Lo-Fi Communication

Lexington/Knoxville popsters Big Fresh forgo bizarre showmanship in favor of simple, powerful songs

In a world where music is described by more and more ridiculous neologisms—math rock, Afro-punk, thrashcore, neo-folk—it's refreshing to find a band that's happy to wear the label of "pop." Indie pop, if you will, psychedelic pop even—but Big Fresh is pop all the same.

Big Fresh is a Lexington-based band with Knoxville connections made up of five main members and a rotating cast of other musicians. The group's second album, B.F.F. (Big Fresh Forever), has an obvious Beach Boys influence. There are shades of prog rock and new wave, Brian Eno and Devo, and traces of more contemporary bands like Of Montreal, the Starlight Mints, and recent Beck. The music isn't easily definable and can vary significantly from song to song.

"We're pretty competitive with each other, and if it's not original sounding, two or three members of the band will absolutely call bullshit," says Daniel Coy, one of the band's songwriters, who also teaches history at Pellissippi State Community College.

One reason it's so hard to pin down Big Fresh's music is that the album was written over the course of almost a decade. The long gestation of the album reveals itself in a lack of consistency, but that works to the band's advantage. Songs like "W.L.U.V.," "Large Crowds," and "Joy Bomb #1" shift from pure pop to spacey electronics to layered harmonies to psychedelia and back again. The '80s influence is palpable, but Big Fresh avoids merely retreading the music they grew up idolizing.

The band's association with underground pop legend R. Stevie Moore has a lot to do with their philosophy and approach to music. Moore, a pioneer of lo-fi home recordings in the 1970s, was in a band with Big Fresh songwriter John Ferguson's father and has been a significant presence in his life and the evolution of Big Fresh.

"It was inspirational for me to see somebody do it all themselves," Ferguson says. "To not need a record label and not need money, just the passion to be prolific, creative, and weird—everything that I like about music. It's great that with the Internet people are able to be more autonomous with their craft, and put out their own product without that compromise. It levels the playing field, so to speak."

Ferguson is also a member of indie legends the Apples in Stereo, and that relationship has also affected the trajectory of Big Fresh's career. Big Fresh opened for the Apples on tour last year, and the self-recorded B.F.F. was mastered by the Apples' Robert Schneider and released by Garden Gate Records, the label run by Schneider, his wife Marci, and her brother Craig Morris. The next Big Fresh album, also scheduled to be released by Garden Gate, will be recorded in a real studio.

In addition to Ferguson and Coy, core band members are Jeremy Midkiff, Ben Fulton, and Dave Farris. Big Fresh's members all dabble in other projects, with one or more members also playing in Ulysses, Knoxville's Deek Hoi, Joybombs, and Club Dub.

"I don't want to get all lofty, but communication is communication," Coy says. "The medium really doesn't matter. If your song makes a person feel strong or happy or whatever emotion you're trying to communicate, it doesn't matter whether it reaches them through an underground friend recommending a record that's out of print, or whether it comes through a car commercial."

In the past, the members of Big Fresh have incorporated some alternative performance and/or post-modern trappings into their stage show: yoga, rollerskates, physics lectures, even convening a panel of experts during a show to comment on how the show's going. But with B.F.F. the band is forgoing the bizarre showmanship and has recommitted to the simplicity and power of the songs themselves.

"We just play the music and hope that it goes well," Ferguson says. "When I played my first show and people paid money to come see what we did, that was pretty much it for me. I was like, ‘I reached my goal—someone else cared enough to come see me.' Really, anything else is bonus."