Big Scary is an alternative pop duo hailing from Melbourne. This Australian pair has now ventured stateside to make more music and tour. The 2-piece band is composed of Tom Iansek on guitar, vocals and piano and Joanna Syme on drums and backing vocals. Recently, AMG got a chance to chat with Joanna about the band’s origins, her musical upbringing and Big Scary’s record label. Read on to gain insight into the world of Joanna Syme of Big Scary. And make sure you mark your calendars for Friday, June 13th so you can check out Big Scary LIVE at Eddie’s Attic.
AMG: How did you and Tom (Iansek) meet? How was Big Scary formed from there?
Joanna Syme: Tom had just written some songs and wanted to start a band for that. And he got my number through some mutual friends in the Melbourne music scene and sent me a text and turned up at my doorstep with a guitar in hand. We wanted to recruit more members, but we just kind of had fun just being a two piece. It wasn’t until a couple of years later we made a demo and realized we needed a band name so just had to text each other back and forth random words until we got something we didn’t hate. It was a lot more relaxing than the other bands we were in because it was like every weekend we were always trying to text friends and family and be like “Come to our show!” and people were really sick of that, whereas with Big Scary we just sort of didn’t even try to play too many shows, we didn’t hassle people to come, but the whole thing just kind of got it’s own momentum without us having to really try as hard so it was much more pleasant. Eventually this side project became our main focus.
AMG: What do you think makes you and Tom such a good team? What is it that each of you brings to the table?
JS: That’s a good question. I prefer the more live aspect and Tom really enjoys a slow songwriting process and recording process. I guess it works kind of like not too explosive in terms of like, even though we’re not the same personality we kind of at least can be patient with each other’s personality. I think a lot of the problems bands have is that they start hating each other, you know? I don’t think we have a risk of that. There was definitely more tension earlier on in terms of songwriting because I was less understanding and always slower on the uptake and now Tom has to check me, even if I don’t get something straight away, I just need to give myself some time and suddenly I’ll just love this idea that he had. Just takes me a little while to come around, but I finally learned that about myself so I don’t write it off straight away.
AMG: If you could describe your music in one word, what would it be?
AMG: What was the first album you remember buying on your own that made a big impact on your musical upbringing?
JS: Well I remember one time I was shopping with my mom and there were these two CD’s that I wanted and it was Smashing Pumpkin’s Ava Adore and this Australian band called Jebediah and I was adamant like “Yes mom! I’ve got enough money in my piggy bank at home. I’ve just got to open it up, I’m sure I’ve got the $40 for these two CD’s”. So she bought them for me and I got home and I had like $7 in there. But it was too late! I already had the CD’s!
AMG: Do you think they made a big impact on your musical upbringing?
JS: Smashing Pumpkin’s certainly did. I know when I was listening to them and I was like “Yeah! I’m gothic, aren’t I?” and I thought I was all dark and stuff. And it was so funny, I guess I was maybe 11 then and then 3 years later I heard Jack Johnson and all of a sudden I was like “Oh I’m a hippie by the way mom”. I was like tryin’ to grow dreadlocks. Jack Johnson was kind of a huge moment for me because I heard him in a store and I went and found him and he was mine because I had found him and then I learned all his songs on guitar. He’s the reason I learned guitar, even though that’s not my main instrument.
AMG: If we broke into your Spotify account or got a hold of your iPod, what 3 songs would we find you recently played?
JS: Well I’ve been listening to a lot of Jeremy Merrersmith who we’re about to start the tour with. Um, so, we can’t count him even though we can count him! But probably Sharon Van Etten, I was trying to hold out ‘cause I want to get back home to Australia, her vinyl is waiting for me but I don’t want to wait ‘cause everyone is talking about the album, so I’ve been listening to her record on Spotify. She’s amazing. Probably Queens of the Stone Age after I saw them at Sasquatch the other day, I was like “Yes! They’re so good!” And maybe this Australian band called Black Cab who I never knew and I think they’ve been around for ages, like forever, and my friend recommended them. They’re really weird like post punk dark, they sound like a German band. The whole album I’ve been listening to is like an ode to Berlin, but I’ve been listening to them a little bit and just catching up on someone who’s been around Melbourne forever.
AMG: Outside of music, is there anything else you’re passionate about?
JS: Yes! I’m really into politics! I think I might be becoming a crazy old person like the older I get and the more riled up I get and the more I find myself chewing people’s ear off about political issues. But I have decided on this tour, I’ve started my campaign already, I’m going to be the first atheist, non-American born president of the United States. 2045!
AMG: Do you have any pre-show rituals? Or how do you prepare for a show?
JS: Nothing too serious, we’ve started doing voice warm ups which is kind of lame, but that’s like the inner workings. Touring in Australia, you go, you fly away, you play Friday and Saturday, you fly home and then you’re at home all week and it’s not that arduous. So this time, we had this tour that we just we did it before with like five weeks a show nearly every single night and we’ve never done that. So when we did play more than three shows in a row, we kind of lost our voices. We kind of had to learn how to be a real band and actually warm up and try and be healthy so we can actually play every night.
AMG: Which album or song would you say best defines who you are?
JS: I guess something like, I don’t know about personality-wise or anything, but something that I don’t get sick of and that I find really interesting is TV on the Radio Dear Science. That’s what inspires me: no rules, no pre-conceptions, and surprises and all these different emotions. There’s anger and there’s also all this love. So yeah, I think I’ll go with that.
AMG: Do you have any shoutouts or announcements, upcoming shows?
JS: I’ve got some! So, we’ve got our own record label in Australia. We’re independent back home, but we made our own label and we’re just releasing this girl Airling and #1 Dads, and they like blow my mind how beautiful it all is- so if anyone’s got some time check out Airling and #1 Dads.
Get your tickets to see Big Scary LIVE with Jeremy Messersmith on Friday, June 13th at Eddie’s Attic.