Big Scary’s Jo Syme details the various pieces of the ‘Daisy’ puzzle.
After a four-year silence on the new music front, Melbourne duo Big Scary are back with their long-awaited fourth album, Daisy. Released on Friday April 30 via the pair’s record label, Pieater, the album sees Big Scary forgo guitars entirely, instead building intricate melodies through layered synths and effects.
A DIY creation from start to finish, Big Scary’s Jo Syme and Tom Iansek took the reigns on everything from the album’s cover art to the recording and rollout processes. Now, with Daisy finally out in the world, Syme recounts the unlikely details and themes embedded within the album.
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The Roland Juno 106
This was the spark from which nearly every track was written, as our lyrics always come last in the songwriting process. It’s usually whatever instrument that’s in our hands that is the first breath of a song – the sound it’s making through whatever pedal chain or synth envelope we have dialled in – that inspires some new little riff or chord progression.
We always write lots of ideas for an album, so it’s probably because these songs were all on the Juno that meant they made it to the final album, because they all share a particular mood. This synth was released in the mid-’80s. It’s relatively user-friendly, in that even I can play around and make new sounds on it (honestly, there are a few synthesizers where it feels like all I can produce is white noise).
Photo by Jeff Andersen Jnr
The Moog Grandmother
There are no guitars on the album, including bass guitar. So all the bottom-end warmth that the bass serves to bring was performed on the Moog Grandmother. It’s got a subtle presence, but I’m sure you’d notice if it was ripped out. Plus look how pretty she is! This was lent to us by a good friend. Other friends lent us lots of things – snare drums, percussion, the vocal mic we performed everything on, pre-amps… So maybe this section should be called “Borrowed Gear”. Thank you to those people.
I can’t deny that some of the songs sound like they belong in a rock opera. At the end of ‘Wake’, I can imagine the cast changing shapes to the stabs, and then pausing in a tableau at the end, their chests beating… We’ve added strings to bring a touch of Hollywood to the tracks.
We did a photoshoot in white masks, holding swords and surrounded by opulent flowers and grapes. There’s a weird duality in the album, in that we wanted to strip back to a feeling of Tom and Jo, creating music for the sake of it; but at the same time, we allowed ourselves to be silly, to be indulgent and over the top at times.
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BellBird is our studio, or at least the label we run, Pieater’s studio. We designed and built it from the dirt up. It’s in the small streets of Collingwood in Melbourne and has lots of natural light, beautiful timber and a flower wall. Maybe my favourite part of the day was the mornings when Tom would warm up on the grand piano playing Chilly Gonzales songs, and I’d loll about staring out the skylight, having a stretch. This was the first time I’ve recorded an album in there (Tom has made quite a few, including #1 Dads’ Golden Repair and the two No Mono LPs), and our design paid off! We were able to record just the two of us – no extra engineer to hit record.
Tom is a professional engineer and producer, so knows about mics and pre-amps and placements etc. He taught me how to use ProTools to a degree, so when it was his turn to do overdubs I could control the session, and he taught me a bit of editing for the compiling of our tracking. It’s pretty damn lucky to have no time constraints in the studio. We didn’t really do crazy long days and were pretty efficient when we were in. Some of the tracking and mixing was done just by Tom to abide by lockdown rules, which was easy enough for us.
Photo by Jeff Andersen Jnr
All good music studios have incense for vibes. We had plenty going on. To be honest, we’re not just loyal to the classic blue box of Nag Champa. Tom loves this Indian-style stick he has that he lights on fire then waves the smoke around the room. I had a beautiful Chinese sandalwood set that I was given by a shopkeeper for supporting her when a very shady guy was intimidating her in the store.
I will also include scented candles in this mix because I finally came around to them and now I like making them at home – you can actually order some Daisy-themed candles from our store with the album.
For the visual world of Daisy I was certainly referencing some of the spooky vibes of The X-Files and Goosebumps. There’s also a reference to a nursery rhyme in ‘Wake’. And, lyrically in general, we are comparing the safe and comfortable mindsets of superficiality, naivety, illusion and fantasy (childlike conditions), to facing the challenges of reality, cognizant and mature love, thoughtfulness, considered living, and ambitions towards greatness and betterness.
As already mentioned, we recorded the album ourselves. More than ever we wrote everything together (compared with Tom taking the reigns on finishing our ideas and writing all lyrics). And we wanted a bigger input on the visual side of the album – instead of these things being considered marketing aspects, we realized they’re just another fun part of the creative process. For the album cover, I did a sketch, and Tom coloured it in using an iPad app.
We had a hand in our music videos, whether having the idea or helping to produce. We put a lot more effort into our photoshoot concept around the masks and set design. And because we run our own label Pieater, we’re involved with the actual rollout of the album, too.
Daisy is out now via Pieater. Grab a copy via Big Scary’s website.