“This is a time machine. Enjoy the ride!”
Marc Flynn spoke these words with an air of disbelief as Big D and the Kids Table started their “Good Luck” set at Paradise Rock Club this past Saturday. Time Machines take us back and that’s exactly what that evening did for the packed audience. It was very much a night of reunions and our interview with three members of Big D—former and current—really set that tone. We were fortunate enough to sit down with Dave McWane, lead vocalist and frontman, Marc Flynn, valve trombonist and vocalist, and Alex Stern, guitarist. Dave has been with the band since it’s formation, Marc left in 2003 but appears on their recent “Stomp/Stroll” release, and Alex has been on board for the last three years. This musically intergenerational group made for different perspectives and very candid, honest conversation. Anyone listening closely to Dave’s lyrics would expect no less. We talked about the impetus for the reunion, the “Good Luck” era, recording then versus recording now, and what’s coming up next for Big D.
Reunion Beginnings and “Good Luck” Reflections
I’m always curious what instigates the conversation about a reunion. Big D was originally scheduled to play day 2 of the Apple Stomp, a ska festival in New York that was rich with reunions last year. One could have assumed that they pulled a reunion together for that show at the suggestion of the promoters; the folks at Asbestos Records are notorious for egging on bands. This reunion actually owes thanks to the children’s show Yo Gabba Gabba. Mike Park, founder of Asian Man records, performed the Marcia Griffiths classic “Feel Like Jumping,” inviting his friends from cities on the road to join him on stage to include members of Suicide Machines and Mustard Plug while in Michigan. Park invited Marc Flynn, Dave McWane, and Steve Foote to join them for the Boston date of the tour. Just as they’re about to go on stage at the Orpheum, children screaming as far as the eye can see, Marc turns to Dave and says “Who would have thought that our first reunion show would have been Yo Gabba Gabba?” This put the idea in Dave’s head and really got the ball rolling. Dave is also a fan of Iron Maiden’s album-themed and decade-themed tours. For those playing Big D member bingo, many players from their past and present were present Saturday night, including Dan Stoppelman on trumpet, Sean Rogan on guitar, Paul Cuttler on trombone, and Ryan O’Connor on saxophone, Derek Davis on drums, Steve Foote and Ben Basile on bass, Logan La Barbera on trombone, and Casey Gruttadauria on keys.
Appropriately enough, this would have been the 15th anniversary of the release of “Good Luck” and like any other reunion, it was a time for looking back and celebrating one’s accomplishments. The band remarked that they were 18 years old when “Shot By Lammi” was recorded, 18 years ago, and that it was likely there would be 18 year olds in the audience at this all ages show. If you were born before 1990 I suggest not doing the math. Things have changed in 18 years, but memories of the “Good Luck” recording come as if it was yesterday. He still remembers the smell of pulp coming from the paper factory next door to the studio. Recorded in a similar fashion to “Shot By Lammi,” the band headed to Big Sound in Maine and cranked out the record in just 24 hours, recording vocals in the early hours of the morning. They had no money and had to do it fast, paying their engineer Jon Lammi (yes, that Lammi) in beer and a mere $300 cash. They had to do it before the “real” clients came in. Dave commented that even though they spend much longer on records now, Lammi did a great job and the record still holds up.
In very a somber, reflective voice, Dave remarked on how big of a deal it was when Mike Park put Big D on the Asian Man roster and released “Good Luck.” It was only their sophomore release, following Shot By Lammi, but it was a incomparable milestone for the band. 15 years later, it’s only fitting that the album get a celebratory vinyl release. Dave said he was “elated” just to have it and hand it to people. Their last release, “Stomp/Stroll” was self-released, which meant they saw a little bit more money from the sales than previous releases. In talking with Marc, they decided to put the money towards releasing the old albums on vinyl. The band didn’t hesitate to note that they did more so for themselves than their fans. Given all that they do for their fans, I think they’re entitled. Good Luck and Shot By Lammi are each available on 12-inch vinyl from Interpunk. 250 copies each of two 7-inch records were produced containing live tracks from GL and SBL. Big D mentioned in a Facebook post that these would be available on Interpunk if there were any left over after the show.
Recording: Good Luck vs Stomp/Stroll
Alex Stern, guitarist for Big D, performed on “Stomp/Stroll” and spoke to the recording process and how different it was from the “Good Luck” sessions. Drums were tracked at the Blasting Room in Colorado, a last minute change from where they intended. They expected to solely record drums, but drummer Derek Davis finished a day and a half early, allowing Alex to record all of the “Stomp” guitars and two songs worth of “Stroll” guitars. The rest of the tracking was completed piecemeal in a variety of studios on this side of the states. Marc Flynn was able to rejoin for three songs on stomp. Marc was quick to mention that he’s the first voice you hear on Stomp, “just like Good Luck.” Alex shares that “Pitch ’n’ Sway,” track 10 on “Stomp” is meant to be an homage to “Good Luck.” Generally, the album has been successful and well-received, “so long as you don’t read internet comments.”
“This sucks, it’s not ‘Good Luck’!” Dave chimes in with a reaction he’s all too familiar with. He kids, “we have so many records it’s like Good Luck kids hate How It Goes, How it Goes kids hate Strictly Rude.” Alex notes that they just toured Asia and Australia where they performed “Don’t Compare Me to You,” track 8 off of “Stomp,” a deep cut by most measures. Fans knew the words and that was a good indicator how fans felt about the record.
Dave highlighted two primary differences between recording “Good Luck” and “Stomp/Stroll.” First, “Good Luck” was recorded on tape. There was a different mentality and attitude a musician would have in the studio. It was common to hear someone yell “Run it again, I can get it! Shut up, I got it!” after an imperfect take. Now you hear “You can fix that later, right?” Dave still values tracking on tape, noting that audio is meant to be captured that way, knowing there’s something lost with digital. Were you to record entirely digital, it would be “like watching ‘Pulp Fiction’ on HD. It Sucks.” The second major difference was that they had the luxury of carrying around a hard drive of the recording to “wonderful” friends who helped in various ways, helping keep the cost of recording down, which was a huge help to the band.
Marc chimed in remarking that at various points on “Good Luck” you can hear the performers yelling, such as in the last 10 seconds of “Fatman.” It’s not that they kept it in there for authenticity’s sake, it’s that you would have to splice the physical tape to remove it. Alex is quick to warn of recording with engineers who are so concerned about how a recording will reflect on them, editing out a mistake before the musician knew it was even there, and how that affects the integrity of recording.
What’s Next for Big D and the Kids Table
Planning for and touring Hawaii, Southeast Asia, and Australia, followed by the preparation required for the “Good Luck” shows has left the band in understandable need of a rest. “That was our goal,” Dave says with a sense of relief and accomplishment. They’re going to tour Canada with Less Than Jake in October and they’ve already got their annual Halloween show booked which they’ll be announcing soon.
The band is in talks of recording a cover album which I have to admit they were quite vague about. All they mentioned is that the band they’ll be covering is not getting back together any time soon, and that they hope the recording will make the band in question “uncomfortable.” They jokingly noted, as if they were speaking to this band, “You know why we’re doing this! They’re gonna die soon!” Rude or not, it might be a hint as to the record that’s to come.
After settling down, Dave noted that him, Alex, and the rest of the band would begin work on a new record. We’re excited to share the news that it may be called “666,” a series of 6 ska songs, 6 thrash songs, and 6 stroll songs on a series of 10 inch records (or similar). That’s as much as the band was willing to comment on that project.
Additionally, a Rancid tribute album was recently announced entitled “Hooligans United.” Big D has contributed a cover of “Old Friend” from “…And Out Come the Wolves,” one of my favorite tracks. This record will be available on Hellcat and Smelvis Records, though a release date has not been announced.
Line Up Changes, the Keys to the City, and Star Trek
We got to talking with Alex about what it was like to join a band like Big D 15 years into it’s career, and well into Alex’s individual musical career. This Halloween show will mark Alex’s fourth with Big D. They’re introduction was some what of a bait and switch. The band was trying to contact keyboard player Casey Gruttadauria about a performance. Casey’s phone was off and Alex volunteered himself as keyboard player. “I practiced my ass off, showed up, did my version of ‘nailing it,’ and started a relationship.” It wasn’t until the time came to record “Stomp/Stroll” that he began playing guitar. Dave proudly stated that he still has Alex in his phone as “Alex Organ” and won’t be changing it any time soon.
Alex didn’t hesitate to talk about how welcome he felt in the band. Once you’ve joined Big D, you get the “key to the city.” You’re in on all the emails, you help make things happen, and you help with the business; a valued member of the team. Every one pulls their weight (bassist Ben Basile was said to have recently hauled all 1,300 lbs of new vinyl into their space) and no one sits by on the sidelines. He thinks it’s hardest for the fans who want things to be the same, for line ups to stay in tact, and he genuinely feels for them. However, they’re are bigger factors to consider, and he’s not convinced fans fully understand the situation. Band members are real people, they don’t get paid that much, and they have to make decisions to do other things. No one should be angry about it. He feels like fans have taken to him, but knows that hasn’t been the case for every Big D member. Marc is quick to interject that he hasn’t been in the band in years, but the band is still great, even better in some aspects. He agrees that line up changes and life decisions are a reality for musicians. Marc also emphatically thanked Dave and the rest of the band for the opportunity to come back, having not played with the band since 2003. Dave’s face lit up noting that when Marc entered the studio to for “Stomp” and for “Good Luck” rehearsals, it felt complete, natural, and “wonderful;” that “all the pieces fit.”
Dave draws comparisons between Big D and Star Trek, something that’s been around for a long time and is subject to similar criticisms. “You put out a record, and people say it’s not the same.” Dave waxes poetic on the topic of new releases and what he thinks is at the root of this complaint:
[quote]”What’s lacking is your memories with the record. ‘Hanging out at Robin’s house, we just stayed up all night, driving with Terri…’ it lacks your memories. It’s hard for someone who’s getting into their upper 20s to realize that it’s not your record, it’s not your time; it’s some one else’s record. What’s really nice about Big D is that Good Luck, How it Goes, Strictly Rude, and Fluent in Stroll are all people’s records. Do you know what I mean? Each record is someone’s memories. Sometimes they blame the band, but it’s just a part of growing up. Nothing will ever sound the same as when you were 17 years old.”[/quote]
Kevin Davila, the guy holding the microphone the entire time nodded in agreement, “by closing yourself out, you miss out on new memories. Big D is a staple for me, I can identify a place in my life when a record came out.” Alex immediately draws reference to High Fidelity’s lead character Rob who organizes his record collection autobiographically.
Alex: “We keep an open door to former members, both on stage and in the studio.”
Dave: “We’re an institution.”
Alex: “We’re a baseball team.”
Dave: “You have the key to the city, you have the key to the city forever.”