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Culture, Music

Big Special: Letting The Demons Out

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Big Special

Big Special, the indie-punk band from the heart of the Black Country are headlining their own tour over the next month, hitting loads of great festivals from our round-up. We spoke to singer and one half of the bellowing duo, Joseph Hicklin, ahead of the release of their debut album Post Industrial Hometown Blues, to find out about their performances, their message, and their sound, starting with what listeners could expect from this brand-new album.

“It’s been a long time coming – we've been working on it for a few years. The whole thing for us has been to make an honest depiction of life, that’s what art does in my opinion. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out our central sound, the core to what we’re making so we could allow a bit more creative freedom without cornering ourselves genre-wise. We took our time getting a nice flow to it as well, it’s quite long because we've been putting out singles for quite a bit now, so we tried to make enough on the album so it’s worth your money as well as the singles that have already come out. The main thing is just something that’s an honest depiction of someone and a time.”

Your music touches on quite honest and raw topics like personal trauma, the housing crisis, and societal indifference. Do you think that the arts have a responsibility to spotlight these issues?

I don't know about responsibility. I think the first step of making anything is making sure you’re doing it for yourself and for the love of the art. I’m so bad with quotes I never remember who said them or when, but I think it was Nina Simone saying something like ‘an artist should reflect their life and time authentically’. For me, it’s always been that honest and raw stuff, something that you can connect to through your own troubles.

It’s got to be authentic to your experiences.

Yeah defo, and again I’m not saying that everyone should do that, I love so many different types of music and I don’t think there’s one way it should be. You know, Schindler’s List is a good film, but Dodgeball is a good film as well you know. 

How do you navigate that balance between delivering these powerful messages and maintaining that energy that you’re known for?

I was quite nervous with the live stuff for a while, Cal’s such a natural performer and it’s his energy that gave me confidence on stage – he’s taught me to really enjoy it. We just feed off each other’s energy and try to egg each other on and lift each other up. We never wanted to wallow, it was never about that, we take the artwork really seriously but outside of that, we don’t take it too seriously, we don’t want to stand on the stage really sad. Instead, we get to go up there and Cal gets to beat his drums and I get to throw myself about and scream my head off. We don’t want to play a character, we're in a room with a bunch of people who want to have a good night out so we're still honest with it and just get the demons out of us I suppose. You get to act in a way that you can’t in public, like if we were to do what we do on stage on the bus we'd be busted.

You’ve been described as “not the sort of act you forget in a hurry”…

We’ve had the time to let this become what it is. I used to be like an eyes closed on the stage kind of performer or looking above the audience and I’ve really learnt to look at everybody and have that connection. Again, another quote which I heard from someone else, I think Kylie Minogue talking about live performance, and she said her advice is to make everyone in the room feel like you've looked directly at them. That really stuck in my head.

When you’re in the audience you can totally feel that too, you feel like they’re performing to just you.

Definitely. I think my old way of thinking with performing and stuff before Big Special was that I liked that there was a wall between the audience and the performer. I used to do acoustic stuff and in that setting, I could like get up and almost pretend that they weren't there and just play some tunes whereas with this, to make it the best is to knock down the wall between the audience and the performer, and just look at them and get over my anxieties and recognise that they’re in the room and take that energy in and give it back. I’m not very energetic in any other like part of my life. The other day we got some of those reviews back saying that were energetic and fun and I said, “I never thought I would be described as energetic”.

Your tour schedule is pretty packed – how do you maintain your physical and mental well-being while you’re on the road, any pre-show rituals?

We're both 31 now so it’s kind of good that it’s happened at this point because we stay focused on the job now rather than drinking and going out and stuff. I do worry about my voice for [this tour] it is pretty constant I was actually talking to Jason Williamson from Sleaford Mods the other day, asking for tips about how to maintain my voice and he gave me some good advice. We always have a little kiss and a cuddle round the back before we start, and we say BS Forever, but other than that, we just try and chill out before, have a ginger tea, stuff like that.

Navigating the music industry as an emerging artist is a huge challenge nowadays; what kind of advice do you have for musicians who are still trying to make their work heard while still staying true to their artistic vision?

Like I say we're still at the start of this, so I’m not really in a position to be giving advice and stuff but when me and Cal have chatted about it, it’s just about giving it the time that it needs – you can’t rush it. I’ve been playing music for longer in my life now than I haven't, and it’s only this last couple of years where stuff has kicked off. Some luck is still required as well so the best thing you can do is love your art and do it for that reason and just put as much time as you can into it and don’t think of the finish line right at the beginning.

Who are you listening to right now?

I’m always listening to a rapper called Billy Woods, he's one of my modern favourites. I was listening to Doolittle by The Pixies yesterday, I’ve been listening to John Grant again, and Grandma’s House who we've just been on the road with. The Mary Wallopers, an Irish band who are brill, and a bit of Carol King – I’m always jumping about.

bigspecial.co.uk

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