Big Words

Americana,Blues,Indie Pop,Jazz,Pop,R&B,Soul | Australia


At the heart of the music that Big Words make is what they describe as “pure feeling”. Here is where grand, theatrical concepts intertwine with the good old plot of everyday existence and all its mind-bending strands. The Melbourne trio (multi-instrumentalists and singers Will Scullin and Kieren Lee and drummer Teon Catalano) write songs that pull at the thread of life in your 20s. The 11 tracks that make up their brilliant debut album ‘Nightmares Of A Stardom Dream’ elegantly sway from psychedelic-soul grooves to alt-R’n’B bops to cosmic Americana to infectious indie-pop and more, music that captures the existential melting pot of early adulthood, all the excitement and uncertainty and dread and hope at once. They formed as teenagers almost a decade ago and this record is the sound of how they got here. “The title of the album alludes to just how hard it is to commit to being an artist,” says Scullin. “We’ve worked on these songs for a long time, they’re a collection of our experiences. We only write songs when they happen. It’s an honest representation of our lived experiences.”

It’s a debut that has been long in the making but Big Words – formed by Scullin and Lee and completed with the recent addition of Catalano – have benefitted from taking the long way round. Their music has been honed and given room to breathe, songs filled with a sense of yearning but also unhurried, marching to their own rhythm. “’Nightmares Of A Stardom Dream’ is a relevant sentence for us and maybe anyone who’s been working through their 20s on a music career, figuring all that stuff out,” explains Scullin. “It’s very overwhelming.”

The dreamy, experimental imperfections of the band’s 2020 critically-acclaimed mixtape ‘Cherry’ was a hint of their exhilarating talents but it was more of a lockdown-induced diversion than a springboard to ‘Nightmares…’ - their first full-length was already well underway by then. It was 2017’s debut EP ‘Hollywood, A Beautiful Coincidence’ that provided their true lift-off, gaining the band a cult following in the US and UK, its success helping to fund sessions for the album.

By that point, Scullin and Lee already had spent years sculpting a sonic vision by the only way they knew how, shifts in between work spent in each other’s pockets, bouncing songs and ideas off one another, nights spent in bars, planting seeds, making plans. “We met through music as teenagers,” explains Lee. “I was a high school dropout, Will was at high school, working at cafes, doing our jobs and hanging out, being young. We had the same passion, like, ‘oh, you really like music the way I like music – not the way people our age group were liking music.”

Their sound wasn’t planned, it was just what happened when you combined Scullin’s love of singer-producers and hip-hop beats and Lee’s obsession with melody. Somewhere along the way, it all merged, their influences ranging from Feist to Frank Sinatra to Empire Of The Sun to The Beach Boys to Travis Scott to Amy Winehouse and more. “We were coming of age in music,” continues Lee. “Our early stuff was just acoustic and raw, a poetic kind of music that didn’t really make any sense but didn’t really need to.” “In our formative years, we learned a lot in terms of what we could do in each other’s company, figuring out how to work with each other. It took a long time.”

That sense of one small step at a time, of incremental progress, put them in good stead for making ‘Nightmares Of A Stardom Dream’, which was recorded in between job commitments. They got the bulk of it down in a studio in the leafy Melbourne suburb of Park Orchards in early 2021, with much tinkering, harmonies and sonic experimentation following in a shoebox-studio they rented in the city and another recording facility called Sing Sing in the South Yarra neighbourhood. “It was done across those three studios over a span of two years,” says Scullin.

A restrictive budget forced the trio to get creative on how achieve a big sound without the big bucks, and you can hear that thrill of imagination streaked throughout ‘Nightmares…’’s sonic worldview. “We had to scheme on this record for so long that it made it better than what we could have imagined it to be,” reckons Lee. “If we had the budget and everything straight away, it wouldn’t have come out the same way as it did, with all the favours we pulled and experiences we had along the way.” “Yeah,” nods Scullin. “Over the last decade, we’ve met some great people who have come in handy…”

Those favours include recording strings in a warehouse at the back of a guitar shop with microphones hanging from the roof, whilst one orchestral part was recorded by jumping onto the last ten minutes of a string session booking for a TV show. “We won’t say what the TV show was so don’t get our engineer in trouble,” Scullin laughs.

The beauty of ‘Nightmares Of A Stardom Dream’ is that none of the on-the-hoof wheeling and dealing, scrabbling for session time feeds into the finished record. It’s an album that feels loose and welcome, with an ease about it that ushers you in and compels you to play it from start to finish. At times, like on the sashaying Summer Never Felt This Sad and gently-epic Sitting At The Bottom Of A Well, it sounds like Frank Ocean conducting Air round a campfire, at others it traces a line between D’Angelo and Fleet Foxes – see the delicate dynamism of Deserve and the hypnotic, shimmering Carnage. Then there’s just some excellent pop songs, pop with a lightness of touch, like on the lithe synth-pop swagger of Speed Racer.

It’s a debut made in its creators’ image. “It’s expression itself,” says Lee. “It’s documenting the experiences we’ve had in a poetic way, adding music and poetry to them.” “It’s about what you feel in your 20s,” agrees Scullin, “love and fear, a lot of doubt, a lot of courage. Anxiety. Mental health.” A lot of the lyrical themes come back to the idea of being yourself. “We’re not Harry Styles or Justin Bieber, out there with some sort of persona,” says Lee. “We’re the everyday person, we’re the guys you see serving you your coffee or waiting your table or at a record store, the guy down the pub. We’re those people.” “We’re unpolished, imperfect humans and we’re proud of that,” concludes Scullin. “That’s what we want to convey to people. We’re not stars.” In these snapshots of their day-to-day lives, though, Big Words have made something magical. Out of the ordinary has emerged a very special debut album.

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