Big Jesus: “Something that was just for fun has snowballed into this.”

CJ Ridings and Spencer Ussery take us down the dream-like road that has led to their new album, 'Oneiric'

Big Jesus: “Something that was just for fun has snowballed into this.”

By Glen Bushell

Sep 21, 2016 15:10

Sometimes you hear an album that sounds and feels like a dream. One such album that will tap into your subconscious, leaving you in a glassy-eyed haze, is ‘Oneiric’, the latest offering from Atlanta-based rock band, Big Jesus. “We wanted to name the record something a little tricky,” laughs vocalist/bassist, Spencer Ussery. Further to that, the word ‘Oneiric’ relates to dreams and dreaming, which is something that Ussery looks to when writing. “Lyrically we pull from dream experiences, as well as ethereal and cosmic things. It’s not a concept record, but there are phrases and words that come up a lot throughout ‘Oneiric’, so there were a few reasons that made sense to name it that.”

We catch up with the band half way through their first ever UK tour, ahead of the release of ‘Oneiric’. Despite this being billed as their debut record, Big Jesus have been slowly making a name for themselves for the last couple of years. Guitarist and founding member, CJ Ridings, takes us back to the humble beginnings of the band. “I was interning at some recording studios back home, and I wanted to do a band that was different to anything I had done before,” he reflects. “Most of my previous bands were either rooted in punk, hardcore, or metal, and I was really interested in doing something that focused more on melody and harmony.”

From there, Ridings recruited Ussery, who was the first choice he had in mind.“I had known Spencer from a few other bands around the city, and he was the only person I knew who could really sing,” he explains. “We demoed a few tracks together for fun, and just put a little EP out for free on Bandcamp. Then Andy Hull from Manchester Orchestra got in touch with us about being part of their collective, Favourite Gentleman, and if we wanted to play a fest they were doing.”

Following that, they would self-release a full length, ‘One’, which right away gained them the attention of Mascot Records. “Somehow, something that was just for fun has snowballed into this,” says Ridings, expressing both appreciation and bemusement at the way things have turned out. “There were members of the band early on that were contemplating moving out of Georgia but didn’t want to because of the band. I would say “Oh, don’t worry about the band. We are just playing a few bars around the city, taking it easy.” Even though I have probably put the most faith in this band when compared to my others, I never thought it would come to this.”

Ussery then echoes the sentiments of his band mate, seemingly just as perplexed by the gravitas of the situation. “This was never meant to be a serious band,” he says. “We just thought it would be fun to get together and jam. If you had put the thought in my head when we started that we would be here in London because of it, I never would have believed you.”

It wasn’t just Manchester Orchestra that took a liking to Big Jesus. While they were looking for management, their music made its way into the hands of Benji and Joel Madden of Good Charlotte, who were instantly interested in the band, signing them up to their MDDN management group. “We really wanted to work with someone who we instantly clicked with,” says Ussery. “We spoke to a few people, but it seemed to feel a bit too business orientated. That works for some people, but we really wanted to share this band with someone who cares.”

“After they heard it, Benji called us up almost immediately and wanted to fly us out to LA to meet up and see how it feels,” adds Ridings. “The first questions some people that we spoke to would ask were “so what sort of market are you going for?” etc. Benji and Joel were more interested in the music and art of it right away. We are incredibly passionate about what we do, and we felt they had that same passion.”

When you hear ‘Oneiric’, it is easy to see why it has made people stand up and listen. At the core, it is an accomplished, self-assured rock record, with thick walls of guitars, and a pounding rhythm section. However, it is washed with layers of swooning reverb and lush tones, matching the dreamy context of its title. Ussery explains how it is both a continuation of their first record, but in some ways a fresh start for Big Jesus. “Well, our first record was called ‘One’, and that’s the first three letters of this LP,” he says, further elaborating on the album’s title. “It also has four songs from the last record, and we really see this as our debut, we didn’t want to change the name to radically.”

The driving 90s alt-rock worship of ‘Shards’, and the slower, self-examining ballad, ‘Heaviest Heart’, fit perfectly alongside the barn storming new tracks ‘SP’ and ‘Always’. The older tracks have been remixed to fit the vibe of ‘Oneiric’, making the album flow in a cohesive manner. “That was definitely the plan when we during the process,” explains Ridings. “The four that got pulled over were recorded as basic tracks by Matt Goldman and I produced them myself in Atlanta. For the six new songs, we went to LA and recorded them with Matt Hyde, and then had the older songs remixed so they were more uniform with rest of the album.”

There are some obvious reference points to Big Jesus’ sound. They have shades of Smashing Pumpkins, My Bloody Valentine, and Silversun Pickups, however the diverse range of music that both Ridings and Ussery are influenced by has helped shape the unique sound you hear on the record. “Spencer is always the guy that will put something on in the van and we are like “Dude, you gotta turn this off,”” laughs Ridings. “My Dad was always a big classic rock guy, and I grew up with Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top and that kind of thing, so that comes through. As I said earlier, I came up through punk and metal, but this band is more about me maturing past that musically and wanting to do something more, which I think we are.”

“In terms of melodic terms, I have always been influenced by bands such as The Beach Boys and The Beatles,” adds Ussery. “I always appreciated the way they would write these simple melodies, nothing crazy, but they have this way of just hitting you really hard. I try to add some of that to our sound.”

Now, with ‘Oneiric’ under their belts and ready to be unveiled to the world, Big Jesus have a whole new journey in front of them. Following the release of the album their schedule is filling up, and already they are looking towards the future. “When we get home we have a tour with Good Charlotte and a couple of festivals,” says Ridings. “Then hopefully we can come back over here for the festival season next year. We are also constantly writing and Frankensteining things together, so we will see where that goes, too.”

’Oneiric’ is released on September 30th via Mascot Records, and is available to pre-order now.