A lot has changed for Big Deal since the release of their critically acclaimed debut album Lights Out back in September 2011. Comprised of California-born Kacey Underwood and London’s Alice Costelloe, Big Deal’s bedroom-composed songs struck a pure and resonant chord with music fans and critics all over the world.
Built on the duo’s gilded melodies and just two guitars, it was this sparse set up which allowed their intensely honest and at times, shockingly intimate lyrics to take centre stage. Anyone who’s felt the sting of love unrequited, or the poignant pull of experiences savoured and lost; anyone who’s ever been consumed with feelings for another, can’t help but be moved by their music.
Meanwhile Big Deal’s live shows were unmissable affairs – the pair’s palpable chemistry inspiring audiences to lean in just that little bit closer. Were they sharing a secret? Or were you eavesdropping on a shared moment? Whatever the case, they cast a unique spell on those who discovered them.
“I’m really proud of the first record,” says Underwood. “It was so minimal and it captured exactly what we sounded like at the time: it completely encapsulated the moment.”
But as word spread, so they began to leave behind smaller venues—whose size suited the close nature of their songs—moving onto larger stages in the UK, Europe and America. With both Underwood and Costelloe coming from rock backgrounds, the more they toured, the more they began to miss the potency and live punch of playing with full band.
“With Lights Out, Kacey and I hadn’t really meant to write an album,” explains 20-year-old Costelloe. “We spent the summer we became friends writing together non-stop and it was super easy to record just the two of us with only our guitars. But when we toured it, we started to get a bit jealous of all the other bands with drums.”
Fast-forward to Spring 2012 and Big Deal suddenly found they had the luxury of time – their schedules not dictated to by Costelloe’s A-level exams or Kacey’s work. Costelloe elaborates: “This time around we wrote for the best part of a year and had time to really think about the record we wanted to make. We didn’t want to be limited to just two guitars, we wanted to embrace a wider variety of sounds and emotions.”
Thus, post-SXSW, Big Deal travelled to southern California where their second album, June Gloom, began to take shape. Appropriately for the transatlantic twosome, the lion’s share of the writing was split between California and London, the environment bleeding into their compositions.
The carefree, sunshine pop of ‘in your car’ for instance, evokes endless summer days and sure enough, it all began with Costelloe humming the melody while they cruised down the California coastline.
“That fun, road trip kind of a song doesn’t happen a lot with English rock bands because it’s just not in the culture,” explains Underwood. By contrast, glowering grooves and creeping claustrophobia pervades ‘pillow’, a song written in the UK.
However, both places offered too many diversions: California with the lure of the sun and sea, and London with the constant clamour of city life. Craving isolation they retreated to the countryside. “It was perfect,” says Underwood. “The positive sides: no distractions at all, and then the negative side, the terror of quiet country life!”
With the help of producer Rory Atwell and the addition of an airtight rhythm section, Big Deal set about capturing June Gloom at Lightship95, a converted lighthouse vessel moored at east London’s Trinity Buoy Wharf.
Recorded in two weeks in the windowless bowels of the ship’s hull, Atwell’s ironclad work ethic and guitar pedal nerd knowledge brought out the best in the band, even if it took some time to find their sea legs, combatting the tidal shifts of the Thames.
June Gloom not only marks a sonic step forward, but lyrically, the duo broaden the themes of their previous work. Where Lights Out mapped out an internal world, here Big Deal continue to anchor their songs with emotion while looking outwards too. There’s a sense of expectation versus reality in the happy-sad swing of ‘catch up’, while the blissed out ‘dream machines’—one of the album’s standout tracks—was inspired by a recurring dream.
“I kept dreaming I was going back to school every year because I kept failing these tests and I was the age I am now and everyone else was 16,” recalls Underwood. “Then I had this moment of, ‘This is stupid, why am I here? Let’s go and ditch school and smoke pot and play pool and hang out!’ None of the things I actually ever got to do. Then I was thinking that’s kind of like what we’re doing with our lives now! It’s your typical rock dream stuff, not wanting to have a 9-5 job, but at the same time missing what that life gives you.”
The band’s boldest stroke is also the album’s finale. ‘close your eyes’ weds the pared back yet up front aesthetic of Lights Out to the distorted fuzz and commanding drums their new configuration allows. At its core June Gloom is a rock record that represents all aspects of the duo – their ability to communicate volumes in the almost stillness of their most spare compositions, plus tunes which soar thanks to Big Deal’s honeyed melodies set to slacker anthems.
“Sometimes it’s great being that exposed and you feel a real connection with the audience, sometimes it’s torture,” says Underwood. “But before it was like going into a fight on our own and now we’ve got a gang.”
“And swords,” says Costelloe with a wry smile.
From the Joiners website.