In between playing arenas across Europe on the Progressive Nations tour with the likes of Dream Theatre and Opeth, psychedelic rock act Bigelf have been playing their first ever headlining shows in the UK. On the second night of their tour, lead singer and keyboardist Damon Fox kindly took the time to talk to Impact about his influences, the Progressive Nations and the band’s unlikely connections with Christina Aguilera and Alicia Keyes.
Impact: For the readers out there who haven’t heard your music before, could you please tell us your influences and try to describe your sound?
Damon Fox: Our main influences are Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, The Beatles, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Cream, King Crimson, The Move, Badfinger, Atomic Rooster, Gentle Giant, Uriah Heep, The Sweet, Van Der Graff Generator so apart from The Doors and a few others it’s pretty much all British stuff from the 70s! A lot of people at the moment are talking about us as ‘progressive rock’, but as someone mentioned earlier, with all these 70s influences, it would be better to call us ‘regressive rock’! I don’t really listen to a lot of modern music at all. One band that is cool though is Muse. I remember hearing the Knights of Cydonia song on the radio and the second part of the song really blew me away!
Impact: So your main influences are British, but this is only your second headlining show here and Bigelf has been around for over 10 years. What took you guys so long?!
Damon Fox: I really wish it hadn’t taken this long, we have been meaning to play here for ages but it’s just a case of the cost to come here and bring all of our gear over. We were based in Sweden and lived there for about 6 years and so you would think that it would have been easy to do.
Impact: You guys are currently doing the Progressive Nation tour (a package tour headlined by Dream Theater and also featuring Opeth and Unexpect) and have already played some huge shows in the UK and Europe. How is that going?
Damon Fox: Its been really great! I am so grateful to Mike (Portnoy, drummer from Dream Theatre) for taking us over here, playing this tour has meant that we have finally been able to play the UK. We did the US Progressive Nation tour after a mutual friend played Mike our music and to be playing over here is a dream come true. Its crazy because our second ever UK show was Wembley Stadium! So it really feels like our luck is changing after all these years. Its like in the Clash of the Titans movie, where Zeus is sitting up in the clouds looking out for us and pulling strings in our favor! The energy at these shows has so far been amazing. In Poland, it seemed like there was a lot of love for Bigelf, the attention we were getting from fans was incredible and the reception for our show was one of the best we’ve received so far on the tour.
Impact: That is great to be playing such huge arena shows, but at the moment you are on your first ever headlining tour here and the audiences are a lot smaller. How do these gigs compare with the bigger shows?
Damon: It is a lot smaller obviously these shows, like tonight there was what, 50 people or so? But it’s still cool, and I like to play these intimate shows, they are often very memorable. It was a shame tonight about the sound difficulties but it was still a good atmosphere I think, and I hope people enjoyed it. We were never expecting big turnouts for these shows as it’s our first time, but it is still really encouraging to see 50 Bigelf fans turnout!
Impact: To be honest there was not a lot of advertisement or posters around for this gig, I only knew about it from looking at the Rescue Rooms gig listings a while back.
Damon: Well that kinda sucks. Hopefully next time there will be more exposure. I remember seeing a poster up in Manchester for our show and someone had written on it in big felt tip pen ‘Heavy metal nonsense from Norway’, which I thought was hilarious! We may be heavy metal nonsense but none of us are from Norway. At least get the place of origin right!
Impact: What’s it like touring with a band like Opeth who are more extreme metal orientated? I remember reading that Mikael Akerfeldt said he’s been into Bigelf since your first EP ‘Closer to Doom’.
Damon: Oh those guys are like our tour brothers. We always park up our tour bus next to theirs and generally hang out together after the shows. They are great guys, and I like their music a lot. Duffy (Snowhill, bass player for Bigelf) is a huge fan and plays their stuff all the time, which is how I got into them.
Impact: You obviously have a huge love for British music, have you guys had a chance yet to do a bit of rock and roll sightseeing, and checking out the places where these bands played and grew up?
Damon: Not at all! I’m really upset about this, we’ve just been too busy so far and not had the time. I wanted to go to Liverpool, that place has so much cool history with the Beatles obviously, and Badfinger. I even tried to get the bus driver to take a detour there after the Manchester show! We aren’t even playing in Birmingham on this trip. We definitely want to play more in the UK soon and are hoping to do another tour here in January after the Progressive Nation tour is done.
Impact: Have you been into retro rock for most of your life then? And what was the first music that got you hooked?
Damon: Oh yeah, since I was a kid. I was pretty old in terms of my music taste. The album that really got me into it was ‘Burn’ by Deep Purple. The one with the lit candles on the front cover and on the back they have been put out. When I saw that it just completely grabbed me! I was like, “wow this is Satanic!” Even though at the time I probably wasn’t even old enough to know what Satanic really meant!
Impact: One thing I’ve got to ask you about is the collaboration Bigelf did with Christina Aguilera on the cover of John Lennon’s song ‘Mother’ for the Instant Karma/Darfur benefit album. How did it come about?
Damon: Linda Perry set it up for us. She is the head of Custard Records, our current label but she has been kind of in the background for years. She has had pretty much 2 careers, one with the 4 Non Blondes and then her own solo stuff and as a songwriter for artists like Pink and Christina Aguilera. She wrote ‘Beautiful’ and got me to record the piano parts for that song back in 2004. I’m the guy that Linda goes to when she wants a Beatles sound or on other recordings when she simply just wants someone to make everything weirder and generally fuck it all up! So the Christina thing was cool. A lot of people can be cynical about her talent as she comes from that whole pop music world, where vocals can be edited with Pro Tools to sound more in tune, but I have to say that she has a really amazing voice!
Impact: You have also had Courtney Love say great things about Bigelf, as well as Alicia Keys.
Damon: Yeah that was pretty cool. Me and Ace (Mark, guitarist) actually got to jam with Alicia when she was recording ‘As I Am’, which again, was set up by Linda who co-produced that album. We were in the studio next door and Linda popped her head round the door and said ‘Hey come on in, we need you to come and play drums for a bit!’ So there I was playing drums with Alicia Keys and Ace, which was surreal. For a long time, she kept asking us about Bigelf as she had never heard it and I was like ‘oh you wouldn’t be interested in that’. So one day she cornered me when I had my MP3 player and forced me to play it to her! We put it on loud in the studio and she really loved it, which was awesome.
Impact: I first got into Bigelf about 2 years ago when I saw your previous album ‘Hex’ get a 10/10 review on Blabbermouth (big metal and rock news site and place for people to post their opinions about bands), which is a pretty big complement, considering virtually no bands gets a review like that. Do you follow what’s going on the website and what do you think of all the negativity associated with websites like this one?
Damon: Oh sure, I love to follow what’s going on with Blabbermouth! Obviously we were extremely happy that Keith (Bergman, reviewer on Blabbermouth) gave us that review. You know what. I think if people want to give their opinions on music then let them, I think it’s great! What made me laugh was when the review came out, I read through the comments and some people wrote things like, “oh this band sucks! It’s a keyboard band”, or “they sound like Pink Floyd. They’re shit!” Well of course that person isn’t going to like the band if he doesn’t like Pink Floyd!
Impact: What’s your opinion on music downloading then? Your last album ‘Hex’ originally came out in 2003 and is still only really available here through ITunes and your latest album ‘Cheating the Gallows’ has only just been released in the UK even though it was out in the US last summer. So up until now it has been hard to hear your music without downloading it illegally or through ITunes anyway.
Damon: Sure, with the ‘Hex’ album, there were so many problems getting it out there that I ended up putting it on our website as a free download. Unfortunately it completely back fired and I ended up facing a 4000 dollar upload fee as there were too many people downloading it. So I had to take it off in the end! What I often say during gigs is, sure download the music for free and come to the shows, but if you want to see us come back and you want to support us, then buy a t-shirt or by the album off ITunes or something, because otherwise we probably won’t be able to afford to come back.