From The Studio To The Stage: Tom Iansek On The Evolution Of Big Scary

After a couple of years in the proverbial wilderness, Tom Iansek and Jo Syme – better known collectively as Melbourne duo Big Scary – have emerged with their third studio album, Animal. For their first new music in three years, the band decided to take a unique concept and run with it – rather than simply run as a start-to-finish piece, the album is instead divided into four quarters. Referred to as the “four stages of the Animal,” these segments are titled Hunting, Lurking, Resting and Walking, respectively. If you’re a long-serving Big Scary fan, however, this might seem slightly familiar – and that’s because this is something that the duo have dabbled with in the past. In 2010, the band released four EPs – Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer – before compiling them together on a full-length release entitled The Big Scary Four Seasons.

“It was only after we decided to add that feature to the album that we realised how similar it was to the EP series that we’d done all those years ago,” says Iansek, who contributes vocals, guitar, bass and keyboards to the band. “To tell you the truth, it wasn’t an instant parallel – nor was it intentional. In some ways, this album has surprised us in a lot of ways – especially in what it has come to mean to the both of us. It almost feels like this is a record where we’re going back and starting over. It’s kind of interesting that, intentional or not, this album has managed to harken back to something that we did quite early on in our career.”

It was 10 years ago that Big Scary formed in suburban Melbourne, slowly building up their name through relentless touring and festival appearances. Indeed, their earlier live shows were simply Iansek and Syne performing by themselves without any auxiliary musicians in their arsenal. This began to change around the release of the band’s debut LP, Vacation, in 2011, and has been a part of the band’s live show ever since. One might also see this as a turning point of Big Scary’s studio arrangements going well beyond the guitar-and-drums and piano-and-drums set-up they would go between for most of their early material. By the time 2013’s Not Art rolled around, they were practically on a different plane entirely.

“I think that we made peace with the fact awhile ago that what we were doing in the studio and what we were doing live didn’t necessarily have to mirror one another,” Iansek explains. “We came to regard them as the separate entities that they are. With that said, there has been a bit of a development on that front – I think that, with our last album, we let the recording side get away from us in terms of relating to the live performance. I don’t mean that in such a bad way – I think that’s what made the record what it was – but we had a lot of trouble translating that live, and ended up having to re-adapt a lot of those songs entirely.” Iansek goes on to detail some of the struggles he and Syme faced in the initial stages of touring Not Art.

“It ended up being quite a painful process,” he continues. “When you’re so used to hearing it one way, you can’t help but feel at a loss if suddenly key parts of the song can’t be there. It’s almost as if the soul is taken out of it. There’s a much closer marriage between the two on this album. We tried to keep it within the realm of what we’re able to do on stage, and we wanted the energy to carry through. More than that, we wanted to impart what happens when Jo and I play in a room together. You’ll be noodling around, you’ll lock into something and then you’ll pursue it – sometimes, that’s all there is to it.”

Big (pardon the pun) things followed following the release of Not Art – the band scored their highest-charting ARIA position, got nominated for the J Award and ended up winning the Australian Music Prize. Rather than striking while the iron was hot, however, Big Scary took time away from the band to pursue other interests and projects. It was here that Iansek began taking up his solo work again in earnest – originally known as simply Dads, the project changed to #1 Dads to avoid confusion with a similarly-named American band. Its second album, About Face, was released in 2014 to huge critical acclaim; not to mention an ARIA nomination, an appearance at the 2015 Sydney Festival and a completely sold-out national tour that expanded into multiple nights to fit demand. Essentially, #1 Dads achieved everything Big Scary had worked for across eight years within a single album cycle – and, to this day, Iansek can’t quite explain what it was that resonated with such a wide audience as far as About Face is concerned.

“You really don’t ever know what’s going to connect with people and what isn’t,” he muses. “There’s no rhyme or reason to most things that happen in the music industry – it’s mostly just really hard to explain. What I will say is that was a very refreshing and pleasurable experience to have had happen – mostly because there was little to no expectation of anything. Big Scary, for whatever reason, has served as something of a trail-blazer for Jo and I. We’ve put a lot of weight in what Big Scary does artistically, and a lot personally as well. There’s a lot of focus there. #1 Dads was completely removed from all of that, and I think there’s a lot to be said for things that are made for no other reason than to keep writing and to have fun. There was an easiness to its making and an easiness to its success that followed.”

With #1 Dads on ice for the foreseeable future, the focus is entirely back on Big Scary. With the album already gaining considerable traction – it debuted on the ARIA charts at #5, a new record for the band – Iansek and Syne are about to head out on a six-date national tour.Although they’re looking to take material from all three of their albums, expect to hear a sizeable chunk of Animal at these shows – the band are very excited to see exactly how these songs unfurl across this run of shows; in which they will be playing many of these tracks for the first time.

“These shows are mostly going to be structured around the new songs,” says Iansek. “These songs have a really amazing energy live, and we’re really excited to share that. Even knowing that the audience won’t know a lot of the songs, we kind of want that to be a part of their experience. We’re working on some basics right now before we get stuck into the fundamental details. All we know is that there’s still a freshness to all of these songs – there’s a raw energy that we’re chasing, so we’re going to put our focus on that.”

‘Animal’ is out now. Catch Big Scary on the road when their national tour kicks off next week, as well at Fairgrounds Festival this December. See dates and details here below.

Big Scary Animal National Tour

Friday, 30th September
The Triffid, Brisbane
Tickets: Big Scary

Saturday, 1st October
The Metro, Sydney
Tickets: Big Scary

Wednesday, 5th October
170 Russell, Melbourne
Tickets: Big Scary

Friday, 14th October
The Rosemount, Perth
Tickets: Big Scary

Saturday, 15th October
Fat Controller, Adelaide
Tickets: Big Scary

Friday, 2nd December – Saturday, 3rd December 2016
Fairground Festival, Berry, NSW
Tickets: Fairgrounds Festival

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