Johnny O (bass and vocals) and Dave Secretary (drums and vocals), perfect gentlemen from Ottawa’s Big Dick, talk to us about their straight-up but not straight forward sound, their somewhat problematic band name, Bigfoot and their architectural pursuits!
Johnny: I guess we’re kind of a punk band. Every time we read reviews I’m kind of surprised by the comparisons we get. A lot of our comparisons are to other two-piece bands. This record we got compared to everything from Queen to Bad Religion to Canadian alt rock and Superchunk. So stuff we really like but that I don’t think our band sounds like. I thought this record was pretty straight forward though we tried to throw in bits and pieces that were interesting.
We make an effort to make things interesting sonically. We just want to fill as much space as possible for just two guys, be interesting, have fun and challenge ourselves. We wanted to simplify things in terms of song structure this time. Dave comes from more of a post-punk background and there’s definitely some math rock things wired into him. I don’t come far off from that, but more like classic punk records. We listen to a variety of things though.
Which I always find is the case with guys in heavier bands.
Johnny: Yeah my favourite artist might be Tom Waits or something. He’s a majorly influential writer. We try not to stick to a genre. We knew just bass and drums was going to sound a bit unique anyway. And same thing in terms of how we visually portray ourselves. That’s why we love everything Mike (Laderoute who does Big Dick’s artwork) does. He’s so eclectic he’ll throw something out we wouldn’t have expected at all that we love. It doesn’t really help our band though. People look at our cover and think we’re an electronic band. Or based on our name think we’re a skid punk band.
I think all my favourite music is hard to be pegged genre-wise. Especially for punk rock these days, it kind of has to be intelligent for it to be exciting these days, rather than redundant.
Johnny: Yeah well the early NY punk scene had The Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie. None of them sound similar, but Talking Heads went on to do an art rock kind of thing, Blondie defined new wave, the Ramones went on to define pop punk and Dead Boys went on to define punk. Then Washington had hardcore that split into post-punk. I agree with you. I enjoy that we’re hard to pin down, but it really hurts us marketing wise as no one understands what we are.
I know you guys have both mentioned architecture as an interest or hobby. I found this intriguing considering sound is something that’s engineered and built.
Johnny: I think music influenced architecture for me. We’re both professionally involved in it. Both as a day job and freelance.
Dave: I think architecture is a pretty natural extension of music. We both went to University for different things. I took business and Johnny did religious studies essentially. We both went back to school for architecture. I’ll be done school in about a month.
Johnny: He’s going to be an actual architect. I’m an architectural technologist.
Dave: He’s the guy that makes sure shit doesn’t actually fall down.
Johnny: I can’t call myself that until I pass some tests. I’m at the tail end of it.
But you do make music that doesn’t fall down.
Dave: It was definitely a music to architecture transition to me. Not the other way around. I guess songwriting and designing are kind of similar things in that you’re terrible at it or 5-6 years before you can do a good drawing or write a good song.
Do you believe in or have you heard any personal accounts of supernatural phenomena?
Dave: I have a friend from high school who was super into Bigfoot. He was doing terrible in Ottawa and moved to Northern California. His belief in Bigfoot really turned his life around. He was just like a pale guy in the basement that worked in I.T., hated his job. Then he moved to the middle of nowhere and bought a house for nothing. He’s out in the woods all day and obviously he hasn’t found big foot, but he knows the names of all the trees and animal tracks. There are girls out there into Bigfoot, so he’s finally dating. His life is much better than mine now because he believes in Bigfoot.
Johnny: I subscribe to the concept of alien life, obviously. It would be preposterous to think that we are so unique in this vast universe that there’s nothing else.
Dave: The theory that makes the most sense to me is that Goldilocks theory. If there’s a planet that orbits the sun or a star and it’s just far enough away that it has water on the surface that isn’t frozen or in the gaseous state, then it can sustain life. And apparently there are billions upon billions in that state.
Johnny: On the flip side, Stephen Hawking pointed out that our universe is 13 billion years old and it took 4 billion years for the first mono to protocell organism to evolve. It’s not in the blink of an eye that life happens. And there’s that multiverse theory about multiple existences now too.
Dave: Please fact-check everything we’re saying (laughs). I watch Planet Earth and think I know what I’m talking about.
What are your favourite songs off your new album?
Dave: Let Down, Crawl, Give up and Another Minute. Those are my favourites out of the 15. I like Another Minute because I wanted to write something that was in 7/4. I’m a huge fan of 5/4 and 7/4. But mostly I like the ones that are really listenable – really catchy and simple. If you can somehow throw in something complicated in a way that’s palatable for anyone, you’ve done a good job.
Johnny: You want to do something that actually adds to the song, not just to be showy or technical.
How long did it take you to do this album?
Johnny: Probably a year, but in terms of recording and mixing – about a week. It was very spread out.
Dave: We recorded with the same guy who did our first record. He was in the midst of starting up a club when we started tracking, so things got delayed. We went in for 3-hour spurts.
Johnny: We could have had it done in two days if we could have just done 12-hour recording sessions.
Can you tell the UK readers a bit about Ottawa?
Dave: Ottawa is a lot like the UK in terms of weather. It’s grey and shitty all the time. Not nearly as expensive though. Our winters are a lot worse and last forever. We have the Ottawa and Rideau rivers. If you want to visit do it in the summer as we get about the same amount of sun as the UK, but in longer spurts.
Johnny: Ottawa has one of the most overlooked music scenes from a national perspective. There are many better bands than us from Ottawa. If you want to see some of them, there’s a festival happening in June called Ottawa Explosion.
If Big Dick was an alcoholic beverage, what would it be?
Dave: You know St. Peter’s English Ale it comes in that complicated bottle that looks like an old medicine bottle? I think we’re like a pretty expensive and a pain in the ass to open beer. Or like Grolsch.
Johnny: Probably would have a crude name, but essentially there’s more to it than meets the eye. Not typical like blonde or IPA. You’d have to look at the name and be very confused and sip it and think “I think I like it, but I’m not sure what I’m drinking”.
I know you guys have said you’ve faced issues with your band name, and I have myself. When I first wanted to review the album I said “I’ll take the Big Dick if no one else has already” and other such embarrassing things. It seems like you probably didn’t foresee issues when you first decided on the name?
Johnny: No we always anticipated all the mishaps. We just didn’t really think about the possibility of ever getting outside of our practice space.
It’s pretty common knowledge now that your name comes from a NoMeansNo song title. I’d also argue that it draws attention. Though it may distract, I don’t think that it should detract, as then your music holds that attention. Have you guys thought about changing the name?
Johnny: It comes from the fact it’s absurd. We had a buddy who used to yell it out randomly. There was the song too, but it was also a bit of a joke, a random thing.
Dave: I would change the name to something intelligent and graceful and miles better than what we have now – like Beefaroni or Hoobastank. People have gotten over terrible band names in the past. We thought if we can make it with this terrible band name, we can really make it as a band.
Johnny: It’s still difficult. But one thing I can say is at least it’s memorable. The biggest regret is the sexual connotation. That’s not our intention. My worst nightmare is having a bunch of frat boys at our show. And my family wants to talk about what I’m doing creatively, but my uncle is a retiring judge and my mom’s father was an arch bishop, so they can’t really talk the band. And I don’t even want to talk about it, so I change the subject.
Just say BD.
Dave: Or Big Richard. I’d rename the band Healthy Snacks.
Johnny: We’ve made things really complicated with that one decision for a lot of people. Myself included. We don’t take ourselves that seriously though. We’re living our separate career paths and just do as much as we can musically. If Sub Pop or someone offered us something, of course we’d put our other careers on hold.
All words by Lisa Sookraj. More writing by Lisa on Louder Than War can be found at her author’s archive.