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The 99% Episode #15 with Big Mother Gig

If you want a taste of the Midwest, Big Mother Gig is the power pop-rock band you need to know. Inspired by the 1990’s rock, the band formed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1992 and has seen many changes. Yet one thing remains the same: authenticity. The music comes from genuine good-times with a natural 90’s flare. Band leader Richard is ready to create a synergetic experience between the band and an audience through the strumming of their guitars. Their 6-tracked EP “Almost Primed” received praises through the media like PASTE, Substream, Impose, Alternative Press, and much more. Get to be a part of all the talk with the band in the 99% Podcast interview featured on Soundcloud.

Listen To Big Mother Gig’s 99 Percent Podcast Interview Below:

[00:00] Steereo:

Welcome to the 99% Podcast. We’re here with Richard the lead singer from Big Mother Gig, which is a great title, and thanks for joining us today, and welcome!

Richard:

I’m good it’s another lovely day in Southern California, thanks for having me on your podcast.

Steereo:

Just so everybody knows, we’re dealing with a big heat wave at the moment so I don’t know how you’re dealing with that.

Richard:

Well I’m in an air conditioned car right now so it feels perfect.

Steereo:

Perfect. Yeah, my thoughts and prayers go out to anyone in a recording studio at the moment. Okay, so Richard we’re going to get straight down to it. Do you want to share a little bit about the band and how it came together? I know that there’s four of you guys involved so tell us a little bit about that and where it originally started, where you guys are from and we’ll go from there.

Richard:

Yeah you know it is a little bit of a Byzantine story that we’ve had. Big Mother Gig was a band that I started in 1992 in Milwaukee Wisconsin, which for those who don’t know, is sort of like a working class big city in Wisconsin and I was there pursuing my bachelor’s degree. I started a band there, and the band had a number of lineup changes. Over four years we kind of did the thing that bands do. We recorded albums and put them out, we played shows, we got a manager, we started to get songs played on the radio, we started playing bigger shows. Then in 1996 I made the decision that I wanted to move on. I was twenty three and I fell in love. My then fiance and I,  my current wife; we’re still together. We literally drove to a courthouse, got married and then drove from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to New York City and started a new life together. I put not just Big Mother Gig in the past, but I put that whole thing behind me. Like rock and roll music. Big Mother Gig was an alternative rock band with that 1990’s sound. We grew up listening to Dinosaur Jr and stuff like that. We were making music in the post Nirvana world, which kind of seemed like it had a shelf life and it seemed like that shelf life was coming to an end by 1996. I moved into a different direction, I discovered electronic music and I started making electronic music with guitars and you know sort of indie rock stylings. I actually found quite a bit of success doing that. I got a record deal or two and toured, and saw that whole experience to its natural conclusion. At the end of that, my wife and I decided to move to L.A. So ten years later we moved to L.A. and I kind of really put music on the back burner as much as I can. I was still making music but the last time I was on a stage was in 2006. So I moved to L.A. and really just focused on my career which is also in the music business. My wife and I had made plans to have a family, and then my daughter was born five years ago. I don’t know if it was because of her, but I started missing being in a band and making music. So, I eventually reunited Big Mother Gig with the idea that we would just have a big reunion show and we’d all get together, sort of like a high school reunion.


We did that in early 2017, so in late 2016 we booked our reunion show and then we decided let’s make some new songs. We made some new songs, we had our show and then I came back to L.A. I just decided that I didn’t want to stop even though the members were scattered all around the world. Everybody else did, and wanted to go back to their lives. So I took the name and the songs and the aesthetic and I once again had a lineup change and got new members. For the last year or so I’ve been playing with these guys; playing the old songs, writing new songs, and it’s been just a ton of fun. We’re seeing some great feedback from people and our audience is growing. I think there’s a certain subset of the population that really misses the kind of music that we were making, so I think we’re helping fill that void.

[05:39] Steereo:

Is power pop rockers a good tagline for where you guys are at in terms of your sound?

Richard:

Yeah, I think so. You know, it’s not an intentional, “let’s make music that sounds like 1992”. It’s just when we go back to our roots and we just decide to make music without trying to sound like today, it’s almost the reverse. Instead of trying to be contemporary we’re just being natural, and being natural for us means that we sound like Superchunk or the Replacements or Dinosaur Jr. That’s just naturally where we fall into, and it’s authentic. Not to say anything bad about other artists but when I see these groups of twenty three year olds coming in, trying to replicate that sound, it reminds me of what I was doing fifteen years ago when I was trying so hard to replicate that 80’s sound. That new order, electronic indie pop sound. It was so intentional that it ended up being completely not authentic. So for us, just being ourselves is making this kind of music. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in a band because we’re not trying to be cool and we’re not trying to impress people. We are literally just doing what we want to do and if people like it that’s great, and if people don’t that’s great too. We understand that we are not for everybody.

Steereo:

I think we need to take that pressure off. When you take that pressure off of trying to be someone you’re not, or conform to what is current right now, I think there’s a magic in that. People respond to that at a level that works for you. I’ve seen very talented people try to follow a trend and it becomes dangerous because it’s not really where their passion or their purpose lies.

Richard:

I agree one hundred percent. I think that’s why we have people who come see us, who may not even understand the context of the music we’re making. It’s kind of irrelevant to them that we’re not trying to be contemporary, that we’re just kind of falling back on our roots. People who don’t even necessarily listen to “alternative rock” or “power pop,” come see us and talk to us after the shows and they’re like, “you guys looked like you were having so much fun,” and it becomes infectious for the audience. They’re just enjoying it regardless of what we look like, or how old we are. When we’re on stage I see the audience and you can see them loosen up! You know they were standing there when we get on stage with their arms crossed like who are these guys and are they cool? I didn’t read about them on Pitchfork so I don’t trust that they’re good.Then we start playing and they stop doing that; you can see their body language change. You can see them respond and start moving closer to the stage and they start laughing and smiling and clapping and getting moved and touched. It’s just the most incredible experience and I think it only works because it’s the first time in my life I’ve stood on a stage and not tried to be somebody else.

Steereo:

That is awesome, and I think for listeners and for fans, for anyone who is just tuning in, if they can actually understand what you just that there, that you don’t have to try to be anything but yourself, I think that’s a life lesson in itself. To speak to what you just said about the audience and barriers, I think music is the universal language that doesn’t divide people, it brings people together, and it’s what people pick up when you’re on stage.

Richard:

Let’s say you’re walking through some kind of street festival, and there’s a bluegrass band or a jazz band or a salsa band and they’re just doing what they love to do. It’s not at all in fashion, they’re not trying to get their records on the front page. They play the music that they love playing, and you watch the people respond. Even if you don’t like salsa music or bluegrass and you think that your tastes are not for swing music, even if you don’t like any of that stuff you can watch it and you can love it and you can be moved by it because they’re moved by it. The people who are performing and are just being so honest with where they come from. Maybe you don’t go home and put it on Spotify because it’s not cool and it’s not in a playlist, but for that moment that you watched it happen it was real. I’m forty five years old and I’m not ashamed to admit that, and in this business it’s a little bit of a risk. When I first started Big Mother Gig, I was trying to be something else. I was trying to be Nirvana and I was trying to be Rage Against The Machine. Then I was trying to be the Afghan Whigs and I was trying to be the Pixies, and I was trying to be anything but myself. If you listen to any of that old music like you could pretty much tell what exactly what I was listening to based on what song it was. But this time around we’re just doing it, and we know not to apologize for what we’re doing but we are aware that there isn’t a record label on earth who is going to be interested in signing us because it doesn’t make any sense. We’re not going to appeal to those audiences but we appeal to some people and that’s all I care about, really. I don’t even care about those people, I mean it’s great that people love it but we really are doing it totally for ourselves.

[12:34] Steereo:

I like that you’re so unapologetic about that. Maybe that’s the difference. I have a question; the concept of Big Mother Gig has been going for twenty-five years plus, and took a hiatus. When you say we’re just doing it for ourselves, what do you feel draws you back in all the time? What keeps you going back to that?

Richard:

I think today, what drives me to do Big Mother Gig, and why I’m going to the studio later today, what’s pulling me in is the purity of self-expression that is not being held back by anything. There’s no, “Hey, does this song belong on an album?” Who cares, we’re going to record it and we’re going to put it out. Is this song going to work on the radio? Who cares! Probably not! And that doesn’t matter. I’ve been in bands before where there was a lot at stake, and there were record deals, and there were tours booked, there were people’s paychecks, so that stuff mattered. I’ve had one record reviewed on Pitchfork and they demolished it, yet here I am twenty years later just doing what I want to do. It feels so important in the moment, but in the scheme of things it doesn’t matter. All of that stuff today, is gone. It’s also because I’m older and I don’t need to make a career out of making music, I already have a career.

Steereo:

So on that note, if you were to tell your younger self-something, because a lot of our audience is is quite young, so if you were to tell your younger self one thing, one big challenge that you faced or what you thought was the end of the world back then but it wasn’t, what would it be?

Richard:

I would tell myself to be aware of what’s going on around you, and then completely ignore it. Create whatever feels one hundred percent real and stop listening to everybody else who believes that they know how to make you a success. I had this band in the two thousands, Burnside project, and we literally sabotaged our own career by putting ourselves in a position where we couldn’t be confident in any decision we made because every decision was evaluated through a filter of, “is this cool, is this contemporary, is this going to sell records, is this going to get good reviews, is it going to be on the radio, is our label going to put it out? Is the other label going to want to put it out? What if no one wants to put it out? What do we do? OK stop it scrap that one let’s start a new one. Change those parts make new parts. If you go open up the track, like the actual recording session, you would find hundreds of parts! That sounds too much like this band, that one sounds like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and we don’t want to sound like them! We started doing things out of a sense of panic and we lost our fan base. I mean we had a record, it came out in two thousand and three that was very much almost a demo album. It was so cobbled together it was like we were just stumbling through. It was actually a very honest album and that record reached a lot of people. We tried to build on that and we just became so critical and scared of losing that momentum that we ended up shooting ourselves in the foot.

[16: 51] Steereo:

It brings me back to that quote about comparison being the thief of joy. I think every artist I know goes through that experience of comparing themselves, overdoing something, overproducing, pulling back, then looking to what’s current. Then usually after a long process, you end up going back to what’s real in you, and the songs you want to sing.

Richard:

Absolutely, and the funniest thing or maybe the most telling part of the Big Mother Gig story is that in 1996 I became convinced that rock music was on its way out and I was wasting my time and also bands in Milwaukee don’t get record deals and so I packed my bags and moved to New York, and I did find success and I don’t regret that at all but one year after I left Milwaukee a band called the promise ring put out their debut album and started an entire movement of rock guitar music, called Emo. it literally started a whole wave of rock music that we weren’t doing, but we weren’t that far away from either. Not only did Promise Ring happen, but another band called Braid happened, and then all these other bands in Milwaukee started getting record deals. Then Milwaukee, for a second, became the next Seattle. Then all the labels came in, they signed every band in Milwaukee within six months of me leaving there.

Steereo:

I think life conspires like that, and we think we missed out at the time, but it really is perfect. I have some questions. Obviously, you guys are on our Steereo platform. What are your thoughts around music technology and where it stands today, and do you think it gives artists an advantage or disadvantage?

Richard:

Sure, I think it is better today. I just think it is comparatively easier to reach people with your music today. I mean in 1995, when we released our third album, we had to press up one thousand CDs, we had to mail those C.D.’s to a couple of hundred scenes, and pray that they would cover it. We would send those C.D.’s to all of the regional radio stations around Milwaukee and Chicago and Madison, and you know the Midwest ,to try to get them to play it. You know we sent it off to a few local record stores and asked them the stock it. We played shows because we hoped people would buy our album. All of that together is mountains and mountains of time and energy and money, whereas today, all of that can be accomplished through technology in an easy way. I mean there are tools to do just about anything you want. Someone has built some little script to do anything that previously would have taken you a week and so in that respect it’s so much easier to reach your potential fans. You get your song on Spotify and you manage to get it on a playlist and suddenly twenty thousand people have just listened to your song and twenty years ago getting twenty thousand people to listen to your song would require you know playing three hundred shows. The difference is so staggering because on the flipside the brass ring has vanished. So the whole like deal with being in a band was you’re going to be poor, you’re going to sleep on couches, you’re going to put your entire life on hold, but if you’re lucky of all the stars align and someone is going to come along and give you a bunch of money and sign you to a record deal and make you a rock star. That is no longer part of the equation. Even if you did get signed to a record deal you’re not getting a big advance check anymore. Even if you did get a big advance check you’re not going to get played on the radio because rock bands don’t get played on the radio. The avenues for breakout success, for rock bands right now. If you’re a hip hop artist, I have no idea how different it must be for people who are making music that’s much more contemporary and relevant. For a rock band, that brass ring is not there anymore. There isn’t going to be another Foo Fighters or another Red Hot Chili Peppers. Even if you look at rock bands that break out today, like Imagine Dragons, it’s rock music just because it doesn’t fit into any other genre. If they’re not a rock, they’re a pop act that just happens to have a guitar. So my whole point is that the payoff isn’t there anymore. If you ever read interviews of eighty’s rock stars, they’re always like, “why did you start playing music?” “Well, I want to meet a bunch of girls and I wanted to make a bunch of money.” If that’s your motivation for making music, that’s not going to be your payoff anymore. You are not going to become of a millionaire and you’re not going to have a gold record. If you’re going to make rock music, you’ve got to do it for one reason, because that’s what you want to do. It’s not going to make you money it’s going to cost you money. It’s never going to make you a star or a millionaire. You’ve got to just do it because you love it. If you just do it because you love it, you’re going to make great music and that’s all that matters at the end of the day.

Steereo:

For those listening, whether it be your band who are now deciding to chase their passion and make a start in the music industry, what advice would you give them in today’s climate?

Richard:

You have to be ready to be an artist, but you also have to be ready to be your own marketing department. You will spend twenty percent of your time making the music you love and the other eighty percent of your time trying to get people to hear it. That’s okay, I don’t think that’s a problem, I just think it’s different than how people imagine it. I see a lot of young artists who spend a lot of time on the craft of being an artist, and I think that is very important in the beginning. Figure out how to play your instrument, how to write a song, how to record that song, how to sing, how to keep a beat, whatever your thing is, whatever your role is, whatever you’re doing, figure that out and then record three songs and then stop. Then put all of your energy into getting those three songs in front of as many people as you want. I was working with this pop singer a couple years ago, who was phenomenally talent. The kind of talent that you could easily see her becoming the next Christina Aguilera. Every three months she would deliver to me a new song and say get this song in front of people and I would. I would get it in front of as many people as I could. She had a team of people always doing that, and then we would get that song out and then she would go back and make another song and then make another song and then make another song. I finally told her team, this girl has to get out of the studio and on the road. She’s putting out great music but nobody knows who she is, no one can see her, they can’t touch, they can’t relate to her. You can only get so far posting videos on Facebook. You need to get in front of people. Today, music is so much more about the artist than it used to be. I think people are fans of the artists much more than they are fans of the songs. The casual listeners don’t even know where the artists are, they just listen to playlists or radio stations. The real music fans are in love with you as an artist, so you’ve got to get out of the comfort living in your nice house and going to the studio and tinking around for eight hours and making one great popular hit after another. No one’s going to hear you. What you have to do is get in a van. Do the old fashioned thing. Go to every city and play in front of five or six people a night and I know it doesn’t sound fun and it’s hard work and there’s no glory in it, but that’s how people discover that they love you as an artist that’s how they discover how much they want to be a part of your journey. That’s my that would be my advice to remember you’re not just an artist. You are also responsible for your own success and whatever that pathway is, don’t don’t wait for other people to create your success. It’s really all up to you.

Steereo:

Thank you so much for your wisdom this morning, I could talk to you all day long. I have one last question; is there anything coming up for your band?

Richard:

Yeah for sure. So we have spent the last year and a half putting out songs and playing shows. Rebuilding an old audience and building a new audience, and now is the time for us to drop a proper album. Our next big move is an LP that’s going to be coming out later this year and you know we’ve got some pretty amazing guest musicians that are going to be on there to help you know reach some new fans and that’s the big thing. That album’s going to come out probably in October.

Steereo:

Where can people stay up to date with you guys?

Richard:

We’re on all the social networks, but if you go to Big Mother Gig dot com. You can get to all of it there. We’re on Facebook and Instagram, but if you really want to support our band, the best thing you can do is listen to our songs on Spotify or Apple music or Amazon, places like that. It helps us show that people care.

Listen To Big Mother Gig’s latest song- Obliterate

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Kai McDaniel is a Los Angeles-based writer, lover of entertainment, art, and film.