Big Nothing

Big Nothing like to joke that the real reason they write songs together is to have an excuse to go out to dinner after band practice. It’s a typically self-deprecating way of describing their artistic motivations, but it’s also not a bad place to start with capturing what makes the Philadelphia-based four-piece so endearing. Big Nothing make the kind of timeless guitar music that’s as comforting as it is catchy. Their sophomore full-length and Lame-O Records debut, Dog Hours, offers ten convivial rock songs that radiate with the warmth of an old friend who’s always there to help you navigate the ups and downs of life.

Comprised of bassist/vocalist Liz Parsons, guitarist/vocalist Matt Quinn, guitarist/vocalist Pat Graham, and drummer Chris Jordan, the members of Big Nothing each have distinct songwriting voices that all remarkably come together in a seamless way. Drawing on shared influences like The Replacements, Superchunk, and Teenage Fanclub, the band’s 2019 debut album, Chris, established the band’s affinity for big guitars and even bigger hooks. But when the time came for a follow-up, the group who so cherished their hours together hashing out loud rock songs in a practice space suddenly found themselves in very different circumstances.

“With the pandemic, we were all writing separately and being quieter in our apartments,” Quinn explains. “And so it was pretty natural that we started writing more stripped-back music.” The three-pronged songwriting team of Quinn, Parsons, and Graham made the best of the situation by pushing one another to leave their collective comfort zones, while also playing to their individual strengths. “Liz is very meticulous and Pat is very production-minded,” Quinn says, with Parsons adding, “And Matt writes a ton of songs.” Through this process of solitary writing and collaborative honing, Dog Hours began to take shape and a different version of Big Nothing emerged.

The result is an album of alt-country-tinged guitar pop that feels intimate without sacrificing the band’s irresistible power pop crunch. Recorded by Ian Farmer at The Metal Shop, the songs on Dog Hours are full of chiming acoustic guitars and layered harmonies, and a laid back, live charm that crackles throughout—even in the quietest moments. That palpable comradery is an essential part of Big Nothing’s appeal and shines through on Dog Hours, despite the fact that its recording sessions were actually the first time the band had ever played the songs together in-person. “We weren’t able to get together but we had the demos for a long time before we recorded,” Quinn explains. “So we just kept listening and preparing and working the songs out, and when we got to the studio and started tracking, that was the first time we played them as a band.”

Songs like “Always On My Mind” or “Don’t Tell Me” offer the kind of instantly satisfying rock n’ roll at which Big Nothing have always excelled, while elsewhere “A Lot of Finding Out” and “Accents” highlight a mastery of the classic acoustic-guitars-plus-bouncy-tempos formula that would make Tom Petty proud. The band’s willingness to experiment with sparser arrangements and different dynamics especially shines through on mid-album standouts like the electric piano-led “Curiosity” and the gently crescendoing title track. “There are just things about getting older that change the way you write music,” Parsons says with a laugh. “Maybe you start to slow things down a little or you can’t sing in the same range anymore, or you just start wanting to try different things.”

A heightened awareness of time passing and its effects made an impact on more than just the sound of Dog Hours. All life’s uncertainties that grow more and more defined with adulthood loom throughout the album’s lyrics, often accompanied by at least a touch of the existential dread that’s become universal since March of 2020. “The moods are all over the place,” says Quinn. “Sometimes things felt like a real downer, but a lot of the record is just about trying to figure it all out.” Whether on songs about nostalgia, love, longing, frustration—or even a mushroom-trip-turned-panic-attack—there’s a real sense of interpersonal connection running throughout Dog Hours. Written during a time where people were often more isolated than ever, these songs are defined by all the joy and messiness that comes from colliding lives.

Dog Hours comes to a close with “What I Wanna Say,” a sweetly ambling cut led by a shuffling beat and Quinn’s longing voice. It’s a song about looking for something in someone else and never really finding it, about paths that might fleetingly cross but never fully come together—the kind of lament that you might confide to your closest friends in the midst of a late night hangout. As Parson and Graham’s voices join in on the final chorus’ call-and-response refrain, the song fittingly fades into laughter and studio shenanigans, and you can imagine those friends of yours responding to your story with the usual sympathy, reassurance, and, of course, a joke.

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