The golden shortbread cookies that Jo Syme has placed on the table in front of us appear even more enticing in the shimmering glow of this sun-drenched spring morning. With cups of tea in hand, she joins Tom Iansek and I with an enthused recommendation of the aforementioned cookies. Seated around a wooden table in their manager's backyard, discussing Big Scary's debut album,Vacation (one of the year's most anticipated local releases), with the genial Melbourne pair leads to a contemplative session spliced with heartening laughter and recollections of strange phenomena.
Lansek and Syme formed Big Scary two and a half years ago, but neither imagined that their musical entity would become embraced as the country's most promising new band. Big Scary subscribe to a philosophy of self-respect and their fans can sense it.
"It translates across the whole thing - the idea of making the songs that we'll be proud of for the rest of our lives and not balk at in the future, which doesn't always happen," Syme laughs. "When you start recording, it's not just about playing your instruments and getting that onto tape, we're trying to do something a bit more interesting sonically. We're not just happy to try and be playing; we want to be a bit more tasteful."
"We try to enjoy it," Iansek adds, "and we are trying to rise a bit to accepting the mantle of being an artist or a musician, but in the same token, I think if you ever get to a point where you take yourself too seriously, it's pretty much downhill. For me, it's just enjoying the ride and letting things happen - some people tear themselves up over what the industry's doing and what it means to them. We want music to be a long-term thing."
True to that ideal, Iansek, Syme and manager Tom Fraser have just formed their own indie label, Pieater: "We want to stay independent," Iansek affirms, "but also look potentially toward helping out other bands that we're passionate about down the track."
Iansek and Syme had played in other bands prior to Big Scary, but committed themselves to Big Scary in the last 12-18 months. Iansek's piano/guitar prowess and Syme's sprightly drumming have been rapturously applauded at their impressive live performances, but they're incredibly humbled by the accolades.
"I don't even know the names of people or the names of gear, but I've always been inspired by energetic drummers," Syme grins. She cites Bloc Party's Matt Tong and John Bonham ("always") as her main inspirations. "In terms of musicians who inspire me, Bon Iver is just one artist that Tom and I first super-bonded over," she relates. "We had really different backgrounds and that was the first guy we just 100% fell in love with. I think he's a bit of a beacon."
Having studied classical piano, Iansek's main musical heroes are the great classical composers and Jimmy Page ("I remember going into a guitar store where he visited once in Melbourne - when I was in high school - and getting shivers").
The Four Seasons compilation that the pair crafted was an inspired project, but the most valuable aspect of creating, and later collating, their four seasonal EPs was being able to test their writing, recording and release methods four times over. The delayed and carefully thought-out release of the duo's debut album, Vacation, has made it one of the most anticipated records of the year. Vacation explores the effects of slowly losing touch with constants such as friends, lovers, permanent accommodation and jobs.
"It was more exploring the idea of all these new-found lives as travelling musicians," Iansek explains. "Travelling is a wonderful experience, but the other side of it is that you're missing out on what your friends and family are doing. And that was where that word 'vacation' came from - it's something seemingly great, but it's more the eternal vacation we're going for: the life of a musician and what happens when you start to disconnect from those constants in your life, which, I guess, we're just at the start of."
Produced by Sean Cook (Yves Klein Blue), Vacation was recorded at Brisbane's Airlock and The Ark Studios. "Tom's also got family there - we knew we wanted to get out of Melbourne whilst we were recording, so we split the time between those two great studios," Syme explains. "One's kind of a bit high-tech in a nice setting in the hills and really lovely; that was for bedding down the tracks, drums and more high quality sounds that we wanted. And then the second week was this kooky, DIY studio in a basement with lots of fun toys and keyboards and organs. I think we were a bit rushed in the end 'cause we had to pack it all in a little bit quickly."
"That was the thing - the max that we'd ever spent was two days in the studio," says Iansek, "so we thought two weeks is going to be plenty of time - we're not gonna need any more than that..." he recalls with a shake of the head while Syme is laughing. "In the end, we were working from 10am through to 4am for the last five days (Syme is still laughing). It got pretty weird."
It did, indeed. "I was cooking dinner upstairs," Syme recounts with amusement, "and when I came downstairs, Tom was playing this super cheesy Mario Brothers guitar and I'm like 'oh God, I've left him alone for too long' (Iansek is now laughing). And another night, I was sort of dozing on the couch and I wake up at 3am and Tom's rapping into the microphone and I'm like 'woah!'" After what could only be described as a distinct period in their lives, they returned to Melbourne to mix Vacation at Sing Sing Studios.
Vacation features Big Scary's most introspective and affecting songs (Bad Friends; Got It, Lost It). "It was a completely new experience - the way we recorded this was the polar opposite really," says Iansek. "We went into it with the mindset of really thinking things out and not just little throw-away thoughts. The ultimate reason was that we wanted it to be more meaningful, so we put a lot of emotional thought into it and I guess it payed off in some ways; in other ways, it really consumed us. "
Big Scary launch their debut album, Vacation, at Ormond Hall on Saturday October 22, buy tickets here. Vacation will be released through Pieater/Inertia on October 7.