If there is a better album in 2020 than Big Something’s new record “Escape” I want to hear it.
Since 2010 and through six albums, the North Carolina-based sextet has fused elements of rock ’n’ roll, funk, bluegrass, EDM, jazz, hip-hop, acoustic melodies and myriad other stylings in a completely original way. Their music is so varied that at times it’s hard to believe that the same band makes all the songs in their catalogue. It’s that diversity of styles that beget the name Big Something. It’s hard to say what it is, but it’s a big sound, a big something.
The band’s many influences are front and center on their new record.
The 11 tracks take the listener on a journey through vast sonic landscapes, metaphysical concepts and shake-your-ass-on-the-dance-floor grooves.
The opening tracks of the record “Timebomb” and “Heavy” are tunes that could be played in clubs all over the world. The lyrics are simple to grab on to, the grooves are tight and infectious and call out to be played at the gym, on a run or at a house party. If ever Big Something recorded songs that could be major hits, “Timebomb” and “Heavy” are ready for their
But there is another kind of heavy at play on “Escape,” as it is the first record Big Something has made without their co-lyricist Paul Interdonato, who died of an opiate overdose in 2018.
Interdonato and lead singer Nick MacDaniels were friends since kindergarten, played in their first band together and worked closely on the lyrics to Big Something’s songs since the band’s inception. His death left MacDaniels devastated.
“It took me a long time to even sit down and try to write a song,” MacDaniels said in an interview from his home in North Carolina. “The thought of trying to write without him was too much at first. But I gave it some time and eventually felt like trying again and the first song that came out was ‘Afterglow,’ a tribute to Paul.”
After recording “Afterglow,” the band decided to make the idea of ‘escape’ the main motif of the record and every track on it would represent that theme in some form.
“The idea of ‘escape’ takes on a lot of different meanings on this album,” MacDaniels said. “For me when I hear these songs, I think about Paul and how he struggled with addiction. Escaping from reality was a double edged sword for him as it is for many people. It can be a good thing and a bad thing. I also think about it personally in the context of me being able to escape the weight of his death and feeling like I can keep our music going in a way that would make him proud.”
This is not the first concept record for Big Something. “Tumbleweed” and “The Otherside” both follow an anonymous nomad in a post-apocalyptic world.
“Once I was able to get through the process of writing songs again without Paul, the floodgates kind of opened and we started having fun with the blank canvas in the studio again,” MacDaniels said. “The ideas just started pouring out. I started collaborating on lyrics with other song writers including our friends Josh Phillips and Bryan Lackner who both contributed parts on ‘Timebomb’ and ‘Escape intro.’ We wanted to get back to our roots and write new music that hit hard but was still danceable and upbeat.”
“Heavy” is a track that if you slipped it on Beck’s last album, the pop classic “Colors,” no one would have known the difference. MacDaniels sings in falsetto for the first time on a record and it’s dance time all over the world. I can see people singing along to the chorus, “Do you want to get high? Do you want to get heavy?”
The song “Dangerous” opens with a Black Sabbath-esque guitar riff by Big Something’s guitarist Jesse Hensley, one of the best young guitarists in any genre, and is decidedly hard rock and harkens back to some of Big Something’s early work.
Listening to Big Something records is like watching a good television series. Characters and themes from Season 2, Episode 1 will come back in Season 4, Episode 5 and listeners are rewarded for paying close attention. The song “The Breakers,” which has a groovy video of surfers in distorted light and animation, can be seen as a companion piece to “The Undertow” from “Truth Serum” (2014) and “Waves” from “Tumbleweed” (2017).
“Getaway” brings back the fictional character “Pinky.” who appeared on Big Something’s first record “Stories From the Middle of Nowhere” (2010) and their sophomore eponymous record (2012). The first two Pinky songs were the first two songs MacDaniels ever wrote with Interdonato.
“The Pinky saga is just kind of a funny story that Paul came up with for us to write a series of songs around,” MacDaniels said. “His character is kind of a modern day Robin Hood meets neighborhood pimp. He’s a good guy and a bad guy at the same time always on the run from his arch nemesis Johnny Law. This seemed like a good album to bring him back.”
The album finishes with an ethereal, gorgeous song called “Machines.” “It’s the last song Paul and I ever wrote together. We would always write in this little house in his backyard he called the ‘the shack,’ MacDaniels said. “Machines” was the last song written in the shack and that was also one of the last times I ever saw him.”
“Machines” explores the dystopian concept of technology taking over humans and the world, another theme that occupies many songs in the Big Something catalogue.
“Escape” bookends the collaboration between MacDaniels and Interdonato. It brings back the character from the first songs the two wrote together, and it concludes with their last collaboration.
I asked Nick if Paul’s death has given him any further insight on the larger than life themes that occupy so many of Big Something’s songs.
“There’s a strange clairvoyance to Paul’s lyrics,” MacDaniels said. “They have a way of staying with you and becoming more and more relevant over time. He always talked about timelessness and living in the moment. I really wish he was still around. I miss hearing his ideas. I can’t help but wonder what he would have thought of next. I miss the late nights jamming in the shack. I’m not sure anyone will ever fully understand the bond we shared through songwriting but I also find a great deal of comfort knowing his spirit will live forever through his lyrics. If there’s one thing his passing gave me its gratitude and appreciation for our time together, our music and life in general."
I interviewed MacDaniels back in 2017 and asked him what his goals for the future were. He responded, “The big thing is I want to keep writing music and making it better. I want the next album to be the best album we’ve ever made.”
MacDaniels achieved that goal. “Escape” is Big Something’s best album yet.