Big History


Meg Roussel has something to confess. "I'm a history nerd," she says over coffee at Rue de la Course on Magazine Street. It's lunchtime on a late August Tuesday, and Roussel has sneaked away from her day job as a curator at the National World War II Museum, where she's currently planning her first major exhibition. Clad in neatly pressed khakis and a polo shirt, Roussel, 24, looks like your everyday academic. Concertgoers in New Orleans may know her as another kind of exhibitionist: the sultry, smoky-voiced electro lounge singer at the center of the pop band Big History, cradling a microphone and moaning seductions like "The heart is an army and all of its guns are drawn" from behind mirrored shades.

  Don't be fooled, Roussel says. It's a disguise. "I'm so not a performer," she says. "It's why I wear those glasses — my eyes are closed under there. People are like, 'You need to look at people.' I'm like, 'I don't want to look. I don't want to see how many people are there.'"

  Big History formed in early 2010, unveiling its live set to a packed house at Carrollton Station in September. A melange of veterans from other Crescent City rock outfits (Silent Cinema, Antenna Inn, Rotary Downs), the incipient six-piece had one rookie: its frontwoman, staring out at almost everyone she knew. "I was terrified," Roussel says with a shiver.

  It didn't show. Where most bands wobble through their debut like a toddler learning to walk, Big History didn't miss a click. Singer/songwriter Matt Glynn fingered synthesizers and triggered samples from a deck of electronics at stage left, while guitarist Blandon Helgason and bassist Cory Schultz injected organic countermelody and thrummed steady rhythms from stage right. But Roussel was the eye magnet. Halfway through the short set — the band only had four songs — she was jumping up and down, feeding off the crowd, a natural performer born onstage.

  She still isn't buying it. "I hate that feeling," Roussel says with a laugh. "I had always been writing (music). It was, for me, my little therapy. I never intended to play in front of people." Her initial opportunity actually came earlier in 2010, with Empress Hotel, another pop group that rose from the ashes of Silent Cinema and Antenna Inn. After a solo show at the inaugural Foburg Music Festival in March, Roussel says, Helgason approached her with an unexpected offer. "This was right when I had been kicked out of Empress Hotel — but I didn't know that yet. 'So, now that you're not in Empress Hotel anymore ...' I went, 'What?' 'Just wondering if you'd like to be in our band.' I was like, 'Well, hell yeah. Hell yeah, I'll be in your band.'"

  Any hard feelings dissolved with the success of both bands. Roussel and Schultz hit the road this month with Empress Hotel to play the Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, N.C., and Big History closes out September with a gig at Eiffel Society (Friday Sept. 23) before going into brief hibernation in advance of its debut EP release party, scheduled for Nov. 19 at One Eyed Jacks. The record has five tracks, all familiar to Big History fans: leadoff charge "Wardrum," the slick, love-is-a-battlefield first single, all percolating synths and urgent yearns; live staples "Every Bone," "All at Once" and "Wolf Blood," inflated and rerecorded from their spare MySpace demo versions; and "Baby," a Roussel ballad fleshed out in shiny metallics by Glynn and Helgason.

  Amid a flurry of whirring computer effects and precise metronomic beats, her voice is the most striking instrument, husky and deprived, Kathleen Turner as a dance-pop Fembot. "I keep getting compared to Adele," Roussel says. "I don't see it. When I first recorded 'Every Bone,' whenever we went to play it live, it sounded totally different. I think I went into it using my little folk voice. ... I haven't found all that I can do. We haven't pushed it yet."

  The band takes inspiration from self-made Internet sensation The Weekend, whose single "Wicked Games" was the skeleton for a recent Big History video shoot at Eiffel. "Like, how on earth did this dude do this?" Roussel starts, and then stops. "I'm a little scared to tell you about it because there's a lot of cursing in it, and I'm really worried my job's going to hate me."

  It might be time to add a fake mustache to those shades.

The Rap Pack | Kindest Lines | Empress Hotel | Big History
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