The Music Playground Presents Big Terrible Live on PopMatters

Conor Kelley

PopMatters continues our new monthly video feature highlighting up-and-coming new artists. Philly’s Big Terrible walk the power trio tightrope with impressive expertise, and their strides are growing longer with each of their releases.

In the world of rock bands, a “power-trio” is -- more often than not -- a tricky setup. Bass, drums, guitar, and vocal duties split between three musicians, working at maximum efficiency to deliver a sound bigger than bands twice their size, is simply a tough formula to make deliver. Philly’s Big Terrible walks this tightrope with impressive expertise, and their strides are growing longer with each of their releases.

The innovators of the power-trio setup, bands like Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, were bluesmen at heart, and Big Terrible has the natural blues sensibilities to deserve those comparisons. The band consists of brothers Dan and Tim Lynam, on guitar and drums respectively, as well as their childhood neighbor Jon Dumoff on lead vocals and bass. Communication among a band this small is absolutely key, and Big Terrible’s songs are steeped in the familiarity and closeness of lifelong friends. Tim is the gear-head of the band, molding their sound into a thick stew of raw ingredients that become perfectly indistinguishable from one another. Technical skill aside, what anchors a successful three-piece is good old-fashioned songwriting. Big Terrible cut their teeth on the seamless, no-frills compositions of The Band and Neil Young and, although their signature sound is considerably heavier than these classic songwriters, the influence is undeniable.

Their first LP, Face the Stone was packed full of heavy riffs, thunderous drums, and powerful vocals. On their new EP, produced by Bill Moriarty (Dr. Dog), the band explored what they are capable of a bit more. The result is a great collection of new songs that stays true to what makes the band unique, but also shows growth from the guys. In addition to their brand of blues-soaked heavy rock, they weren't afraid to tackle piano ballads that show off Jon Dumoff's impressive vocal range. When we had them in our studio, they performed an example of each of these styles for our cameras. First up is the rocker "Brother Solace", which boasts a riff from guitar player Dan Lynam that makes you wonder "How did Jimmy Page NOT write this in 1970?" The second song, "Strange Shade", is a pure and simple love song that peaks with powerful vocal intensity from Dumoff. We sat down with them after the session to learn a little more about their story.

* * *

How did the band form?

Dan Lynam (Guitar): Good question. They used to sneak in my room...

Tim Lynam (Drums): I’m his brother.

DL: When I was in high school they'd try to play my guitars and listen to my CDs. They were in middle school.

TL: Yeah, me and Jon hung out for a long time and at some point we would jam with Dan. So I don't know, we've been playing together for a long time.

DL: We don't even consider ourselves in a band at all. We just kinda hangout and we know each other… and we make Jon drive us around because we don't want to drive and we're allowed to push him around.

And he's got a sweet van.

DL: Yeah, Jon's got a sweet van. It's just the pecking order. That's just the way it is. We're brothers and he's not, so he's low guy on the totem pole. [laughs]

Jon Dumoff (Bass/Vox): Yeah I played guitar in the band originally and first it started with "Hey Jonny can sing so lets make him be the singer."

TL: We heard Jonny sing one song and he passed.

JD: Then we couldn't find a bass player so, you know.

TL: Bass is like playing guitar right? It's just not quite as bad. Jonny you got that too! [laughs]

JD: I keep it real simple and that was it. We kept it a three-piece. We tried different things initially but this worked and it felt good.

So Dan, you were the big brother who was into music and they were the annoying kids that would come and touch your stuff, and at some point it was like “Oh we're friends.”

DL: Yeah, right. “You guys are cool now.”

TL: After me and Jon got reasonable at playing music, then he wanted to be buddies. "Alright we're buddies lets hang out, lets play some tunes." [laughs]

DL: "We make a great team!"

How do you think knowing each other from the time you were kids has influenced the band, or your sound?

TL: After hanging out so much and listening to tunes, we've ended up forming a lot of opinions about music together and so we have a lot of common ground. Live we like to keep things interesting for ourselves and play songs differently a lot, so all that common ground is essential.

You guys played "Brother Solace" first. What’s the story behind that song?

JD: I came up with the original riff but that turned into so many different things from that point on. One of us will introduce a part and then we'll play together and then it will gradually become a song. You know, one person doesn't have a complete song. We bring it to the table basically and see what happens. Tim is really into recording which helps out so much because we can put down the idea, take it, listen to it, then build off of that.

"Strange Shade" seems to be somewhat new territory for you guys. It's a sweet song. What's the story behind this tune?

TL: We were probably listening to a lot of Otis Redding or Sam Cooke at the time because the song started with that kind of vibe. It eventually changed into what you hear now, where it continues building throughout. It still has that Otis vibe a little bit I think. Truth be told, there's a lot songs like this that we've written and recorded on our own. Maybe they'll see the light of day eventually. I guess it would seem like new territory for us if you haven't seen us live. We always play stuff like this live but for some reason it's not how people think of us.

So you guys mostly play and hangout in Philly?

DL: Pretty much.

JD: Yeah.

Would you guys like to let this EP settle for a little while, or are you anxious to record some new stuff?

TL: We're always anxious to record new music. It just never goes away. Even while recording this EP, I was thinking about sounds for the next one. I pretty much would like to be perpetually recording. Getting sounds is one of my favorite things to do.

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