Tom Iansek and Jo Syme are the Melbourne duo Big Scary. Billabout has been groupies of the band ever since we first heard their beautiful and haunting sound at the SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas. We cornered them backstage at their Aussie BBQ show in Brooklyn, and then stalked Tom on Skype to talk tunes, travel and day jobs. Their first album Vacation drops here in October with US tour dates to follow. Billy will be there.
How did you and Jo meet?
Through a friend six years ago and we started jamming. Originally, the plan was to get other members, a bass player and a guitarist, but we didn’t get around to it and sounded pretty good as it was. We called it Big Scary three years ago.
Where did the name come from?
I love thinking of band names– I keep lists and Big Scary was the best of the bunch. I’ve got some ripper names on my list; I could set up a a food truck but for band names to start selling them, two for five bucks..
What is the songwrirting process for you guys?
We’ll flesh out an idea and go off and write some lyrics and then we’ll come back to it and turn it into a finished song. They tend to come together pretty quickly like that and I guess that’s the beauty of having two people, there’s only two parts. We set aside writing weeks and have the piano and the guitars al set up and it happens.
How did you get into music?
I started singing and learning the guitar in my final year of high school. I’m amazed that I’m still singing considering I used to get so much crap from my siblings. They just thought it was just the worst thing they’d ever heard.
You guys are starting to make quite a name for yourselves in Australia?
Our Australian tour was probably the best tour we’ve ever done. We played everywhere except Tassie; poor Tassie got stabbed. We got over to Perth and up to Darwin and had lots of sell-out crowds.
Tell us about your trip to the US in March?
It was pretty crazy, we were zonked a lot of the time, but looking back it was incredible. We had such an amazing time, played cool shows and met some amazing people. There’s so much going on. But music is just such a big business in the States and it’s no easy feat to break into. You need a couple of albums to break a band and you have to be in it for the long haul.
How was SXSW?
We threw ourselves into it and I’ve never played that many shows over that short a time period. We were excited to be somewhere new and there was free beer everywhere. We kind of ran ourselves into the ground; I got sick and I couldn’t sing after a few days.
Which part of the US did you like the most?
We had such a short time in New York, but it blew us away. It’s the ultimate city in a lot of ways. There’s just so much happening. We walked around a lot and did a photo shoot on the Brooklyn Bridge, in Little Italy and Chinatown. We love our food and we didn’t eat a bad meal. It was awesome.
Some New York food faves?
The Meatball Shop in the Lower East Side.
What do you do when you’re not touring or writing music?
We have day jobs. Joey works in a cafe and I do this thing called ‘Knowledge Working’, essentially it’s running corporate workshops in Melbourne. We still need the work over here because we can’t quite survive just off music…yet.
Tell us about the Melbourne music scene?
It’s amazing. It’s a great place for music because there are really small venues that are happy to put bands on. A lot of bands move to Melbourne to get started. There’s a great band called Kins they’ve moved to Brighton in the UK. The Eagle and the Wind are also great.
Can you give us some Melbourne food and drinking tips?
Melbourne’s a wannabe New York really. It’s cool, it’s just a bit small, but there’s lots of cool places. Like The Toff in the city or if you want grungier places there are small bars north of the city, plus the Worker’s Club in Fitzroy. There’s a great Vietnamese strip on Victoria Street in Richmond that is awesome, everyone’s been going nuts for their rice noodle soup. We’ve been having lots of it because it’s cheap and is the best hangover cure.
Interview by Pete Maiden