It’s been a busy six months for Big Scary. Since the release of their debut album Vacation last October, it seems Melbourne’s best and brightest musical pair have become one of the nation’s favourite duos. Winning adulation from critics, fans and one Richard Kingsmill (who namedVacation in his Top 10 albums of last year). With a critically acclaimed record under their belt, the opportunity to head internationally arose for the first time in the shape of a South By Southwest slot.
Golden-voiced strummer Tom Iansek, still fresh from having only just arrived home a few days earlier, is still buzzing. “It was exhausting, but also really cool. Refreshing and reinvigorating in a way, to be over there and play new places with new faces. Also just seeing so many other amazing acts and seeing what they do.”
Indeed, every year the prestigious SXSW festival transforms the city of Austin, Texas into a hulking mass of live music, “they shut down the city basically, and wherever there’s space to put a band – even sometimes when there’s not – there’s a venue there. The place is just packed.” SXSW’s exhaustive array of music is well-known as an A&R scout’s paradise, offering the chance to catch many buzz bands still on the rise. The perfect environment for the music buff too, Iansek finding a few favourites of his own, “a band from LA called Papa, singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten, this nice little folk duo called Water Liars… I [even] won a ticket to see Bruce Springsteen… who put on a three hour set. That was special.”
Though originally committed to dates solely for SXSW and Canadian Music Week, Iansek – along with musical partner-in-crime Jo Syme - soon found a handful of extra dates added as “very last minute additions.” Including, most importantly, a headline show at New York City’s Grasslands. How did Iansek find the fabled Big Apple? “I’m a city person, and New York, in a lot of ways is the ultimate city. From a music perspective, it’s mind-blowing. It’s almost like a SXSW every week. There’s that much happening.”
Wasn’t the experience daunting at all? “I’d never been to the States but I’d always wanted to check out NY, so that was really great. Even just for the sake of being tourists, it was fun, let alone playing gigs there. Actually having people there too was pretty strange” laughs Iansek, “but exciting.” As softly spoken and humble as ever, he remarks, “even if there weren’t people there we’d still be happy to play.”
Though Big Scary’s profile has risen dramatically here at home, with sold out national tours and rotation on the airwaves; overseas, they remain a bit of an unknown quantity. Iansek however, relishes the thrill of proving themselves in a new setting, of conquering a whole new set of listeners, “and ten times as many ears!” He adds enthusiastically. “I kind of miss the idea of the first gig you do, just in a little venue, playing to friends. That’s the whole reason that spurs you into doing music professionally initially, I guess it brought those feelings back.”
The chance to revisit the hunger of a young band couldn’t have come at a better time, having toured our fair nation several times over in the last few years, the fatigue of familiarity was beginning to creep in. “We sort of got into a weird spot last year,” he admits “just because we barely had a chance to hang out and jam together, we were so busy doing everything else, like touring and recording. We came to learn that without that, the live show just lost all its magic for us. But going overseas, and before that practising a lot, playing together. Going back to being the first on the bill, the opening act that doesn’t want to get in the way too much –that just wants to get on stage and do their thing. Going back to that was reinvigorating.”
It’s worth reminding that Vacation, the record that has solidified Big Scary’s reputation as one of the country’s most impressive craftsman of subtle, searing moods and visceral rockers alike; was built on the themes and vagrancy of the touring lifestyle. Most poignantly in latest single “Leaving Home,” whose one-take video was just launching as the pair were boarding for America. “It’s funny, because I wrote that about me going overseas for the first time” recalls Iansek, “which was back in 2006. Having just got back… it’s strange how it’s still got relevance.” When quizzed if those thoughts still linger back into his head, writing or otherwise, Iansek remains circumspect, “in some ways, but that element was a new experience at the time of writing [the album], something that troubled me and I put a lot of thought into. But then it’s also something we’ve been learning from and dealing with, also overcoming. The overseas trip, just the excitement of travelling was enough to shake the blues, kill any negative thoughts of leaving friends behind.”
Newly rejuvenated from their stateside adventures, Big Scary are about to embark on a national homecoming tour in April, followed by dates with Groovin’ The Moo the following month. When asked if he’s excited about the forthcoming dates, Iansek offers no ambivalence in his response, with naught but a simple, affirmative “Absolutely.”
BY AL NEWSTEAD
BIG SCARY play The Corner Hotel on Tuesday April 24 (soldout) and Wednesday April 25. They also play Groovin' The Moo in Bendigo on Saturday May 5 (soldout). Vacation is out on Pieater.