“I think that happiness and joy and then pain exist in the same place; they share a side together.”
Think you haven’t heard of A Great Big World? Think again. Or, rather, listen again. You can’t go very far on the dial without catching “Say Something.” Christina Aguilera loved it, so much that she asked the duo—singer/songwriters Ian Axel and Chad King—to perform it with her on The Voice. The guys even won a Grammy! All those accolades, and they’re sure to become a household name.
We were able to get to know the A Great Big World guys a bit as they kicked off their 26-date U.S. tour. Nice guys—and a good listen, encompassing a pop sound that’s more than just pop. Aw, never mind; I’ll let Axel and King tell you about it.
You put a lot of personal triumphs and trials into your latest album. How did the writing of When the Morning Comes differ from that of your debut?
CK: Before I answer, this is Chad speaking. There’s also a lot of noise going on right now.
IA: Which we apologize for.
CK: We are on tour.
IA: It’s very hard to find peace and quiet.
CK: Yeah so, we hope this works. Basically, the first album was a collection of songs we had written and recorded in the course of eight years. And a lot of those songs were written when we didn’t even know who A Great Big World was or what it was. Before Ian and I were in a band together, we had just written these songs. So the second album, it feels a lot more cohesive because we went into it writing for both of us, for both of our voices for this band, and I hope that there is a difference in how we use our voices that you can hear.
IA: We also only had a few months to write the album and a few months to record it. So it was more like the whole album is like a snapshot of where we are right now, and kinda of like what we learned over the past couple of years. The first album was like, different chapters of our lives, in the span of eight years.
The latest album is very optimistic and uplifting, yet listeners so often respond and relate to pain and heartbreak. Indeed, many of the best artists (Brian Wilson, Syd Barrett, Elliott Smith) have been plagued by demons, which comes through in their songs. How can miserable teenagers find companionship and solace in your happy songs?
IA: Well, very good question. You may know the song “Say Something,” and that was very depressing. That was a very depressing song. [Laughs] Actually, most people know that song from us; they don’t realize we write a lot of happy music. I think that happiness and joy and then pain exist in the same place; they share a side together. Even though there are uplifting songs in the album—like, for instance, one of the songs I sing on the albums, “One Step Ahead,” is a happy song. I propose with this song, but also there’s a lot of real, raw, painful things there, because it was a journey of learning to like let go of this fears that I had. I didn’t realize I was fearing this unconditional love and stepping forward into the relationship, and every time I stepped forward it, was one of the best things I’d ever done. So, it’s a happy song, but there was a lot of struggle in that, a lot of tears in writing that song. I think Chad can say the same about “Won’t Stop Running.”
CK: Yeah, totally. “Won’t Stop Running” was my journey with multiple sclerosis; that’s sort of my fight song. Also, something like “Where Does the Time Go” feels very much like a song that pulls at your heart strings, because it’s about this present moment: Why we are all living in the past and in the future, and forgetting about this present moment? I feel like this album is full of hopeful messages, yes, but messages that I hope everyone can learn from and, you know, live by. I’m really proud of everything that’s on this album.
What was your reaction when Christina Aguilera responded so favorably to “Say Something”? What did it mean to you as artists, and to your career?
IA: We’ve always thought she had one of the biggest and best voices in the world, so we were completely stunned. Completely. I can’t even put it into words for you when we found out she wanted to sing that song with us. It came out of nowhere, too. Not a lot of people knew who we were, and here comes Christina, reaching out to us. We were really nervous. We worked with her and she treated us like we were her peers, and that meant the world to us, and kinda lifted our confidence. What did it mean for our career? She shed this light onto that song, the whole world got to hear it; I mean, there’s like pre-Christina and post-Christina in our careers. I think that she is the pivotal moment in our career that, after we performed that song on The Voice, things changed forever, immediately.
To call you a pop band doesn’t do justice to the depth of your lyrics and breadth of your music. What would you say is a better description?
CK: Thanks. I’d like to say we are an emotional, honest, pop band. [Laughs]
IA: Also, we are two male lead singers and you don’t see that a lot.
CK: I’m trying to think of another way to describe us.
IA: I would say harmony-driven, honest, theatrical pop music.
What sets your live show apart?
IA: I would say—we are about to play a show right now. We’re in Boston; we should be excited. I would say that our show is really exciting and high energy, and our band is so freaking good. We are so lucky to have these guys. They’re like our best friends, and some of the best musicians out there, playing on stage with us. It’s just a high-energy, rocking show. It rocks harder than the record.
CK: I was going to say that. Every single member of the band is so crucial to our live show; you can watch any one of them for the entire set and you would enjoy the show. | Laura Hamlett
A Great Big Everything hits 26 cities on their spring tour, including dates in St. Louis and Denver. Tickets and more information available at http://www.agreatbigworld.com/
A Great Big Everything 2016 U.S. Tour Dates
03.01.16 | The Mod Club, Toronto ON
03.02.16 | The Ridgefield Playhouse, Ridgefield CT
03.04.16 | U Street Music Hall, Washington DC
03.05.16 | Waiting Room, Buffalo NY
03.06.16 | Brighton Music Hall, Allston MA
03.08.16 | World Cafe Live, Philadelphia
03.09.16 | Visulite Theatre, Charlotte NC
03.11.16 | Mercy Lounge, Nashville
03.12.16 | The Loft, Atlanta
03.13.16 | The Firebird, St. Louis
03.17.16 | Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix
03.18.16 | Constellation Room, Santa Ana CA
03.19.16 | The Irenic, San Diego
03.20.16 | The Center for the Arts, Grass Valley CA
03.22.16 | Slim’s, San Francisco
03.24.16 | The Rio Theatre, Vancouver BC
03.25.16 | Star Theater, Portland
03.26.16 | The Crocodile Cafe, Seattle
03.28.16 | Complex, Salt Lake City
03.29.16 | Belly Up Aspen, Aspen CO
03.30.16 | Marquis Theater, Denver
04.01.16 | Wooly’s, Des Moines
04.02.16 | Fine Line Music Café, Minneapolis
04.03.16 | Lincoln Hall, Chicago
04.05.16 | Musica, Akron
04.06.16 | Altar Bar, Pittsburgh