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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Take 5 With Damon Fox of Bigelf

Photo by Michal Johansson

Bigelf are skirting on the thread line of becoming superstars of the underground. Of course, their implausible hybrid of doom, prog and seventies rock and pop on their fifth album Cheat the Gallows may not be for all tastes, or as vocalist Damon Fox would say, "some people don't want their Queen mixed with Uriah Heep."

As both bands figure into Bigelf's madcap genius on Cheat the Gallows, the omnipresence of the Beatles looms overtop the album as much as the cheeky horror rock spectacle of Alice Cooper and scores of other big-timers of yesteryear. Sounding like a big top of chaos with ten classic rock stations booming at once, Bigelf's calliope of Mellotron-coated retro rock rings as one of the coolest vibes of this year.

Fox took some time out with me after rushing his son to football practice to discuss Cheat the Gallows for an upcoming piece in Unrestrained magazine. Excerpted here at The Metal Minute is bonus footage you won't find in that article. Enjoy...

The Metal Minute: It might be said that Cheat the Gallows is gaining Bigelf some recognition, yet you guys have been in the game since 1992 with your roots stemming as much from doom as late sixties and seventies theatrical and prog rock. Doom and stoner has blown up in the underground lately, and with Bigelf commonly strung into the doom and stoner sanctions, how do you feel about its recent explosion, considering how long you guys have been playing?

Damon Fox: I don’t know if anyone’s ever given us credit for being a part of the doom and stoner thing. Bigelf started in ’92 and we played Money Machine at our first show and “Closer to Doom” was also one of those first songs. I think it’s a good thing that over the course of these ten years stoner and doom type of music has come out and been getting bigger with bands like The Sword. It’s definitely good because that means this music is growing. I put the whole doom thing into perspective by saying it's just a kind of metal. It gets to the point where it falls under one umbrella and starts pushing the whole thing forward. Honestly, I think we’ve always been a little bit of the black sheep of that genre, just because there’s so many other things going on in our music. Some of those early bands, Fu Manchu, Kyuss, we were never really a big part of that desert stoner sound because never really had that sound. Our thing from the get-go was always something more of a retro, classic sound. I think Bigelf was more of a Sabbath thing from the very beginning more so than the stoner bands were. Those bands weren’t really Sabbath; it was more like garage music, tuned down and much slower. Those albums were recorded really well. Our stuff has much more of a production value to it, more of a progressive rock mentality from the beginning. In a way, if prog rock is to hit again, we would be on the crest of that tidal wave because we would be a band that’s been doing it for awhile, although there doesn’t seem to be that many bands attacking the prog rock thing from a vintage angle. It’s mostly from a modern angle in the Mars Volta or Fall of Troy category. Ours has a classic psychedelic prog feel to it; that’s our thing. We’ve always had that since we started the band. I was happy to hear that The Sword is going out with Metallica, which is a very good thing. It means that this kind of music is getting bigger again. People are actually desiring it again.

MM: I know you have a wide variety of music tastes, just by listening to Bigelf's music. Cheat the Gallows is like a larger-than-life rock circus with so many influences and sounds coming into play such as Queen, the Beatles, David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, King Crimson, Yes, Pink Floyd and so on. I'm even crazy enough to say I randomly hear seventies-era Elton John...

DF: Elton John was never a big influence for me, but any time you get into that grand seventies music, to my mind you have to bring some Elton into it. I read a review recently where it seemed like they were slagging us a little bit, calling us an Elton John band doing the least bit of service to an Ozzy song or something like that. I thought ‘Yeah, that’s cool and I hear what he’s saying,’ but if anyone ever wanted to compare me to Elton John I’d be like, ‘Bring it on!’ That guy is world-class to the hundredth degree! He is the greatest songwriter and composer; he’s amazing. I think some of that stuff in our music is unintentional; it just gets in there and comes out. I’m a huge Beatles fan obviously and anytime you start crossing those same avenues with iconic artists, you’re going to cross paths and influences with other people like that. It’s not a genetic DNA thing like the Pink Floyd and Sabbath stuff; that’s been done since day one. Every album we hear ‘You guys sound like Pink Floyd and Sabbath,’ and that’s pretty elementary, and that’s what Bigelf brings to the table, but it’s nice to be compared to a couple other people like Elton John or Arthur Brown. Hell, Arthur Brown’s amazing! Alice Cooper ripped all of his shit off of Arthur Brown; it’s all in the same chain of life!

MM: I understand you have a massive vintage instrument collection, and of course the Mellotron plays a signficant role in Bigelf's retro prog resonance. Which of your instruments do you feel gives Bigelf its prime motivation?

DF: Definitely a tie between the Mellotron and the Hammond organ, because I think that is the quintessential difference between Bigelf and most bands, all the keyboard blaring. The blaring is done in a really odd way because I’m not a keyboardist. Usually bands that have keyboardists, if you write a song and you’re playing Mellotron or organ, you have to play from a John Lennon or a Paul McCartney point-of-view. The Mellotron is a fundamental instrument for us. If you look at the way I write a song, there’s so much of John Lennon’s point-of-view. I sit down, write a song and sing it on guitar or piano, whereas if you look at Gentle Giant or Yes, Rick Wakeman’s not singing the song like he’s playing. It’s a different mentality, so for me the way I play the Mellotron really relates in the sense of more of a song kind of feel and I definitely scope the sound of Bigelf, but I think there’s also an original slant because it’s not your standard prog fare either. If you wanted that, you’d be talking more of Yes kind of vibe or Kansas. I will do a lot of overdubs on the record but a lot of my playing, the rudiment is in my singing since I have to sing and play at the same time.

MM: How would you define progressive?

DF: Those key bands and those key records, In the Court of the Crimson King is an island record for me and it’s a complete zenith record for me in prog rock. The Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow is really progressive to me. Rush, when I listen to them I feel the boundaries being pushed. Revolver is like that for me. You just listen in and you feel, ‘Holy shit! What were those people thinking about when they were first listening to this?’ It’s just expanding your mind, but of course later on progressive got so many jazz and classical elements going on that it just became more of a technical thing and more notes-per-second. Gentle Giant is one of my top progressive bands and Acquiring the Taste is one of those records.”

MM: Bigelf has been affiliated with corporate labels and even your current label Custard--which is of course run by Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes--that label has ties to Universal Records, yes? Do you think Bigelf is too dangerous for the mainstream?

DF: No, I think Bigelf is a definite breath of fresh air for people. That’s my gut feeling and my heart says that The Elf is something that is needed. If it isn’t needed, then best begone, but I feel in today’s marketplace you need bands that want to go out there and inspire people about music, bands that believe in what they’re doing and they’re not all about the almighty fucking dollar. It’s not about record sales, it’s about fucking music, getting people into it again and I think if there were bands like Bigelf--not that we’re the only band--but speaking from my mentality, young kids, if they believe in something, they might buy the music. They might get behind something if they actually believed in it. I don’t think kids believe in it. I don’t think they believe in anything anymore. I mean, there’s stuff here and there, but it’s going to take a lot of revolution to get rock ‘n roll back into the big piece of the industry music pie. Rock ‘n roll used to be this huge glob of the pie, but now it’s just this tiny little sliver, though it seems that things are kind of suffering without it, I think. It’d be great if it could be a bigger piece. It doesn’t have to be as big as it was. The way I feel, there’s a lot of people out there who like this kind of music, maybe not necessarily Bigelf but they like this kind of music and just aren’t getting it. If they just knew about it, they’d be down."

Copyright 2008 The Metal Minute/Ray Van Horn, Jr.


David Amulet said...

Great material here--I am going to go check out some BIgelf NOW based solely on this interview. The description here makes it sound like something I'd love.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Thanks, man. This is my # 2 pick for year's end. I give Bigelf my heartiest recommendation, bro.