When I sat down with Andrea Kyle and her band, The Big O Show last summer, the band had just settled into its current configuration and was already starting to turn heads. A few prime gigs at The Colony and the support of local musicians like Brad James certainly helped, but it was obvious from the start that this was an incredibly talented ensemble and there was something special in the interplay between its members.
Just over a year later, The Big O has grown by leaps and bounds. Centered on Kyle's songs and vision, she is still very clearly the leader, but it's also a very symbiotic relationship, allowing each member play to individual strengths. When you see the band live, the grooves are tighter and the extended jams are more directed, yet loose and comfortable at the same time.
At this point, the band even has a new, self-titled CD ready for release. I was actually fortunate enough to get a preview in May and have had a chance to digest and process it over a long, smoldering summer. Perhaps that's fitting, as it as the kind of album that's best absorbed sitting on the patio, relaxing with a cold drink and a warm evening breeze.
Much like The Big O itself, however, the disc is not only a snapshot of the band at the time of its recording, but an indicator of its potential. While it's relaxing and enjoyable, it also makes you look forward to what's next, as it's obvious these songs are just beginning to delve into the talent within this group.
When discussing the CD and The Big O's development with the band last week, Andrea Kyle shared the same sentiment, saying, "It's good to have a solid lineup and know the talents of everyone around me. It's great to know what I have to work with. Needless to say, I like the songs on this CD, but I feel like the songs that we've written since that will be on the next CD are even better."
On one hand, it's hard to imagine something more smooth and funky than the groove that saturates "These Perpetual Blues," but even in sitting down with the band, it's clear that everyone has become more comfortable with each other on personal as well as professional/musical level, which is already starting to translate within performance and writing.
With this Friday night's CD release party at The Colony, Kyle and company have one foot planted in the group's foundation and past, with an eye focused squarely on the future. In a move that reflects the band's confidence and comfort level, The Big O will open the night with a set at 9pm, followed by a set by Brad James Band (The two groups share a handful of common members), then close out the evening with yet another Big O Show set. Perhaps more interestingly, however, that opening set will begin with an acoustic duo performance with Andrea Kyle and Dylan Layton, which gives a nod the band's origins.
Kyle shared that when she was first breaking into the local music scene, she started out playing acoustic shows with Layton and invited Rocky Frisco out to once of their first gigs. "Of course, I sucked," she said with a chuckle, "but Rocky was really supportive. I've always had this special affinity with him and I figured if he liked me, I must not suck that bad."
In a nod to those beginnings, Kyle and Layton are planning to open the evening with Frisco's "I've Got the Blues for You" as a duo. "I just thought it would be kind of cool to go back to the duo days with a song by someone who brought me in," Kyle said.
When reflecting on the early days of the group and playing acoustic sets, Layton shared that "The duo environment was a real learning experience for both of us."
"Yeah, when I'd mess up, he would glance down and glare at me over his glasses," Kyle shared. "So each time, I'd want to do better and get less glares."
"That's really key to this Rocky song," she continued. "It's got like 20 changes in it, so we'll see who will glare at the other one first."
More than a nod to the past, a Big O Show performance is also a step towards the future. Even over the past year, everything about the band has developed, with the rhythm section tightening up and finding its "zone" and even the addition of backing vocals by percussionist Kristin Ruyle.
Ruyle's vocals are a natural extension of the band's sound, but took some time to evolve. Bassist Andy Jensen shared that nearly every rehearsal, Kyle would prod Ruyle, telling her "you're going to sing the background harmonies" and always get a cool response. "Then, one night we came to practice and she started singing and we were all like 'Whoa -- where's that come from?' They had already broken off together and worked out the harmony vocals separately and it sounded great."
When discussing the vocal aspect and if it proved difficult while playing drums and percussion, she shared that her background is actually in traditional African music. "The percussionist is actually the lead voice in African music; so luckily, I had already done a lot of singing. It's definitely a challenge, though, because of the harmonies that she's throwing at me, which I'm not used to singing."
Although the band has group rehearsals on a weekly basis, it's not uncommon for the members to get together separately to work out their parts. "We do sectionals, where Mike and Kristin and I will get together and tear everything apart, piece by piece," Jensen shared. As a result, not only are the songs tighter, but so is the band chemistry.
What's has developed the most over the past year, however, is the chemistry within The Big O Show and how the members interact musically. Drummer Mike Back shared that "Everyone is pretty open to learning their parts and paying what works for everyone, not just what they might want to do."
"Everyone has learned to listen and actively listen to each other and if working on playing as a unit," Jensen added.
"I approach this band very differently (than his other project, Dachsund), in that I play very minimalist parts," he continued. "I still try to be musical, but with the percussion and vocal harmonies, less is more. It's not necessarily about what you want to do, but what works for the song.
When discussing the direction of the band, one thing is clear: All of the members are excited about where The Big O Show is going and how the band is continuing to evolve.
Dylan Layton probably said it best for everyone when he shared that "I like that it's all still undefined. We may play something and I think 'This will push us in a different direction', but that's the coolest part: our sound can go in any direction."
That's exactly why Big O Show is so intriguing right now and why the band continues to grow and evolve with each show. Your next chance to get both a snapshot of where the band is now and a glimpse into the future will be this Friday night, August 31, at The Colony. Cover is only $5 at the door with music starting at 9pm and copies of the new CD (and new band shirts) available at the show.
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