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Years ago, my mom asked me, 'What are you going to do when your music can't support you?'" Dominic Lalli remembers. "And I think it was then that I realized that I just had to go at this thing full steam."
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And go at it full steam he has. And then some. Lalli is one half of Big Gigantic, the Boulder-based outfit that's been taking the electronic world by storm for the past year. The music being made by the aptly named duo, which also includes drummer Jeremy Salken, is in exceedingly high demand.
How high, exactly? Well, last spring, mere minutes after Big Gigantic posted a new track for free download on ThisSongIsSick.com, the site's server crashed due to the demand, which was literally overwhelming. More recently, the group made its new album, Nocturnal, available for complimentary download on its website. Despite the fact that the songs could be had for free, astoundingly, the album somehow managed to climb as high as number two on the iTunes electronic chart within days of being made available.
"We are completely blown away by all the love and support with the album!" says Lalli in response to the reception his group's sixth album has received. "It's amazing how many downloads we've reached, as well as still sitting at number two on the iTunes electronic charts. We actually never really advertised that you could buy it on iTunes until we saw that people were really buying. All around, this release is making us feel all warm and fuzzy inside."
Needless to say, Lalli has come a long way since first making music and posting it to MySpace — music he had made on his own with a computer and then enlisted his roommate, Salken, whom he met playing gigs around Boulder, to help flesh out. "I chose the name Big Gigantic and was just like, 'That's my name!" he says. "And then I brought Jeremy on to play over the tracks."
Lalli, who comes from a musical family, had already begun to establish himself as a musician by then. "My father and grandpa were drummers, and my mom was a vocalist," he notes, "but no one ever really pushed me in the direction of music. I thought I wanted to play sports." Clearly, the universe had other plans. In 2001, Lalli earned a scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music in New York for his proficiency on the saxophone, an instrument he took up as a teenager after getting an earlier start on the drums.
During his time in New York, Lalli connected with renowned local jazz ensemble the Motet, and that's where he laid the groundwork for his future in music. "I think when I was in my first semester at music school," he recalls, "I was listening to some John Coltrane, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew that music was all I wanted to do."
You can certainly hear the jazz influence reflected in Lalli's sax work, which is where his jazz training really shines through. Given his background and his obvious prowess, it's somewhat surprising to learn that Lalli didn't even opt to incorporate the sax into Big Gigantic's music until the act's second album, Wide Awake.
Now, of course, that sax work, which is tastefully augmented with loops and samples manipulated in Ableton Live, is a big part of the group's aesthetic, one of the things that has helped Big Gigantic stand out in the increasingly cluttered field of electronic music. Bringing the sax into the equation, though, is really just as much a reflection of Lalli's jazz leanings as it is of his constant desire to progress as an artist.
"As a jazz musician, I don't think there is a 'reached' point," Lalli offers. "There are milestones and little goals, but more than anything, there is just so much to learn. As a producer, there is just so much for me to learn. Honestly, you can find me on YouTube daily, just looking at different productions."
The evolution continues on Nocturnal, which is a "hi-fi version of our older tunes," as Salken puts it. "The songs are just hitting right where they need to be." Indeed, the album marks a turning point for Big Gigantic, with upgraded production values highlighting the unique melding of contemporary jazz with heavy bass lines and distorted effects. Overall, it makes for a considerably streamlined presentation, one that has taken years to perfect. The progression is largely due to Lalli's attentive nature and his efforts to ensure that the sound quality is spot-on for both the group's performances and its recordings. "I really wanted to infuse the live aspect of Big Gigantic on this album," Lalli explains. "And I think that, in terms of sound quality, phrasing and the overall melodies, it's really solid. With the new album, I just put myself on the dance floor and really just into the listeners' spot."
That spot is standing room only these days, thanks to a year of non-stop touring, a year that consisted of many sleepless nights as the duo made its way from coast to coast. The outfit hit the road in January, toured the summer festival circuit and then closed out 2011 on New Year's Day with a special performance alongside members of the Disco Biscuits and Underground Orchestra, as the fittingly dubbed Gigantic Underground Conspiracy. Along the way, Big Gigantic shared stages with acts like Bassnectar, Pretty Lights and Kid Cudi.
"We played Electric Forest on an hour of sleep," Salken remembers. "After a full day of traveling, setup and soundcheck, we just showed up determined to kick ass. I think we do better when we're pressured."
While much of the group's success is tied to the pair's tenacity, it has just as much to do with their combined ability to manage their own affairs independently, from composition and production to distribution and performing. Lalli handles the music and tweaks the live show, while Salken oversees distribution and ensures there are as few kinks as possible when the act hits the road.
"The best part is we do such a good job of letting each other do their jobs," Lalli says, "which makes the gigs we play twenty times better."
As for their work ethic, he adds, "People tell us that we should take a break. But I figure you can sleep when you're dead."
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