Five years ago, drummer Coady Willis and bassist/vocalist Jared Warren formed a rather unique power tandem. Too hooky to be classified as pure metal but more intricate than straight-ahead rock, Big Business swung down on the independent limelight like a famished ape with its debut Hydra Head release, Head for the Shallow. Amid constant touring and a regular issuance of EPs, 2007 found the duo cementing their name as a force to be reckoned with, after releasing Here Come the Waterworks. And after Willis and Warren joined the Melvins as semi-permanent members, Big Business is back out on the road pumping a full-length hot off the presses, Mind the Drift. "I'd rather be busy than bored," said Willis, from a van hurdling toward a gig in North Carolina.
"Busy" is certainly an understatement. Notwithstanding the Melvins grind, Willis recently reunited with his hallowed group of yore, the Murder City Devils, for a jaunt up and down the West Coast, which included a pair of sold-out shows at the Great American Music Hall. For the time being though, Big Business is the dead-set priority, and why not? A quick listen to Mind the Drift finds the group treading both new and familiar waters. Warren's bass chops and operatic croon are devastating as ever, and Willis pounds away with the precision and fury fans have come to love and respect. But enter guitarist Toshi Kasai. Big Business is officially three parts strong.
"From the beginning, we never made a decision that we were going to be a two-piece," said Willis. "We just never really found a third person to fill it out, but Jared has always heard guitar parts in there."
After auditioning potential axe-wielders to no avail, Willis and Warren solicited Kasai (who has played with Altamont and Deaf Nephews) for guitar duties. And it's with the addition of Kasai that Willis finds Mind the Drift a step up in the band's ambition. "Having Toshi is a big, big difference," he said. "We made a lot more room for guitar on it as opposed to just putting in flourishes here and there, which is kind of what we've always wanted to do. We wrote some weirder songs. I feel like it's way more evolved."
Willis' sentiment is not just smoke; cuts like "Found Art" and "Cats, Mice" find Big Business stretching more and more toward the progressive edge of metal. But, hey, don't pigeonhole this trio as a gang of stereotypical heshers.
"I mean, we play heavy music but we don't want to be put across as a metal band," Willis said. "Jared and I both enjoy listening to pop records. Maybe I'm just getting older, but when I see a band that's total doom and gloom, like the Cookie Monster guy singing up front, and they're really serious and so evil, it's just, like, how can you not laugh at that?"
For related reasons, producer Phil Ek was once again tapped to man the control boards. Ek, who has scratched out a lengthy list of credentials in the world of indie-pop (Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses, Built to Spill, the Shins), brings to the table an ear for pop sensibilities, well-suited to nurture a spooky melody from "Ayes Have It" or the down-and-dirty stomp undercoating "The Drift."
"Phil's down with all that," said Willis. "Layering up multiple, multiple vocal tracks, weird percussion stuff. And we've all known each other for a really long time, so it's just like hanging out with a pal in the studio."
But at night's end, when the Gallien-Krueger head is seething with heat and the kick chain's itching to give, Big Business is able to step back and locate an oh-so-endearing quality: lightening up. "I don't consider our band a joke or anything like that, but we definitely don't take it super seriously," said Willis. "It's supposed to be fun. It's supposed to be rock 'n' roll."
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