Story by Adam Daniels
Photography by John Francis Peters
The Big Pink are not meant to play to empty rooms. This is why seeing them play soundcheck is a pretty surreal experience. It's like walking into a movie theater playing Independence Day and being the only person in the room. Their songs are are so huge they engulf you in this setting.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in "Dominoes." The song serves as a virtual field guide to all things big in pop music within the last decade. The song starts right off with a chorus, a big move in itself. The bridge is ripe with hip-hop breaks. The background of the verses is filled in with all sorts of spastic dance and techno rhythms. And the hook itself is pure straight-forward power-rock. Dominoes sort of tinker when they collide. In this chorus they positively crash. But that's just who they are.
This odd collage of influences is no accident or anomaly within the context of The Big Pink. Sitting in a largely spartan room in the back of a quiet midday Music Hall of Williamsburg, Milo Cordell is clearly the exception to the setting, not an added element of drab. Fighting through a hangover with a fresh beer, he briefly touches on the story of meeting his Big Pink counterpart and best friend Robbie Furze at a rave with friends and makes it quickly evident that it's not just the songs: everything about this band is huge.
"When we were younger, when we were kids we were pretty just really quite extreme, into extremities," Cordell says. "We used to love going to record. I don't know if you have them here, but we have these things in England where people just go and break into a warehouse and live in these worlds, and you have these weird like Mad Max worlds and the characters you get there are so extreme. I think me and Robbie just immersed ourselves in the most extreme music we could find and that was like kind of that digital hardcore like gabba or just noise, just this weird noise stuff. And then at the same time, on our way to the shows we'd just listen to the radio and that's where I think we just kind of grew up, I think the first bands we fell in love with were the same, were Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins and stuff like that."
This musical mutt of an influence list brings us to the, yes, big-titled debut album A Brief History Of Love.
"I think we're not scared to bring in soul music or references to like whatever, and try and mix them all together," Cordell says. "We don't just want to be a mod band or a thrash band. That's why it's A Brief History Of Love. We're just trying to not be scared of doing anything we want. Not just be scared of just having one sound. And trying to write songs the best we can. We want to write songs like "My Girl." That's what we want to write. Or "Lithium," you know? Somewhere between "My Girl and "Lithium" would be great. And that's "My Girl" by The Temptations, not Animal Collective."
The initial idea for A Brief History Of Love was in fact not a big one at all. It was much more of a realization that they'd written all these songs about girls and then figured maybe they should do something with them. Cordell says there was only one exception to this on the whole record.
"There's 'Crystal Visions' which isn't really about love," he says. "It's more about love for life and love for, you know, getting fucked up and all that." Cordell never imagined he'd be in a band because he couldn't play an instrument, but he always knew music was the life he'd been seeking. This drew him to DJ'ing and simply taking in as much music as he possibly could, both on record and live. It also led both Cordell and Furze to dabble in the business of music labels. These two were basically living like rock stars years before Cordell ever befriended The Klaxons or anything; The Big Pink just gave it more of a name.
But at the end of the day, it usually comes back to the girls.
"Most rock and roll is about that," Cordell says. "Pretty much every song is about love. But for some reason it's just like, I don't know, maybe people just don't say that."
So A Brief History Of Love is basically a more self-aggrandizing way to say 'Here are all my shitty relationships and what went wrong.' What non-protest album made in this century hasn't felt like that at some point? At least Cordell is honest about it. He and Furze were both fresh off break-ups when they were writing A Brief History.
"We were both in the same way with similar girls, just like drained by it, drained by love, just completely burnt out by it," he says. "So there's that kind of element to it. There's a sort of 'Fuck you' there as well. But then there's a lot of sadness, you know, in "Velvet." And then there's also songs that are kind of celebratory towards being single, like having a new lease on life."
In the spirit of this band, these are rarely subtle love ditties. Will Sheff writes break-up poetry. These songs are monuments, colossal in scope.
"I've never enjoyed breaking anyone's heart, but that's a lyric in the song ["Dominos"], " Cordell says. "And I think it's almost the most powerful lyric we have. We sing it and then the whole crowd sings 'And I really enjoyed breaking your heart' I think it's in every single person that kind of like torture at the end of a relationship where it's kind of like 'ahhhh.' You're torturing each other. You shouldn't be in this situation. You should probably just go to separate ends of the universe and never speak to each other again. But in the end, you're just like, 'This is fucked up and can you pass me a drink."
The aforementioned "Velvet" takes a softer approach, musically if not thematically. While it serves as possibly the most musically stripped-down track on A Brief History aside from some electronic build-ups, it's also the most epic. This is no coincidence. All the fuzz, the loops, the distortion from songs like "Too Young To Love" is traded in for clear-cut vocals and dramatic crescendos that practically force you to listen to the screams of "These arms of mine, don't mind who they hold." The absence of all the token distractions they typically fill into the background catch you so unexpectedly it takes you a moment to fully process what a clear-cut pop monster it is.
Cordell says he imagines the next project will be a bit more uptempo, that this is where they find their man comfort zone. He also says he thinks it will feel a bit warmer: "I want to make a kind of really warm lush, not lush but like stringy lush, psychedelic lush."
One might find it hard to imagine these sentiments flooding from the boys who proudly professed that girls were falling like dominoes in their paths. But with a couple of guys who met at a rave and were road-tripping to go see Weezer within a few weeks, these questions don't always apply.