Big Black Delta | ELO, Debbie Gibson, and UFOlogy

Big Black Delta’s album relives the perfection of those ’70s ELO albums, offering lush creations that make you want to dance—and, perhaps, fly.

Jonathan Bateman

Big Black Delta came across my desk on a fluke. I tend to get a bunch of emails and forward them on to the musical powers that be. There was something about this that said, “Hey, give it a listen.” Maybe it was all the people that Jonathan Bates (the mastermind behind Big Black Delta) had played with over the years—Brandon Flowers, Brian Wilson, Britt Daniel, Dhani Harrison, Gary Numan—or perhaps it was the fact that his new album Trágame Tierra features collaborators like Debbie Gibson, Kimbra, and the aforementioned Harrison.

When I put the album on, I was immediately transported to a time in my life when music was a vital escape: on my bed, headphones on, transported to some place brilliant and cool. Bowie, Elton John, The Beatles, Queen, and later the growing post punk revolution were all constant companions for me. ELO, especially, was a vast influence when I was a kid; I had Out of the Blue playing nonstop. Big Black Delta’s album relives the perfection of those ’70s ELO albums, offering lush creations that make you want to dance—and, perhaps, fly. Bates took some time out from his U.S. tour to answer a few questions about collaboration, aliens, and, of course, Debbie Gibson.

When putting together Trágame Tierra, did you specifically put together songs for the guests on the album and build them with them in mind, or was it a case of workshopping the idea?

No, it all happened very natural and without much fuss. I had a few songs laying around and I thought it would be fun to get an outside influence on them. Over this period, if I met or thought of someone, I would just simply ask.

Partway through the album, I felt like I was immersed in a particularly good ELO album (a high compliment, as I grew up in the ’70s and had Out of the Blue on heavy rotation). Are they an influence? Other influences?

Jeff Lynne is such as massive influence on me: ELO, the Traveling Willburys, his production work. His chord progressions and vocal production is perfection to me. I thank him on the record, even though we’ve never met.

How did the Debbie Gibson meetup come about?

I had lost my father, and just got back from a tour with Gary Numan. A friend and I were at bar one night talking about how we wanted to move forward living our lives. Should I do music?  Should I go and try something else?  We both felt like we needed change. He then asked me who I would work with if I could work with anyone, and I blurted out, “Debbie Gibson!”—a true stream-of-consciousness response. We kind of left it at that, because, at that moment it seemed like an impossibility. Literally 24 hours later, I get a call from my friend and he’s at a party. He’s standing next to one of Debbie’s oldest friends, and was like, “She’s down! Send her stuff!” I did. I gave her all kinds of weird stuff. We finally decided to work on what was to be “RCVR.” All her vocal takes are her using her iPhone memo app.

What can we expect from the live show?

On this tour, I’m taking my friend Chris Hornbrook on drums and Blas Perez on bass, some of the heaviest shredders I know. Maybe I’ll play some guitar here and there. Maybe a Whitesnake cover.

Talk about the awesome album art.tragame

My old friend Caspar Newbolt does the artwork for Big Black Delta. Over many years, we’ve traded our favorite influences and pieces back and forth. It’s led a shorthand between us. I can speak in abstraction, and he seems to be able to understand me. I’ll see colors and shapes, and he helps translate that to someone else.

You rewrote this album after taking some time to mourn the loss of your dad. was the rewriting therapy in a way, or were you just responding to the fact that the original version was so heavy?

I was, and still am, pretty angry about it. I couldn’t see myself surviving putting out and performing a bunch of songs about him. It would’ve killed me. So I took some time to let the waters subside, and approach with a clearer head. I would like to bring joy to people who like my music. I just don’t want to destroy myself in the process.

Could you expand on the name of the band for me?

Big Black Deltas are the highest-reported type of UFO sightings. I was watching a documentary with Dan Ackroyd where he was talking about them. As soon as he said it, a light bulb went off. I love UFOlogy. I’d like to know how beings who have hundreds, thousands, or even millions of years’ evolution on us behave. Human beings as a species are having a tough time getting past lizard brain mentalities—but I have hope. | Jim Dunn

Big Black Delta Spring 2016 U.S. tour dates

05.01.16 | Fine Line Music Café, Minneapolis
05.03.16 | The Venue, Dubuque IA
05.04.16 | Middle of the Map Festival, Kansas City
05.05.16 | Empty Bottle, Chicago
05.06.16 | UFO Factory, Detroit
05.08.16 | Adelaide Hall (Canadian Music Week), Toronto
05.09.16 | Bar Le Ritz, Montreal
05.10.16 | ArtsRiot, Burlington, VT
05.11.16 | Baby’s All Right, Brooklyn
05.13.16 | Cafe 939, Boston
05.14.16 | The Hollow, Albany NY
05.15.16 | Milkboy, Philadelphia
05.16.16 | Black Cat, Washington DC
05.17.16 | Metro Gallery, Baltimore
05.19.16 | Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver
05.20.16 | Crocodile, Seattle
05.22.16 | Doug Fir Lounge, Portland
05.26.16 | Great American Music Hall, San Francisco
05.27.16 | Constellatino Room, Orange County
05.28.16 | The Regent, Los Angeles
05.29.16 | Casbah, San Diego

 

 

About Jim Dunn 126 Articles
Jim Dunn grew up in NY in the 70s and 80s. Even though that time in music really shapes his appreciation it does not define it. Music, like his beloved history is a long intermingled path that grows, builds and steals from its past. He lives in Colorado with his lovely wife and a wild bunch of animals.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply