In the video for their new single "Swapping Spit," Kacey Underwood and Alice Costelloe of Big Deal thought they'd try something they've never done in a video before: playing their instruments.
"Every other video we've done, it would always just be me and Alice in some sort of strange situation," Underwood says. "This time we wanted to make something that would just be really straightforward about what the band is."
A completely live take filmed on VHS at a farm on the English countryside, the "Swapping Spit" video is Big Deal stripped down to its essence: playful, earnest and a little bit retro. The clip also shows off new additions to the band, i.e. a drummer and bassist. On sophomore album "June Gloom," released June 4 on Mute, Big Deal grew from being just Underwood and Costelloe on electric and acoustic guitar to a full-on four-piece.
"June Gloom," one of the strongest and most disarming releases of the summer, is filled with songs that explore the restless tension suggested by its title. Using '90s alt-rock and post-grunge as a jumping off point, Big Deal demonstrates equal talents for big, irresistible guitar hooks and dreamily wry acoustic love songs. We talked to Underwood, who hails from California but now lives in London, where Costelloe is from, about the magical power of music and the feelings of alienation that inspired the new album. Check out the world premiere of "Swapping Spit" above and read our interview below.
Billboard: "June Gloom" has some of the spare, wistfulness of your first record ["Lights Out," 2011], but there are also these big, bright streaks running through it that are perfect for summer. How did you arrive at that balance?
Underwood: By the time we had all the material recorded we had a lot of different ideas about how the album should sound as a whole. We knew that we wanted to keep certain things from the first record, but also ignite something new, as well. It's that juxtaposition that was driving us. "June Gloom" is a contradiction; it's about being equally summery and dark.
What is it that's pulling you in those two different directions?
Well a lot's happened in the past two years. Some of it's been good and some of it's been hard. I think part of it's just trying to make sense of where we fit in the world. And sometimes it doesn't feel like we're fitting in at all.
You feel like you've been on the outside?
Yeah, I think we've always felt like that to some degree. I think most people probably do, and different people deal with that in different ways. For us, we deal with it by writing songs to fill the distance between us and other people.
Are those people your peers in music or in your personal life?
I think it's both. We've never really had camaraderie or a music scene that we were a part of where there was a sense of community at all. And even in our families I think that both of us have felt like outsiders a bit.
Given that you're from California and Alice is from the U.K., do you feel that split within the band? How does the band identify itself?
Yeah, it's an interesting question and it's really hard to say. We started [in London], so I guess the simple answer would be to say that we're a U.K. band. But a lot of the music we're inspired by-- Broken Social Scene, Nirvana-- is North American. I also feel like the way that we started is uniquely U.K., too. The people I know in America who have started a band get a garage, work really hard, get a van and then go on tour. Here none of that really works. In London it's very hard to find places to play, which led to me and Alice just playing guitars by ourselves. When we got our first gigs, we would just ride our bikes to the venue with our guitars strapped to our backs. I can't really imagine that happening in the States, at least not anywhere I've lived.
Both the video and song "Swapping Spit" have a throwback vibe to them. Is there a particular era or memory that you're trying to capture?
There's definitely a bit of that happening in a lot of our songs. We do spend some time thinking about the past. We feel that music has a bit of a magic power to it, where depending on what you sing about and what you focus on and what you want the world to be, things can be that way. I guess you could look at almost all the songs like wishful thinking.
What is it about the past that fixates you?
I think it's just a part of making sense of where you're at in your life today. Most people aren't where they want to be. Looking back for us isn't glamorous or saying "Oh things were so much greater or so much simpler then." It's more about trying to put the pieces together to understand how all these different experiences have put you where you are now, and then how you can use that to get to where you want to go. I think this record is more optimistic in that regard.