situation with Linda Perry and Custard Records right now. Maybe a little better financial split would be nice, but that's why it's called the music business, it's not just about the music. Artistically as a band, we do precisely what we want. There's been very little input from the label so far and what has been given was helpful and needed. With "Cheat The Gallows" it's been pretty effortless though, I guess it's karma this time and we deserve it, we've been through fucking hell as a band.

Do you have a particular sound in your head that you try to bring out? Or is the creation process random and spontaneous? Or both, or neither?

I think the creation process is random and spontaneous but the sound has been dialed in since "Money Machine" and that sound is heavily theatrical. People always compare the "Bigelf" sound to a dark twisted circus, so I guess the essence of vaudeville must be in engraved in my head somewhere. Or maybe I was a sideshow freak in a past life?

Where do you see you and your music going in ten years?

A new Rock Band/Guitar Hero video game off-shoot called "Keyboard Wizard". Hopefully we're still a band in ten years, no, I'm joking. We're gonna be like Aerosmith in ten years, we're never gonna go away(haha).

What makes a great song?

That's a hard question. I've really pondered it and the answer is, I don't know. If I knew the answer, all of my songs would be great. Songs are just experiments, they start as ideas or feelings and the result is a song. Some songs are all about the swagger and vibe of the performance, others tilt the scale on sheer musicianship. A song can kill you lyrically or when you don't know the words sometimes it's the melody that's got it's hooks in you. Who knows? Songs are extremely subjective. They're in the eyes of the beholder to decide.

Who living right now writes great songs?

It's easy to say Paul McCartney is the greatest. Yeah like, 20 years ago. So, I'll tone it down to something more human and personal. There's something special about actual knowing someone on a personal level who's exceptional and gifted, Linda Perry is one of those people for me. She's a great songwriter, prolific and intuitive, yet simple and universal. Also, I know a young upstart named Alex Izenberg who is going to blow people's minds in the years to come. Beware of Din Caliber.

Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?


Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?
My choice is vinyl, of course. I still have about 1,300 records. I miss the concept of the A and B side, it's hard to reminisce about the real estate album art once occupied. Gatefold vinyl? So kick ass, oh the misery. But like the rest of us mindless iPod junkies, I've succumbed to empty3's. Hey, it's convenient and easy but it's contributing to the downward spiral of music that's turning it into glutinous suck-ass product. How awesome.

What's the best record store in your town?

There's only one left worth mentioning, Amoeba Record in Hollywood. We just played a gig there, it was pretty kick ass for an in-store. Unfortunately, I have to stay away from that place, it's the only way I can pay my bills.

Thanks, Damon. I'll burn through my cash at Amoeba's with you anyday. Can't wait to hear the next album. I'll reserve a spot on my year end's best list for you.


Bar L. said...

I owe you guys a HUGE thank you for introducing me to Big Elf a few shows ago (when was that???) I've been listening to them ever since!

sue said...

I enjoyed reading this.

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