Big Gigantic on new album, old sounds and the joys of touring the festival circuit
Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken are Big Gigantic, the sweeping Boulder-based duo taking over festivals. Born from Lalli's own creative and abstract mind, the act came about after years of formal music training in New York, playing with the Motet and utilizing MySpace to spread their beats far and wide. We caught up with the pair, fresh off the mayhem of Jam Cruise and in the midst of producing a new EP, and talked about the cruise, life touring the festival circuit and how hard it is to be the only all-left-handed band out there.
Westword: I read something about a federal raid at Jam Cruise this year. How did that turn out for Big Gigantic?
Dominic Lalli: Well, yeah, they did raid it, but we were on there and made it all right. Things still made their way onto the boat and people partied, so it was a pretty good way to start the New Year. We were like, "We have to do this every year!"
It's like a grand festival on the water. We did a pool-deck set, and then one in the Zebra Lounge. They cover one of the pools with Plexiglas, empty it and put all these lights underneath. The pool deck is the place to play, though, because everyone just rages the pool deck. They do such a good job decking out the boat, so it doesn't feel like you are on this sterile cruise ship.
What followed Jam Cruise?
DL: We did six nights in row across Florida. We felt a little beat up after Jam Cruise, but we've played festivals in Florida before and love it there. The kids in Florida, though, are up and coming and just raging. We did Tallahassee, Gainesville and then Miami. Those college towns are really supporting the dubstep movement.
What's life like touring the festival scene?
Jeremy Salken: In the summer, because there are only two of us, we are flying everywhere. It's kind of something we've been able to get away with since we started. Dom focuses on the music, and I focus on the business side with travel and hotels.
DL: Life on tour is just like déjà vu every day. You wake up, or get woken up, and just drive to the next gig or straight to the airport. Or we're getting kicked out by housekeeping. When we get to the end of what we do in a day, you'll understand why we are like we are in the morning. Maybe you don't get a lot of sleep, but hey, there are worse things in life.
Can you talk about the evolution from your first album, Fire It Up, to Wide Awake to A Place Behind the Moon?
DL: One thing, for instance, the very first album was a collection of tunes we had made up to that point. I didn't even record any saxophone on any of that album. So on the next one, I really strived to get what our live sound is like. Now where we are is a testament to everything, to all the gigs, to all the music that has come out, from two years ago to now, all the shows -- it's all part of the influence.
Even the stuff we're making now for the next EP is trying not to put ourselves into a box with one kind of sound. We're just trying to develop our sound even more. And getting more excited about the direction it is heading -- combining all the elements and styles of electronic music, jazz and all the other music we like into one package.
How does the collaboration work?
JS: It's all Dom. I'm there for the live experience, and we've played together in other bands over the years. I think we just play well together, communicating on stage and improvising on tracks together. I'm there to fill out the music and give an even more organic feel.
DL: I listen to Jeremy's playing a lot, so a lot of the drum lines I write are very much influenced by his playing.
So how did Big Gigantic begin?
DL: I basically took all my new beats and put them up on MySpace. I chose Big Gigantic and was just like, "That's my name!" I told all my friends and shared the music, and then brought Jeremy in to start rehearsing with me. We did our first show a few years ago at b-side...or Trilogy, whatever it was back then.
What are doing on your downtime in Boulder?
DL:Just working six to eight hours per day on new music. We have some new stuff for the show here in Boulder and Denver -- well, for the whole tour, actually -- just getting our sound more live and exciting.
What do you do in your downtime?
JS: Not that much. I mean, we have our spots for dinner, hit some bars, maybe, but pretty much the same thing. If we aren't playing a show, we're going to a show. Grab some drinks, grab some dinner and hit a show. But then again, it's really good to just chill. We have fallen into a good pattern with just being able to kill it on no sleep.
We also have a bunch of new production for this tour coming up. We have all new lights and really just a whole new production. We have never really had anything like that; we just rented lights, but we're doing something special and trying to keep it unique. We think people are really going to dig it. We have to head to Clemson, South Carolina, this weekend for a show. Pack up, ship out, play, then come back.
What's a smaller show in South Carolina like?
DL: We love the South. Playing a frat party is like playing a private party. People and their friends just having a good time. Obviously a frat crowd is a different crowd, but our fans are friends with them, and they find a way to get in or sneak in. Even at our shows, we're seeing that a more and more diverse crowd of people are coming out.
What are some of your favorite collaborations?
DL: Well, on Jam Cruise, we had Adam Deitch, who plays with Pretty Lights, Lettuce and Break Science. We also had Eric Krazno of Soulive/Lettuce play with us, as well as Joel Cummins of Umphrey's Mcgee. We are touring with them in March on the West Coast. Chris Michetti and Jeff Cottman have sat with us and played. Michetti shreds it, and when he's there, we just all get into shit. He just shreds.
When you bring them out, does it just go straight into improv?
We have these different sections we can loop to keep up, but we'll get to those sections and just leave it open. Build it up, drop it down.
WW: What's your favorite track off the new album?
DL: Probably "Sky High" or "High and Rising." I just like the riff in "Sky High"; the melody is just super-funky. The vibe of the album is definitely something you listen to the whole way through. It's very telling and very cinematic. This album was the first time I have ever tried to make an album that was like this one. Each song sets up the next thing, and those two set up the next one.
JS: "Lucid Dreams" and "Sky High." "Lucid Dreams" is my favorite because of the buildup, and right before it hits, I am just like, "Let's do this." I've got my trashy cymbal just ready to get smacked. There are tunes we do live that are more mellow, like "Drifting," on the CD, but when we play them live, they're rowdy. Dom puts them in the set, and it turns into two hours of just jumping up and down. It's a workout.
DL: If I was going to see us, that's what I would like.
Dominic, how many instruments are you playing/running live?
DL: Just the three. I have my sax, the keyboard stuff, and for the actual Ableton, I play an MPK. Everything is just MIDI mapped, so I'm flipping switches and pushing buttons the whole time. You just control it all from there.
JS: He has been playing a lot of keys lately. He'll take solo with keys and really builds with the pitch wheel and mod wheel.
DL: Learning Ableton is really like sitting down to learn the piano. I have to practice every day and really get it dialed. I have my master's in music performance [saxophone], so I haven't really been taught for years. I have found my own way to learn, and that's how I am doing it with Ableton.
What were you doing in New York that has influenced what you are doing today?
DL: I was in a pretty hard-core music school out there doing my master's, just learning all about music. I was doing writing for orchestras and jazz bands, small groups and all kinds of other outlets. Without a doubt, it has completely influenced what I'm doing today. It helped shape my music writing, too.
JS: Dom knows his shit and knows what it takes to make a song really rhythmic. He can take it to a level that some DJs and producers may not know about. Things like chords, structure, voicings...the things that are going put this music on another level. Better so than just some three-minute rhythmic beat.
Jeremy, you've been playing drums your whole life. What kind of training did you get?
JS: I grew up playing drums and played in a jazz band in middle school. I've never really had any formal training -- just put my headphones on and jam to what I'm listening to. I had a hardcore band in high school. I just love every style of music and try to incorporate some piece of it in what we do.
When's the next album due out?
DL: Shooting for late spring or early summer -- hopefully late spring. We're getting close to doing something, but I'd like to just put out an EP and then really do a full-length massive album. I want to put out an introduction to a new direction. One thing we did with that last album that I really liked was how we distributed it. We have a free download, it's available on iTunes, it's at the 1320 Records site. And I really want to keep it that way.
People want to support, and they can do that through buying it, and others can't afford it so they can have it, too. Our main goal is for you to just have it. It's funny how some tracks we didn't even think were as popular are getting downloaded more and more. Plus, we did a bonus STS9 track on the iTunes version that we added just for buying it.
What's new for the summer?
DL: We have a huge spring/summer/fall. We are hitting the Midwest, the Northeast, the Southeast, a week off, then with Umphrey's to the West Coast. Then the summer festivals like Wakarusa, two nights at SummerCamp, StarScape and All Good. We're going to be out and about, for sure. Then another big tour in the fall and then New Year's again. And hopefully we will be somewhere in the Caribbean this time next year.
Anything new for the shows here?
JS: We're getting everything ready and going to drop it on Colorado. It's our home state, so we have to go out with a bang. We have extra guests and performers who are really going pull out all the stops for these shows.
Anything nobody knows about you?
JS: Well, we're the only all-left-handed band out there -- that we know of. Growing up learning how to use scissors was awful.
Big Gigantic, with Prophet Massive, Project Aspect and Frequent C, 9 p.m. Thursday, January 27, Gothic Theatre, 3263 South Broadway, 303-788-0984; Big Gigantic, with Fresh2Death and Raw Russ, 8:30 p.m. Friday, January 28, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, 303-443-3399.
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