Big Jesus are getting ready to release their debut album on 30 September via Mascot Label Group.

The Atlanta-based four-piece recently embarked upon their first European tour, opening up for the likes of Good Charlotte among others. The Madden brothers have taken the group under their wing after signing Big Jesus to their management company, MDDN, earlier this year.

The quartet recently arrived in the North East of England to give the locals a taste of their dreamy debut record, Oneiric. The band performed eight tracks from the album, along with a blistering rendition of Nirvana’s “Breed” before hot footing it back across the pond for their official album release and to rejoin Good Charlotte on the US leg of their tour.

National Rock Review caught up with the band’s guitarist’s C.J Ridings and Thomas Gonzalez before their show at Think Tank in Newcastle to get the low down on Big Jesus, their new album and their feelings about being compared to 90s artists like The Smashing Pumpkins.

NRR: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us, we really appreciate it.
C.J: Of course.
NRR: So you’ve been in the UK for a few days now, I believe this is your first tour over here is that right?
C.J: Yep.
NRR: What’s been your first impressions of the UK so far?
C.J: This is my first time overseas for anything, it’s my first time out of the country. So even if the shows were terrible I would have had fun you know, but all of the shows have been amazing. All of the venues treat us so well and everybody has been really responsive too like the crowds have all been great. It hasn’t been a whole lot of blank stares or anything like that, so it’s been amazing, I’ve had an amazing time so far.
Thomas: And the landscape is awesome too. The drive from Glasgow today was great. We took the A1 down and stopped off at the cliff, we took some pictures you know and we went to the beach on the way here, which was nice, the water was cold.
Yeah, like he was saying, all of the shows have just been really good. The crowd responses have been excellent and then people they kind of appreciate it more, especially when you have travelled this far to come over here. I think that kind of shows with the way the crowd reacts and everyone coming up after the show and talking at the merch table, it seems to be like a little more interactive.
NRR: Do you guys have any particular favourite British bands?
C.J: Of course Zeppelin, The Beatles, the classics. I’m trying to think of somebody current … I don’t know, I really like Royal Blood a lot.
NRR: So you’ve been playing shows across Europe recently with the likes of Good Charlotte, Citizen and I think Swmrs you played with last night. What’s it been like playing with those guys, how have they been treating you, what’s that experience been like?
C.J: Well the Good Charlotte shows are like getting spoilt because they are big nice venues, with catering. They manage us, so Benji and Joel have a company called MDDN. They started managing us in February, so our first shows over here, we had our managers here for it and everything.
So those shows were like insane. The first show when we came over, in Germany was a 4,000 cap venue, so that was just like huge. But I love that we’ve got a little bit of a taste of everything, of like those big shows and then we did the mid-size like 100 to 300 with Citizen and then in Nottingham we headlined a free show by ourselves and played to like 20 people you know. So it’s been awesome to get a little bit of each of it.
NRR: What’s been your favourite show of the tour so far?
C.J: Probably Germany, that show was crazy.
Thomas: I mean you see the doors open, and then it immediately fills up, you know sold out, 4000 kids. It’s quite an experience to witness that from an artist perspective. People were camping out there overnight, waiting there since eight in the morning sometimes you know. When you get to go onstage and the light hits all of the crowd and you can’t see the back of the room, it’s pretty inspiring.
NRR: For people who have not yet seen you play, how would you describe a Big Jesus show?
Both: Loud (laughing).
C.J: Loud and fuzzy. I mean we’re not a level yet where people, because the record’s not out yet, so people aren’t really singing along to the songs per se except for like the few that we have out. So it’s more of people kind of like taking it in I guess.
We played in Leeds and it was more of a younger crowd and they were just there to see a band play for free and those kids were having fun, jumping around and moving and that’s what I hope it moves more towards, is people just letting loose and having fun during it and everything. But right now it’s just loud and fuzzy.
Thomas: It’s like an introduction for people who don’t know us. When they come to see us play and then they hear the songs and you can see someone picking up the chorus and by the second chorus they are already singing along to the words and that’s kind of cool, because they’ve never heard it before you know, but the melody kind of gets stuck in their brain and that’s pretty nice to see.
NRR: Obviously you are about to release your debut album Oneiric on Sept 30th via Mascot Label Group. I was just wondering could you tell us a little bit about the album and the inspiration behind it?
C.J: So we self-released our own record in 2013, it was called One, and four songs from One are on Oneiric. We did six new songs that were added to that, which we did with Matt Hyde in Los Angeles. Then he remixed all of the old songs. So all of the songs have a similar mix and it all sounds cohesive and everything.
It was a thing of we knew Mascot wanted to sort of revamp the record and do some new stuff …we knew what songs we wanted to take from the old album for sure and we tried to fill in the gaps sonically and make it sound like one piece of art if you like. It wasn’t like two records smashed together from two different years. I’m really proud of how that came out. People that didn’t know that and have listened to the record have said that we did a good job because they had no idea that it was from two different times.
So I’m really proud that we were able to pull that off and Matt did a really good job doing that too. I’m just super excited for it to be out there finally and for people to hear it and get feedback on it.
NRR: I just got to hear a little bit of it, I got sent the album yesterday and it blew my mind. I’ve been listening to it today.
C.J: Great.
Thomas: Thank you, we are real proud of it.
NRR: The first time I heard your music was when I got sent the video for “SP,” that song just blew me away. I was just wondering could you tell us a little bit about the concept behind that video?
C.J: So we did it with a guy named Elijah Alvarado, he’s a younger guy from Chicago. We had started a tour, and our tour by chance started in Chicago. So it made sense to link up with him there and make the video before the tour.
He had referenced this 80s Japanese film called ‘Tetsuo, the Iron Man.’ So the shots of us that have us playing, we lined about ten Go Pros around in a semi-circle and just like the really fast cuts in between.
That movie, the 80s movie, is shot like that where there’s a lot of stop-motion and real fast cuts and high energy. When we were talking on the phone about ideas for the video, I said whatever it is I just want it to be really high energy, like fast paced, fast cuts. He was like well I have this thing I’ve wanted to sort of reference for forever. We checked it out and I was like oh I love it.
So we kind of just ran with that little reference and he did an amazing job. It was kind of crazy because we had a limited amount of time, so we really had no idea what it was gonna look like. He was just like ok set everything up, play through the song a couple of times. Then to get it back from him like a few weeks later was like wow. He went and shot extra material and put in all of this stuff and for our first music video, the first time any of my bands have had a music video I was just blown away.
Thomas: He was great. We recorded it in an old machine screw factory that a buddy of his dad owned. They just basically like let us do what we wanted. There were parts where we had natural light coming through the skylights and he wasn’t even using any production light which was really cool.
One of the guys that were helping him video was on a skateboard and he was skating through the machine shop you know and like crashing all over the place. It was cool, it was an interesting concept, they had a lot of old machinery in there too, that’s not in the film, it was super sick but it was just like metal everywhere.

NRR: You mentioned there obviously about Matt Hyde, I know he’s worked with everyone from the Deftones, Slayer through to Monster Magnet. What was it like working with Matt and what did he bring to the table?
C.J: We clicked instantly with Matt, it was super awesome, because you never really know personality wise with producers and engineers how you will get along. With Matt, everything was so easy and he totally understood what we wanted to do. It was pretty much like every idea he had we were never super resistant to it or vice versa. Everybody was putting stuff in and everybody was loving it.
It’s the first time any of my bands have had an outside producer and it was great because some of the songs, you know like I said, some of them got remixed from three years ago and then some of the songs were written like even before that. There would have been ones on the record that would have gotten left out if it wasn’t for Matt stepping in and hearing everything for the first time and being like no you need to do that song you know. We were just kind of like well whatever, we wrote it forever ago. So we got to revamp a lot of old material that we weren’t as excited about and it became the thing we were most excited about, so yeah
Thomas: He really knows how to dial in tones. He has great ideas for whether it’s like effects sound or even like drums and everything. I’ve never seen somebody be so particular on for instance a drum tone. He would be like that tom is too deep let’s change it, or that cymbal is too bright we want it darker, and he would just go in with his tech and he would just change it and it would come out perfect. He would be like ok now it’s resonating in the key of the song. It’s like how did that even happen you know, I’ve never seen anybody so advanced like that. I think that just comes through years of experience in doing what he does so greatly all the time.
NRR: What’s your favourite track off the album and why?
C.J: My favourite is the second track “Always.” We haven’t released that one yet, but it’s one of my favourite riffs. Like the opening riff is just like really fast and sort of chaotic for us…it’s the kind of thing we do a lot where it’s like a really metal riff, but it’s in a major key so it doesn’t sound abrasive.
That one is probably my favourite because to me I can compare each song we have. As like I can think of the inspiration of what band, how we wanted to write a song like, or riff like or something like that. For me, that’s like the Nirvana song and that’s one of my favourite bands. One of my favourite records is “Nevermind,” so that song is probably my favourite.
Thomas: I think mine is “Oneirica,” just because of the guitar work in the song, it’s fun to you know … it’s a little faster riffed and C.J and I get to do some dual guitar soloing, which is like always fun to do. I get to look at him whilst he plays (laughing) and like watch him swing, it’s always cool. Because I know that at that moment we are both feeling the same way when we play it live.
It’s weird because it comes right out of a big solo that I do, and then people are really focused in on that sound. Then all of a sudden the drums drop out, then we start doing our thing and then people just start cheering. You know especially when we were playing in Germany, like when we got to that part people were like cheering.
C.J: It’s always one of those moments in the set where people are surprised and that’s something that we aim to do a lot. It’s just like to have or create moments in our songs especially live that create a change of pace and kind of force people to be like alright what’s happening now, instead of just starting a song and having it coast.
NRR: So where did the album title come from?
C.J: So we have this song called “Oneirica” and we found the word Oneiric through … Spencer and I write all the lyrics together, we sit and do everything like 50/50. It’s a word that means relating to dreams. So we were just looking up in a thesaurus like ‘dreams,’ what’s a cool word? We saw that one and just immediately it stood out to both of us, like oh I love that word, how it sounds and how it looks and everything. So we put an A on the end to make it “Oneirica.”
The song “Oneirica” is about like dreaming about a girl, so we made it a name. Then when we were thinking about album titles, I felt strange about calling the album something completely different from One. When I was looking through all of the lyrics and everything and the song titles, it stood out to me the first three letters are One, so it’s just kind of a cool thing to me that four songs from the record start with the old album title.
The word itself, kind of the concept behind it makes sense with our sound because we have sort of a dreamy like landscapey sound like that. It also relates to how much of a dream it is for us to come and do stuff like this. So in every sense it worked out like that, it really just clicked.
NRR: The band has been together since about 2009, is that right?
C.J: Yeah it started out like really slow, so it was never meant to be a real serious thing. We probably started taking it seriously like three years ago.
NRR: So how did you all come to meet?
C.J: So Spencer and I ….I played in a band in Atlanta called Irreversible and he played in a band called O Brother, which is still a band, which is like going around and has done super big stuff. We actually played a show together at the Masquerade and I don’t think that I even talked to him that night, but he was friends with some other guys from my band.
He came and did some guest vocals on the record that we did in maybe 2007 or something like that. All of my friends are in mostly punk and hardcore bands and things like that, so there’s not a lot of people that like actually sing. So when I first decided I wanted to do this band and sort of the concept and sound in my head, I was like alright, I can’t sing and I needed somebody to sing in it, and he was the first person I thought of that like a friend of a friend that I knew that could fill the roll.
So he was the first person that I asked hey would you come and do this. It was really the same way with Tommy and the same way with Joe too, where like I had known them through other bands and then started playing with them and then like developed friendships through like being in a band together. Now it’s like everybody is like my closest friends that I hang out with all of the time.
So I met Tommy through sort of the same way, we played in a different band together with Juan Montoya from Torche, it was like an instrumental sort of like psych-rock thing. The drummer in that band used to be in this band too. We’ve had the Nirvana drummer problem, we’ve had five or six now.
NRR: The drum sound on the album is incredible by the way. I was listening to it today and it reminded me a bit of Joey Castillo from Queens of the Stone Age.
Thomas: Walter Earl was our drum technician for the record with Matt, he’s like Bill Ward’s main guy. Walter is very intelligent about that. I think all of the stuff that we played through was all his.
He’s just got amazing drums you know, he’s like oh this snare drum, this is the snare drum they recorded “Like A Virgin” on we are gonna use this one. He’s like this kit belonged to David Bowie this was his drummers kit you know.
We were just blown away and like I think that the balance of him knowing all of the tech sides of the gear and knowing how to use it and then Matt’s capability to record it and bring it to life is why so it sounds so punishing, so big.
C.J: Joe comes from a metal background so he really hits the drums really hard so, even when he first started playing with us, it had to be like take it back a little bit you know. As far as hitting the drums harder that’s fine, but as far as like going off it’s like do that but half of that. Yeah, I love that he comes from that background and because we are so loud on stage we need somebody that can pound the drums.
NRR: Everywhere I’ve read so far seems to compare you guys to the likes of early Smashing Pumpkins and My Bloody Valentine and stuff like that, a lot of 90s references in there. How do you feel about that?
C.J: I have mixed emotions about it because like it’s definitely there and it’s definitely an influence for sure, but there’s a lot of that 90s revival going on right now. Like things coming back like shoegaze is coming back around and some sort of like grungier guitar sounds are coming back around. So I’m a little resistant to get like lumped into that you know. I want people to see it as us taking inspiration from that but being able to push it in our own direction and have it be progressive and have it be modern and not just be like a throwback band.
NRR: What’s the one album in your record collection that you couldn’t like without?
C.J: Probably “Nevermind.”
Thomas: It’s typical but I think “Appetite For Destruction”, I think I listen to it every day (laughing). I really do, I really do. You know growing up, that was the record I would always play. Then that one and any Thin Lizzy record for me were always a go to, but I think I listen to Appetite every day just to get tone inspiration. He’s so good you know like Slash has been my idol since I was a boy. I just saw them play a couple of months ago too, for the first time on their reunion tour, it was wild.
NRR: What else do you have in store for the rest of this year and into 2017?
C.J: So we get back and we have a couple of one-off dates. Then we do I guess it’s about a month and a half U.S. tour, most of it is with Good Charlotte and The Story So Far. It starts in California so we have a few shows with another band from Atlanta called Whores getting across the country and we play After Shock Festival. Then that tour with Good Charlotte starts, so that’s going to be like October and November for us. Then hopefully all next year is just go you know, hopefully, we will get to come back over here.
Thomas: Yeah, we would like sometime next year maybe in the spring.
C.J: Hopefully hit the festival circuit over here because it was a little late for us because we had just put together our team with like management and booking and everything like a few months ago so it was a little late to get on like Reading and Leeds and all of that stuff. So hopefully next year we will be back.
NRR: You guys will do great at Reading and Leeds.
Thomas: We can’t wait, hopefully, we will get the opportunity to play it. We don’t want to come back here in the winter it’s too cold (laughing). I want to tour the Caribbean (laughing).
Oneiric will be released via Mascot Label Group on September 30th.

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About The Author

Adam Kennedy is an experienced music photographer based in northeast England. He has been shooting concerts for several years, predominantly with the band Vintage Trouble. In 2013, he was one of their tour photographers, covering the UK and Ireland tour including the headline shows and as opening act for The Who. As an accomplished concert photographer, Adam's work has been featured in print such as, Classic Rock Blues Magazine, Guitarist Magazine, Blues in Britain magazine, broadcast on the MDA Telethon on ABC Television in the US, used in billboard advertising for Renaissance Hotels in the US, and featured online via music blogs such as Uber Rock and Guitar Planet. He is also the official photographer at Newcastle Rock and Blues Club.

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