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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

2-26-24 PDF
February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

Interview With A Great Big World’s Chad King and Ian Axel

Q: What is the biggest change between your first and second album which came out this past November?
A: The first album it feels like it was a collection of songs that we had written over the course of five or six years and a lot of the songs had already been released, or different versions of the songs, so it didn’t feel like we were releasing something that goes fully new into the world.
This new album we had a few months to write it, a few months to record it, nobody had any idea what the hell we were working on. We felt super pressured, we felt this rush to put it out in the world. A lot more people were expecting something from us. We were also dealing with a lot of expectations and pressures.
That being said, we think the songwriting on this last album, some of the songs we’re the most proud of, we feel like we were able to maintain the heart of A Great Big World, but evolve the sound a little bit
Q: About that pressure you feel, especially with a song like “Say Something,” did you feel like you wanted to branch off or like you wanted to create something completely new?
A: After “Say Something” we had all these people on our team—you have to be in the room with this pop writer or that pop writer and go in the direction of a Demi Lovato or Selena Gomez and fit into their world. But it doesn’t feel like who we are, and it doesn’t feel as honest, and our goal from that point on was to be as honest and human as possible instead of trying to sound like what pop music is.
We never wrote anything to be a hit song we were just writing for the joy of writing and then suddenly our dreams came true, but it also came with a bunch of stuff that we weren’t expecting; the whole business side of it, the pressures from the label, the expectations from press, to sing something that’s not a pop song. Just writing the songs we love.
Q: Are there any experiences or influences from your life that you pulled from to write your music?
A: Yeah totally, I [Ian] wrote “One Step Ahead” about my relationship with my now fiancé. I used that song to ask her to marry me, so [it’s] really personal stuff we are putting out there, and it’s amazing to be able to play that song for the first time with my fiancé in the room.
Q: Are any of those songs that have a confessional aspect more difficult or challenging to perform or write?
A: Those are the songs that are easy, some people have a hard time being open—Chad and I are not those people. The honest songs are the easiest to write—it feels like you’re giving birth to something, not that I know what that feels like. It feels like there’s this huge ball of energy in your body and it feels like it just wants to get out, and it’s so cathartic. We cry during some of the sessions. We go to bed those nights feeling fulfilled and feeling infinite, like there’s an infinite amount of stuff still inside of us, that’s how we connect with that universal weird meta place—through writing things that are honest and really digging deep within ourselves to share those things.
I also feel like both me and Ian really appreciate when artists and songwriters surprise us with something you’ve never heard before, and I think we constantly are striving to find those parts within us that we had never explored before. So the song “Don’t Stop Running” is all about my journey with Multiple Sclerosis—that song feels like the message is a little bit masked in these hooks, but if you really look at the lyrics and look at it with this eye, here’s this guy who has MS and this is his journey.
Q: Some of the messages might be masked, but do you have fans who come up to you because the song resonates with them? How have fans expressed this to you? Fan story time!
A: Yeah we get responses back that are responses that we never would have imagined or thought of. “Say Something” is an example of that, it was [about] heartbreak and letting go. When we put the audio online on YouTube before we had a music video, and all of a sudden people were using the YouTube channel as a confessional. They were telling their stories and it feels like these people never told their stories before, and all of a sudden everyone was chiming in, thousands of people—they were stories about death, stories from children. It was like, what is going on here? So when we made the music video we actually tried to incorporate some of these stories to make it universal, we didn’t want to limit its message.
I mean, I remember at one show we played in Alabama, someone came up to us after we played “Everyone is Gay,” […] she was crying and I just remember she just let her body let go into Chad and just hug him. [She] was crying because her parents were sitting next to her at the show and they tried to give her an exorcism because she was gay. So when that happens it just brings it to a whole ‘nother level. It’s a spiritual journey for us. This is what we need to be doing, spreading these messages of love, positivity and hope—that’s a small thing that we can contribute to the world and hopefully change it a little bit.
We played a show in Salt Lake City a couple years back. It was a small little house concert, there might have been 100 people there, but I guess we didn’t realize that the person hosting the show was a Mormon family, and maybe 90% of the people there were Mormon from different generations. We were actually told right before the set started that they didn’t think it was a good idea if we played “Everyone is Gay” and we played it [anyway] in our little rock star moment. It was so uncomfortable at first and people were giggling. There was this crazy energy in the basement of this house and after the show so many kids came up to us thanking us for playing that song.
Q: Having collaborated with other artists, if you could collaborate with anyone, who would you want to collaborate with?
A: Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar. That’s a great one, we’re huge fans of Kendrick Lamar.
Q: Is that what you’re listening to on your iPod?
A: I’m listening to Bjork, I’m having like a little Bjork phase, and actually we were shopping a couple days ago on tour and Bjork was in the freaking store we were in.
Q: Everyone has to start somewhere, but was there a specific moment when you knew you made it big?
A: Yeah when our song “This Is the New Year” was on Glee. That was the first moment where we felt like “Holy crap,” this is the first time that something that we’re creating is making a little splash in pop culture. Shortly after that it was pretty much when we performed on The Voice with Christina Aguilera. That was like the biggest pivotal moment for us because it was just a whole different level. The next day our song was number one on iTunes—that’s what really catapulted us pretty much overnight.
Chad: I would agree. Glee was the first moment where it was like ‘Holy crap, this is bigger than us.’
Q: Do these big events and all of this recognition phase you? Does it still come new to you or does it become more natural?
A: A lot of this is still new. “Say Something” was just featured on South Park, we were just amused that they wanted to use it because we grew up with South Park. That moment was also very big for us, it was just so unexpected. It was such a complement that our song would be used in that show.
Also, we still throw parties when we know our song is going to be on tv and we still freak out. Thankfully we’re not jaded.
Q: Do you have any rituals before you perform live? Do you get nervous?
A: Every night before I go out on stage I feel completely insecure. I feel like, “Oh my god, what am I doing? Why am I here? These people are going to be so disappointed.” Then I go out on stage, I start playing, and I’m reminded instantly; I see their reaction, everyone’s into it. “Oh, this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” and it’s this cycle, maybe that’s normal. I just get so nervous I feel like my high school self that was just such an introvert and was afraid to talk to the popular kids.