By: Tim LaVoie
Listening to Montreal’s BIG|BRAVE is an exhausting, immersive experience. It’s not for the faint of heart or the impatient. Yet, it rewards the bold and patient far beyond the stretch of any genre-imposed limitations. The trio create creeping, droning riffs that slowly and meticulously build into a powerful wall of sound. The cleanly sung vocals of Robin Wattie shift from near whisper to soaring across the expanse of each track, adding a layer of emotional connection often missing from music this esoteric.
In 2017, BIG|BRAVE released their third album, Ardor, via Southern Lord Records. Ardor finds the band at their most expansive, ambitious, and at the absolute peak of their powers. The record plays like a combination of Swans’ thunderous late-career releases with the added help of the mesmerizing feedback of the Velvet Underground’s longer pieces.
BIG|BRAVE are playing at Spirit Hall in Lawrenceville on Sunday, July 1, with noise masters, The Body. BIG|BRAVE guitarist Mathieu B. Ball was kind enough to give us some of his time and discuss the band’s influences, Ardor, and their current tour.
Bold Pittsburgh: Congratulations on Ardor. It’s a terrific record that I keep picking up more and more layers of interesting things with every listen. Are the songs written and put together with that “grower” aspect in mind?
Mathieu B. Ball: Yes absolutely. I think we make music that requires patience and definitely more than one listen to grasp everything that is going on. This isn’t because it is a music that is technically complicated (because it really isn’t) but rather because the subtleties and the different sonic layers can easy be overlooked. I feel like a lot of music is nowadays consumed like fast food and we definitely make a conscious effort to make music that requires a certain investment of time to properly experience.
BP: Your sound is certainly a bold, deliberate one that wouldn’t work without a total commitment to it. How did this sound develop and are you guys ever tempted to write shorter tracks or something with a traditional song structure?
MB: When the band started we wrote much shorter songs. It was a song format that had been ingrained in us all. It was only as the band progressed that we got more and more into repetition and understood the transcendental results we could achieve from playing one part for an extended period of time. It was in fact a bit of a adjustment period when we started writing longer songs as we would always ask ourselves “is this part too long?” We are now at a point where that concern never comes up. It can never be too long!
BP: Listening to Ardor I hear lots of different influences that coalesce to make your unique sound. Does each member bring a little bit something different from their background, or does the band share a common musical library from which to work?
MB: We all three are fans of so many different kinds of music but it’s rare that someone will ever play something in the van that the others will dislike. In all of the music we like, there is definitely a common thread. I couldn’t tell you exactly what that would be but to put into one word, I’d say it’s all mostly cathartic. This array of sounds that we digest definitely has an impact on the music we make.
BP: The cover art for Ardor, as well as your other releases, is very striking and a worthy companion to the music, how did that artwork come about and what do you think of the role a band’s visual aesthetic can play in their overall presentation?
MB: The album artwork is always worked on after the music has been recorded. It would be hard to put into words exactly what we are looking for when brainstorming for cover ideas but there is definitely something we are in search of. The visuals must have a strong connection to the sonic qualities of the music. A lot of different ideas are worked on but once we have something we like it used purely because it fits and feels right.
This all has a great impact on how people think of and experience the band. It starts off with sound, but with album art, videos and the live show aesthetic, you try to create something that has an overall balance. Like with our music, our visuals are often quite subtle and minimal. It just wouldn’t make much sense for a band that plays one chord for 10 minutes to have very busy visual accompaniments.
BP: You’re currently on Southern Lord Records, which is one of the better respected metal labels. They’ve always excelled in finding the slower, drone-influenced bands - how did the relationship come about and how’s the pairing been so far?
MB: We wrote to Greg from the label out of the blue sending him the digital files of recently recorded songs (Au De La, 2015). We weren’t expecting anything at all but he wrote back to us saying he loved them and wanted to talk. It was all pretty surreal.
The reason we reached to Southern Lord was because of the great diversity of heavy music the label had put out over the last 15(ish) years. We’ve now done 2 records with the label and have a third in the works. Couldn’t dream of a better label to be working with.
BP: The heavy music world is very male dominated, have there been any specific challenges that you’ve encountered as a female-fronted band?
MB: I know that this can be somewhat challenging for Robin. The male dominance is particularly significant in the heavy music world but this is also the reality of most facets of life. But as there have been some challenges, I see a lot of younger women come up to Robin after the shows being so incredibly ecstatic to have seen a woman play heavy music. I think this becomes validating and encouraging for them to start bands and feel like they have a part in this as well. As for Louis and I, all we can do is offer our support and call shit out when it’s not right.
BP: Montreal has always had great music and art coming from it. Where do you see BIG|BRAVE in the greater Montreal scene? Are there other Montreal bands you think everyone should be aware of?
MB: Lungbutter is by far my favorite Montreal band. I believe they are working on a full length as we speak. Can’t wait to hear it. Jessica Moss who has played on most of our records is also another incredible musician and person. Her live show is a real tear jerker.
BP: The Body have been a critically acclaimed band on the rise for a few album cycles now. How did this tour get put together and what are your expectations for this leg across North America?
MB: We were asked if we’d like to jump on a few dates of their summer tour and we immediately said yes. They are such a great example of a heavy band doing things differently. Certain associations immediately come to mind when the word ‘heavy' is used to describe a band but heavy music can come in so many different shapes and forms. It’s so much more than loud amps and tattoos. I personally think this lineup is great and can’t wait for the shows!