Having been fans of the band for the last year, it is fair to say that Big Deal’s debut album, Lights Out, is already a firm favourite on The Line Of Best Fit turntable. In employing their simple two-guitar sound to devastating effect, the Anglo-American duo have created an album which is stacked in both emotional depth and memorable tunes. Intriguingly, Casey Underwood and Alice Costelloe only became friends last year and while they seem a match made in musical heaven, their childhoods cast them on very different paths.
Underwood was raised in the Californian desert, while Costelloe grew up in a house of artists in London. TLOBF met up with the pair ahead of a recent show in Manchester. Our mission was to chart their musical influences from early childhood in order to gain an insight into just how the scarred beauty of Lights Out came about.
When we meet, TLOBF is under the impression that Casey and Alice have been pre-warned about our interview and they will have had time to reflect on their individual musical journeys. No one has told them and they haven’t prepared. The spontaneity of our request accounts for two things; the admission of some seriously murky musical ‘phases’ and the sight of a startled Alice looking like she has just been asked to recite War And Peace. We decide to start with Casey.
Casey, what were your first musical memories?
Casey: Well, I was born out in Joshua Tree, California and moved away to a place called Flagstaff in Arizona for a few years. My parents were very into country music, which I didn’t like at all. My dad was in Vietnam in the 60s and he was also listening to typical stuff like Hendrix, Zeppelin and The Beatles, so I would listen to those records when I was growing up. My mom was into Motown. That was their music. We moved back to the desert when I was about ten and that’s when I really started listening to music.
Do you have siblings? What did they listen to?
Casey: My brothers were big on rap and things like the Beastie Boys and they started getting into punk rock when we moved back to California. So, they were into punk and metal and I was so young I just listened to their music. By the time I was ten-years-old there was a lot of Metallica and at the same time The Smiths – one of my brothers was into British music.
What was the first band or record that you loved, which was ‘your own’ and not influenced by family members?
Casey: The music I really started to get into on my own wasn’t any of theirs at all; the first bands that I really liked as my own were Depeche Mode – when I was ten or 11. I then started playing guitar. The first album I got into, on my own without anyone else’s influence, was the second Weezer album [1996’s Pinkerton] – which we don’t sound like at all. I felt like a total nerd and outcast person, and that band very clearly triumphed in saying it is okay to be into uncool things like comic books and prog rock. I kinda liked that. Between that and Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins, those were two really big records for me.
Can you remember the first gig that blew you away?
Casey: The first gig I remember being really excited by was a Less Than Jake gig – if you can believe it. Those shows were really, really fun. We had to drive three hours in the desert to get there. I went with my friends and Less Than Jake were supporting No Doubt.
So, fill in the gaps between your Less Than Jake phase up to meeting Alice.
Casey: There was a band called Afghan Whigs I really got into on my own, and I still go back and listen to now. I also had an Elliott Smith phase, and got really into Jeff Buckley and Nirvana. I’m always in a Nirvana phase. I’m really boring, but Nevermind is my favourite album of theirs. If you look back now, the lyrics to Bleach were just silly. Nevermind has incredible lyrics.
By now, Alice – clearly having given her musical past some thought – looks less like a rabbit trapped in TLOBF’s glaring headlights. We decide to turn our attention to her.
Alice, can you remember what was the first type of music you were exposed to?
Alice: When I was really little, I literally never heard any music in my house. My dad would sometimes sing me old heartbreak-country songs to get me to sleep. When my parents split up and separate places, they both started playing music. My dad had super-weird tastes and would play Johnny Cash or The Fugees – he would play The Fugees’ The Score album every week. My mum would hardly play any music apart from one Bob Dylan record and one Patsy Cline record; which probably explains my aversion to country music. The Dylan album was the one with ‘Lay Lady Lay’ on it [1969’s Nashville Skyline]. When my step-dad moved in, he brought a massive record collection with him. He brought all these huge guitar bands and we all got really into The Smiths, David Bowie and weird stuff like Ian Dury And The Blockheads.
You have older sisters, how did they influence your tastes as a child?
Alice: I have got sisters, but I was never influenced by their music tastes. Well, that’s not exactly true. My eldest sister was into, like, Spice Girls to Usher and LL Cool J and I was never following that route. My middle sister and I had a big emo and ska-punk phase – which I don’t really want to talk about. There was a year of my life where I thought Camden Market was really cool and I listened to some terrible emo stuff – like the first Blink-182 record and things like Less Than Jake, Bowling For Soup; really, really bad stuff. I was 13. I even had a Blink-182 hoodie.
Casey: I hate Blink-182.
Alice: Yeah, but you weren’t 13 and thought your sister was the coolest person in the world. I literally went into my sister’s bedroom and said ‘I want to be cool like you’ and she took me to Camden Market and bought me some stripy tops, some baggy trousers and a Blink-182 hoodie. I was like ‘am I cool now?’ So, that was a strange patch.
Can you remember the first album you really fell in love with?
Alice: The first album I fell in love with? Hmm, I have no idea. That’s bad. What’s the T-Rex album that has ‘Life’s A Gas’ on? [1971’s Electric Warrior]. That was the first album I tried to learn to play on guitar – I got obsessive about it and would play it over and over again. I would have been 12, before the emo-ska-punk phase. After that, I got more into music and going to gigs and being friends with people who were really into music. They got me into Sonic Youth, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Suicide and a lot of heavier stuff. I was into that for a long time.
And what was your first memorable gig?
Alice: There was this band called Pink Grease, who weren’t great but were on Mute Records. They played this gig at the Camden Barfly and I thought it was the best thing ever. I loved the energy of it. I did see Suicide after that and was actually really put off by seeing them live because they were about 70 and I was like ‘what the fuck is this?’
Was that your very first gig?
Alice: No, my first gig was Destiny’s Child at Wembley. It was mind-blowing. I was so confused; I didn’t even realise there were that many people in London. We got action-figure dolls afterwards – Kelly, Michelle and Beyoncé. I got Beyoncé – she got massacred in a Barbie incident. We cut off all her hair.
Does that bring us to the point you met Casey?
Alice: Nearly, I also had the phase that Casey has much earlier on; things like Weezer, Pavement and the slightly nerdier side of things. I was friends with boys who were a bit nerdy, so could relate to that. Actually, I realise I have been mean to my sister by saying Spice Girls and Usher was all she listened to. She got me into Elliott Smith after watching Good Will Hunting. She has her good points. But she was listening to Usher and Elliott Smith at the same time.
Suddenly, Casey is stirred into a bout of self-confession.
Casey: If I am honest, there was one band that I was really into and I probably shouldn’t say, because I don’t want anyone to find out. I’m wholly embarrassed by it now. I shouldn’t say.
Alice: I’ve just admitted to an emo-ska-punk phase!
Casey: Fuck. I went through a Dave Matthews Band phase. I went to a summer camp with a bunch of hippies. Oh, fuck. There is one good song; it’s called ‘I’ll Back You Up’. I’m telling you it is a good song. He has got a horrible voice, but he must be doing something right because he is, like, a billionaire now.
What are the bands that you both totally agree on?
Casey: We met three years ago and became friends last year. When I met Alice I was also into Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr – bands like that. The newer bands we bonded over were Arcade Fire and MGMT. We toured with Grouplove and had to listen to them every night for two weeks and we still enjoy that record.
Alice: Yeah, we seriously agree on Arcade Fire, The Strokes, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Broken Social Scene. We also both love the Velvet Underground. There is a guy on our label called Josh T. Pearson who we’ve seen a couple of times – he is incredible. We both like that album. We also like Kurt Vile’s newish record.
That is a wonderful list of musicians. How much have they influenced the Big Deal sound?
Casey: It is funny though, because no-one who has written about us previously has mentioned any of those bands. They only ever mention boy-girl duos. It’s strange.
Alice: We are always going to sound different because there are two guitars and no drums, but our songwriting is influenced by those bands.
Casey: We never say we want to sound like a particular band, but sometimes we hear a great songs and try and write a song that makes you feel like that. That’s how we will do it – getting the feeling first. If there is anything that comes into defining what we sound like, it is our personalities, more than the bands we are into. The fact that we cannot put a lot of things into the music; we can’t borrow lots of sonic things, because we can’t execute lots of sonic things as there is just the two of us. It is really more about our ideas, which is what our personalities are like.
Lights Out is out now via Mute.