A quick Google search for any given band name suggests that keeping up a Twitter feed has become nearly as important as tuning your guitars. For most bands, at least; Knoxville twang-punk trio Big Bad Oven’s Web presence is limited to a MySpace page with two shabby live cuts, 21 friends (including Tom), and a last login date of June 2009. The key to such bold defiance, according to guitarist Josh Wright, is laziness.
“Laziness, and maybe lack of ability,” elaborates saxophonist Josh Wolitzky.
Good excuses, but it does say something about Big Bad Oven, and the prolific Whisk-Hutzel collective to which the band belongs, that its members’ concerns are much more local than global. All three (W-H figurehead Will Fist rounds out the lineup on drums) tend bar at Pilot Light, and Wright and Fist have spent enough time together on its stage to be the club’s de facto house band.
Like other projects of theirs, Big Bad Oven started off with a rotating cast and one main hook to set it apart: Wright’s homemade lap steel guitar, which takes the core duo’s bluesy hardcore sensibilities to woozy heights.
“I had always wanted one, and I saw one used one time for $350, and said, no way, it’s just a piece of wood,” Wright says. “So I took a piece of wood and made one.”
Though Wright admits the deficiencies of his increasingly bowed creation have amplified over the years (there’s a new one in the works, whenever he gets around to it), the lap steel has proven a songwriting boon for someone who splits his time between more traditional rock bands like Burning Itch and epic metallers Warband.
“It’s so intuitive—you just put the bar down and it sounds like something,” he says. “The songwriting process is so much easier because of the limitations of the instrument.”
“And we’ve managed to write songs that don’t sound exactly like each other,” Wolitzky adds.
“Not all of them,” Wright responds.
Wolitzky joined the group early last year, though neither Josh can remember just when. Big Bad Oven had an occasional bassist in Cain Blanchard—“We never really wanted a bassist, we just wanted to play in a band with Cain,” Wright says—but what Wright and Fist were really looking for was a sax player. Wolitzky fell into the role after mentioning his talent to Fist in hopes of sitting in with Whisk-Hutzel supergroup It Is a Code; Fist was insistent he’d fit right in.
“I hadn’t played in eight years when I moved to Knoxville,” Wolitzky says. “But with Big Bad Oven it was easy to pick everything up. One, because we work pretty much in one key, but also because it’s real easy to feel that music.” (Wright insists they now work in “at least four” different keys.)
Their lineup complete, the band set about writing and recording their first full-length. That was last summer; nearly a year later, they’re finally gearing up to release it on vinyl and even online, as part of what Wolitzky suggests will be an increased Web presence for the Whisk-Hutzel record label and its newly revived NoPress zine. (No more recently tended to than Big Bad Oven’s, NoPress’ MySpace page is still the closest thing the W-H gang has to an Internet hub, as the collective’s own memorably unhelpful website disappeared long ago.)
In the meantime, the uninitiated have a choice opportunity to witness Big Bad Oven in action during the latest installment of Metro Pulse and Pilot Light’s free Music Hour series on Thursday, June 23. Speaking enthusiastically of April’s inaugural Music Hour set by Shortwave Society, Wright says that the series’ 6 p.m. starting time has so far brought out “lots of new faces, and lots of old faces we don’t see much anymore.”
Still, for Pilot Light stalwarts used to starting beer-drenched sets well past midnight, plugging in for the dinner crowd seems at the very least a trip outside their comfort zone. (Wright and Wolitzky spoke at length about “drunk-proofing” newly written songs: step one, for those playing along at home, is to get drunk.) But Wright is confident Big Bad Oven will come across just fine, with one caveat.
“It might be a little tougher to get people to shake their booties,” he says. “That’s one of the advantages of alcohol. And darkness.”