There's recently been a lot of talk about '90s music. A "revival" of sorts is the general consensus. Maybe there is some truth to that, or maybe it's just a slow emergence of new sounds that have a hint of nostalgia to them. But it could also be the difference in how music is distributed these days. Maybe the '90s marked the end of listeners finding a band, mail-ordering a record and then discovering a bunch more groups through the label that released it. Whatever the truth, whatever the formula or opinion, this nostalgic reboot isn't necessarily a terrible thing — especially when young bands deeply rooted in Sonic Youth or the Breeders influence come along.
St. Louis act Little Big Bangs has been developing a sound that echoes — but is certainly not defined by — such '90s forebears. In 2010, multi-instrumentalists Lucy Dougherty, Ryan Macias and Eric Boschen came together from separate projects and created an entirely new monster.
"We all met as friends, and we played music. That creates the foundation for a musical relationship that's a little different," says Dougherty. "We're all independently playing music, and then we come together and play music — bringing our influences and ideas to bounce around."
Drew Gowran joined on drums in 2011, but left earlier this year and has since been replaced with Rip Rap drummer Colin Immenschuh.
"Drew had more of a role in the band in the live performances," says Boschen. "He would come up with some kind of sick beat, and we would build around that."
Songwriting duties fall to everyone, in a process that is fairly democratized. In this way, Little Big Bangs can avoid being pigeonholed into any one specific definition. The resulting music comes across as an egalitarian effort, with its members serving as four equal parts of one machine.
"There are definitely sounds that we always come back to, but none of us are ever like, 'Oh we shouldn't do this song,'" Boschen says. "We would always entertain anyone's idea for a song — slow, fast, loud, quiet, dissonant, harmony, whatever."
"We don't have a cohesive idea of what we're about. It's a collective project, I think," adds Macias.
Little Big Bangs' latest effort, Star Power, was released on October 23, and it is a testament to the band's influences and democratic writing process. The group previously recorded at Jason Hutto's Smokin' Baby Studios, but Hutto moved from St. Louis to Texas late last year. The band had to find another local studio to measure up, and landed at Firebrand Recording Studio with Brian Schaeffer.
"It was a good fit for us," Dougherty says. "Firebrand was a really fun space. It had a pro feel with lots of things at our disposal, but it didn't have a vibe like that — it didn't feel sterile to me."
With plenty of room to stretch, the band's members were able to introduce new elements. Among other things, they had the opportunity to throw some piano work into the mix, as well as a spoken-word bit from local poet Sean Arnold. They were able to get pretty spontaneously creative, too.
"We did some improv thing where [Macias] rigged up a bunch of pedals and ran them through a sequencer," says Boschen. "It just came out randomly, and then I played guitar to it. We used that in a couple of different places in the album — weird, chance little bits that somehow make the songs connect."
That cohesive feeling is a common theme on the album.
"Something I really like is that we took one of the first songs we wrote as a band and revisited it," says Macias. "There's a melody in there that's used at three different times in the record that comes directly from that."
Lyrically speaking, the material carefully balances personal and political subject matter.
"One of the songs is about my daughter," Macias explains. "She was looking at something on the ground, like paint splatter or something, and she was like, 'Oh, this looks like a star that popped.' She called them pop stars. That stuck with me. Saying something that was really naive but turns out to be really awesome too."
Star Power was tracked in two days' time in June 2014, two months before Ferguson broke open the area's trouble with racial tension and police brutality on a world stage. Yet the material laid out on the record — songs such as "Situation", "Kennel" and "Officer" — have a prophetic presence. The album serves as more proof that there was a pre-existing group of people ready for change.
"Some of the songs talking about social-revolt situations, we wrote it all before Ferguson happened," Macias says. "I mean, it's stuff that we all talk about anyway, but it was really weird."
Suddenly the revolutionary ideas the band was writing about were pumping through the veins of the city. This only added fuel to the fire behind completing the album.
"There was this phenomenon of things breaking into a collective consciousness," says Dougherty. "You could see it everywhere."
Star Power stands sturdily on two legs, singing — and sometimes shouting — what it feels like to be moved by the people and the situations surrounding you.
"When I listen to [the album] it's like a totally captured moment, like a photo," Dougherty says. "It's something like, 'Oh, there it is! Oh, there it goes!'"