The guitarguitar Interview: Big|Brave
Published on 05 July 2019
Montreal's Big|Brave are masters of the loud/quiet dynamic. Using only electric guitars, voals and drums (i.e. NO bass), they manage to sculpt out a detailed and effective sound with space and density in equal measure. Formed in 2012, Big|Brave have just released their newest record, 'A Gaze Among Them', on Southern Lord records. We managed to catch up with vocalist and guitarist Robin Wattie to get the lowdown on thier sonic sensibilities, why they've never needed a bassist and how it's all about the live experience for them!
(Photo by Rachel Cheng)
Hi Robin, thanks for talking to us! Your new record, A Gaze Among Them, is pretty awesome! It’s very dynamic, too. How important is dynamics to your vision?
Aw thank you! That's very kind! Dynamics are definitely key to our vision.
How does this new record fit in with the lineage of your previous albums?
Oh that's an interesting question as both Mathieu and I tend to 'wipe the slate clean' so-to-speak with regards to what we've previously written - but only somewhat clean. This enables us to move a little more freely when experimenting and working on and through ideas.
Atmosphere seems to play a big part, and you seem to do it all with guitars: I don’t hear any keyboards or samples. Would I be right? Is that kind of like part of your manifesto?
During the inception of Big|Brave we used what we had at hand and made great efforts to work with the arguably 'limiting' set of tools.
You guys manage to make your guitars sound both clear and really muddy! Is this part of the essence of BIG | BRAVE’s sound?
I would say yes, definitely!
It’s refreshing to hear melodic content with vocals that are specific and high in the mix. Are the vocals the primary instrument in this music?
The vocals are not the primary instrument. Although they are essential, they aren't any less or more important than the other three instruments.
I do love those fuzz tones! What kind of equipment did you use for the recording?
We love making records but we are kind of clueless when it comes to studio equipment. We usually just show up with our gear and do a whole bunch of tone tests with the engineer. We definitely know what we like in terms of sound, but often don’t understand how or why it got there.
Does your live set up differ from what you use in the studio?
Not really. We do very few overdubs in the studio but only to substitute what you cannot get from the live energy of a live performance.
What types of guitar do you both prefer and why? Do you try to have instruments that complement each other?
I have been using a Jaguar for some time now. It’s pretty versatile and has great low end. Mathieu uses SG’s are they are very malleable. It’s risky but you can bend that neck and almost get a full tone higher. It’s dangerous but had to the pleasure and uncertainty of playing the music we do.
(Photo by Rachel Cheng)
You make great use of the entire frequency spectrum: do you have any tips for helping other guitarists create sounds that can really cut through a mix?
Thank you! We've spent many hours/days/months, even years working it out, and are still working on it. As for tips, I'd say spending time with your instrument and preferred amp & cab and truly diving head first into experimenting and making 'mistakes' ...
What is touring like for you guys? Do you have to arrange it around day jobs?
Yes we all have day jobs and fortunately for us our bosses have been very understanding and supportive! A rarity in Montreal.
Does the city play a big factor in the sound (or general aesthetic) of the band?
It does, absolutely. There is so much of all genres of music in the city and it very easy to find the niche you are looking for. No matter how weird of sounds you want to make, you’ll find like minded people who into similar things. It meant that experimentation and exploration was always encouraged and we never felt any resistance in doing what we wanted to do.
Listening to your music, it took me quite a while to realise that you have no bass player! Did you ever have a bassist? And how do you get around that in terms of having those fantastic low-end frequencies? Does a bass amp help with that?
We've never had a bass player! A bass player would want to play bass... All we need in the low end spectrum is usually one open note played over and over. So a good bass amp with lows maxed out and high completely absent, we can achieve that.
What do you guys tune to? I’m assuming your guitars are down-tuned somewhat. Would I be right?
The 5 higher strings are tuned to standard. The lowest one will change from drop A, B, C, D, depending on the song.
What types of strings and plectrums do you both prefer?
Our gauge is pretty heavy. Not baritone gage but almost there. As for picks, we use the ones they give you at guitar shops when you buy stuff.
(Photo by Rachel Cheng)
Is it true that you guys started out as a folk band? Can you talk about how you moved to full on electric guitar assault?
We played acoustic instruments as we started off playing in the apartment we lived in at the time. As we couldn’t make much noise, it was the only way not to piss off our neighbours. Mathieu had amps in storage from having previously played in loud band. At some point we decided to rent a jam space and we just slowly started using more and bigger amps. It wasn't really a conscious decision. Starting off playing so quietly did inform us and made us appreciate to power of amplitude. This is definitely why we still play with dynamics.
How does the songwriting work inside BIG | BRAVE? Do you come in with song ideas that the guys then work on?
Music always comes first. Usually a song revolves one very simple rhythmic pattern. Layer on top of that feedback and you’ve got a BB song. But vocals do get worked on throughout the constructing process. They will and can inform the structure of the songs as they develop and become the main anchoring point to the piece.
Does having a label like that behind you make things like organising tours and so on easier?
It does in the sense that promoters and live music seekers are more likely to be interested ...
It definitely helps. The label has a huge support/distribution network and we are so grateful to be able to be a part of it a benefit from it. If it wasn’t for Southern Lord, we’d still probably be playing any show we can get in Montreal.
Finally, what is the most important part of playing live for you guys?
Playing live is where it all comes together. It is a very cathartic experience and most probably the main reason why we continue being a band.
Big|Brave's new album, A Gaze Among Them, is out now on Southern Lord records. Keep up with Big|Brave via their website. We'd like to thank Robin for taking part, Lauren Barley for setting us up and Rachel Cheng for the photos.