On their latest album, Big Dream Baby (Wampus Multimedia), singer Mike Shannon and guitarist Chick Tsikouras blend acoustic roots with raw rock and roll, while mixing in a class of social commentary that is reminiscent of Lou Reed, John Lennon, and Mark Oliver Everett (Eels).
Big Dream Baby deals with disappointment, acceptance, perseverance, aging, loss, failure and unrealized dreams. "I always believed that without a dream we end up being defined by our setbacks," Shannon believes, "there is wisdom in failure. And failure is not quitting...giving up is failure."
What piece of music made you want to make music of your own?
Mike: Left Bank's "Walk Away Renee" blew me away. The combination of classical and pop expanded my songwriting possibilities. Also, "Across the Universe," with its hauntingly beautiful melody lines, caught my attention.
Chick: When I went to school to study music I was taught about harmony, voice leading, chords and theory. Once I knew how they all worked together, I set out to create a sound/song that moved me in the same way my musical heroes did.
What was the first song you wrote that you were proud of?
Mike: "Stories of the Rain," the second single for The Resistors back in the CBGB days. It was a post-punk rock tune.
Chick: A song called "Cry." It had a catchy chorus and a great chord progression that wasn't typical of your usual rock song. It ended up getting airplay that landed us gigs as well as TV appearances.
On Big Dream Baby, songs like "Wonderland" have humorous and satirical lyrics. Does this make writing about dark subjects like divorce or failure any easier?
Mike: Humor and satire are used to lighten the darkness. It makes it all so much more palatable for the listener.
Chick: Songs are written from a personal place. They can be therapeutic or a way of healing. It's kind of the light at the end of a tunnel. You try to stay positive and move towards happier times. You gotta have a "Big Dream, Baby"!
One of the major themes of Big Dream Baby is that failure doesn't matter as long as we never stop dreaming big. Did this grow organically out of your songwriting or is this a particular ethos you've always had?
Mike: I think I always believed that without a dream we end up being defined by our setbacks. I would rather shoot for the stars and fall short, knowing I tried...rather than live a life of "what ifs" due to a fear of failure and change. I believe there is wisdom in failure. And failure is not quitting...giving up is failure.
Chick: I think if you stop trying to grow then you've given up. If you're happy being stagnant then that's where you'll stay in life. There's more out there to experience and we as musicians owe it to ourselves to push the boundaries of expression. A wise man once said, "We are the music makers...and we are the dreamers of dreams."
What did you hope to say with Big Dream Baby?
Mike: I really wanted to drive the Big Bus Dream philosophy of needing to and continuing to dream big. Also, that light and darkness can coexist. There can be beauty in dysfunction and power in redemption.
Why do you think you work so well together as songwriting partners?
Mike: We are storytellers. I usually bring the rhythmic patterns, the hooks (lyrical & musical), as well as the lyrical storyline to the table. Chick helps tell the story in various ways, often by adding parts or switching the chorus for the bridge or vice versa. He also brings his own chording ideas to the session, and at times we'll use this in place of the original pattern. His jazz schooling has come in handy in telling the story. This makes his mother happy, knowing his schooling wasn't a total waste of time.
Chick: The real reason Mike left out is that no one else can stand us (ha ha). When you've worked with someone for so long you kind of get into their head and know where they are coming from. You know what's best for the song and how to deliver it in the best possible way to get the message across.
What's the biggest challenge you encounter while working together on a song?
Mike: The biggest challenge is we suffer from MADD - music attention deficit disorder - though we're in therapy.
Chick: We have so many ideas during the writing process it's a matter of finding which one works for that song. We could easily go in multiple directions. Picking the right instruments or sounds to record is another hurdle. Does this song call for cello or would brass sound better?
How has your past experience with other musicians influenced your songwriting?
Mike: What I've learned over the years is to edit, then re-edit a tune until it's clear and concise. Also, write from the heart 'cause the perspective must be yours, not somebody else's. If it's not your voice, you lose the passion.
What's up next for Big Bus Dream?
Mike: We have a video we are wrapping up as well as some radio in-studios and live podcasts/house concerts. We'll also get in a few shows this spring/summer. We should be working on some new music by this fall.