BIGELF’S DAMON FOX TALKS ROCK AND ROLL HISTORY IN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
Full confession: I missed my pre-show interview slot with Bigelf’s eccentric frontman Damon Fox because I fucked up with directions on the subway. I’ve lived in this city for 22 of my 27 years on this planet and it still happens from time to time… oops. Doesn’t help that the Beacon Theater, the host of this year’s Progressive Nation tour (Dream Theater, Zappa Plays Zappa and Scale the Summit in addition to the aforementioned), is in butt-fuck nowhere compared to our usual stomping grounds.
But it ended up for the better — missing the pre-show slot allowed me to see the phenomenally talented Scale the Summit, and seeing Bigelf for the first time immediately thereafter gave me a lot more material for my interview. After waiting patiently post-show whilst Fox signed autographs at the band’s merch booth for half a fucking hour, I was finally able to snag him for an interview. Fox is a smart guy who has a lot of strong, well-thought out opinions about metal, music, genre-labeling and the industry in general. We also chatted a bit about the band’s history and their recent surge in popularity.
Our interview started as many do with subjects who aren’t familiar with our website. “So, why DOES metal suck?” jabbed Fox, who clearly “gets it.”
Well, that’s a good question. I don’t know, you tell me.
I don’t know why metal sucks. I think music sucks today because people aren’t feeling it anymore. The audience is kind of a good gauge of what’s going on with music. It seems like the audience and music listening fans seem to be hungry for something real and true. Metal has always been a good undercurrent genre though. Metal has been broken up into so many different sub-genres.
I don’t know how metal sucks. I wish it were the birth of metal. I don’t know if you could actually consider Bigelf metal.
Right. You guys are kind of on the border of where some metal fans would be into you guys.
Yeah, they might not feel The Beatles [influence in our music].
Yeah. [Laughter] Yet here you are on tour with Dream Theater, who some people probably wouldn’t consider metal.
I think Dream Theater is really power metal with really heavy progressive tendencies. Amazing riffs that are very progressive, but it’s definitely metal.
How’s the tour going? Are the Dream Theater audiences digging you guys?
Amazing. I think we’re doing a good ratio. There’s a big ratio going, and I think a large amount of people are digging it. Not everybody is going to dig it. Something as “out there” as Bigelf on the lunatic fringe, I don’t know if everybody is going to dig it, but people have been really receptive. Standing ovations don’t suck.
It’s really amazing. It’s great to be able to play in front of a bigger audience. Our sound is more of an arena vibe. It’s a bigger, 70s sound, so us in a club is a little overkill. It’s a lot to take in. It’s aggressive and an intense type of live sound.
I’m actually kind of glad that I missed the early interview slot because now I have more material since I saw you guys. You said on stage tonight that you love Mike Portnoy. Do you want to describe a little bit more how the whole thing came about with him?
Yeah. Mike had gotten turned onto us by a mutual friend (that was a CD that I had originally given to somebody, and he passed it along to him). I think people should always give their CDs out. I don’t even know if CDs will exist in 5 years, but give your music out is the lesson here. He was really into the music and made a blog about it. I contacted him and said thanks and invited him to a show here in New York. We just sort of hit it off as music lovers and prog nerds, music geeks if you will. He invited us to do the European leg of the tour, and we of course were overjoyed and thrilled and ecstatic.
The first 2 bands on the U.S. leg had to drop out because they were having financial problems, so he offered us that as well. When I say I love Mike Portnoy, I mean that I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be playing in front of his fans which are very intelligent, open-minded prog rock fans. It’s a good way to get our music to more people.
That’s what music is ultimately about: to get to a wider audience. That’s what musicians are trying to do always. You don’t want to sit in your garage your whole life. You can’t survive. You certainly can’t sustain any kind of financial stability, so you got to get out there and get it done. The music business is changing. It’s a turbulent environment right now, so it’s great to be able to be out there with such appreciative fans. That’s the other thing, they’re really hungry for new stuff. We’re prepared to bring it.
Nice. Is he coming out and doing a song with you guys every night?
No, that [the band’s performance earlier that night] was the first time.
Oh that’s awesome. Did you know that was happening?
Yeah, I said, “we got to jam sometime on this tour,” and he said “how about New York?” I said, “okay, we got to do a little jam or something at sound check”. We were playing today, and we haven’t been sound checking that much, and we were playing and doing a song that we haven’t been doing to re-rehearse it and put it in the set. When we were done, someone said “you want to play with Mike?” I said “absolutely”. “Oh he was just on the side”. “Well that does us no good”.
He watches it one time . . .
He wanted to watch it because it’s a song that we never do, so he wanted to check that song out. He came out, and it was great. It was “Blackball,” easy. But it was a good time.
Awesome. The fans seemed to dig it.
Yeah it’s a nice little treat for them. It was kind of a little teaser.
Yeah. So you guys have toured a bit in Europe, but not as much here.
Not as much on the East Coast. Bigelf goes back awhile, so we’ve done a ton of stuff in the Pacific Northwest and a lot of West Coast states.
Headline stuff? Support stuff?
Yeah some headline stuff, some support stuff. In the 90s we used to open for The Dandy Warhols, The Mother Hips, Fu Manchu, and all kinds of stuff on the West Coast. East Coast stuff was tough because we hadn’t been popular here. In ’99 when the Money Machine album came out, we went to Scandinavia to support 2 albums that had been licensed there. That’s really when things just changed for us because there was this cult following for us over there. Everybody was understanding the music. So I figured let’s go there [permanently], and it was well worth it. The line-up was changing, and at that time that’s how we got the 2 Finnish members. We were living over there for awhile. We were based in Scandinavia for 5 years. We are half Scandinavian because the bass player and guitar player are from Finland. We’re half European as a band, like Hanoi Rocks or something. We’re doing a lot of touring in Europe. We’re so looking forward to it. The funny thing is we haven’t been back since 2004. We were over there with a constant nonstop barrage of Northern Europe, and nothing in the States. Then we zipped and closed that up.
It’s cool for you guys to be able to come over here and do this.
This is something everybody wants to do: tour bus, great venues, historical venues, sheds, arenas. It’s mind blowing. We’ve been knocking it out in clubs and small theaters for 15 years. It’s nice.
How do you find the fire to keep going after all that time slogging it out?
Well, there have been some lows, and you just somehow get by. You do it ultimately for the love of music. There has been a fan letter here or there that has gotten me totally pumped because you realize that’s not the only person out there who feels that about the band’s music. When you don’t have your music released, and you’re wandering trying to figure out how to get your music out there, it can be a tough time. Usually, that’s when bands break up. The energy inside Bigelf is strong. We lasted through some of the rough water, and we made it to here.
That’s great man. Congratulations.
Thanks to Dream Theater. It’s been mind altering.
So after this tour… your album has been out for about a year.
About a year now.
Are you guys starting to think about the next record already or more touring?
After this U.S. tour, we’re going on the European tour [of Progressive Nation]. After the European tour, we’re probably looking for a few other things. I don’t know the exact plans in the late winter and the early part of next year, but I would say more touring.
It seems like with exposure like this… I just saw you signing autographs for half an hour. Is it like that in every city?
Pretty much every city.
That’s awesome. Are they people just seeing you for the first time?
A little bit; every night there’s a little bit of everything. Tonight I saw 2 people that had been to 6 shows. One of the guys was there just to see Bigelf. Some of them just heard about us tonight for the first time. Virgins, if you will. It’s amazing. Last night in Brookhaven was crazy. It was mayhem. There were like 80 people. It’s a lot to take in. I’ll sign every single autograph even if it takes all night because that’s what it’s about. It’s about the fans digging music and vibing out with good energy. Rock and roll is kind of limping. I don’t even know if people actually call it rock and roll anymore, and that’s part of the “metal sucks” thing, was for me Bigelf is like an old school rock and roll band. Is it psychedelic? Yes. Is it glam? Yes. Is it progressive? Definitely. It’s a bunch of things. That’s what rock and roll used to be: multifaceted.
Are there other contemporary bands that you see that spirit in?
Not a whole lot. There is stuff that I like. I’m a whole package kind of guy. Music is so wide these days. There are so many networks where you can find music. There are so many bands. There are so many teenagers who are starting bands. Music is probably the biggest it’s ever been.
I agree, definitely.
Guitar Hero and Rock Band are churning out bands and musicians as we speak right now which is good because a lot of young kids are getting turned onto Blue Oyster Cult, Sabbath, and Deep Purple, which is a great thing because those are bands that shouldn’t be forgotten. There’s not much out there that I really dig on because I like the whole thing. I like a band that looks like a band. So that’s kind of something that’s gone.
You guys definitely take care of that.
As a rock and roll band. Who cares? That’s our trip. I’m not saying that everyone has to be that way. Everyone doesn’t have to be that way, they’re just going to do their own thing. There are so many sub-genres in music anyway. There are like 50,000,000 sub-genres. It’s almost ridiculous.
People get so caught up in definitions of them.
Yeah, and that’s my problem. I don’t care or mind to be categorized at all, but I think people would enjoy music more if they just had a more open mind to things.
Sometimes we talk to bands, and they say “in Europe it’s less so that way than in America”.
Yeah, I think so. People in Europe have less of a need to pigeonhole. They just enjoy rock and roll as a whole. Well, certainly that rock and roll vibe is still alive in Europe, and it always has been. We went over there 10 years ago, and it was kicking. That’s why we were over there. Today everyone seems to be getting back into the vintage vibe. Everyone was rediscovering Queen. You hear kids going, “oh, I really like Hendrix”. Everything is getting old school again. You can go to K-mart and Target and buy vintage AC/DC shirts. Everything vintage is cool which is good for us because I’ve been living like this for 15 years. It works as far as an angle for people to accept Bigelf instead of this gigantic pill that nobody wanted to swallow 10 years ago. There are a lot of cool bands out there. I can’t think of any right now…
There’s a lot of stuff that’s good like Mars Volta. They’re doing alright. Some friends of mine in L.A. called Louis XIV. There’s a lot of cool shit like that, that I think, “wow this is great, good stuff”. We’re just interested in doing our thing, and Mike is letting us just be us which is great. There’s a lot of talk on this tour about progressive. That’s another thing about the whole pigeonhole: is Bigelf progressive? I’m saying “who cares?” It is progressive from a certain point of view. If you look at Marillion, Rush and heavy duty power prog rock stuff, it isn’t because we don’t have 10,000 notes. It’s not neo prog. If you study the origins of prog rock: Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, and King Crimson then Bigelf definitely is. It just depends on what your point of view is. Some people don’t listen to early King Crimson. They don’t even know what it is. In some ways, King Crimson is proto prog metal. King Crimson’s Red almost invented prog metal. It’s so subjective. I talk about it every night. Who fucking cares? As long as it’s good, right? As long as the music is good, that’s all that matters.