Interview with John Blanken | By Tim Anderl
In emo—a genre in which so many bands revel in despair and heartbreak—South Carolina’s Big Awesome are a positive and empowering voice that seems to be saying “personal growth is painful, but life’s a blessing, so don’t sweat the small stuff.” On Party On – released August 7 via Jetsam-Flotsam – the trio of original members John Blanken and Colin Czwerwinski, and new recruit Nathan Larson, have honed and perfected their signature sound, and established themselves as a high-energy emo rock band who have as much in common with the genre’s old guard as they do the emo revival set.
The “emo” tag isn’t one that Big Awesome seems to takes offense to. Are you an emo band?
Not in a traditional sense. We’re emo in a sense that we put a lot of emotion into our songs and performance, as any band should, but we try to bring more emotions to the table than sadness and frustration, which seems to be the norm. Positivity is contagious. So, I guess we’re emo, I don’t know. I just wanna jam out and do what comes natural. What we are is for you all to decide, I guess.
Was there an experience or band that you encountered in your formative years as a musician that set you on this path?
I draw influence from a ton of stuff, but as far as my formative years go, I listened to a lot of ska punk, street, first wave and two tone ska, and Bruce Springsteen. My biggest influences were all the local bands I would see at shows in my hometown. I think I was 11 when I went to my first punk show, which was Catch 22, Homegrown, and The Youth Ahead at a place called Tinks in Scranton, Pa. I met some great, lifelong friends at that show. But yeah, seeing all the local bands play their hearts out every weekend made me think, “If they’re doing it, I can too.” For the record, Operation Ivy will always be my favorite band.
Are there bands you’ve encountered recently who have pushed you to up your game or challenge yourself at your craft?
There’s a band called Tare from New Orleans that absolutely blew my mind when I first played with them on tour last summer. The vibe in the venue that night was amazing, and I will never forget that. But yeah, Tare is dope. They’re really awesome people and their sound is great. New Orleans is just killing it right now as a whole. Also, there are really great bands that influence me that are local to Savannah: Culture Vulture, Niche, and Crazy Bag Lady. Crazy Bag Lady kick out total jams and their work ethic as a band is unbelievable. Culture Vulture is the most unique band in town, and Niche is some good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll. Dig these bands. Dig them hard.
How does Party On differ from previous release, Birdfeeder?
Party On is somewhat darker than Birdfeeder. The record covers a lot of ground for what I was feeling and thinking about in the time between the two records, which is kind of a long time. I also feel like Birdfeeder is mad twinkly compared to Party On.
When did you begin writing Party On?
I guess we started a good bit ago. Like, right after Birdfeeder. Most of them are songs we’ve had for a long time that just never got to be recorded till we did.
What are your proudest moments on the record?
It’s cheesy to say, but the whole thing. It was a blast writing it, recording it, playing the songs with my favorite people, everything. Writing and putting out an LP with a band is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, so at the end of the day—whether everyone thinks it sucks or if a ton of people dig it—at least I can say I did it.
“Living with Love” is a pretty posi, optimistic song. Are you an optimist? If so, is that mindset something that comes through in Big Awesome’s music?
I guess I am. Sometimes, I’ll get down about stuff in life, but as much as I think it could be so much better, I always remind myself it could be much, much worse. It definitely carries through to the tunes. I’m in my happy place when I’m jamming, so in that environment, it’s almost difficult for me to write downer lyrics. The new record is a tad darker, but as a whole, it’s all good vibes.
There are also tinges of regret and guilt here, right? What are you guys feeling bad about?
Most of the songs that lean to the darker side are all about different learning experiences in my life. No regrets though. I wasn’t really feeling bad, just kind of complacent and stagnant. There was a lull period for Big Awesome a while back, and life wasn’t really moving along like I wanted it to, but I just kept at it and things worked out.
Have you been touring in support of the record yet?
Not much this summer. We toured a bunch last summer and we went out again back in March. I believe the plan is to try to do a gnarly fall run in support of the record. We’ll see what happens.
What are your loftiest goals for Big Awesome?
Hit the road, see the world, and have a blast. And to enjoy the shit out of playing music with my best friends.