Duncan Reid and the Big Heads: Don’t Blame Yourself
Little Big Head Records
Duncan Reid (ex The Boys) & his merry band of Big Heads have just released their fourth long player. Another collection of exceptional power punk pop tunes designed to bring joy to anyone who listens. Louder Than War caught up with Duncan for a few words.
LTW: You are now four albums down, with the latest Don’t Blame Yourself released on the 15th of May. Tell us from your perspective about your progression from the inception of Duncan Reid solo/Duncan Reid & the Big Heads to where you are now.
Duncan Reid: The first album, Little Big Head, was a solo album. Having been in a band, The Boys, for ever I’d just played bass and sung. The Boys were a great ensemble of singers, so everything was shared around.
Out of necessity (I had no band) and desire, I wanted to see if I could do just about everything. Bass, guitars, keyboards, lead vocal, backing vocals etc I think it came off. Every album since has become more and more of a band album and the sound and playing has got better for that. The latest, Don’t Blame Yourself, is the nearest to our live sound.
LTW: You have a band that from an outsider’s perspective looks like you are a tight unit in more ways than just being bandmates. You all exude fun and high energy in your live performances. How did your settled line up come about and what is it like being part of that gang (now that you have your own theme song too)?
Duncan Reid: We get on really well and all like showing off on stage. It’s a virtuous circle where we egg each other on. We do have a great time on stage. It’s the most fun in the world. We could be called Dad and the Kids instead of Duncan Reid and the Big Heads, but it keeps me young as well. The line-up came together through 6 degrees of separation. So and so knew so and so. It was a combination of luck and keeping our eyes peeled.
LTW: I think you have a knack for clever witty couplets and storytelling in your songs, I love how all your songs have a story to them. I read on the sleeve notes for “To Live or Live Not” you also mentioned suffering writers block, you said you always have plenty of tunes, but the lyrics are difficult. How do song theme and lyrics come to you, many seem to come from things you notice around you, personal experiences and so on?
Duncan Reid: That’s exactly it. Till now songs were largely about me and my life but that’s becoming less so as I’ve exhausted that well. So, I have to keep my eyes open. When I see something interesting, I scribble it down and come back to these random ideas. Looking at my list at the moment I see the scribble: “I’m in a Millwall state of mind”. I.e. nobody likes us, and we don’t care. There’s a song of defiance to be developed there. I just have to get the story behind the song, and it will come. I’m writing one with Nick at the moment. I thought it would be neat to write about a divorced dad picking his son up from mums for the weekend. Bittersweet but he’ll enjoy it while he can. In many ways I like to write little 3-minute plays.
LTW: Tell me about then new album – do you have any favourite tracks? Any amusing stories while you were recording? I enjoyed your series on videos showing how you record and mix the tracks.
Duncan Reid: The video blog about song writing was fun to do and people really enjoyed it (Link here). A good use of lockdown time. I still get people asking how my grass and potatoes are doing from watching it!
I think “To Live or Live Not” is up there with “Bombs Away” and “First Time” as one of the pinnacles of my career. It’s the only song I’ve managed to write twice as the first time I played it to the band they said, “You’ve written Monkey Wrench (Foo Fighters song)”. I had to rewrite the tune so it’s a refried song!
Everyone seems to have a different favourite from the album. I guess that shows how varied it is.
The Grim Reaper
LTW: The Grim Reaper comes from some sad losses in a short period of time, but the theme of the song is one of defiance. I know many of my circle of friends were hit hard by the death of Garry Borland, someone so close and so young. Obviously, it was one of the factors that led you to write this song. Has it changed the way you look at life and view your own mortality?
Duncan Reid: That’s constantly evolving. As you become as old and decrepit as my life takes on more of the atmosphere of “End of the school holidays”. It has 2 effects: a: You don’t give a fuck, and b: you make the most of now as opposed to plan for the future.
Don’t Blame Yourself
LTW: The title track Don’t Blame Yourself has come from witnessing the change in the climate in the UK since the dreaded B word. Staying with that topic but changing direction slightly, I have seen you comment on the impact it would have on bands like yourselves touring in Europe, then of course the COVID 19 crisis struck. I know none of us can see into the future and things are very uncertain at the moment, but what do you think the impact of these two coming together will have on bands like yourselves?
Duncan Reid: It’s not just about the UK and the B word. In every country people are becoming more divided and fighting more which is because of social media. People get their information from it more and more. There are organisations from Russia to the likes of Cambridge Analytica who have very sophisticated “Weapons grade” technology to feed people’s prejudices through Facebook etc in order to influence elections and referenda.
I worry about sounding like a nutter on this but just watch “The Great Hack” on Netflix. In the UK there are political Party advisors who trained in Russia on all this stuff and who still deploy it. While, in America Trump seconded Facebook staff to his campaign to advise on how to feed people “News”. In this way people become convinced that total nonsense is true because everyone in their echo chamber is repeating it having been fed the same message.
As for touring, the worry is that the UK imposes restrictions on European Musicians playing in the UK (and we have already announced that they will need expensive visas) which means that each EU country requires a visa for UK musicians to play there. Combine that with the “Carnet” requirements that existed before we joined the EU (and I remember they were a nightmare) and it would become impossible for bands like us to play in Europe. Add on venues closing everywhere due to the virus and uncertainty about how many people will be allowed to go to gigs and the situation could look better.
Music is 10% of the UK economy. It’s more important than fish. It would be good if that was recognised in Brexit negotiations where the UK Government have already announced there will be no special provisions for musicians but seem to be willing to talk about fish all the time.
LTW: As I’ve extolled on many occasions, you and the band excel in the live arena. One of the things I’m missing most during lockdown is live music, and the realisation that that isn’t going to change any time soon. What are you missing most during lockdown and what are you doing to get through it? I sense there may be a video coming soon? (Update – since this interview took place – said video has now landed – watch it further down the page)
Duncan Reid: Yes. I’m just waiting for Sophie to say she is OK with the video. We’ve made it ourselves shooting separately on iPhones. I think it’s pretty good. At first lockdown meant a relieving of pressure but now I’m missing everything. Pubs, sport, gigs you name it. Where I live it’s pretty quiet, but I went to Kinks territory, Muswell Hill, yesterday where there were loads of people on the street. It felt really weird and disconcerting. I think we’ll all have some mental barriers to get over as things go back to whatever is the new normal.
LTW: Apart from your own music, what have you been listening to during lockdown – any recommendations?
Duncan Reid: Nada Surf, Starcrawler, Pottymouth and Five Grand Stereo. and a ton of others. I love discovering new music.
LTW: When we all come out the other side of COVID 19, what are your plans with the Big Heads (and within that is a loaded question, I obviously mean – when are you coming back to Glasgow)?
Duncan Reid: Your guess is as good as mine, but it’ll be as soon as we can as we love playing there. The support in Scotland for the new album has been amazing.
Don’t Blame Yourself – Review
So, to that new album. Is it any good? After all, it has to tide us over that Duncan Reid & the Big Heads live gigs leave a large sized gap in our lives. I’m happy to report that all is well, and the album is, as Duncan says, as close to the live experience as I’ve heard on their recorded works. What’s that you say? You haven’t bought it yet? Well, Don’t Blame Me – Blame Yourself!
There is something in the DNA of this band that should have scientists wanting to experiment on them, trying to find the genetic code that provides the answer to the creation of the perfect power pop punk songs to evoke unbridled ecstasy so it can be replicated ad nauseum.
14 Superior tracks
Don’t Blame yourself runs to a total of 14 superior tracks. But the feeling that you get when you’re listening means It still isn’t enough. One listen through needs to be repeated, and you’ll find yourself flipping the purple vinyl back over to side one and starting with Your Future Ex Wife once again. The music grabs you, shaking you out of your stupor and screaming in your face “Why aren’t you smiling yet?”. Try to listen to this album and not feel an overwhelming feeling of elation.
That is not to say the subject matter of the songs says everything in the world is rosy, the title track is a comment on the increased divisions throughout the world and The Grim Reaper, well I think you can tell what that is about.
Optimistic Life-affirming Melodies
Despite tackling those types of subjects, the band always tackle things in a positive way. I’m not going to say that listening to the band can cure those divisions and sort out all the ills of the world, but they have hit the motherlode in terms of optimistic life-affirming melodies. They have found the formula and they aren’t scared to use it.
I’m not going to run through the album track by track. Suffice to say, there is not a bad track within earshot, but nor are their any good tracks. Every track is exceptional in their own right. Fourteen fully rounded engrossing little tales with playing and melodies other bands would kill for. Asking me to pick a favourite song would be like asking me to pick my favourite child. The more I listen, the more emmeshed I become in their world. Welcome to My World, I am a Big Head. You are a Big Head – We are ALL Big Heads!
I literally witnessed the power of this music as I was listening as I typed this review. The needle hit the groove at the start of Side 2, Oh What a Lovely Day, causing the clouds to part and the sun to shine through the dining room window on to my laptop.
Spread the Joy
While we are still in this phase of social distancing, use Duncan Reid & The Big Heads inherent ability and knack for creating an instantly infectious tune to help spread joy and happiness across the universe. Just pump up the volume and see your neighbours bounce out of their houses exclaiming “Where is that damn music coming from, I need more of that in my life”. Pure Jealousy.
I have been enjoying so many new albums in the last couple of months that narrowing down an albums of the year list will be, in the words of a certain song, a Motherfucker. This one is certainly in the leading pack.
I said I couldn’t choose a favourite. But if there is a better more infectious feel good song than To Live or Live Not released this year I’d be surprised. Watch the freshly released socially distanced, iPhone filmed and lovingly stitched together for your viewing pleasure.
Right, if you haven’t bought the album yet. Do yourself (and your neighbours) a favour and order it. NOW. What are you still reading this for? Go!