Somewhere in Canada, there is a guy who mixes rustic punk, thrash metal, garage rock, americana noir and Southern gothic. His name is …big! Actually, his name is Big John Bates. From the first note of any single, you’ll find yourself moving your leg along with the rhythm, and after a while, you’ll catch yourself dancing in a weird way! He is the guy who can take you off to his world, but he is not promising that he will bring you back, he is just Big John Bates.
Hello Big John! We see in your music you play styles like southern gothic, garage rock and Americana, etc. Could you tell us as the introductory question how do you describe your music?
We have been calling our sound americana noir since Brandy Bones coined the phrase back in 2012. Around 2010 we were messing around with rustic punk but I think we’ve refined our songwriting since then and it is less of a verse chorus verse and more of a flow. Our drummer Ty-Ty came up with the concept of “what does the song want?” and, though Brandy and I create the song skeletons on our own, we have followed that idea pretty faithfully when we are fleshing things out as a group. Our topics are earthy and real, our settings are more rural than urban and our vision for the band follows the songs.
Your music has had some alterations all these years, from B.J.B: Noirchestra Americana to B.J.B and the Voodoo Dollz psychobilly. Did it happen by chance, or was it something that you did on purpose, or is it just that you are getting older?
The Voodoo Dollz group was all based around a show, like a psychobilly Alice Cooper. As time went on I noticed more burleseque in cities we had been playing for years and it didn’t seem as special to keep doing it. Also Brandy had joined in 2009 and we began moving in a different direction with our songwriting. We wanted to do musical pieces that were more orchestral and deeper so we folded the Dollz in 2010 and started experimenting as a trio for a couple of years. By 2012 we felt it had taken on a new life but the Big John Bates name was well known so our management thought we should continue using a form of it. We began playing as a quartet, with tuba/keys, mandolin then cellists and now with a post-rock violinist (RequiEmily), but the Noirchestra was born from the string section. It’s now actually closer to the metal I was playing when I was younger than psychobilly I think.
From your first band Annihilator’s thrash metal to Big John Bates garage rock and southern gothic etc. is a big step in regards to music style. Why did you choose to make your sound “lighter” than thrash metal?
When I was in Annihilator I was listening to a lot of different music – I still do as I get a lot of inspiration from musical history. I was very involved in the early Annihilator songwriting; writing melodies and helping Jeff with arrangements and picking riffs for songs like ‘Alison Hell‘, ‘I am In Command‘, ‘Welcome To Your Death‘ etc. I was listening to a lot of heavy stuff like Slayer, Venom, Metallica and Celtic Frost so it just made sense. The later songs I co-wrote like ‘King Of The Kill‘ were more just writing lyrics over the music Jeff chose and he is generally not drawn to music as dark as I prefer (though he does continue to write some very tasty stuff.) Anyway that all led to a fascination with punk-esque bands like the Dead Kennedys, The Cramps, swing and early blues when I was deep into garage rock, so you can see the progression. Sometime in the 90’s I stumbled across 16 Horsepower and added a few of their ideas to my sound palate. Basically I don’t really see our current sound as lighter – in some ways it’s much heavier than it’s ever been – but it’s all different shades of black.
Are there any groups that you liked and influenced your music as B.J.B.?
These days I think Brandy and I are both influenced by more experimental and sound-scape groups like Wovenhand, Russian Circles, Swans, Tarantella, Alcest, some black metal and even some folk sounds like The Decemberists.
‘Amerkin’ is a song that doesn’t sound so familiar like the rest of your songs. It could easily be included in A Silver Mt. Zion or Fly Pan Am album. Can you tell us how this song came up?
‘Amerkin‘ is one of my favorite songs to play live – I wish it was 20 minutes long. Brandy came up with a bass riff and the idea of having a sort of Godspeed You! Black Emperor style build to it but we didn’t have a lot of time to develop the song, we literally wrote it in the studio. I just tried to draw it out with a twangy guitar and a spaghetti western feel and build it into a simple chord change. But man, her screams are so epic – when I first heard them I was blown away.
I see that you haven’t made a lot of videos available on the net (I’m not talking about live ones, nor audio ones) but in these I’ve seen, you are trying to pass the atmosphere of your songs and you are doing that in a very cool way. Tell us if you are about to share more videos and what these videos will add to your music?
So far we have done videos with friends of ours that are filmmakers with similar vision to ourselves (we did two with Reverend Blackclaw at The Helm) but we are always interested in adding sound to vision. We have our songs in a few movies and TV shows as well. Brandy tends to push us towards the vignette style of film as opposed to a standard story-boarded video as you can see from what we have on YouTube.
Your latest lp (‘From The Bestiary To The Leathering Room‘) got released 3 years ago, in 2015. Is this period of time long enough so that to wait soon for your next record? If so, can you provide us with some information?
Brandy and I have slowly written over the past 3 years but we haven’t wanted to rush anything as we wanted to make sure the direction was natural and we had time to find the right people to work with. We definitely took a few wrong turns before we found our way. The Bestiary LP has a few different drummers and people from different touring groups, which is cool as it had a lot of different feels but she and I had slightly different visions for it. The four of us currently in the Noirchestra have played together for a few years now and have toured Europe, North America and Japan – we even recorded some tracks in Kyoto with Ultra Bide. We are planning on recording most of the bed tracks for the next album in Wilhelmshaven (Germany) with our friends from TRÜMMER while we are on tour in July/August 2018. We will finish the album on board the Caleuche when we are back in Vancouver and I foresee the LP coming out in Spring 2019.
I know that writing songs, singing and playing the guitar makes you an one man show. Which one do you think is the most important, the one you cannot stop doing?
The one thing that I do without thinking is play my guitar. I have been playing since I was 15, though it wasn’t long before I started singing and writing songs. I think I developed a somewhat unique style of playing but I always prefer to have a partner in songwriting, to bounce things off or get ideas from or whatever – Jeff in Annihilator, sCare-oline in the Voodoo Dollz and Brandy in the Noirchestra have been the most important people to me.
Nowadays we see that music industry but also society has changed a lot. When does a group get more famous now, through live shows, through videos, or through internet?
I think bands have to give people something special, an experience or feeling, to get noticed and live is the best way to do that. I doubt anyone is really looking through most live bands looking for a hit – those are for pop groups and that is industry not artistry – a great live band has a sound and creates a unique atmosphere. Online playlists are great to find new things as well – I wish there were more of them for music like ours. Video is a terrific way to share music with people and the Internet is a good way to interact with people. I think you need all of these elements to succeed even in the most modest way.
For the last question, I would like to tell us which albums of yours do you like most, and which are your favourite bands?
My favourite record of ours is the ‘Headless Fowl‘ EP, maybe because it was the first one to see the light of day and signify the style change. It still feels very fresh to me and it was mixed by Robert Ferbrache, who worked with 16 Horsepower, Tarantella and our friend Slim Cessna. We kept our favorite first 6 songs for that record and released it on our own label. My favorite bands these days are the groups that put on intense live shows, Nick Cave for instance, The Black Angels are really good as well.
Photo credits: David Jacklin