Hailing from the North Carolina countryside, or “The Middle of Nowhere,” as it’s proudly dubbed on their debut album, the 6 headed musical monster known as ‘Big Something’ has steadily become one of the most unique and exciting rock bands to emerge from the Southeast. Their musical alchemy is deeply rooted in the strong bond of its members—Nick MacDaniels [lead vocals, guitar], Jesse Hensley [lead guitar, vocals], Casey Cranford [saxophone, E.W.I. “Electronic Wind Instrument”], Ben Vinograd [drums], Josh Kagel [keys, trumpet], and Matt Laird [bass].
After over a decade of touring together with 7 full-length studio albums produced by GRAMMY-nominee John Custer and even their own Summer music festival The Big What?, Big Something has emerged as a grassroots phenomenon in the live music community.
“I’m proud that we’ve stuck together through all of this,” notes Nick. “We have our own unique thing as a group, and I’m very excited about where it’s always been going.”
The band has progressively evolved their catalog with each subsequent release. From their debut album Stories from the Middle of Nowhere in 2010, through fan favorites a la Big Something , Truth Serum , Tumbleweed , The Otherside , and Escape , they have constantly pushed the boundaries of their sound. Among many highlights, “Song For Us” and “Love Generator” have accumulated millions of Spotify streams, while their performances at Sweetwater 420 Fest, Lock’n, Electric Forest, Peach Music Festival, Summer Camp, High Sierra and 10 years of their own festival, The Big What? have further solidified their place as luminaries of progressive improvisational rock.
Their seventh studio album, Headspace [out 11/17 on Truth Serum Records], is significant for the band in many ways. Featuring a collection of songs written over the past few years as the world emerged from a strange moment in history, Headspace was inspired in large part by the ongoing conversations surrounding mental health. As the band releases each new single, they will also spotlight several non-profit organizations focused on helping people navigate mental health and wellness. Headspace will also mark the band’s last studio release with founding members Doug Marshall (bass) and Josh Kagel (keys/trumpet), both of whom announced their retirement from touring in 2023.
For the new album, Big Something journeyed to Cannon Falls, MN to track at the legendary Pachyderm Recording Studios— birthplace of Nirvana’s In Utero. Accompanied by longtime producer John Custer, they lived together in a guest house overlooking a serene trout stream tucked away into nature.
“We cooked dinner together every night, recorded all day, and really enjoyed a special moment in time making this album,” Nick goes on. “It was such a cool bonding experience. We really locked in together musically and tried to tap into the special energy at Pachyderm.”
That palpable energy surges through the album’s lead track and first single, “The Mountain.” The six minute-plus epic sinks its teeth in and clenches its jaw, twisting and turning through organ-laden fuzz towards a rapturous refrain. “The Mountain” carries deeper meaning for the tight-knit group, and the lyrics pay homage to Nick’s lifelong best friend and frequent collaborator Paul Interdonato, who wrote a majority of Big Something’s lyrics before his tragic passing in 2017.
“‘The Mountain’ started with one of the last lyrics I have written down in a journal from Paul,” Nick goes on. “Coming up the mountain, I can see it all again – the chorus is a metaphor for getting over trauma.”
Interdonato’s struggle also inspired the theme of the single “Clouds”. A collaboration with Andy Frasco and Justin Osborne of SUSTO, the gripping work delves into dark subject matter over a blissful cloud of catchy sounds. Musically, this is perhaps the most salient display of the breadth of Big Something’s jaw-dropping musicianship and genre fluency. The slinky earworm isn’t easily forgotten, and showcases head-nodding bass, slick guitars, and keys locked into a funky intergalactic strut, giving way to a distortion-boosted refrain and synth solo.
“I went to write with Andy in Denver and played him a rough recording of the instrumental,” recalls Nick. “It didn’t have any lyrics yet, so he was helping me think of ideas. We landed on the thought of ‘living in the clouds’ as a metaphor for addiction. And the character in the song is a close friend who may never come back down.”
Big Something leaned into collaboration yet again on “Bob and Weave,” a track originally penned by another close friend and frequent collaborator, Josh Phillips from Asheville, NC. The buoyant track sees otherworldly electronics wheeze as the riff slinks beneath swaggering verses and an uplifting chorus.
“Getting to know Josh has been so much fun. He’s an incredible singer-songwriter and reminds me a lot of Paul in certain ways. From what I can tell, ‘Bob and Weave’ is basically about waking up and trying to get through the anxiety of life with the help of friendship — and maybe some cannabis,” MacDaniels added.
Then, there’s “Algorithm,” a track that serves as a spiritual predecessor to fan favorite “Love Generator.”
“It’s sort of like a prequel or counterpoint to ‘Love Generator’ which takes place in a distant future where machines learn to love and become human. In ‘Algorithm,’ humans are shutting down and turning into machines,” he elaborates.
Rounding out the album, the band brought everything full circle with a final nod to Paul by re-recording the first Big Something song ever written, “Amanda Lynn.” Originally released on their 2010 debut album Stories From The Middle of Nowhere, “Amanda Lynn” features the first lyrics that Interdonato contributed to the band.
“We thought it was a cool way to connect everything to the roots of our story,” MacDaniels explained.
In the end, Big Something’s tale is a testament to the power of friendship and that bond burns brighter now than ever as the band prepares to journey across the US for their recently announced HEADSPACE Tour – their biggest headlining tour to date.
“This started out as a group of friends, and it’s turned into a family over the years. I love this music and this band and what we do and I hope people can hear and feel that in what we create.”