There’s a poignant moment near the tail end of Dream Big: A Big Gigantic Story, a 20-minute documentary by the Colorado-based multimedia group Cinesthetics about the rise of Big Gigantic, where Dom Lalli is standing with his back to the camera, gazing over an uncharacteristically bleak mountain vista, recalling the days when he had convinced his folks (and somewhat obliquely, himself), that a career in music was his life’s choice, and that was that. Full stop. Watch me sink, or watch me swim, but into the sea I’m goin’.
The scene is brief, and had it landed earlier in the documentary, it could have misfired as self-consciously melodramatic. But coming as it does after stage-perspective footage of Rowdytown — the razzle-dazzle of Big G’s frenetic and city-dimming high voltage stage production and the euphoric Red Rocks audience, the sellout crowd’s arms asway like a great anemone yielding to an electric tide — it delivers on the promise of a human side to success. Which springs, as it always does, from a kernel of ambition, irrigated by hard work and nurtured by a humble appreciation of the band’s transformation.
It reminded me of a piece I read a day or two before I caught Lalli and partner Jeremy Salken at home, chilling before a summer-closing festival gig the next day in St Louis. Why do pop stars — or for that matter, any artist at or near the top of their game — get anxiety?
As Big Gigantic celebrates their fifth Rowdytown gig, Lalli concedes that the band’s success still does give him a little case of the shakes sometimes.
“Definitely,” he laughs, along with Salken. “This is just branching out from a place where I was playing jazz Wednesday nights at Dazzle for 25 people.”
And things have changed in five years; social media has grown into a critical if complicated part of the music biz.
“Which, back in the day, we kind of didn’t really have much of that,” Lalli says. “But all the banter and talk on social media adds pressure, sure. It’s there. And pressure can lead to anxiety. But … we’re always up for a challenge.”
In the face of live performance success, of course, the inclination for a franchise is usually to find and hire people who are comfortable with big numbers — detail herders. Business types. We’ve heard it a million times; let the music biz guys handle the details, we want to concentrate on music.
Big G doesn’t bite on that.
“We kind of run it like a mom and pop show,” Salken says. “Even though it’s grown to the size that it has, it’s still me and Dom and our manager. And we’re all involved in so many facets of what’s going on with Big Gigantic. And I think we like doing it ourselves.”
“We’re all control freaks,” Lalli adds.
“It’s cool that we can kinda control our own destiny,” Salken says. “It’s very satisfying: ‘We did that shit. No matter what happens, we did that shit.’”
Big G hosts Rowdytown V a mere month after the release of their latest full album, Brighter Future, which dropped in August. Brimming with Lalli’s busy and meticulous production, laced and punctuated by his instinctual horn lines, the record is (paradoxically, by design) a vocalist’s tour de force, spearheaded by the anthemic “The Little Things” crooned bravely by the indomitable Angela McCluskey. Elsewhere, Natalie Cressman’s turn on the poised, bouncing confection of “No Apologies” contrasts with Waka Flocka Flame’s testimony on “Highly Possible” and Pell’s turn on the future-soul of “Miss Primetime.”
Lalli demonstrates an utter fearlessness in merging his pop, soul, hip hop and funk instincts freely throughout the proceedings, dissolving disciplines into each other, co-existing with his guest vocalists (and there are lots on this record) in a colored shower of sound, texture and cadence.
In some ways, it seems that Big G’s personality, on this offering, belongs to the vocalists. As a historically instrumental project, it’s easy to wonder how Big Gigantic retains their identity on an album where singers paint and shade and project the songs.
“It sort of starts with me making the tunes first,” Lalli explains, “which is what helps keep it sounding like us. For this record, it was a cool way to keep our sound … we’ve never really done much with many vocalists, or it’s been a remix. Same with the rap stuff. But I think this is where we’ve been pointing, where our sound has been going. I just kind of feel like this is what’s always meant to be. We were just lucky to get all these super talented people to help us out.”
Some may adhere the electronic dance music (EDM) tag to Big G’s music, a genre that highbrow critics at in-the-know publications like Pitchfork have mused is dying.
But it’s a burgeoning musical scene, a community, an aesthetic with few rules, easy access to technology, a growing festival and sympathetic club embrace.
“I think every new and powerful form of music has the same sort of trajectory,” Lalli says.
“[It] comes in super fuckin’ hot, everyone is dying for it … I mean, like, talk about Elvis. [It] comes in super big, and then it settles into the popular culture. And electronic music, the creative end of it, is so open-ended, and that’s what’s so exciting about it. But I think it’s the first initial hit that came in … I mean, we’ve been doing this now for eight, 10 years.
“So it’s not like the bubble has burst or anything like that,” Lalli adds. “It’s gone the same way as every other great genre. Like hip-hop or rock ‘n’ roll.”
As for Rowdytown V, Salken can’t help but express some little-kid-glee about the gig.
“It will be rowdier than ever,” he laughs. “Seriously, we’ve got the new album and a bunch of new music, we have some guests coming out. A new light rig … a bunch of shiny new toys for the kids. We’re super, super psyched for it.”
And any plans for next year, or too soon to worry about it?
“No, not too early,” Lalli says. “We have a bunch of festivals lined up, and we’ll be working the new album a lot.
“Gotta get out there and spread the love.”