Keeping It Real | Big Bad Zero

“That was our way of telling to the record company, well, you made the mistake, because this record is better than the one you got.”

 

It’s the Three Bears syndrome: There’s too much, there’s too little, and then there’s just right. Not that any of them are bad, but everything in its right place, right? Sometimes it’s fun to read I Love You This Much or watch reality TV. Other times, the challenge of A Brief History of Time or The Constant Gardener are worthy endeavors. But when we’re honest with ourselves, when we peel back all the layers and the superficiality, what we gravitate toward the most is the latest book by Nick Hornby or any movie starring John Cusack. Because those we can relate to; those characters speak to us. Those characters are us.

Nick Mattera understands your frustration. He can also relate to your heartbreak, your thrill, your joy, your loss. As the singer/wordsmith behind Las Vegas–based indie gems Big Bad Zero, Mattera’s worked hard to keep it real. Sure, it’s gotten him and his band lumped into the onerous “Adult Alternative” category—but don’t let that stop you from picking up their discs. The music’s well crafted and intelligent, emotive and from the heart. Backed by a trio of skilled musicians—Dave Meeks (guitar), Dan Gauthier (bass), and Rob Whited (drums)—Mattera sings about things we’ve all been through. On Imagination America, the quartet’s latest release, these life trials include following your muse (“Not Done”), the beauty of imperfection (“Imagination America”), the elevation of a new love (“Someone”), coping with death (“Lose Ourselves”), and the freedom of childhood (“Orano”).

“The rest of the guys tell me, ‘Your words are honest,’ says Mattera about his ’mates. “Of all those great bands that have ever come out, I look a lot at U2. Bono’s so uplifting and spiritual about life. People grasp on to that because they can relate to it.” Because, deep down, we all want the same things: love, acceptance, recognition, success. Because, beneath the masks and the facades, we’re all human, and we’re all together in this adventure called life.

In “Not Done,” which jump-starts the new disc with a kick drum and a blast of guitar, Mattera sings, “I’m tired of waiting, slowly fading/but this gift you gave me just won’t ever let me go.” This message bodes well for the ten songs to come: Follow your dream, believe in yourself, embrace that which makes you unique. “Yeah, you get frustrated,” he admits, “but we’ve gotten to the point now where instead of living your whole life wondering, ‘Am I going to get that big record deal and be a superstar?,’ be happy that you’ve got three other guys you play with. It’s something you get to do together that not a lot of people get to do.”

Imagination follows 2003’s Your Beautiful Mistake, the band’s second independent release. Their first disc, self-titled, appeared in 1999 on Eureka Records and was distributed through Universal. “We were just doing it for ourselves,” Mattera explains, “and [producer Mike Sak] turned it on to a guy in L.A. who was the owner of Eureka. Basically, they said, ‘This record’s good enough; let’s just add a few more tracks [and] have it remixed.’ For two and a half years we were with Eureka, touring and on the radio. Went out with some cool bands, did some big shows, and then when that whole merge thing went about with all the big, big record companies, we kind of got lost in the shuffle.”

BBZ didn’t let a little thing like lack of label support discourage them. Rather, they came back better than ever. Mistake was highly evocative, calling to mind real-life experiences, moments captured forever in our subconscious. “That’s why it was titled Your Beautiful Mistake,” confides Mattera. “That was our way of telling to the record company, well, you made the mistake, because this record is better than the one you got.”

The brand-new Imagination raises the BBZ bar even higher. It rocks a little harder, delves a little deeper; soundwise, it’s more polished. “It took over a year to make; we were real picky about everything. Our engineer, Matt Breunig—he’s probably the best guy here in Vegas as far as recording bands—honed his craft a little more, too. He knew how to make us sound bigger and better. But us as players, playing together so long, it was more comfortable in the studio; we were just relaxed.”

After all the buzz bands and the hype and the multi-million dollar promotional campaigns, Big Bad Zero is here to remind you why you fell in love with music in the first place: It’s comfortable, soothing, real; it makes you feel. Asked what sets his band apart from the rest, Mattera isn’t ready with a pat answer. “That’s a hard question. Obviously, it’s just like a painter, anyone who does art—there’s always something a little different about them. I think [it’s] the brotherhood, that we’ve known each other for almost ten years now; it’s almost like a marriage. I also think our music is really honest, positive music.

“Maybe you could answer that,” he offers. “You’re the listener; we’re the creator.”

I try, but I can’t put it any better than Mattera, who finally sums it up: “Let’s put it this way: Our music’s real.”

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