American audiences got their first taste of Melbourne’s Big Scary in an AT&T advert, though they probably didn’t realize it. The 30-second clip about remote-controlled soda machines in some unnamed desert nation borrows the opening riff of Big Scary’s piano pop march “Autumn,” offering a glimpse of the Aussie rock duo as crisp and fleeting as a breeze borne from the track’s seasonal namesake. The band’s next mainstream exposure came in a season eight episode of Grey’s Anatomy, which played “Thinking About You” long enough through the final wrap-up to allow core pair Tom Iansek and Jo Syme’s plaintive, towering harmonies to climb above their acoustic arpeggios and distant whooshing percussion, finally (and justifiably) leaving fans wondering, who are these guys?
In a way, these fragmented first impressions—complementary drafts of summery keyboard ditty and end-of-the-movie bummer ballad—are an unfair representation of singer/multi-instrumentalist Iansek and singer/drummer Syme’s unanchored ambition and talent. But in another, more accurate way, there’s no such thing as an unfair representation of Big Scary. Every song the duo crafts, from the four-part, climate-inspired The Big Scary Four Seasons collection to the suburban garage grind of the debut Mini EP, is a uniquely self-contained universe of indie-rock exploration.
“I’d describe our style these days as eclectic,” Iansek said while recovering from Big Scary’s first jaunt at SXSW, part of the band’s first venture in America at large. “The White Stripes comparison will always be hard to ignore as we’re a male/female two-piece, but I think, listening to our music, the dissimilarities become apparent pretty quickly.”
Well, that depends on where you start. “This Weight,” effectively the first Big Scary song laid to tape in 2008, is a chugging fuzz lamentation on the selfish, cynical march toward adulthood (possibly the biggest scary of them all). Chase that with “Hey Somebody” from the 2010 At The Mercy Of The Elements EP, and you’re suddenly throat-deep in the land where Jack White hits are born—a sticky bog of bruised power-chord blues, desperate hey! hey! choruses bleating like wounded livestock and an acid rain of hammer-on/pull-off venom.
Yeah. It rocks. But shuffle to “Gladiator” from the debut Vacation LP, and you’ll start to see what Iansek is getting at: how Syme’s honey voice entwines with his own doleful warble, how tender, balanced harmony floods the grungy swampland with layers of thick suburban sadness and how Tom and Jo jive with a personable versatility that Jack and Meg never fully developed in their lopsided partnership. There’s an undeniable, cinematic catharsis embedded here—and most everywhere else in Big Scary’s catalog—that begs visual accompaniment.
“Hearing ourselves in Grey’s Anatomy was surreal and pretty cool,” Syme says. “It would’ve been amazing to be on Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo And Juliet or any of the Twilight soundtracks…But to have had ‘Gladiator’ as Russell Crowe’s theme song in Gladiator would’ve been ultimate.”
Before Big Scary flies back to Melbourne for a routine headlining tour, the band will headline its first ever U.S. gig at Brooklyn, NY’s Glasslands Gallery on Tuesday. Wherever Big Scary’s versatile pop-rock chops take it next, Tom and Jo can be proud of the intercontinental terrain they’ve already traversed. There’s a fair distinction between playing with egg shakers and ukuleles in your parents’ living room and pioneering your own indie label while working on a charity aimed at building schools in under-resourced countries (the project is tentatively titled Song 4 A School). Despite their reservations expressed in ‘burb blooze cuts like “This Weight,” the Aussie rockers behind Big Scary are growing up pretty well.
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