BIGELF – Of antique instruments, Jedi Forces and Broken Bones


Band Logo - Bigelf

 

Whiskey-Soda: Damon, thank you for taking your time to answer a few questions for the readers.

Damon Fox: Well, it’s you guys that put bring the music out there and put the words together, the stories behind the music and everything.

WS: Our Magazine is called Whiskey-Soda, usually when I start I ask my interview partners what they prefer to drink: Whiskey-Soda or Swiss beer, as we are in Switzerland right now, right?

DF: Well, I was actually never known to drink, I’m not a drinker. I’ve been into the sort of Frank-Zappa-Stoner-Doom-World.

WS: (Laughing) Okay, other stuff then?

DF: Yeah, I never got to much into partying to much actually. As a kid, but I was lucky to get out of it. Rock’n’Roll, especially in Bigelf, we go between a lot of different genres, but one of these would be just Rock. Not Prog, because I think Prog isn’t traditionally a drug infested thing, even though It can be. But in Rock and Metal there’s definitely no shortage of drugs. Bigelf has an hallucinate-type feeling, and there always people that want to take mushrooms with you or they give you mushrooms. I usually say thanks, take them and flush them down the toilet. I like people do their thing. And I like Whiskey-Soda!

WS: I’ve been to one of your Shows four years ago in February 2010 and there were so few people, maybe only like 20 or 30 people. I loved the show and for that reason I almost felt a little bit sorry for you guys, because there were so few people attending. And I thought by myself: Why are these guys not bigger? Wasn’t that frustrating?

DF: The whole career has been frustrating. So is that. Though there’s no one person to blame for that in the machine. But certainly by all the touring that we’ve done, we’ve played in Europe on our own for various times before doing all the Dream Theater stuff. We’ve been exposed to seven shows in Germany with Dream Theater and we got a Record out, so you would think that more people would come. And you don’t know wether it’s competition, just too many bands touring at the time. But February isn’t really a key month, the fall are more like the key months when it comes to competition. Is it the promoter, you don’t know. Is it the wrong club, that people don’t go to see Rock’n’Roll-Stoner-Rock at that club? I got a couple of E-Mails already on this tour asking me: Why are you not in this club? But I’m not in charge of all the pieces that are put together. You just try to do the best and hopefully the next time things will turn out better. But I think this club is a great club so we’re looking forward. But I don’t know why all this stuff happens. It always happens to somebody. But no doubt – it’s disappointing. One thing about Bigelf is we’ve managed to stay relevant somehow. Somehow, through all the different changes in style and trends and all that we’re still there. And this is cool. It’s relevant, it has passion and most of all: It’s still – in a way – new. So it’s a little bit of a blessing and a curse.

WS: I was wondering, looking back to the show four years ago, if you just were ahead of your time? In the last two years there’s been sort of a movement with a lot of seventies-influenced bands coming up and sometimes even become big. But you guys have been around for about almost 25 years.

DF: Yeah, absolutely. Of course it’s really cool to be hip or visionary, but Bigelf was definitely, with other bands. When we started Bigelf the bands that were around at that time. I wasn’t really happy with the metal-scene or the synth-pop-scene. I have origins of all kinds of music, growing up with the Beatles and Zeppelin, Uriah Heep, all this stuff. I wasn’t really a huge Prog-Head, you know. You don’t put on „In The Court Of The Crimson King“ when you’re seven years old. It’s something you discover when you’re a teenager. But everybody gets into „Highway To Hell“, everybody gets into „Stairway To Heaven“, you know what I mean? But I was also into Run DMC and Depeche Mode when I was a kid, but when the late 80’s and early 90’s were rolling around I didn’t have a place to make music and so it made sense. I think early on I was trying to be Retro but I just didn’t know how to do it. It was such an abstract thought to make music that didn’t sound current and I was playing with ideas around 88 that turned into the songs ‚Falling Bombs‘ on „Hex“ and ‚Change‘ from our debut. Those songs were like a blueprint, they were written ’87 and ’88. And then Lenny Kravitz hit with ‚Let Love Rule‘. And then it was Black Crowes. That’s when I realized that I was in time with this. This was making sense. And I actually knew a few of these guys because we were all Westcoast-Guys. So why started to make this Rock Music that had Prog-Elements, Doom-Elements, it had Glam-Elements – but they main element, that it had that I don’t think any band had until now: It had an aesthetic element. So we were always about the way we looked. Now a lot of bands that do Stoner-Rock-Doom-Prog-Seventies-Rock whatever you call it, they have long hair, they’re wearing flares. They’re wearing the clothing that kind of looks like Black Sabbath or Deep Purple. And yeah, we’ve been doing that for 25 years. But in the time, we were 30 years behind, ten years ahead. And everybody always says: These guys’d been great in 1971, they probably would be famous. I don’t see it like that, because we’re carrying a torch kind of further. But those were dark years, it was a different time. Weezer, Chili Peppers, Hip Hop was really big. It took a while, though it was happening tons of stuff at the time. There were Saint Vitus and Nebula. You know, Stoner Rock is really a 90’s concept. It’s just getting big again. I think Wolfmother was one of the main things making the people go: Wow, you can sound kind of Zeppelin – and it sells. And now it’s everywhere – which is fantastic. I was like a Godfather of the scene, much older than all these kids. Totally cool! As I went to do this record people were telling me: Well, you should do a Retro-Thing. And I thought: We’ve already done that! We’ve already done this kind of Stoner-Retro thing. And our style is also in the Progressive-Soup-Thing. It’s about putting all these elements into the soup and finding the balance versus just putting out ten songs that sound like Blues Rock or whatever. I’ve never said Bigelf was original, not one time. But it’s innovative, because it’s different than the origins of it. You never hear the combos that we do, like the Beatles and something else. So that was the goal, it’s sort of a hybrid-style. Maybe because of that it doesn’t appeal that well. Because for Metal People it’s too Pop, for Pop People it’s too satanic, for Prog People it’s too glammy, for Glam People it’s too busy. We’re like an everymans band, but we just can’t get the fish. We can’t get the one combination that connects us with the audience. I know it’s out there, we’re out there, do the shows and playing our music. It’s there. There’s just so many bands. Let me be honest about it. It’s just about promotion. That’s the solid answer to all this. I’m trying to be nice, but the reality is when there are only 40 people at our shows it’s because it wasn’t promoted. More money always connects to reaching more people.

 

Band Photo - Bigelf

 

WS: About this retro-thing going on for the last two years, did you notice that in terms of Sales od Concert Visitors?

DF: To be honest, I don’t know yet. Obviously there’s a lot of young fans who don’t know who we are because we’re a little older. So you have to connect with that scene or connect with that audience, wether it’s a certain tour or a certain band. Connecting with the Dream Theater thing really put us in front of that Progressive audience. So that has nothing to do with bands like Kadavar and Ghost and all the stuff coming out of England and all the retro stuff that’s really big at the moment. But that is our origin. To me Bigelf is more like that than we are a Prog Band. Bigelf isn’t Prog. We’re simply just innovative. It’s intelligent music.

WS: We could have a conversation of hours just about the question what Prog is in the first place because there are so many answers.

DF: Yeah. Well, are there elements of Bigelf that are Prog? Of course! We totally define 1970/71 Italian Prog. Raw Rock’n’Roll with complex arrangements and organ and mellotron. Early King Crimson like Bigelf? For sure! There’s definitely a lot of lineage to Prog from Bigelf. In the whole is Bigelf a Prog Band? No! Because that’s more like Yes, Kansas, Rush, Marillion, Dream Theater. The real origins of Progressive Rock was Jazz, combined with Classic and Rock. That were the origins. Let’s get crazy and copy classical music, let’s copy Jazz music and put it in Rock. That was what ELP was doing. That was what everybody was doing. The Beatles. It’s just copying classical music. No big deal. That’s what blues is. Most of Rock Music, Led Zeppelin is just Blues done with psychedlic pants and theremines. It’s a brillant concept. That’s what it takes, but it think that we don’t really fit to Prog. Well, some Prog Fans like it, because it’s alive, and it’s – dangerous isn’t the word…

WS: Maybe it’s because there’s much to discover. Maybe that it what appeals to a prog audience. It’s no simple music, that you get bored of if you listened to the album three times.

DF: Yeah, thank you. There you go. But I don’t sit down and plan to do that. It just turns into a wormhole as I get into it. I just go in the rabbithole, looking for the rabbit for a year. And sometimes, I never find it. The records are good like that and people keep mailing me saying: Oh my god, I listened to the record for ten times and I just found these cool things. And that’s what makes a good record. Well, thank you. But it’s not about the playing. It’s about the mental space of the record and the concepts and the sonic layering and stuff like that. For us. So in that way it’s kind of… For me, „Revolver“ and „Sergeant Pepper“ were Progressive. Before Rush were progressive, the Beatles were definitely progressive. They were doing shit that noone ever thought of. That’s what Progressive should be. And in that way, we’re definitely Progressive because nobody has 17 different styles of music in one song. But you know, the Prog audience, it’s a very ambitious audience. When you listen to Frank Zappa you belong to very intelligent audience, that’s used to a multitude of notes coming into their ears. Their almost a little snobby. I don’t think Rock Fans are snobby. They just wanna fucking rock. They’re totally different.

WS: You just mentioned all the setbacks the band survived. There’s a song on the Record that’s called ‚Control Freak‘. Are you singing about yourself and is that the reason why the band is still alive. Because you are a Control Freak?

DF: No, that song is just about who „Am I happen to be that way?“, but it’s also about my experiences with people that I identify as a Control Freak. It takes one to know one. So it’s just that kind of people that are very controlling, that are having a hard time letting go. It’s a song about pain. What I sing about is like „Fucking Help Me!“ Like „let go of that shit“. It’s not only about you don’t have to have this Apple IPad right here, but it’s not except about that. It’s like: Let me let go of me having you wanting to treat me the way I wanna be treated, let go of my expectations of people. And that can go from the parts in the songs or Love or anything. So it was just like: Let go of everything!

WS: You were producing „Into The Maelstrom“ on your own and then went to Inside Out Music to put it out. So, as you talked about all this turmoil in your bands history I was also wondering if you ever considered to do a Crowdfunding Campaign to get the album done?

DF: It’s a tough balance. We weren’t a machine up and running at that time. The band had gone through a little bit of a hiatus and I wasn’t even sure if it had disbanded. I sort of let go in order to survive. So, it did survive and we were thinking about doing a funding campaign, but I didn’t want to do something so homegrown. We really needed a label for the structure, because we spent a lot of time into Bigelf over the years. I didn’t to sit there saying: But now we got no distribution! So now with Inside Out it’s been a proper step, we’ve been talking about that for a while and it seemed to be a good thing to have. Connect with the Prog community, Portnoy is on the record so it’s like a good progression. And of course you wanna make to most of where you’ve been. We’ve been on Tour with Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree and so it seemed like a natural Progression. Probably not the perfect Progression, but certainly a step that has to be taken. As far as the Genre I already said that we don’t neccesarily totally fit in with the Prog. I think the Progressive community definitely scratches their heads. Maybe we’re prickling the brains a little bit in order to let the people grow. Historically prog doesn’t look. It’s not something aesthetic. It’s not something you look at for the imagery. Pink Floyd, die ultimate Psychelic Band, original prog, slow, mellow. You’re looking at them, you’re looking at theit pics, the imagery that they have. It’s not fucking Jimmy Page, is not Chris Robinson, it’s not Nikki Sixx. But Bigelf IS that. We’re not the thing with the pics, even though like that both. Bigelf is definitely about the Rock’n’Roll. And Prog has never been about that. He’s got makeup on and a tophat. But he’s got a mellotron. Wait. Must be Peter Gabriel! That’s the connection they make. You now what’s the most way out there thing? Hawkwind! They’ve got Hawkwind! Because it’s fucking out there! Or Arthur Brown or something. As long as people like it – that’s all I care about. I don’t really mind if you don’t like it, I just try to connect to people who like it.

WS: When I saw you for the first time at the show I mentioned I was fucking impressed seeing you play two keys at one time and singing as well. I asked myself, if you see yourself more as a singer or a keyboard player. If you would have to give back the keys or the microphone, which one would you choose?

DF: I think I’d rather be a singer. Here’s the thing: I’m already singing and it’s easier to just play the keys. To do both together is still the hardest. I still don’t even do it right! To do what I’m trying to do is really difficult. And I only do get better at it when we actually do shows. It’s not something that I can actually do in rehearsal. It’s only during shows, it’s the space. You get in there, there’s all these things happening, it’s literally Jedi-Shit. Pushing knobs and you’re singing. If there would be nobody else aroud I couldn’t do it. You’re actually connecting with people, so my hands are not looking. This is prog 101. Don’t take your hands of your neck, you might make a mistake. Everyone’s looking what they’re playing. My fucking eyes are closed, I’m just feeling it, I’m looking at people. If if have to do quick adjustments, there’s mistakes. But singing is kind of a way to just focus on that. When I’m doing videos and I’m not playing keys I really like it. I have my mic and just explore that element, but I don’t do it that often. So I don’t really know that much about it to be honest.

WS: So you’re looking out for a keyboard player to concentrate on the singing. That would be the next logical step after your answer!

DF: I don’t know. I’m usually open to anything. We were a five-piece for a while and I was the second guitar player. It was just a brief little thing we did in 2002. I would be potentially open to another guitar player that played keys so that I could do two or three songs where I could just roam. But honestly I think the foundation of Bigelf works like it is. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I get all this feedback. Jules Verne, Time Machine, Wizard of Oz, fucking Willy Wonka thing and I’m like: I’m loving it. If that’s what you’re getting out of it, what you’re seeing or hearing – I’m happy. Somehow I’m doing something that people get some professor-thing out of. I don’t know, maybe it’s a combination of the words, the music and the image and there’s some really cool things happening. The funny thing is, sometimes I think people are just watching to see me fuck up. Is he gonna make it or will he fuck up? The next one, he’s gonna blow that and go back in time! (laughs)

WS: Well, I think it’s kind of a trademark, you playing both keys with your tophat.

DF: Yeah, it is. I’ve got so many cool ideas. I wanna have the keys on a circular riser and have it go from side to side and also turns, so I could fully see everybody and go up. I would do so many things if I had the money. Holographic pirate cellists – I could go on forever. We play a lot on the westcoast and we have a Laser Guy doing this thing for us. It’s like Pink Floyd, it’s fucking amazing, it blows peoples minds! But it’s hard to get somebody that works the laser. Maybe someday. At this point, that’s the hard part: I’m literally just trying to keep Bigelf alive. I really love to do it, but I also try to make a living out of it, playing the music, but there’s always other things. The show didn’t change. It’s raw, motherfucking rock’n’roll. It’s probably not any different than we’ve ever been. Raw, passionate, blow your face off. Now, if we could actually make a lot of money selling records and everything and make it to some sort of Dream Theater level – then I’ll bring out the elephants. The first day we played in 1992 people said: You guys should be at the Forum, you guys should be in an arena. And we just had started. The music, the sound of it and the style reminds people of Arena Rock from the seventies. Now it’s just living up to that or figuring out a way to do it. It’s about making music and being happy.

WS: How long did it take you to lose stagefright?

DF: Well, I’m comfortable in front of people. So it’s not that. I guess it’s more the machine, the cockpit, my stuff, is it gonna work. It’s like twenty spinning plates. I mean Portnoy is on the show, but we’re not a band. We play together and he’s the greatest ever, John Wesley’s just coming in to these shows. It’s like a last minute thing we put together, this little special presentation. It’s a lot, they’re incredibly pro-dudes. It isn’t like the band before, were we had this intuition thing. Ten years ago, we just went out and played. This is a different thing, we’re not always really speaking the same language, you really kind of have to pay attention. But sometimes, I already said it, I’m in kind of autopilot-mode, I go back to another state of mind. Thank god! It helps me to do better, but that doesn’t mean that Mike or anybody else is following me. It’s a challenge! I get a little nervous, to be honest. It’s a small tour, it’s not a huge crew and we try to keep the budget as tight as possible. And everybody’s pushed to their limits and asks the others to help him out. I’m helping loading and everything, but it works good. I like playing in front of people. I don’t get nervous in front of people. I just want my shit to work. Some of the stuff is from the Sixties.

WS: Obviously you enjoy making music and gained quite some positive feedback from fans and press. Besides being a passionate, innovative musician, do you have any other talents? What do you love to do in your free time. Can be artistic stuff or anything else.

DF: As far as feeling the muse I draw. I can draw, I did a lot of the designs of the records. I can get into anything, as long it is something that I’m passionate about. But outside from music – hmmm – not too much. I really wanted to get into meditation, like Tai Chi. I have always been attracted to this Samurai kind of thing. To be in that Zen state. I’m trying to find that world where I am in inner peace. Trying not to be on your dark side, fighting your demons and pain, you know what I mean?

WS: Well, you mentioned the Jedi-thing earlier. So it’s about becoming a Jedi and not a Sith? To be on the good side of the force, huh?

DF: Yeah, it’s a little bit corny, but yeah, I’m trying to be with the force. But sometimes it’s just about meditating. I really like the beach, I like the ocean. I just got back from Australia. I loved the beaches in the days off, it has been so wonderful. Just my and I felt totally right. I feel like a Billion Dollars. Not like having a Billion Dollars, nothing matters to me in that moment. At that special beach, there were these pools and reefs, it was pretty fucking amazing. It’s dangerous for piano players, so I try not to do it as much as I would: But I like skateboarding. In pools in stuff, I was seeing that when I was a kid. I’m a friend of the Dogtown Area in Los Angeles, but I was too young. But it was so cool, seeing Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta and all these guys. And in my head, it’s still the same today: It’s so cool! It’s not about the height, or the tricks or the flips – it’s the style! So when I’m skating, especially with no helmet, it just feels so good! But the higher you go – well. My manager…. (Laughs)

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