The story of Big Scary begins in 2006, when Melbourne duo Tom Iansek and Jo Syme, armed with just acoustic guitars and egg shakers, started playing songs together in the living room of Syme’s parents’ house. After a bit of a break, the two reconvened in 2008, this time with more instruments—electric guitars, drums, piano, mandolins and ukuleles—and a bolder, more expansive vision. What began as a few rainy day acoustic ballads in their first incarnation soon grew into an all-encompassing, genre-defying sound. Before long, the newly named Big Scary were writing anything they pleased—fuzzed-out garage rock; piano-led pop; intricate, pastoral instrumentals—each imbued with an effortless pop sensibility and lightness of touch that would quickly see the duo attract a strong following.
These gifts translated onto the stage where, from the outset, Big Scary proved themselves a remarkably fluid and compelling live act, capable of not only bringing their songs to life, but also of adapting their set to suit the moment.
In late 2008, the band headed into the studio for the first time, laying down six live tracks in a single day. Another quick-fire recording session soon after resulted in a four-track mini-EP, led by the towering single ‘This Weight’. Featuring Iansek’s huge distorted guitar and high-wire vocals backed by Syme’s thumping drums, ‘This Weight’ quickly caught the ears of the press, who hailed this ‘talented and fearless’ new duo.
Inspired by a wave of severe weather that hit the country, Big Scary went on to release the six-track ‘At The Mercy of The Elements’ ep. Ranging from rousing, piano-led ballads (‘Falling Away’), to thumping, distorted numbers (‘Hey Somebody’) and intricate, sonorous instrumentals (‘At The Mercy of the Elements’), the ep was a full-to-bursting showcase of the duo’s vital, dexterous sound. ‘Thoroughly excellent,’ raved The Australian. ‘Packed with anxiety and bravado,’ Beat said.
With a growing national profile, Big Scary embarked on a period of heavy touring, with a diverse list of supports that reflected the duo’s eclectic output: Florence and the Machine, Midlake, Editors. Soon enough the duo began headlining their own shows, first in their hometown of Melbourne and then all over the country.
Big Scary remain endlessly fascinated by the natural world. In 2010, the duo released four seasonally themed, limited-edition eps, which were eventually collected as The Big Scary Four Seasons. A rich, thrillingly diverse set of songs, The Four Seasons showcased Iansek and Syme’s uncanny ability to translate the vagaries and glories of the elements into utterly compelling music.
‘Four Seasons proves to be the defining turning point for Big Scary, for they are no longer the next best thing in Australian music, they are the best thing,’ Beat Magazine said of the lp, while the AU Review hailed ‘the versatility and obscene… talent of the players.’
A national tour followed, with the duo playing to packed houses all over the country. Several months later, as they began to ready their new album, ‘Autumn’, one of the standout tracks from the Four Seasons, was placed in a high-profile AT&T ad in the US, introducing the band to American audiences for the first time.
The vision for their hugely awaited debut lp, Vacation, came together on a small island farm, where Iansek and Syme holed up for several weeks after a run of successful summer festival shows, writing and demoing songs. Instead of painting themselves into a corner, on Vacation, Big Scary celebrated the diversity of their songwriting. ‘We write songs with completely different feels and vibes,’ Iansek says. ‘In the studio, we thought that we should try not suppress this too much, and just roll with it.’
By their own admission, the two worked ‘a lot harder’ in putting together the new album material than they had before, re-writing parts and lyrics until they were satisfied, and, in the studio, carefully considering and experimenting with each sound. Layers were added to some songs, while parts were culled from others, as Iansek and Syme sought to make each track ‘as strong as it could possibly be.’
The effort was well worth it: Vacation was released in October 2011 to widespread critical acclaim, with J Mag writing that the lp ‘validates Big Scary as one of Australia’s best new bands,’ and Dom Alessio that it ‘beautifully embodies the “less is more” philosophy of Big Scary’s fantastic, minimalist pop music.’ We Are Hunted, meanwhile, wrote that Vacation confirmed Big Scary as ‘one of the best Australian bands out there’; the Herald Sun deemed the lp ‘mighty.’ Triple J Music Director Richard Kingsmill put it in his top ten albums of the year of 2011.
The band was feted widely in the awards season, picking up an Album of the Year nomination in the Triple J awards, and nominations for breakthrough artist in both the Australian Independent Record Association and The Age EG awards.
Beyond Australian shores, Big Scary’s profile continues to grow, with the duo’s music featuring heavily in the most recent season of hit US TV show Grey’s Anatomy, and the band recently joining up with The Windish Agency for bookings in North and South America and Asia.
2012 promises to be an even bigger year for Big Scary, both in Australia and beyond. The prolific duo continue to write new music — it’s impossible for them not to –– and to play on bigger stages around the country. And with Vacation due for a worldwide release in the new year, and a trip to SXSW and CMW planned for March, the rest of the world is about to get a much bigger taste of one of Australia’s brightest young bands.