In Conversation: Big White

Back in the country after 9 long weeks of touring the states and Europe – band in a van style, we caught up with Nicholas Griffith, Elmo Aoyama, Cody Munro Moore, Bowen Shakallis and Jack Wotton of Big White.

We talked about the whole DIY touring expereince, making a new record and a potential overseas trip again later this year, because if they didn’t “There wouldn’t be anything to talk about to the press.”

How does it feel to be back on home turf?

Elmo: It feels good. It feels pretty normal as well.
Bowen: It was really good for the first couple of weeks, and then you kind of start getting a bit itchy after a little bit and it’s just like ‘alright, what’s the next thing?’
Cody: Yeah, after I’d watched a few movies in my room, I was like, ‘this is kind of boring.’ It took a couple of weeks but then I was keen to go on tour again.
Nicholas: It was the opposite for me actually, the first 2 weeks sucked and now I’m kind of alright with it.
Cody: It’s nice being able to tour in Australia now. We don’t have as many shows.
Jack: It was like 9 weeks of going to a different place every day. You always have a sense of purpose – so when you get back it’s like ‘alright, what are we doing now?’

The tour was all self funded and you relied on the generosity of others to make it work, What was it like pulling it all off, ad-hoc?

J: It was a lot of fun.
B: It was different depending on which point of the tour we were at.
C: And how many friends we’d made at the certain place. A lot of places we went we realised there was a lot of lovely people there that would put up bands in towns, and they were the regular place where people could go and stay. In Boise, Idaho – we’d noticed a few places were like that, really generous people who lived in big American cities that aren’t that well known to us over here.
N: Discovering that Denver had this thriving DIY scene and that we happened to be pretty good friends with this guys who was like the ‘Denver dude’. He gave us two shows there – one was in his basement and then the next night it was this warehouse where we opened.
C: It was in the basement of this old protestant church, I think.
J: So finding all these things between the cracks was pretty cool. Kinda rolling the dice too, not really knowing what to expect is pretty exciting.
C: We had a lot more fun in places where people showed us around because they really wanted to let us know how cool their town was, which is as you do when you live in a place.
J: LA was like that, we had this friend, Dan who was showing us all around LA. People from LA are quite proud to be from LA as well. The adventure is kind of the best part about touring.
C: Especially DIY touring, if we had hotel rooms every night – people picking us up and dropping us off, we wouldn’t have made it half the distance we did.
B: We did actually run into some other Australian bands over there who were doing more official touring and they were put up in hotels and that kind of stuff. They were like ‘ah, we’re kind of jealous of you guys. We just go to the hotels and we don’t have that sort of interaction.’
C: We were showing off our RV in Austin. It was cool to have that moving bed as well – you could pull over anywhere and crash out.
B: It was the best when there was parking at the venue. We’d just stay in the carpark.
J: We slept overnight in a carpark in Dallas and Cody had to fend off a hand that was pulling itself through the window to get into our van at one point.
C: There was some overpass sleeping nights that were a bit dodgy. You’d notice in some towns they’d be zombies walking around at 4 in the morning. Some towns had it, and some towns didn’t. Dallas, New York and LA. Portland didn’t really have that though, you could park anywhere and not really worry about it. We’d find out about shows while on the road as well. One night we were tagged in an Instagram post that said ‘really looking forward to playing with Big White tomorrow’ and we were like, ‘ahhhh what? We didn’t know about that gig’.
B: ‘We’d better start driving now actually, that’s quite far away! *laughs*’

Were half these shows not booked when you’d left the country?

J: There was a whole bunch that were booked, but there were some that were booked which we didn’t know about because a friend would just book them over there. Some shows we booked on the road – Nick booked a show up in Chicago while we were other there, then I met a guy in Austin who booked us a show in Springfield, Missorui. When we drove to Springfield, we ended up going back into the middle of the country – setting ourselves up for disaster because we had to spend 2 days driving to Jersey to make our show in New York. It was kind of fun like that – a lot of it was left to chance.
C: A lot of people asked ‘how’d you book all that?’. A lot was done from when we went last year and made friends for this year – but a lot of it was done just by being there and being keen to play shows and people facilitating that from their own hometowns. Starting it off at SXSW was good because we met everyone, then went everyone went home they realised there were dates we didn’t have so they took it back with them and worked with the idea.
J: We were dodging disasters as well. We left from Boise late to get to Seattle. It was lucky that we left late because on the way there was a huge snowstorm on the last stretch of freeway to Seattle. A couple of our friends’ vans got stuck in the snow storm and they had all the gear. So the show got cancelled, but we were at the entrance of the freeway so we could turn off.
C: We didn’t make it to the grunge capital, unfortunately.

How was kicking things off at SXSW? Did that give you an insight into what the next couple of weeks were going to be like?

E: It was the second time that we did SXSW.
B: It was fairly similar, we played one of the same showcases and then we played another show at a venue that we’d already played at before last year. I think it was bigger this year.
J: Yeah we did 5 shows in 3 days. It’s like when you put your clothes in the washing machine and they come out dirtier that what they were when you put them in. SXSW is a whirlwind.
C: It was more relaxing for us this time because we had the RV, so we could sleep in it at the front of venues, whearas usually you’ve got to make it to a hotel on the outskirts of town.
B: It gets so expensive doing South By.
J: It was a bit more central this year as well. We all managed to find this house party at Christian Lam’s house from The Black Angels and all of our friend’s bands were there so it was a good way to cap it off. It was all very tight – we kind of knew what to expect as well.
C: The music industry – they hit it pretty hard, but we knew we had 9 weeks of touring ahead of us, so we took it easier because we knew other things were coming.
J: Well, we could park out the front of a venue, so with the RV, our home was out the front of the venue so you could go in and watch bands, then go back to your crib and drink beers then go back inside.
B: It felt like we were in South By a lot more this year. There was less travelling to the outskirts.
J: It’s a really good place to make friends or meet up with others from all over the world.

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There’s been mentions of you guys Almost burning down a venue and being kicked out. Please elaborate?

J: The burning down was in Albuquerque and the kick out was because of Green Day.
C: We bought these fireworks in Albuquerque and it hadn’t rained for 6 months and the guy warned us not to use them.*
B: This same guy, the previous year we’d actually been to that exact same fireworks shop and we’d asked him ‘where should we let them off?’ and he was like ‘just in the parking lot!’ and it was a gas station. So, this guys wasn’t really uptight about dangerous situations. He was like, there’s an extreme fire danger in this state so just be careful where you let them off.
C: After we played this gig in Albuquerque, there was this big empty lot next door – so we thought it’d be fine to let off some fireworks. Nick lit a California candle, like this big fountain and it just sprayed out everywhere. Then it fell against this wire fence that had all this dead grass on it, and there were all these houses further down and it exploded. For the next 20 minutes we were beating out this fire.
B: It was a community effort to put this thing out.
J: I was wrapping up wet towels with this English guy who was staying with us.
B: Everyone went into their own emergency preparations, while Nick filmed the whole thing. At least someone got it documented.
J: We had this German band with us who were helping out as well.
C: I melted my Reeboks stamping it out.
J: We would have had to skip town if it had of gotten worse.
C: We would of had the state police chasing us over the border.
J: Band on the run. With Green Day, we actually didn’t get kicked out of the venue.
C: Well, we kind of did.
E: We got kicked out of the green room because they were getting it ready so it was all nice inside.
B: Initially we had 10 shows booked back to back in New York – that was our big NY hurrah. It was the last night we were booked, and we only got told Green Day were playing just before we went on. They were like ‘sorry we’ll need to cut your set short.’ To be honest, it was probably the best one to cut short because we’d had a pretty big…
J: Well, you had a big day. The guy who owned the club was friends with Green Day and wanted to jam with them. So, the place filled out. There were two reasons we got cut short – one because Green Day wanted to play, and the other was because Susan Sarandon’s son’s band played too long before us. So we got sandwiched between this crazy New York thing – we only ended up playing 4 songs, then the Hells Angels bouncer kicked everyone out of the green room.
B: But Billy Joe did apologise for cutting our set short. To me personally – I was in the green room later on.
J: The Elmo got kicked off the seat we were sitting on because Bily Joe’s wife wanted to sit there. The manager told us it wasn’t okay but then once the manager left, his wife was like ‘it’s okay, whatever.’ Then Elmo was broing out with Billy Joe’s wife. Found out that they had a house on each side of the coast.
C: There were people out the front offering the door guy $1000 US dollars to come in, and he was bragging about it the next day that he didn’t go down to the level of a bribe.
J: The other good story from New York was when we got this sax player called Larry The Antenna-man walk all the way from The Bronx all the way to Green Point, Brooklyn and jump on stage with us to to play saxophone. We couldn’t get him off.
B: He was wild.
C: He’s a well known semi-homeless musician living around Brooklyn.
B: He’s kind of this infamous New York character who rides the trains and plays in the subway.
J: Once he was on we couldn’t get him off, that’s for sure.
B: We’d ended and he was still going, yelling ‘cmon, back me up, back me up!’

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You toured Europe too after The States. Alongside working on a new album over there, you also filmed a video?

C: Yeah, that was for ‘Down At The Beach’ off our current album.
J: We had a bit of time off in Europe, I think we’d spent a couple of days doing separate things and we were like ‘let’s get back together and do some band stuff.’ We had this urge to do more band stuff. I think Elmo had always wanted to go to an abandoned castle in Belgium, and then Bowen found this one – I think it was called ‘Chateau Miranda?’
C: Yeah it was on this big, rich estate in the Belgium countryside. We snuck in through the forest and went in the back way – it was huge.
B: There was like several castles in this area within eyeshot. It was this abandoned chateau that had become derelict over the course of about 40 years.
C: We spent all day in there filming, it kind of felt like our own place at the end. We were a bit sad to let it go.
B: We all went in, and the first two hours we just got lost exploring. It was getting later and we were like, ‘oh yeah, we should probably start filming.’ The place was just so amazing.
C: It was pretty dangerous, the roof was falling from a fire. It was in a pretty bad state.
J: We’ve always made our own clips, but they’ve been within 500 metres of our house. We ended up feeling like it was our house. We ended up getting some guy to film a little bit as well. He had no idea.
C: We were filming each other, so we needed a point where all of us were in the same shot

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Alongside that, while you were in Europe you were working on a new album as well?

N: We had a bit of time off, so we went back to this house just north of Amsterdam that the record label put us up in. We had 3 or 4 days there, just working on a few songs that we’d kind of written on the road.
B: In the RV, or wherever really.
N So we fleshed those out with a band setup in the living room, with all of these cool amplifiers and guitar pedals and stuff. We worked on about 3 new songs there, and they’l probably be on our next album.
J: We’d been demoing them individually – Bowen set up a little studio in the back of the RV, so while we were driving to wherever, we’d be writing songs as we went. It was good to write somewhere different, that’s for sure.
N: It was a nice experience, kind of uncomfortable, but also something that we’d never really done before. The songs I think were coming from a different sort of place – being these songs that we’d written whilst travelling around America and Europe.
C: We kind of already have started properly recording it, but by the end of this year we should have a new album ready to get released next year, hopefully.
J: The idea is to keep writing and recording as we go, so there’s no waiting around to release.
B: It’s also just the natural progression of any band, I guess, to keep writing. Especially for us, we have just released the album, but we’ve been sitting on that release for a little while, so there’s been writing in the meantime. It’s to the point now where we’ve almost got another full album.
N: I think with all the songwriters in the band, we come out with songs pretty quickly.
C: We haven’t been as prolific as The Ocean Party, but we’ve been trying. *laughs*
J: They’ve got a new album out every week. But yeah – as Nick was saying, there’s plenty to write about, I mean we went to this Bernie Sanders rally in New York. That was pretty cool, there was plenty of things that happened which we could draw inspiration from.
N: I found a lot of lyrical inspiration from just being in a different place.

Big White will be supporting The Ocean Party on their album tour throughout September and October. They’ll also be appearing at new Sydney festival BAD on October 15th. Teenage Dreams is out now.