The BIG Über Rock Interview: Coady Willis/Jared Warren (Big Business) Print E-mail
Written by Rich Hobson   
Saturday, 23 December 2017 04:40

Too metal for punk, too punk for metal, Big Business have always been a band between worlds, their sound taking a little bit of column a and a little bit of column b to create something truly cacophonous and hard hitting.

 

Returning to the UK for the second time this year, the band played some shows in November around Damnation Festival, which they also managed a spot, solidifying their status as everybody’s favourite sonic oddballs. I was lucky enough to catch up with drummer Coady Willis and bassist Jared Warren ahead of their show in Birmingham, to look back at the festival and see what comes next…

 

I started by asking how things were in the BB at the moment:

 

Big Business

 

Coady: Things are going great, no crying…

 

Jared: That’s not true. There’s been a little bit of crying. Limited Crying.

 

So, this is the second time you guys have been over here this year, it was really great to see you with Whores back at the start of the year.

 

Coady: Well, thanks! I didn’t realise we were allowed to play more than once a year. We really like to…

 

Jared: Wear out our rock n roll.

 

It’s great that you are, especially with tour economics being what they are right now.

 

Jared: For us it’s still advantageous, given the exchange rate, still good to play out here.

 

Does that mean that things are likely to change soon?

 

Coady: Unfortunately, the solution to that problem isn’t touring less and less – it’s touring more to make up what you’re losing. If only there was like a hologram or something so that you could work from home and not have to go!

 

Considering some of the workings of the upper echelons of rock and metal, it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s in the works.

 

Coady: I heard something about Dio… A hologram Dio tour, which… I don’t know, it seems kind of gross and not very fun.

 

Especially if you think about who’s making the money on that tour – I doubt it’s the family.

 

Coady: Well, I imagine they would have rights to his likeness, a hologram is certainly his likeness, but I don’t know. I mean, you’re right – whatever money is owed them, they’ll be screwed. Somebody else is going to make that money.

 

How was Damnation for you?

 

Coady: It was good, it was a really good show.

 

Big Business 1

 

Jared: We didn’t realise – or I didn’t realise at least – that it was such a big festival. So, when we arrived it was like “oh!” because there were big bands playing. It was a pleasant surprise. All the staff were super nice, everybody who worked there was very kind and accommodating. In those situations, people can be really grumpy or whatever because they’ve just had it, they’ve been dealing with… bands can sometimes be shitty people, and technical difficulties and whatever.

 

Do you have festivals like that back home?

 

Coady: Not… There are more and more of these European model festivals, which seems like it’s being adopted in the States, but we’re still not being invited to play them! It doesn’t happen like it does here.

 

I saw that you played a rock and blues festival, as part of a Vice piece, which was pretty weird. But, no weirder than playing a death metal fest I guess.

 

Jared: I don’t know, I don’t think we fit in at most places.

 

Coady: It doesn’t matter what festival we go to, we’re probably gonna be the weird band there. We’re not metal enough for metal, we’re not soft enough for anything else.

 

And what does playing a festival like Damnation mean to you, especially with it being a heavier festival, embracing more experimental bands like yourself?

 

Jared: I’m not sure what that means. It’s always good to be recognised, to be able to show your wares.

 

Coady: It’s better than just playing a club show I guess, because you get out to different people. So, it was great to play in front of a new bunch of people, hopefully they’ll turn up when we come back in six months.

 

Jared: The label we do records with right now, they’re not a metal label, so I don’t know how those things work, like who decides what goes where and how festivals get curated. I don’t know how they figure out who is metal enough, or if it’s their favourite bands.

 

Big Business 2

 

Coady: We’re glad when people invite us to festivals. It can be a big hassle, but you play to new audiences and that’s one of the cooler things about Europe, is that you can do that. Here you can do a festival tour and do the whole summer, but, in the States, you can’t do that – there are some festivals but you can’t go State to State touring the festivals.

 

How important do you think they are in maintaining a scene?

 

Coady: Now I think they’re more important than ever, which I don’t think I’d have said even ten years ago. The internet is so saturated now, it’s easy for bands to get their stuff out there now, but that leads to saturation and leaving a lot of things to wade through. People just want to go somewhere to drink beers and listen to music in a live setting. Festivals is like going on the internet, in real life – I’ll click on this and check this out, eh, I’ll go back to that. It caters to a modern mindset. The e-mindset. Instant gratification. Whereas if you’re coming to this show, or any show, you’re gonna have to think you’ll like it. Or you’ll leave, so you sit at home.

 

Do you find that agents/festivals over here struggle to quantify the band more than they do back home, especially in terms of bookings?

 

Jared: Absolutely. It’s one of our major problems. We’ve been pretty lucky, we’ve been asked to support some pretty big bands like Tool and Mastodon, and those are great opportunities. I don’t know, it feels like it validates it, I feel like maybe we do get asked to do those things because we aren’t a typical metal band. Like ‘these guys are weird, that could be cool’ and it generally works out – we’ve never been booed offstage before.

 

How much curatorship do you get on the tours you do?

 

Coady: For us? Oh yeah, we asked for Whores to come on tour with us. That’s the advantage of working with a label who don’t exercise power over us – we have a lot of friends’ bands who are on Relapse or whatever, and we don’t have to go on tour with bands on our label. There are powers at work – agents and managers and whatever, lobbyists essentially to get bands out there, but we don’t have that. Our booker does that to a certain extent, but not in the same way. So, we’ve been really lucky working with Relapse and stuff.

 

Jared: It’s nice, nobody tells us what to fuckin’ do.

 

Do you think the autonomy is important to you in a way then?

 

 

Coady: It is. It works for us sometimes, it works against us sometimes. It’s a long game.

 

Jared: We do have to work a little bit harder, but, ultimately, I feel like the rewards… It can be weird to play to a metal audience, but we really appreciate it, and it’s cool that we can play to a hard rock audience and be appreciated. It’s not always the best pay off, but it’s a nice place to be. If you wanna do it for a long time, have it stick with you, it can work to your advantage.

 

What tag do you think fits you best then?

 

Jared: I don’t know. There’s a weird middle ground there, so we try to play with bands like that. We’re not exactly a noise rock band, but we do have elements of that. We’re not metal, pop, but we do have melody. I’d love to say it’s awesome all the time, a great place to be, but it has its advantages and disadvantages.

 

Coady: I feel like places we’ve played a few times, places like San Fransisco and Chicago, that have gotten used to us turning up there, tend to be our best shows because they know what to expect, but are ready for a good time. It’s okay to scream and flip our shit, but not mess with you and evaluate you. People catch on that it’s supposed to be fun, it’s cool to laugh. I don’t want to play in front of people who are just trying to be part of a scene, acting a certain way to fit into that.

 

Continuing on that theme, do you find that the association with ‘sludge’ has been a hard tag to shake, especially considering it doesn’t really fit?

 

Coady: Chalk it up to laziness. Once somebody says something like that and it sticks… I don’t even know what that means. We’re not especially slow, or fast… I guess it’s just a lack of imagination and creativity.

 

I guess it helps that people are becoming slightly more literate between genres, able to identify different scenes and whatever.

 

Coady: For sure, I mean I guess part of it could be that we released our first two records through Hydra Head, which maybe had something to do with it. I mean, Hydra Head was a pretty eclectic label too, I feel like it was a good pace to be but still we didn’t fit in with everything that was going on there. Maybe now we’re gaining new footing people will start to call us a noise rock band, who knows?

 

A lot of bands are emerging now that, like yourselves, are difficult to quantify within the normal punk/rock/metal boundaries. Are you enjoying any increased interest as a result and are there any bands who have out and out cited you as an influence?

 

Coady: Well yeah, we’ve been a band for… 17 years, so every few years that thing happens where there are a new batch of college kids who hear about us, or our old bands or whatever. That definitely happens, it’s on an uptick now which is good for us, where in the past we might not have taken advantage of that situation. I think we’re a little more in tune with that these days, more aware of it – it’s a lot easier to keep up with it these days, track trends… find an algorithm which makes you rich and famous. We’re certainly not against taking advantage of things like that.

 

Jared: There is something to be said for being old enough for that to happen. It has provided us with opportunities, for sure.

 

And why do you think it’s important to create music that doesn’t just fit in categories a and b?

 

Jared: I don’t want to make decisions for another band – I imagine for some bands its super important that they’re a metal band and that they’re considered a metal band. That makes sense, for metal bands. Do whatever you wanna do – we just have to do what we want to do.

 

You guys use humour frequently throughout everything from your press releases to lyrics and song titles (I’m tickled that you’re playing Birmingham the same night as Agnostic Front, just for the ‘Diagnostic Front’ associations) – how important do you think that is to the band and to the greater tone you want to create with your music?

 

Jared: I think its super important! To get the listener to let their guard down, feel comfortable. We don’t want it to be a situation where we’re holding a party, invited everybody round and they’re just standing around, drinking their drinks all serious. It’d be weird – you want it to be fun, you want it to be festive… You want to be approachable.

 

Coady: I want it to be inclusive – I don’t want anybody to feel they’re not cool enough, I want people to enjoy it. I mean, if you’re into metal, that’s cool. But especially when we started, we didn’t want that – we didn’t want to be pigeonholed into a certain thing where we couldn’t grow or change. We decided that being ourselves would be safest – it might be confusing at first..

 

 

Jared: We weren’t even sure we liked ourselves!

 

Coady: We just figured we’d be happier in the long run. It’s harder to establish exactly what that is, in the eyes of the general public, but we wanted to be able to change things if we wanted to, do something different and not have to break up the band and start over again…

 

Both: Because that suuuucks.

 

Are you ever tempted to revisit your older bands, especially with the popularity of comebacks from bands like Jesus Lizard and Butthole Surfers now?

 

Jared: I don’t think I’d ever reform a band, but we played a couple of Whip songs, a band I used to be in. If I had more of a backing on that, if we were in a position where that really made sense, maybe, but logistically I just don’t see it working for us. More power to Jesus Lizard though, good for them. If it’s still good, people still want to see it, that’s fine.

 

Coady: I mean, they’re quitters, but…

 

So, do you think that bands and fans shouldn’t be cultivating this idea of ‘holier-than-thou’ scenes?

 

Coady: I think it’s dangerous, for those bands. Look at a band like Nails – the second you see them, you know exactly what they are, exactly what they’re all about. But the flip side of that coin is, you have to be that forever. And the second you aren’t, you’ll alienate everybody who was into you the whole time. That’s like my previous band Murder City Devils, we had a certain image, this gang mentality, imagery with skulls and whatever, but it came and bit us in the ass because we were trying to play rock n roll music, but all of a sudden it became this thing where people were trying to book us for Rockabilly things, just because we had that greaser imagery.

 

We had to steer the ship away from that at every turn, people didn’t get that we weren’t trying to be rockabilly, or hardcore, we were just trying to be a rock band. Again, trying to constantly get away from that was bumming everybody out all the time. Having to pretend to be a switchblade wielding tough guy, or whatever. But there’s plenty of people who are into that, and that’s why they loved the band, so… There’s more instant gratification for a band when they can totally nail an image, and part of the fan experience is identity, aligning themselves with this aesthetic.

 

Jared: It’s more familiar.

 

Coady: As far as making that your life, we had no desire to do that. I don’t want to be a cartoon character – have the pressure to act a certain way in public and not be myself. It defeats the point of making music – if we’re going out there to do this, spend years of our lives making music, I at least want it where if I’m not in a position of going 9 – 5 every day, not have that financial comfort, I at least want to be able to feel like myself, gratified in what I’m playing and that what we’re doing is real.

 

Were Big Business liberating for you when you formed then?

 

Coady: Oh yeah, totally. Having only two people, the songs came together really fast, we flew through a lot of stuff.

 

You guys also get lumped in with the punk scene a lot. The original guard of punk turned 40 this year – how vital do you think the spirit of rebellion still is to heavy music?

 

Jared: Rebellion isn’t at the forefront of my mind these days. Freedom is important, we’re always discovering that. Right now, we’re in the midst of… I wouldn’t say reinvention, but there are new toys we’re playing with, that affects what we do. Freeing ourselves up to do new things. For a long time, we were determined to always fight the current, whereas now I feel we’re more resigned to go with the flow, let what happens, happen. We get less frustrated with why things aren’t working, but now we’ve accepted that it’s all part of it, it’s like ‘oh, we don’t have to worry about this, this and this anymore.’

 

I don’t equate that to creative freedom, necessarily, it could be logistical stuff or whatever, but that just leads to less stress. The more we do to eliminate those things and mental risks, the better. We’ve paid attention – figured out what works and what doesn’t.

 

So, what does 2018 hold for you?

 

Jared: We’re gonna get home from this and start writing the next record. Expand on this, then much of the same. Record, release, tour. We’ve gotten really good at recording stuff in our practice space, so I think we’ll do more on-off things like recording covers or singles, to keep interest and overheads low.

 

Coady: It was great last time because we could practice harmonies and what we wanted to do before we did it, we had a firmer idea of what we wanted to do. It sped things along. Hopefully it will again.

 

Do you think the next record will have a big shift in sound, then?

 

Jared: Not a vast one – I mean, there’ll be loud drums, loud bass… Having said that, who knows. There might be weird stuff.

 

Coady: As much as we like being able to experiment, we don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot and drive this band off a cliff, like “See you later, look what we did!”. We want to make good stuff.

 

Jared: For lack of a better concept, we are a brand and we want to foster that. I think we’re in a position where people expect us to be a little weird, where maybe a band like AC/DC can’t do a new record which sounds even slightly weird. We’ve got an audience who are willing to bend with us. I can’t imagine it’ll be so weird that people will be like “fuck this”.

 

Coady: It’s almost like a two-year delay on knee-jerk reactions, like we release an album with some changes and people pick those out and say “ugh, I hate this.” Two years go by and they have time to sit with this record, and they warm to it, like ‘I like this one, this one and this one’, but then we change again and theyr’e like “this sucks!”. But it’s like, you said that about the last one, and the one before that.

 

Jared: Maybe we should just break up… *laughs*

 

Coady: It doesn’t hurt my feelings like it used to. It’s just like, you’re only hearing this now for the first time, listen to it more and then you’ll make your mind up. It can’t be exactly like the last one.

 

Well, no matter how weird you want to get, we look forward to it – thanks guys, have a great rest of the year!

 

‘Command Your Weather’ is out now via Joyful Noise Recordings.

 

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