Big Bill has quietly become one of the greatest weirdo punk bands in Austin, but they’re also secretly one of the most focused and hardest working bands in the scene, period. We caught up with frontman Eric Braden about the band’s unique sound, their new recordings and upcoming tour and, uh, Weinerville.
Morgan Davis for Ovrld: I first found out about Big Bill while scrolling through the Austin tag on Bandcamp, where I found the A Hard Day’s Bill EP and fell in love with the track “Juice U.” One of the things that stood out to me then and still stands out to me now about the band is that you guys sound entirely unlike anything else in Austin, with “Juice U” featuring Devo-esque lyrics set against a beat reminiscent of the B-52’s “52 Girls” and some guitars that would be right at home on a Television album. Did the band come together over a shared love for that era of punk? What’s the Big Bill secret to sounding so weirdly timeless?
Eric Braden of Big Bill: I guess we don’t really set out to have a particular sound when we write songs. If anything we try to avoid writing, for instance, “just” a punk song, or “just” a love song. “Juice U” you was kind of the one time we allowed ourselves to play around in a discernible blues rock/garage universe, which as a guitar band we try to avoid, just because it’s so ubiquitous.
Like we wrote “I Don’t Wanna Go Away” and “I Wanna Do Evil,” and after that I decided we weren’t going to have anymore songs that had the phrase “I wanna” or “I don’t wanna” in them. Not that I wouldn’t break one of my own rules, but it’s fun to try new things.
Thanks, by the way.
The other thing is, probably just my own ignorance. I’m really super ignorant about music and I only came to music late in my life, but I’m working with three really incredible musicians.
Ovrld: Right, and songs like “Very First Humans” show off how much you play around with the band’s sound, since it begins with a very dreamy, quiet intro before morphing into more of a power pop track. Fun seems to be the band’s unifying characteristic, and that stretches beyond the music, too, specifically with the way you guys promote the band. One of my favorite things you guys have done was the promo video you did for a Hotel Vegas gig. How did that come together?
Eric: That happened because we were doing a show with Barf Bag, and Pat and Tim from Barf Bag have a history of making these elaborate and weird promo videos for shows, which is hilarious to me. So my brother and I met with Tim and Ben from Basketball Shorts and wrote and recorded a jingle, then a week later we all got together and made that video. Tim is a talented video editor so it was pretty easy.
What took the longest was my brother painting the backdrop for the video, the thing we stuck our heads through.
Ovrld: I don’t know if it’s just me but it reminded me a lot of that old Nickelodeon show Weinerville.
Ovrld: You’re also in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign at IndieGoGo for a summer tour, with perks like drum lessons and custom jingles. Have you always been a fan of jingles? Does that kind of writing work its way into regular Big Bill material, too?
Eric: We used to talk half seriously about writing and performing a jingle for, like, Coors Light, and just waiting for them to pay us for it and we’d be set. The jingle format is like the perfect pop song distilled to a few drops. We grew up in a pretty classic era of sitcom theme songs, which were basically jingles. Generally, I think we’re drawn toward the inane a little bit. My biggest pet peeve in music is this kind of showy “sincerity,” a really self-serving kind of songwriting.
And yes, we’re trying to raise some money for an upcoming tour. You can get a private drum lesson and high class ramen dinner with our drummer Alan, which, trust me, is a treat.
We definitely write songs with phrases that we want to get stuck in your head, which is a distinct choice. That’s definitely not the only kind of music we listen to.
Ovrld: The sincerity comment is really apt, it seems like a lot of the more popular Austin bands are hung up on that. Big Bill does a lot of events with Austin entities like Raw Paw, which seems to have a similar outlook. Were you drawn to Raw Paw because of their similarly fun, casual philosophy and aesthetic?
Eric: Yeah, I think Raw Paw is fun but more importantly they exude a serious focus on doing shit. They’re not fucking around. So yeah they helped us print some T-shirts and invited us to play their zine release, which was a blast. We’re doing a show tonight that they put together for the Hikes album release. That’s at Cheer Up Charlie’s.
Ovrld: Big Bill has a serious focus on doing shit, too. Right now you’re rerecording some songs that were lost during the A Hard Day’s Bill sessions. What’s the story behind that? And how is the recording going this time around?
Eric: Yeah, when we recorded our first EP over a year ago we lost like six songs for inane cymbal-related reasons, and then we were going to record a few months after that when our original bassist Dave Fitzhugh got really sick. So in the past month we’ve finally gone back and recorded six songs, and I think four of those are from that era. Two of them are pretty new. Jennifer Monsees plays bass with us now and is on the new recordings, but Dave will always be part of Big Bill and we plan on his re-joining the band as a multi-instrumentalist as soon as he’s healthy.
Ovrld: Are you planning on self-releasing or will this EP also be released through Fleeting Youth?
Eric: Our friends at Pizza Mountain are putting out a 7 inch, and we’ll also put it online, but it might come out as well on other formats via other labels. We haven’t really talked about it yet.
Ovrld: The tour you’re doing in support is the first time the band has toured outside of Texas, right? Are there any destinations and shows you’re all especially excited for?
Eric: Man, every date is going to be so special to us. It’s been so much work putting it together on our own, and I just want to soak it all up. I think most of us haven’t even been to the West Coast, so we’re really excited about all of those dates– Portland, Eureka, San Diego, etc. Also super psyched for Las Cruces, El Paso and Marfa. The holy trinity, the final three shows on the tour. Yeah, we’re incredibly excited.
Ovrld: You’re also playing with a different drummer since Alan couldn’t come along, right? Was it difficult to find someone that could match his skills and intensity?
Eric: You would think! We’re teaching the songs to Jeremy Colonna, and our drummer Alan Lauer is showing him all the subtle things he does. It’s fun to watch.
Jeremy is also going to play a couple shows with us in town before we leave.
Including our tour kickoff show at Holy Mountain.
Ovrld: Sounds like a preview of the drum lesson perk! It’ll be interesting to see you guys play with someone else, Alan is always great to watch at your shows. What’s on the slate for Big Bill after the recordings are done and the tour is over?
Eric: Write and record more songs. And we want to go on a tour of south Texas. Also we’re working with some amazing folks on music videos. We’re just gonna keep on Billin’. And we WILL figure out who put Dave in the microwave.
Morgan Davis sells bootleg queso on the streets of Austin in order to fund Loser City, a multimedia collective he recently formed with Danny Djeljosevic. When he isn’t doing that, he plays drums for Denise and gets complimented and/or threatened by Austin’s musical community for stuff he writes here at Ovrld, which he is the Managing Editor of.