Let’s Meet: Big Bill

Big Bill celebrates the release of Strawberry Seed with two-nights at Chess Club. Plus, an in-store at Waterloo Records at 5 pm, June 14.

Influenced by the deadpan irreverence of The Monks and Talking Heads, Big Bill is known for their darkly comic, nervy take on punk rock. Though their brain-altering live show remains a huge part of their DNA, Big Bill’s music has evolved across many lineup changes, stretching from the rawest, weirdest punk into shades of country, new wave, and even quasi-classic rock.

Their latest, Strawberry Seed, is out on June 14 with local nonprofit label, Spaceflight Records.

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Let’s Meet: Big Bill

(Questions answered by Eric Braden)

Big Bill has been making music in Austin since 2011, can you give a quick history of the band, how did things get started? How has the band changed since those early days?

To answer that quickly, I started Big Bill with my brother Cody Braden on guitar and our friend David Fitzhugh on bass. We’ve had many changes since then, and now our former drummer (Alan Lauer) is our bass player, our former bassist (Alex Riegelman) is our guitarist (since my brother left the band in 2020), and Jeff Olson plays drums. I’d like to say the band has changed in the same ways that we have changed as people — hopefully a bit wiser, more methodical. Certainly gentler.

Who is Big Bill?

A large chunk of currency, especially one waved at a pedicab driver by a frat boy on a 6th Street curb.

Big Bill releases its third studio album, Strawberry Seed, on June 14th through local nonprofit label Spaceflight Records. Can you tell us a bit about how the record came together? Did you have songs ready to go or are these longstanding works in progress?

Our previous record came out in 2022 but was finished before the pandemic. So we’ve had a few years to gather material, and the origins of songs vary. There are songs like “Emotions” that sprang from demos I made in the summer of 2020, but “That’s the Dance” originated as a voice memo I dug up from 2018, and “People Talk on the Phone” actually still contains part of the demo my brother Cody made years ago. It’s the one song that he appears on in this record, which feels weird to think about since he was so integral to the creative flavor of this band for a decade. Even though a lot of the demos were a few years old, most of the decisions on the record were made in the last few months of 2023 as our deadline loomed.

The first song the band released off the new record, “Ex Con,” is a cover of another Austinite’s song. How did you discover the 1997 original from Smog and why did you decide to make it the lead single for the album? 

First of all we love Bill Callahan, and we actually had the idea of making a whole album of Callahan covers and calling it Bill Does Bill. Hopefully, we do get around to that eventually. I fought for it to be on the record because I loved how quickly it came together — in just one take, with Jeff and Alex on acoustic guitars with me in the vocal booth. It just felt kinda magical and spontaneous and felt like a new place for us. I liked thinking of it as kind of a statement of intent with this album.

It sounds like the band’s songwriting is incredibly collaborative, with each member contributing songs and ideas throughout the recording process. How does the group decide which songs make the record? Is there a lot of conversation or does it happen more organically?

I would say that besides the ones that originate jamming at practice — like “Political Meat,” “Poverty of Wires,” and “Beautiful Angels of the City” — the process lately has been that I will share demos with the band, and they’ll let me know which ones are worth pursuing. Then we take it from there.

Watching Big Bill live is a 360-degree sensory experience, often with matching outfits and onstage theatrics. How do the visual aspects of your art come together? Do they develop in tandem with the music or do they come later once a song is complete?

I think we just want to make purposeful decisions, even if we don’t always fully understand why. I suppose we want people to enter our world, our imaginative space. And I believe that space is one where you let your guard down a little bit. For this new era, we’ve chosen to be slightly less matching in our uniforms, and a little more “naturalistic,” to correspond with a streak in our newer songs of a bit more vulnerability, a bit less absurdity. Not that the world is any less of an absurd place than it was 13 years ago.

Is there a collective favorite Austin music experience that the band still talks about?

You know, we’ll never forget spending a night in the studio with Bushwick Bill after a Hotel Vegas SXSW show in 2016. What a wild world. We feel very fortunate. Some amazing shows with A Giant Dog — there was a Hot Summer Nights show we did with them at Barracuda that was just too incredible. Getting to perform at the Moody Theater for the Sonic Guild Ball this past year, amongst lots of friends, was also a pretty sweet moment.

Anything else exciting you want us to know about?

We’re working on the next two records. And we are eager to tour the world. Excited to manifest that soon.


Artist: Big Bill

Date June 4, 2024

Set List:

“Ex Con” (Smog cover)

“Poverty of Wires”

“Emotions”

Album: Strawberry Seed (Spaceflight Records June 14, 2024)

Musicians:

Eric Braden – vocals; Alan Lauer – bass; Alex Riegelman – guitar; Jeff Olson – drums; Keith Galloway – keys

Credits:

Producer: Deidre Gott; Audio Engineer: Jake Perlman; Rene Chavez; Ezra Gomez; Simón Marulanda-Mesa; Audio Mix: Jake Perlman; Cameras: Deborah Cannon, Renee Dominguez, Ryan Olszewki; Edit: Renee Dominguez

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