Sound and Silence Catches Up with Nick MacDaniels of Big Something

19 December 2014
Kevin Tshiamala

Hailing from one of the fastest growing regions in the country, North Carolina’s BIG Something is one of the most exciting new rock bands to emerge from the Southeast. Their sound is bold, driving, rock with psychedelic improvisational tendencies along with jazz, blues and funk undertones. It’s truly a remarkable combination that manages to push your ears forward while reminding them of a time when music was just as pure. As Pete stated in his review of “Truth Serum,” “Thinking is the best way to travel ...and Big Something folds space and time for the mind with their new album Truth Serum. With booster rocket bass lines, hyperspace melodies, and trance-accidental mantras hidden within the lyrics, this album achieves a sense of escape velocity-consciousness.”

We caught up with one of the members of the time benders. Nick MacDaniels is the guitarist and vocalist of Big Something. A member since the days of Anonymous, he took time out of his busy schedule to chat with us about improper expectations, writing and more.

Sound & Silence: I woke up this morning with this question of notoriety and success. Is that something that was already defined in your head or the bands collective minds before starting or is the idea of notoriety/success something that is ever evolving throughout the bands progression? Maybe it’s something that you guys never think about or discuss at all?

Nick MacDaniels: It’s probably different for everybody in the band, but for me personally it’s definitely in the back of my mind. To make a living what we do. I want to get to a place where we don’t have to have day jobs; we can tour, and not have to worry about where we’re staying and all that stuff. I don’t want to get to a place where we’re huge; I just want us to be successful enough to actually just play music for a living and not have to worry about anything else.

Sound & Silence: Chris, the other co-founder, and I were discussing the idea of proper vs. improper expectations. Have there been improper expectations and if so, what were some improper expectations BIG Something may have had along the way?

Nick MacDaniels: I think we probably thought it wasn’t going to take as long as it has to get where we are. The further we keep going it seems like there’s even more to go. We keep getting a little bit higher up the ladder and realize once we get there that there’s even longer to go, longer to climb. We started off five years ago and thought, we’ll put a year or two into this and we’ve made it, we’ll be great. Things have definitely gotten a lot better and improved, but I think we’ve realized now that it’s going to take a while to really see this thing through. I think most bands, it usually takes about ten years to really get where they want to be. We’re at year five right now so we’re about half way.

S&S: Do you think you’ll always get that feeling? Like ten years down the line, you’ll still feel like we’ll still have to get to this next level. As if it’s a never ending reach.

Nick MacDaniels: Yeah, I definitely do. I have high expectations and high standards. I want us to be the best band we can be and put out the best music and art we can put out. There’s not a ceiling. We’re just going to keep trying to take it to the next level as we get there.

S&S: Expectations are sort of in line with Truth. Our writer from New York, Peter, who reviewed your album wrote, Where we are going is yet to be discovered, and cannot be, until we challenge our acceptance of where we have come from, as the narrative in “Truth Serum,” explores notions of Disney and NASA that have become our generations Santa Claus and Easter Bunny.” What were you guys thinking about when writing some of the songs in “Truth Serum?”

Nick MacDaniels: He’s referring to the title track that’s kind of all about conspiracies and hearing the media ramble on and getting hypnotized by it all. We have a lyricist that I sit down with and we work together on the songs. I can’t really speak on what was going through his mind, but that quote is pretty cool. I enjoy hearing that. I think it’s cool that people can interpret the songs in their own way. We try to leave them a little bit ambiguous so people have the freedom to do that.

S&S: So you work with a lyricist, how is that process? Can you possibly shed some light on that collaboration?

Nick MacDaniels: Sure, he’s one of my best buddies. He was the best man at my wedding and I’ve known him since Kindergarten. We’ve grown up together. He’s actually the one that convinced me to join a band. He started playing guitar and he was like, “Yeah man you should play the drums and we should start a band.” Ever since then we’ve hung out and enjoyed playing music together. He stopped playing instruments, but he still loves to write. He lives in Maryland and I live in North Carolina so we don’t get to see each other that often, but when we do get together we’ll sit down. I’ll jam for a little bit, maybe try and create a loop, loop a few parts and he’ll brainstorm and sing. Slowly, but surely we’ll start piecing together ideas for verses, choruses, songs, beats and what not. That’s kind of how it goes.  

S&S: That must be great working with one of your best friends and it probably makes the song writing process run a little smoother. Is that how it is as a band? Did you guys all meet in your adolescents?

Nick MacDaniels: We all actually met later on. I went to college at Elon University and that’s where I met our keyboard player Josh and our bass player Doug. We were in another college band at the time. Slowly, but surely we started meeting other people. We met Casey our sax player, Jesse our guitar player and last, but not least our drummer Ben came into the picture. It was kind of just like fate. We met each other one by one around the time I was twenty-three, twenty-four. We’re all like family now. We’re all brothers. We’re definitely very close and a very tight group. We enjoy what we do. It’s really fun getting to create cool sounds and music with these guys.

S&S: Correct me if I’m wrong, you acquired the help of a new, well-known producer for this record. Did you guys as a band notice an immediate impact when working with him?

Nick MacDaniels: It actually wasn’t a new producer. This was the third album that we’ve done with him. He definitely helps it come out the way that it does. He’s really awesome at navigating the sonic landscape and figuring out what little sounds and what little bells and whistles can creep into the background and make it magical. We recorded this one a little bit differently than what we’ve done in the past. In the past, we’ve recorded piece by piece. We’ll track the bass and the drums together and then we’ll layer everything on top of that one at a time. Where as in this album we recorded all as a six piece live, in the studio together. We’re all wearing headphones listening to each other play. The conversation and the energy of the music were so much more pure it felt like. I think this one came out really cool.

S&S: I definitely agree. The sound was very pure and full of energy. What is it that Big Something does to translate that pure studio sound into your live shows so effortlessly?

Nick MacDaniels: There are a couple things about that. The first thing is when we discussed making this album, we all wanted it to be more of a current snap shot of what we sound like live. So we wanted to get in and get out. The last studio album we did took forever. Took so long and by the time it was done we felt we had already progressed a lot live. This time around, we got in and got out. All the songs you hear are like first or second take. We just wanted to get that live sound from our concerts. We wanted to translate that onto the studio CD. Obviously there’s some over dubs and studio polish, but for the most part what you’re hearing is what we did live in the studio. Now as far as being able to translate studio sound to playing live, it depends on the song. Its funny how this works out because we never know, but there are some songs that are harder to play live that come out awesome in the studio. I don’t know what it is or why, but for some reason there are certain songs in our repertoire that we weren’t really expecting to come out how they did in the studio. Then there are other songs that don’t turn out that great in a studio, but are awesome live [laughs]. It just depends on the song and the situation.

S&S: Some people would mistake you guys for a Jamband, which we don’t think is true. Does this ever come into discussion as a band or influence your style of play when performing live or even when in the studio?

Nick MacDaniels: We’re not trying to sound like anyone in particular. So whatever people want to call it is cool. We definitely float around in the Jam world so to speak as far as playing shows, all the festivals we play, and the people we hang out with. We’re definitely a big part of that community and we love it. To me the word jamming just means playing music in improvisational free form settings. We definitely do that. We’re big fans of Jazz music and improvisational psychedelic rock. We understand where that label comes from, but like you said, I don’t think we’re necessarily an all out Jamband. We’re more of a straight ahead rock funk band that likes to jam.

S&S: Speaking of festivals, talk to me a little bit about Big What and explain to those who may have never heard of it or are curious, how the festival came about and what it’s all about.

Nick MacDaniels: The Big What, one of my favorite weekends of the year is a music festival that our band, Big Something, hosts. Big What is kind of a play on the band name. Last year we had around 1,300 people and it’s probably going to get a little bigger this year. This year will be the fourth consecutive summer that we’ve done it at the end of June. This year it will be June 25-27th. It’s just a great group of people coming together where everybody takes care of each other; very grassroots from the ground up type feel. Two big stages, 300 acre farm, live art gallery. Its very art friendly and we try to make it as creative as possible. We always debut new material. Last year we had Zach Deputy, The Mantras, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, and many more. It’s always a really good time.

S&S: When are you guys going to get up to Michigan?

Nick MacDaniels: We’ve got a couple friends up there, Passalacqua. Those are my buddy’s man. We actually had them at the Big What a couple years ago. We love collaborating with them. We actually cover one of their songs. We’re starting to tour further and further away from our region. We just did a big run up north in Maine, Vermont, New York and we’re going out West for the first time this spring, so we’ll definitely take a look at hitting Michigan. We’re trying to hit as many new places as possible. It’s a slow and gradual process.

S&S: Any piece of advice you would give to up and coming artists?

Nick MacDaniels: Focus on your craft. Spend as much time as possible making sure your art is as awesome as possible. Spend every last second that you have made your music and your art as good as it could possibly be. It could always be better. That’s what is going to take you places. That is what we’re working on now.

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