Big Eyes third album Stake My Claim recently came out and it is pretty fucking awesome. Definitely their best so far. Read my review of it here: https://keeptrackofthetime.wordpress.com/2016/08/16/review-big-eyes-stake-my-claim-don-giovanni/
I spoke to Kait, the lead singer and founding member of Big Eyes about the new record, touring, line-up changes and more!
DB: So, the latest album Stake My Claim, are you happy with how that has turned out, and how do you think that fits in with your previous two albums?
KE: Oh, well yeah, I’m really happy with how it came out. I think it’s definitely got the best production and is maybe the most cohesive record that we put out so far and I think it definitely fits in line with the other two records, because the first one was maybe like a thinner sounding record. Like, it was the first one and we didn’t really know, so I feel like there was less of a- I dunno, I feel like I was less hard on myself with what I was putting out at that point, and the second one we recorded on tape, and we did it live so I think that one definitely sounded a lot better and fuller than the first one, but I feel like the third one is kind of just taking the best of all of the albums and also now that my singing and guitar playing has gotten better, it’s kind of accelerating and amping everything up.
DB: Yeah, so did the recording process take a bit longer for this record than the previous two?
KE: Yeah, well, we recorded this LP piece by piece, which we actually did on the first one as well. Well, the second one was completely live, except for singing, but on the first one, we had to really rush to get it done, because there was only a handful of days we could work on it, and we had to keep going back and forth to New Jersey, and it was just kind of a pain, so we were just trying to get that one done as quick as possible, but this third one, we recorded it in bits and pieces, and the only thing we had to get done, that we had a specific amount to do, was the drums. So, we got the drums done in one day. Very happy with how they came out, and then everything else, we were just able to take our time on. So, you know, I would record guitars one day, and I could kind of jump around, I could move to vocals and then we could go back. If there was a bass part that needed to be replaced, we could do that, so it was nice to just kind of sit back. Then we could take a week or two off and be like, oh this song needs tambourine or something!
DB: Yeah, so you had more time to consider the songs and the different elements.
KE: Exactly, it is nice to have some breathing room.
DB: Yeah. How long was the process in all?
KE: We recorded the drums mid-October and then we finished everything else by mid-December, so it took two months to track. Then it was mixed in- it took pretty much all of January to mix, which was a few mixes.
DB: So, was it recorded in New York?
KE: Yes, the whole thing was recorded in New York.
DB: Yeah, so I understand that you were based in Seattle for a while, is that right?
KE: Yeah, I had the band out there for a few years, from 2011 to 2014. Then I moved back home in 2014, back to Brooklyn and had to get like a whole new line-up of people.
DB: Did you change line-up when you were out in Seattle, or did the old band come with you then?
KE: Well, the original drummer that I had, CJ, he moved me out to Seattle, in 2011, we moved out there. We had gotten a new bass player, but eventually CJ couldn’t play in that band any longer, so we ended up with two different drummers. So, it was kind of a completely different line-up from the New York one when we were out in Seattle and moving back here, a completely new line-up as well.
DB: So, for this record then, it was a totally different line-up to previously. Do you feel the new line-up impacted upon the band’s sound at all?
KE: Yeah, well actually right after we finished recording this record, we moved Paul over from the bass to the guitar, and now we are a four piece band with two dualling guitarists. So, I feel like it has given us a much heavier sound and there is a lot more room for local melodies and back-up harmonies and all that kind of stuff and dual guitar leads and room for more solos.
DB: So, do you feel that when you lived out in Seattle, did the music scene there have any influence on the band’s sound?
KE: Well, I feel like we never really fit in in Seattle, but we went down to Portland a lot and up to Vancouver a lot and I feel like we fit in those two cities a lot better. I dunno, I feel like we always kind of had our own vibe, we never really 100% fit into any scene anywhere, but it would be probably foolish to say we weren’t influenced by our peers or something, but there was no conscious effort to change our sound or anything like that, but I’m sure that the rainy weather and the lack of sunshine out in Seattle probably made the band do more minor chord sad kind of songs. The second album, compared to the first album, there is a lot more poppy, major key songs on the first album, and on the second one, there is a lot more minor key kind of stuff. That’s when we started getting more ‘hard rock’.
DB: Do you feel more like you fit in now that you are back in New York then?
KE: I definitely feel I can relate more to people in New York than I could in Seattle, just because I am from out here and I know that people say New Yorkers are this way and that way, and moving back, I have definitely realised that they are more up-front and forward with things. You don’t have to guess what someone is thinking about you in New York. You can just ask them or they’ll tell you, if you wanna hear it or not. In Seattle, it’s a lot trickier. People are just weird. You would think that you are making friends with someone and then they would be very weird or stand-offish or something. People just seemed a lot more passive-aggressive in Seattle, at least to me. But yeah, I think we fit in better out in New York for sure.
DB: In terms of the music scene?
KE: Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of cool punk bands out here and more rock ‘n’ roll kind of stuff.
DB: I feel Big Eyes straddles quite a few different genres. So I was wondering, how do you see Big Eyes as a band? Do you see yourselves as a punk band, a rock band, or a powerpop band? Or wouldn’t you really define yourself in that way?
KE: I think first and foremost- I guess ideally, we are a punk band. Like our ideals and all that kind of stuff, but musically, I’d say we are more of a rock ‘n’ roll band. I think we play rock ‘n’ roll music but with a kind of punk edge to it, but I also love power-pop and the Beatles and that kind of stuff, so I feel there are a lot of poppy song structures going on in the band.
DB: I can certainly here that on the latest record particularly.
KE: Oh yeah, definitely got really poppy on this one.
DB: Have your musical influences changed over the years?
KE: Umm, not majorly. I think mostly in the last few years, I was into maybe less punk music and more like 70s/80s classic rock kind of stuff, but I still listen to a good amount of punk and pop-punk. Not like Blink 182 kind of pop-punk, more like Mr. T Experience and The Muffs and that kind of pop-punk.
DB: Yeah, the good stuff! So, yeah, in terms of you touring, in the US, would it likely to be with other punk bands?
KE: Yeah, I’d say we mostly play with punk bands. Sometimes we’ll play a show and it will be with a bar rock band or something. I kind of get the feeling that the promoter didn’t get the memo that we are not a bar rock band or something! So, we’re just a band, we just play rock ‘n’ roll music.
DB: And then it’s not maybe your crowd in the same way?
KE: It depends because you know the bar rock people, they can get down with all the guitar solos and that kind of stuff, but I feel like it tends to be a bit more like macho.
DB: So how has the reception to the latest album been so far?
KE: It’s been great. We’ve been getting way more reviews than ever before and every single review I’ve seen has been positive. So, that’s really nice. Then, yeah it’s really cool to just kind of watch your rankings go up on Spotify and all that kind of stuff. I know a lot of people don’t like to talk about it, because it’s taboo or tacky or something, but as someone who has been doing this band for six years, it’s nice to finally see some major improvements, you know. We’ve definitely been playing to bigger crowds on our tours and all that kind of stuff. Selling more records. So, yeah, it feels good!
DB: What kind of size of venues would you play normally?
KE: Yeah, we are still playing fairly small places. Usually, the capacity will be maybe 150-200 people and depending on where it is, we’ll either fill it out, or it might be more like half full or something. Depending on if it’s a city we played once or twice, there might only be 40 people there, but if it’s a place like Milwaukee or Chicago, there might be more like 100-150 people there. Still, a good amount of bars and smaller sized clubs.
DB: You went on tour with Against Me!, is that right?
KE: Yeah, it’s true, about two years ago. A little over two years ago.
DB: So, yeah, in that case, you must have been playing fairly sizeable venues then?
KE: Oh yeah, those are the biggest I’ve ever played in my life! We played at Webster Hall in New York City and that was nuts. I grew up on Long Island and that was always the place; I would come into the city and go to see bigger bands. I think I saw maybe The Weakerthans or something. I think I saw Andrew WK there.
DB: So, that was bizarre for you to be playing that venue then…
KE: Yeah, it was definitely pretty nerve-wracking, but I’m glad that I got that tour under my belt because I feel like it made me a lot more comfortable on stage.
DB: Are you playing many festivals this year? I know you are playing The Fest.
KE: Yeah, we are playing at The Fest in Florida. That’s next month, in October and then about, I guess two weeks yesterday, we are playing a festival in Asbury park, which our label Don Giovanni put together and it’s called The New Alternative Music Festival. There are no like really huge major acts, but what’s really cool about this festival is there is no sponsoring, nothing like that. So, it’s just all the label and the bands supporting it and I think it’s going to be really good. I think some of the bigger bands playing are Mira and The Hotelier and P.S. Eliot’s re-uniting for that show and a few other shows. I think those are the bigger bands. Screaming Females are playing. It’s at a pretty huge venue in Asbury, so hopefully we can fill that place out, all combining our efforts.
DB: Is it mainly Don Giovanni bands then on the bill?
KE: Yeah, I’d say, it’s a good amount, maybe 50/50, maybe even more like 60/40.
DB: So, your first record came out on Don Giovannia and then your second, you released on Grave Mistake. Was that just because of being in Seattle you changed over to Grave Mistake?
KE: Umm, yeah. So, pretty much, at that point, when we put out that record on Don Giovanni, they were more of a New York/New Jersey based label. We put that record out and then pretty much immediately moved. So, then we were all the way out in Seattle and I dunno, it was just more difficult, because we weren’t out in the North-east anymore. So, then we decided to switch it up and try a more punk and hardcore based label and see how that fanbase kind of thought of us and yeah, Alex from Grave Mistake, he kind of dealt with bands from all over the place, maybe even some international bands. It was definitely more of a country-wide label. It was a really good fit and then by the time this third record was coming out, Grave Mistake had definitely scaled back, and Don Giovanni had scaled up, so it seemed like kind of a no-brainer to move back to Don Giovanni, because he had gotten you know so many cool bands throughout the years and it seemed like his ideals were in line with mine as well. There’s a lot of bands with women in them and bands with trans people in them and bands with queer people in them, and it was just something we got behind.
DB: Yeah, it’s such a cool label. In terms of the music styles, it’s so eclectic, but there are so many different cool bands on there.
KE: Yeah, I agree. I think that what is really cool about Don Giovanni is that a lot of labels have one specific kind of band that they are going to have, like a garage band or whatever or a Ramonescore pop-punk band, or just like a certain type of specific band and so it’s cool to be on a label which has all these kinds of different bands which somehow all make sense together.
DB: So, in terms of touring then, do you have any plans to come over to Europe at any time?
KE: Yeah, we’re hoping to sometime next year. Nothing specific planned yet, but we have pretty much got to start saving up for some plane tickets, but I have a couple of different contacts out there, so I’m sure we’d be able to pull something together next year. Last time, we were out in Europe and England, it was October 2013. So, it has been a good couple of years at this point, so we would love to come back.
DB: Yeah, that’s right, so you did a European tour back in 2013. Who did you tour with?
KE: Oh, we just toured by ourselves.
DB: So, how did you find touring in Europe?
KE: Oh man, it was awesome. I think the nicest thing about Europe is that pretty much every place you play, more so in Mainland Europe- in England, we ended up staying with people at their apartments or their houses- but in Mainland Europe, there were so many different squats or venues that had rooms for the bands to stay in, and then pretty much every place you played in, there was a big kind of family meal for you guys, so it was so nice, because sometimes, it can be a burden to have on your shoulders, like, oh we don’t know where we are going to stay tonight so we will get a motel. You know being in a foreign country, in Germany, we don’t speak German, how on earth are we going to get a hotel room or something? So we ended up saving a lot of money. It was a really smooth tour and really enjoyable.
DB: So, quite a different touring experience to the US, then!
KE: Yeah! The tours in the US definitely get easier over the years, because you meet more people, you have more contacts, you are playing to more people and making more money, so you know, getting motel rooms regularly is not that big of a deal. But when you’re first touring and you’re making 40 dollars at a show, that’s not much of an option.
DB: It’s more sleeping on couches, I guess?
KE: Yeah, exactly! But the ideal tour for me is usually a combination of both, because you get to stay with a lot of your friends and all that kind of stuff, but you also get to go to a motel and go to bed early and you know, everyone gets a clean towel and all that kind of good stuff.
DB: So, was there any particular favourite stop on the European tour?
KE: I’m trying to think. We played 10 shows in Germany and pretty much all of them were really amazing. A show in Paris was really great. We played with that band Youth Avoiders. I’m trying to remember. I would say, definitely Germany and Paris. Oh, and Amsterdam was really amazing, too. We played like, it wasn’t like a really big festival, but it was like a small festival in this building. It was one of the bigger shows we played. There were like 100s of people there and I remember they paid us really well. Oh, it was so fun.
DB: Yeah, from what I understand, Germany has got quite a good underground punk scene going on and they usually get a good turnout from bands who come over from the US.
KE: Yeah, Germany was so cool. Berlin was really cool. We played with Boom Boom Kid. They are from South America. I forget which country. They have been around for years and years and I remember we were both randomly playing that show, so it was really cool.
DB: So, just changing topic a little bit, would you say the latest album has got more of a personal, introspective feel to it?
KE: Yeah, I would definitely say so. I think on the earlier two albums, I was writing more like, putting the blame on other people, or being angry at other people. On this one, I am more focusing on myself and just talking about personal change and things that I used to be ok with but I’m now putting my foot down, that kind of thing. Not letting people take advantage of me and trying to overcome anxiety and all that kind of stuff.
DB: Is that what the album title itself is referring to?
KE: Yeah, definitely, because pretty much I’ve written every single Big Eyes song, so it has always been my band. I’m the only band member that has been in the band the entire time, but I feel like I was always scared to step forward. On the first two albums, there are the full band photos on each one and on this one, it’s just me, so that is kind of the point I wanted to make. This is my band and hope that people are into it.
DB: So, the sound on the third album, is that kind of the sound that you always wanted for the band?
KE: Yeah, it definitely is. I think every record is getting closer and closer to what I wanted, because I have been so lucky to be playing with so many talented musicians over the years, and everyone just keeps getting better and better and I keep better at singing and guitar playing and song structure and all that kind of stuff. So, who knows if it will be ever exactly what I am thinking in my head, but it’s definitely getting closer to that, you know.
DB: So, apart from what you have already mentioned, do Big Eyes have any plans for the rest of the year?
KE: Well, just those two festivals that I mentioned, the one in Asbury Park and the one in Gainesville, and we will be doing a little tour around that, I think it is a 9 or 10 day tour, just up and down the east coast. Then, other than that, I think we’ll be mainly playing local shows for the rest of the year, because you know, the winter comes and it is not too great to travel for a few months. We will hopefully play some colleges, with the younger kids, you know.
DB: During the summer months then, do you tour fairly regularly?
KE: Yeah, I would definitely say the Spring through the fall is the busiest time for us to tour and then usually November through February. I mean, this year we did a tour in January, like a 3 week tour, and even when you go south, you are still hitting snow storms. So, I don’t know if we would be doing anything like that this year. We were hoping to do like a fly-out West Coast tour, just because we were all the way out in New York, so you either have to do a full US tour to get out to the west coast, or you have to fly, but it can be expensive to get 4 people plane tickets so we have to got to see if that it is a going to be a feasible option or if we are just going to save it for like next Spring or something and do a full US tour then. But who knows, if we can pull it together, we will try to get out of the east coast in January or February for a West Coast tour, because the West Coast is always so much nicer in the Winter, you know.
DB: And a full US tour would take like a month or something?
KE: Yeah, at least. Most of the full US tours I have done have been like 5 or 6 weeks. You can do it in like 4 weeks, but you have got a lot of long drives and hardly any days off, if any. I mean, this last tour we did, it was 2 weeks, but I would have loved to have made it a little bit longer and had a couple of days off.