Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Big Deal interview: "Any fool can make something complicated..."

Attempting to suss out the level of sexual tension that exists between two people can be a tricky business. A task made even harder when done down a telephone line. For all I knew, Kacey Underwood and Alice Costelloe, who together form boy-girl minimalist indie-rock duo Big Deal, were speaking to me whilst sat at opposite ends of the sofa. Alternatively, I could have just interrupted a great big spooning session.

This ‘are they/aren’t they’ dilemma is the enduring appeal of listening to Big Deal. With four basic ingredients to the songs - fuzzy electric guitar, Yank drawl, gentle acoustic guitar, and breathy female vocals – the up-front lyrics are given a prominence that makes the listening experience akin to being a fly-on-the-wall during one of those conversations. 

"You don't trust me to sit on my bed … Only want me for the songs I write about about how I like you … Don't you want that morning again/ I want to be your lover I don't want to be your friend" – confessional and revealing, the words are usually sung together by Underwood and Costelloe, often giving the impression that one is speaking to the other.

To keep the mystery of the lyrics alive, I don’t ask Kacey or Alice directly if they were, or had been, in a relationship together. Instead, I skirt around the topic awkwardly.

“Our lyrics are a dual process”, Alice says, with cards pressed firmly against her chest.

Then, as a subtle signal to suggest that this is a topic almost out of bounds, Kacey deadpans, “Sometimes we just start typing words on google and when google finishes the sentence we just use that…”

Finding myself down a conversational cul-de-sac, I assume the pair would prefer to talk more about their music, not their sleeping arrangements.

The pair met when Alice started taking guitar lessons after her Mum recommended a music teacher at the primary school where she worked. Kacey was that teacher.

"The first song I asked to be taught was Teenage Riot by Sonic Youth", remembers Alice.

So was being a duo a situation borne out of necessity or choice?

“It was a necessity that became a choice”, answers Kacey. “We like the fact we don’t have to rely on a bunch of people to get things done. The bigger something is the more things can go wrong.”

And how does the set-up shape the songs?

“Painting someone’s portrait, compared to painting a huge landscape, means there has to be much more detail”, begins Kacey’s analogy. “There’s so few sounds that you have to make sure they’re absolutely perfect”, Alice clarifies.

The Big Deal sound follows a 'too many cooks' ethos pretty strictly. But do they ever feel any pressure to add any more frills to the songs?

“Neither of us likes music that is really grandiose,” adds Kacey. “Even with a really complicated band like Arcade Fire, none of their parts are virtuoso. And some Strokes songs seem almost classically composed, the way all the parts fit together. But neither band is out to prove something – it’s about the song working.”

“There’s a really good quote from Woody Guthrie”, Kacey starts. “Ah, I know what you’re thinking of but you’re not going to remember it…”, interjects Alice.

“No - I’m gonna prove you wrong”, returns Kacey. “It goes ‘Any fool can make something complicated, but it takes a genius to make something simple’”.

“Not that I’m saying we’re geniuses”, Kacey says hastily, while Alice laughs.

How about the comparisons with other bands you’ve picked up in the press already, do they act as an encouragement or are they annoyingly predictable?

“It’s strange because everyone compares us to these bands that we don’t listen to. I’ve never actually even heard a Kills songs,” Alice says.  

“I guess it makes sense from an outside perspective because of the basic set up of having a boy and a girl”, Kacey chips in. “We sometimes stop ourselves because we’ll be writing and we’ll go, this is too much like such and such band.” 

“But not a single time has anyone compared us to one of those bands that we’re always worried about being compared to… and no I’m not going to tell you who those bands are.”

“We’re looking at it from the way we write and the themes we sing about”, begins Kacey, “but it’s bands that have been able to write with a similar kind of honesty to us that have been the biggest influence”, finishes Alice. 

Though, with so much baggage attached to the lyrics, how does it feel playing the songs live, night in, night out? 

There's a pause as Alice considers. "Playing live is draining for anyone because you’re giving so much of yourself just by standing there. But it can also be cathartic," she replies. 

"We sweat a lot", ends Kacey. 

Single 'Chair' is out now and their debut album 'Lights Out' is out on Mute Records on September 5th. 

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