"We finish each other’s sentences, but we fight a lot too, we're like an old married couple…" – hmv.com talks to A Great Big World
It's pretty unlikely anyone had heard of A Great Big World six weeks ago, but thanks to 'Say Something', their duet with Christina Aguilera, which has sold over 2.5 million copies and been watched on YouTube over 43 million times, they probably have now.
Ahead of the release of their debut album Is There Anybody Out There?, we chatted to Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino, a.k.a A Great Big World, about working with Christina Aguilera, the making of their debut album and their plans for a Broadway musical.
Your track 'Say Something' has become a big hit, why do you think it's resonated with people?
Ian: "It's a sad, heavy song, it's a really stripped back song. It's not like what we normally do, most of our music is upbeat and Chad sings on it too, but this track has really gotten a life of its own."
What was Christina Aguilera like to work with?
Ian: "She was a total dream to work with, really great, we actually couldn’t believe we got her on the song, she was perfect for it."
The album's due out here on March 3rd, when did you finish working on it?
Ian: "In August, around that time. But we found out that we could get Christina to work on 'Say Something' in September/October time, so we went back and remastered that track, that was the last thing we did for the record."
Where did you record the album?
Chad: "In Brooklyn at our producer Dan Romer's place mostly."
Ian: "It was kind of scattered and all over the place, we did 'This Is The New Year' and 'Say Something' in Los Angeles, some in New York. It was written and recorded over an eight-year period if you take it right back."
What's the oldest song on the album?
Chad: "'Already Home', we wrote that eight years ago, which is weird, because it still feels totally relevant now, we're always away, we're never home, which is what the song is really about."
Are there any really recent ones?
Chad: "There's a heartbreaker on there that's quite recent. Ian's heartbreak song is there on 'Say Something', but then I got my dose of heartbreak and out of that came 'I Don't Wanna Love Somebody Else'."
Can you see how your writing has evolved over the last eight years?
Ian: "Totally. If we try and tackle an old song now, we'll want to re-record it and rework it totally, we struggle to finish things. The way we've learned to let go is to think of our songs as bookmarks, they represent a particular time in our life."
Chad: "Our relationship has evolved too, we're so much closer now, we finish each other sentences, but we fight a lot too, we're like an old married couple."
Ian: "If you heard one of our writing sessions, you'd hear all that, it's like we speak another language, one only we both know."
You worked with Dan Romer on the album, what was he like to work with?
Ian: "Dan is total genius. He's the type of producer who'll try anything, he's a beautiful string arranger and he did the whole record. You know the film Beasts Of The Southern Wild, he did the score for that, he's so talented."
Chad: "He did a great job of getting the best out of us, making our songs really sing and come to life. We didn't want it to be over-produced and he struck the perfect balance."
So what does the rest of the year look like for you guys?
Ian: "A lot of touring, lots of shows, we're hopefully going to get to go everywhere with the record, which we're really excited about. We're also working on a Broadway musical, when we have time..."
Tell us about the musical, what's it about?
Ian: "Before we formed the band we started writing it, whenever we're at home we work on it. I wish I could tell you a lot, but it's going to be announced soon. It's a heartfelt comedy."
Chad: "It's an original story, nothing that's already out there."
Ian: "When we were approached by the producers they already had a book writer, it's his story."
Chad: "It's basically our music on steroids."
Have musicals been a big influence on you guys generally?
Chad: "Not so much Broadway, but Disney musicals, they've been huge."
Ian: "Also Danny Elfman, he's my hero, I love him so much."
With that in mind, did you ever consider making the album a complete story? A concept?
Chad: "This is more a collection of songs, all the songs are their own little worlds."
Ian: "We do tend to write in themes, maybe on the next album we'll have something more unified, but the songs work really well together on this record, these songs are a story though, they're the story of our lives."
'Say Something' came to prominence after being featured on Glee, were you hesitant at all about giving them the track?
Ian: "No! That was one of our dreams. When we wrote it, we said to ourselves 'If we ever get on this show, we'll know we've made it', but actually it was the opposite, we got on the show before anything. We were unsigned and just getting started. In the end, it was just the biggest compliment and we threw the biggest party."
How did it get on the show?
Ian: "We were working with Universal publishing and someone there sent it to PJ Bloom who's the Glee music supervisor, he sent it to Ryan Murphy (Glee showrunner and creator), who already knew the song and they were recording the New Year's episode that week. It was luck and good timing. A crazy series of events."
It totally fits in with your backgrounds too…
Ian: "It mixes the theatrical and pop worlds really well. It's the world we come from, we'd love to do more in that vein, I'd love to a Pixar musical, or something more like The Nightmare Before Christmas. That'd be a total dream."
Finally, what was your favourite record of last year? What really inspired you?
Chad: "I think the Macklemore record did something special. I think he comes from the same place we were in that he speaks the truth and comes from a really honest place."
Ian: "We're really into what he's doing, we love the message he brings."
A Great Big World's debut album Is There Anybody Out There? is released on March 3rd. You can check out both 'Say Something' and their recent single 'This Is The New Year' in our download store now.