| Big Light: Shifting SoundsSan Francisco’s Big Light creates swirling songs that combine indie, jam, experimental, and psychedelic music. They are one of the best new bands I’ve heard in a long time. Their latest release is their self-titled EP. Fred Torphy, singer-songwriter and guitarist, wrote in to discuss San Francisco as an influence, sinking stages, and improvising with scrap metal.
How did Big Light come together?
Big Light has always been me and my friends. It evolved out of friendships and a shared interest in making music. The personnel in the band has evolved pretty consistently over the course of the last 2 years, but we’re at a comfortable, stable place right now. We’re really excited about the present lineup.
Do you remember the first song you wrote?
Not exactly, but I started writing tunes with my friend Jamie Fordyce at a very early age in Little Compton, Rhode Island- where we both grew up. Mostly instrumental stuff. We have recordings that date back to 1989. I should give those a listen someday. Jamie and I moved out here together in 2005, and he founded Big Light with me. He’s all over the EP, and he actually wrote my favorite song on it- The Annuals. We’re very close. He had to leave the band last summer as our touring schedule started to get busy. He has an amazing job that he’s really committed to, and we fully supported his decision to leave the band. In a way he’s still part of the organization. We ask his advice on everything, and I hope to include him on our next record in some way. He’s an amazing musician, and he’s definitely part of what makes us who we are, regardless of wether he’s on stage or not.
What do you enjoy most about the San Francisco music scene?
I like the community element. Everyone helps each other out in the circles we operate in. Everyone seems to have very realistic, simple goals. We’re all working together and everyone is egging each other on. I don’t think we would ever be a band without San Francisco. We’ll stay here. You won’t see us moving to LA or New York.
How has San Francisco influenced your sound?
In a few ways. The landscape of the city is an amazing source of inspiration. there’s always so much going on around you. The politics of this city is enough to think about on it’s own. Lots of crazy shit happens in San Francisco. There’s always a street party or free concert happening. Always an event to go to. On the flip side, the city is surrounded by some of the coolest places in the world. The North Bay has Redwood forests and amazing beaches. You can loose yourself up there and forget about city life entirely. I drive up or down Highway 1 any chance I get. That road has a cool history. When I drive down to Big Sur form San Francisco, I’m floating. It’s hard to describe, but when you see that much of the Pacific Ocean for so many hours, you start to feel pretty small. But small in a good way- pleasantly humbled.
The other influence that SF carries with it is the interaction that we have with amazing bands like The Mother Hips, Nicki Bluhm, the ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra) guys. They have all influenced us in some way, and it’s a pleasure to be playing with them.
You’ve toured a lot with Nathan Moore (Suprise Me, Mr. Davis). He has written a ton of songs. Do you have a favorite song of his?
That’s a really hard question. I love all of Nathan’s songs, because they are all really good. He has a great new song called ‘Tombstone’ that really gets me. From his older material, I will always love all the songs from “Sad Songs Make Me Happy’.” That album helped me get through a serious rough-patch at one point. His music runs the gamut, emotions-wise. Depending on how you are feeling, you can channel it through Nathan’s songs, if you know them well enough.
What has been your craziest gig?
It was over Memorial Day weekend this year at the Desert Rocks Music Festival in Moab, Utah. There was a a crazy storm that created a flash-flood, and the stage sank underwater for a stretch. We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to play, right up until the minute we went on. Even then we were staring down lightning that wasn’t more than a mile away from the us. It made for a very interesting weekend. It was all about triumph over adversity, and it made us feel alive.
What is the story behind the name Big Light?
Before our first show, when we were searching for a name, I saw a big light on the highway, driving home form a rehearsal with our drummer and I said “Big Light.” Pretty lame, but that’s how it happened.
What was the first song written for your self-titled EP?
What inspired “Heavy?”
Your music makes great use of space, texture, and atmosphere. Have many of your songs evolved out of live performance?
I think they’ve gotten much better. I’ve worked a lot on my voice, and I’m feeling a lot better about it these days. The main thing is when you play them live, you try to let them breathe a little deeper.
How much does improvisation factor into your studio work?
It all depends on how much time you have to burn in the studio. We tend to keep things pretty focused out of necessity. If we had the cash, we’d spend a lot more time in the studio jamming and trying different things. We tend to go in with a pretty solid idea of what we want to accomplish. The song usually there, or at least a foundation of it is. If there’s any improvising, it usually happens when we start overdubbing things. Once the foundation is laid, it’s cool to try different things. We might overdub a percussion part on a song with a piece a scrap metal we found in the junk yard next to the studio that morning. To me, that’s improvising.
How does your songwriting process work?
I usually have several pieces of composed music ready to go. No lyrics yet, just a chord progression, maybe a melody. I usually wait to be struck by an idea.. something might hot me, then I take the idea to the music and start writing the song.
Your lyrics seem very stream-of-conscious. What helps to motivate your writing?
For me, it’s all about having life experiences. I need to be out there living a bit on the edge to come up with any good ideas. I meet a lot of characters, and they find their way into my songs. I think traveling is a really important source of inspiration for me.
What are your future plans for Big Light?
We’re working on a full-length record with Tim Bluhm, who plays in The Mother Hips. We also just cut a 7 inch single with Nathan Moore called “One Beautiful Girl” under the name ‘The Dun Four.’ Reapandsow is going to help us release it this summer. We have a residency in San Francisco in June at a club called the Make-Out Room. Also, we play the Outside Lands Music Festival in Golden Gate Park over the last weekend in August.
For more info on Big Light, check out www.myspace.com/biglightband