Damon Fox - Bigelf

April 19, 2001

I understand that the band was formed in 1991.

Right, yeah. It goes back even further than that. The original bass player and I actually had some of the very first ideas for Bigelf in '89. Quite a while ago.

Would you like to give a little background on the current lineup of your band?

We have myself, Damon Fox, on lead vocals, keyboards and rhythm guitar. A.H.M. Butler-Jones on lead vocals and guitar, sometimes he plays piano on the recordings. Duffy Snowhill from Finland, our new bass player and Steve Frothingham on drums.

How did you meet up with Repe Lumikumpu?

The American translation for that believe it or not is Duffy Snowhill, that's where we got it from. I thought it was kinda neat. I told him "oh just go by that, everyone's going to have a nightmare trying to pronounce your real name".

So how did you meet up with him?

It was really through Record Heaven, the company in Sweden that's been licensing our music. We were planning to do the Sweden Rock Festival last summer and we'd been a trio without a bass player, I was playing bass with my left hand on a minimoog, Atomic Rooster style. We were going to have a friend play bass on tour and they said there's this guy from Finland who knows about Bigelf and he's got a beard...... no, no. He was a fan and knew the music so we just gave him a shot. It really looked like it was meant to be.

You were described as one of the hottest underground bands in the classic rock genre. Do you enjoy a lot of success as an underground band or do you hope to break out onto the national scene?

We definitely want to break out onto the national scene. It's interesting being in the underground but I want to be able to tour and see more fans. I think a better answer would be, there's more people out there that want this kind of music that aren't getting it and it's because bands like us are being kept in the underground current. Weıve been trying pretty hard for a long time.

Well we're blasted with bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn.

Yeah. At least those bands are rock or quasi-rock with rap. I mean it's more or less the soft stuff that bugs me.

Britney Spears?

Yeah. Musically it's all there for a reason but I can't stand soft, real safe radio rock. Rock and roll should be...I dunno. In this day and age, it's gotta be heavy at least.

Your first release was an album called Closer To Doom which is the full length version of the six-track CD of the same name. Can you give us some information about that album and whether or not it's still available?

It was out of print for a little while. Record Heaven will have it available and I think we will have it in the States also. Itıs probably best to check on our website for that. Closer To Doom had a few different members at that point, Andy and I were the only two from this lineup on that record. We recorded it with Sylvia Massy, which was a really great experience. She's a really big producer now. She has done everything from the Chili Peppers to Tool, Powerman 5000, System Of A Down, Johnny Cash to Tom Petty. We did it here in L. A. and that was sorta the beginning of it really. She put it out on her own label, we were hoping that it was gonna go a little further than it did but c'est la vie.

Why did you decide to work with Sylvia?

She was really into the keyboard element of what we were doing. You know seeing bands in 1994 with Mellotrons, Moogs and B3s was completely insane at that time. It was just really odd. People weren't really open to it as much as they are now in the mainstream with bands like Beck. She was really positive about the band. She saw us as a break into the mainstream kinda sound and I think I remember her saying something like "Bigelf's the kind of band that I can see other bands copying". I thought that was a really nice thing to say. She's also one of the best tape splicer's that I've ever come across, she's so good. Sheıs just talented and the fact that she was going to put us out on her label and put her own energies into it....that was a good way for us to get into the marketplace instead of getting put out on a major. It's interesting to get some indie credibility.

You were picked up by the Swedish label Record Heaven Music. How did that come about?

Record Heaven saw us, I believe at all things....Progfest, which really wasn't our scene but we wanted to play because I know there's a lot of fans there that would like this style of music. Michael Ivarsson introduced himself to us and saw a few more shows in that weekend he was here, it was a good meeting of the minds. We were both interested in putting good music out into the world, meaning..... classic rock. Michaelıs got a really good head on his shoulders. Sweden is still so in touch with heavy rock from the '70s, bands like Zeppelin, Sabbath and Deep Purple haven't ever gone away as far as being popular, so it's a good market for us.

You guys have a lot of influences such as Van Der Graaf, The Move, and Deep Purple. I also noticed a heavy Beatles influence throughout Money Machine.

Definitely.

The one instrument that really stands out to me are the keyboards. I understand that you use classic instruments such as Hammond, Mellotron, and Moog. Do you find that they have more of a better sound quality than other brands?

There's no instruments made today that are going to match those instruments. They are one of a kind instruments. The Hammond B3, there's no comparison to some sort of module or sampler that's going to sound as good as a B3 with real tone wheels. I mean we're talking instruments from the '40s and '50s. Mellotrons have a tape mechanism inside, it's an actual tape going over a tapehead. The sound of a cello or a flute or something i.e. like "Strawberry Fields". There's just no way to replicate that kind of character with today's instrumentation. Everything today is made so digital that there's no feeling. There's no glitches. There's no personality in instruments of today. Guitars in the late '50s and early '60s, are so far superior compared to guitars that are made now. It probably could be best compared with cars. Cars are real nice and are more of a technological advantage these days with gas mileage, speed and all that, but if you look at the sports cars of the '50s and '60s, I don't think anybody would argue that the style is definitely more superior or more of a classic look. I think things were just made with more care back then.

Right. People were interested in quality, not quantity.

Yeah and you know what? Our business is to sound like Bigelf but ultimately the bands that we're trying to sound like are The Beatles, Sabbath, Zeppelin and King Crimson. The Mellotron is going to get you in touch with King Crimson and The Beatles, and a Macintosh computer isn't. A Macintosh is going to get you in touch with everything that is wrong with music today.

I understand that everyone in the band plays keyboards. Was that intentional?

Yes. I mean at this point Duffy doesn't play any sort of piano but Andy's always written songs on piano and he's one of those kind of kids that grew up playing piano. Steve is more into programming than actually playing but he's definitely a whiz when it comes to modulars, patch cables and the programming of synthesis. It was kind of handy when we were a trio without a bass player because Steve would do some little keyboard bass riffs and Andy might do a little bit on piano. I think if we had a bigger budget on tour Andy would start playing piano more live. We used to do that in L. A. when we werenıt too far from base but itıs too hard on tour though. We don't have enough of a budget to have roadies carrying around small pianos.

Yeah I read that Steve can play drums with one hand and keyboards with the other. That has to take some major coordination.

Yeah, I think that was Keyboard Magazine, he was bragging a little bit. He used to do that on, for anybody who cares, the song "In The Void". At the beginning of the song he would play the high hat with his left hand and hit the bass drum, then he'd play the single bass notes with his right hand which are very easy. Andy used to do pitch shifted guitar stuff and we would run a dry signal through the bass amp and then I used to run a minimoog through it also. So when both of us couldn't do a bass line and the drum part wasn't a full blown part, Steve could play bass. It came in really handy. It was nice but a little bit too much of a juggling act. It's great to have Duffy on board.

I understand that you guys only use analog equipment when you record your music. What are the reasons behind that?

It probably goes back to the whole equipment sound quality thing. There are just superior. Things were made so much better back in the '50s and '60s. If you're trying to make a record that's going to sound like Bjork or U2 that obviously uses everything in today's technology instrumentationwise.....then it is great to have computers, drum machines, samplers, all that kind of stuff. I'm not knocking that for today's kind of music but for our thing, it's obviously so much more focused on a warm analog, vinyl kind of sound like Black Sabbath. Darker tones rather than bright ones and using two inch tape, vintage microphones, vintage outboard gear, it really gets you more in touch with the sound of the past which is what we're definitely more interested in. We've done some recording on, I'm not saying Pro-Tools or digital recording, but more modern equipment, still using tape but certainly not with elaborate vintage gear and we always sound like us which is kind of interesting in itself. I know everyone makes a big deal about us using analog equipment and they obviously come to the show and see that it's just packed onstage with nothing past 1973 or something, but I think it actually has alot to do with the songs and the way that they're played. I bet you we could record digitally and it would still sound like a vintage analog album, itıs just the way we sound. Obviously if we were using modern amps, that would change the sound but alot of it is in the playing. You were saying you hear some Beatlesque influences in our music..... I think it's further than just saying "I heard a little Beatles in some song I heard on the radio". I think our stuff is heavy on the influences and thatıs the way we like it. We stick to the analog stuff because it sounds great.

"Side Effects" is one of my favorite tracks off the album. Which ones do you prefer and why?

I'm pretty partial to "Money Machine" as the be all, end all Bigelf song. "Sellout" is another favorite from that album. I like them because they tie in the whole concept of underground group, trying to break into the industry and how the whole music industry has turned very unfriendly towards the development of artists and it's just getting harder and harder for real music to make it. In today's music, everything is so packaged and watered down, there's no truth on the marketplace anywhere.

I saw on the album cover that you have a picture of the Capitol Records building kind of messed up.

Yeah. That was the little inspiration.

Do you find it hard to get your stuff played on the radio?

In the States we have had some radio airplay but I think it's been more college specialty radio shows. When we were in Scandinavia they were playing Bigelf alot. I mean not alot compared to U2 but they certainly weren't afraid to put it on the radio, especially songs like "(Another) Nervous Breakdown" and "Side Effects", those songs are a little more radio friendly being three minutes long. When we were in Finland I think we heard "(Another) Nervous Breakdown" on the radio a couple of times which was nice. People in Europe are so much more open to this kind of music.

Who does most of the songwriting?

Andy and I write everything. Pretty much everything on the album is 50/50. Andy sings his songs and I sing mine so people have to figure out who's who. It's pretty easy, I think every other song on the album is the other guy singing. We try to keep that Lennon/McCartney, Roy Wood/Jeff Lynne thing going so that there is a duality of personality...

Kind of like Hall & Oates do on their albums.

Yeah. It's a songwriting team. We collaborate only a little bit here and there. On some of my songs Andy will say that's no good and then I'll say that title's no good or whatever. We generally write everything by ourselves and then get together at the end and make adjustments but it's definitely a partnership as far as the package is concerned. We try to keep it on a Beatles kind of front.

I read a couple of articles and I noticed that you hated being labelled as progressive or pretentious. Do you find labels a bit tiresome?

I don't really mind. Everyone's going to label something. You can't just not have a comparison to something because then that's usually the first thing that somebody will say. "I saw a great band the other night" and I'll say "what did they sound like". You have to be compared to somebody. Inaccurate comparisons are more annoying then...pretentious ones, I don't know. I don't consider us pretentious or progressive. So people can say whatever they want, some people like to call us retro. If we play with a heavy metal band, they think that we're like Abbey Road and then when we play with bands that are sort of more in the Black Crowes hippie rock vibe, they consider us like acid rock...Black Sabbath...but we're really in the middle between being a really heavy pop band and being, I guess you could call it, a psych-prog band. Progressive is one of those words that's just so hard to define. I always considered The Beatles' Revolver as progressive but I think most people think of Yes and Rush as progressive bands or the word progressive. I don't mind if people label us.

You've played over 700 shows in your career. Has that been mainly the West Coast or have you done national tours?

It's mostly West Coast. We've done a lot of shows in L. A., that's the start. Seattle and back, up and down doing circles, out to Colorado. We haven't really broken out to the East Coast yet. At this point we're just going where the fire is hot and at this point Scandinavia is the spot.

With the release of Money Machine do you see a major tour coming up soon?

I really hope so because it's really the best way to sell CDs. If people go to a club and see a band and like it, they might run out and buy it. Buying our CD right now, you'd have to find it on the net or hear it from a friend or by word of mouth. Without touring, it doesnıt give us a chance to go out there and work and get the music to the people.

Bigelf