Two years after the acclaimed, delicate portraiture of their debut, Lights Out, London-Cali two piece Big Deal, aka Alice Costelloe and Kacey Underwood have returned with a more robust sound, adding a couple of extra members to boost their willowy (though always enchanting) live recitals and on their new release June Gloom (Mute), infusing more substantial rock and grunge stylings and chest beating melodies.
This isn’t to say the album – cut on the infamous recording-studio-on-a-ship, Lightship95 by ex-Test-Icicles Rory Attwell –isn’t without its quietly considered moments. It appears Big Deal have evolved into quite a dichotomous beast, the best of both transatlantic worlds. As Alice intones wryly, “KC injects fist-pumping American rock and I tone it down with an injection of stiff upper lip.”
So now your songs are beefier and you have a live band behind you, has that given you the assurance to tackle broader themes with your music and lyrics? This record doesn’t seem so internal.
KC: It’s given us a lot more freedom, even if it’s just from having a bit of safety and power of a band behind you, it does open up possibilities. I think even we didn’t make the decision to have the band we would still be reaching out for more.
A lot of people fell for the band because of the teasing intimacy between you on stage and upon the first record. Have you tried to retain this at all with this bigger sound?
KC: I think that bareness took people by surprise. I don’t know if there is any way to keep that while changing things as we have, but we still write the same way, on two guitars and for the most part all the songs can still work that way. We make up for up by teasing each other. Alice’s stage banter is appalling. Mine is obnoxious. Plenty of ammunition.
Do you tire of people speculating upon the sexual tension between you or do you just find it funny and try to utilise the deception?
KC: At first it was annoying as I had a girlfriend that didn’t find it so amusing but now I don’t and I think it’s funny, and flattering.
AC: I think that becoming a four piece has helped to confuse the speculators. Now there could be all kinds of sexual tension going on in the band and people will get tired of guessing.
Is “Big Deal” meant as an unimpressed retort or as an exclamation?
KC: It’s meant to be a lesson. Give some thought to your band name. Even if you are just putting up some silly cover songs or a demo online. Next thing you know you’ll be playing a gig and releasing an album. You could be stuck with it for life. The universe is funny that way
So who are your two new members? They look like mini-versions of yourselves. Is this intentional?
KC: That is also flattering. Well, to us. They are Huw Webb who plays Bass, and Mel Rigby who does the drums. Maybe we secretly love ourselves so much that we can’t help but be drawn to them. Like when you see people with dogs that are creepy little versions of themselves.
The sound of the record is certainly imbued with a feeling of Californian sun. What parts of London (where I believe parts were also written) can be found within?
AC: We wrote lots of it at KC’s in east London. His street is so noisy and often filled with drunk douchebags. So we would write with the windows closed and try to create our own world inside. We actually ended up going to the countryside for a few days to write in the end because we were so distracted by London’s noisyness.
Dream Machines sounds like the soundtrack to a morning after scene from a John Hughes movie, à la the Breakfast Club. Was this timeless quality intentional?
KC: I think I was going more for Richard Linklater. Dazed and Confused is one of my favourite films, it has a real timeless quality, which is interesting considering it was set in the 70s and made in the 90s. I think maybe you start to see how things are connected and how they don’t really change too much, when you do things that way.
Shouldn’t June be one of the happier months? Is June Gloom a character? I’ve started thinking of her as an old lady from a kitchen sink drama now.
KC: It should be! An old lady? Maybe she is now. I kind of thought of her as a character too, but if she was it would be the girl on the cover. A super hero whose power is that she brings balance. And can turn water in to ice cream. Balance is important to us.
The videos and artwork leave a psychedelic impression with their use of colour and surreal imagery. Is this aesthetic important for the story you’re trying to tell with your music?
KC: The way that things are constantly on an edge of being beautiful and overwhelmingly terrifying, that is interesting to us. I don’t know how successful we have been in that, but I suppose that’s a fair description of psychedelia.
And finally, what exactly are those hairy behemoths from the In Your Car Video? Did you get to jump inside?
KC: They were tiny actually! The magic of film!
AC: They were meant to be a kind of demonic carebear, as we kept seeing weird dancing bears when we listened to the song. Lots of people thought they were rabbits though. They were just supposed to be slightly cute but quite scary strange creatures.
by Benjamin Lovegrove
June Gloom is out through Mute now