Playing the Blues
Dave Fera has a sly sense of humor. Because he has an earnest-young-man voice, he can fatalistically sing, "I feel like meat/When I'm riding up and down these broken streets" in "Bike Ride" and make it sound as lovely and wistful as a first crush. The singer in the song is looking in the windows of people's cars while riding, but any voyeuristic feel is forgotten at the chorus when Blair Gimma's soaring voice echoes Fera's, declaring beautifully how she too feels like meat.
"Bike Ride" is the last song on Scuba School (Independent), the new EP by Big Blue Marble. The band began as a side project for Fera, who was so prolific a writer he had too many songs for his band Mahayla. Initially, Big Blue Marble was an outlet for Fera's more country-ish songs and featured Gimma heavily. Last summer, the band went through some lineup changes. Gimma left to put out her first solo album, and the sound became less country. The current lineup includes BBM veterans Ike Aguilar on guitar and Adam Campagna on keyboards, along with newcomers drummer Shaun Washburn, bassist Sara Essex and Motorway's Michael Blum on pedal steel.
"We were all surprised by how Big Blue Marble came together," says Aguilar.
Mahayla still exists, Fera says: "Right now, though, we're focused on Big Blue Marble."
Sitting outside the Rue de la Course, the band tries to remember the first gig with this lineup. "It was September 22," Essex insists, and after five minutes the others agree, whether they're entirely convinced or not. The gig, they concur, was upstairs at Lucy's, where the band played a party for the Coast Guard, but how the Coast Guard received the band is also debated. "Aguilar remembers it being like the concert at the Air Force base in This Is Spinal Tap, while Fera remembers it more positively. "By the end, if we'd had 10 more rock songs ." he starts, before the others' laughter drowns him out.
"I like being in a band," Fera says. His sensibility defines the band as it defined Mahayla and previous incarnations of Big Blue Marble, but not so much so that this lineup isn't recognizably different. Coming from indie pop, Fera's previous bands "kept it real," sometimes to the detriment of the song or the set as things ground to a halt while members swapped instruments. With more adept players, the band can execute more ambitious pieces like the slow rave-up, "Fairy Tale on Eleonore." "I like the teamwork," Fera continues, "having the right people to add the right things."
This collection of musicians dominates Scuba School, though two tracks were recorded before Gimma left. The disc recalls Belle & Sebastian in its surface sweetness, melodic grace and lush arrangements. Live, that pop sense isn't lost, but the sheer number of parts adds up to a fair amount of energy. Through all of that, Fera's intelligence as a songwriter shines through.
"Working Class Man" begins with a young man talking about his goals, "making tall bridges, building big dams" but being thwarted by "this prosperous land," where the structures are already built. That take on the American working class mythology is pretty smart, but the chorus -- "I'll keep living the good life for you/You keep looking for someone to screw" -- adds a few layers of complexity. It casts "the good life" as work, asking, "What is the good life?" By leaving the "you" ambiguous, he can be heard talking to corporate America or a bourgeois lover a la Pulp's "Common People."
Still, it's clear Big Blue Marble is a band, whether recording at Living Room Studios or with Better Than Ezra's Tom Drummond. "We have a lot of freedom to do our own things," Essex says. "Having creative control of your own instrument is important." To capture that freedom, the band records when it has some songs ready rather than waiting until it has an album's worth. "I like to record quickly," Fera says. "That way, the band members don't get time to get too comfortable with their parts."
[DVD Review] The Sweet -- The Sweet: Glitz, Blitz & Hitz -- The Very Best of Sweet (Music Video Distributors): Time and distance made glam rock seem risque. Photos of David Bowie, T. Rex and Sweet in sexually ambiguous wardrobes seemed so decadent once, but seeing footage today of Sweet on British television shows undercuts that drama. The audience is in rugby shirts and cotton blouses surrounding the band dressed in capes, leather and makeup, making the whole thing seem silly now. Similarly, seeing guitarist Andy Taylor and his chins, along with a few very British non-rock 'n' roll types interviewed today shows where glam ends up. Still, the Sweet had a lot more good songs than just "Ballroom Blitz" and "Fox on the Run." Of them, only "Little Willy" is missing from this band history/video collection. &127;
- Big Blue Marble has settled into a regular lineup with its new EP, Scuba School.