SCV interview with Big Sir of Rodriguez Lopez Productions / Sargent House

Big Sir / Sargent House Photo by Marianne Williams

An interview is one of the most authentic and honest windows into the hearts and minds of the artists and musicians we’ve come to admire. And, in this particular case… an added dose of humility. Logistics and self-deprecating humor aside, there is no better approach towards familiarizing yourself with the music you know and love, than by speaking with the musicians who have created the compositions that their fans have come to hold dear to their hearts. Throughout the years Lisa Papineau and Juan Alderete of Big Sir have created a fan base dedicated to the evolution of their multifaceted sound.

With the two having such a diverse creative output that extends far outside of their album releases, Lisa and Juan always seem to give the time needed to Big Sir for stages of growth in the bands legacy to continue and 2012 marks the next cycle. The ethereally haunting vocal and synth work of Lisa Papineau along with the sea of effects bassist of The Mars Volta Juan Alderete utilizes combine for a compositional mastery in which the sum is greater than the parts. With this Los Angeles dynamic duo’s third full length album, Before Gardens After Gardens, set to release on February 7th of this year with Sargent House, Big Sir has created an authentic and diverse harmonious experience bound to have you yearning for more. When we received the album from Sargent House and dove in together, it felt like love at first sight.

Sound Colour Vibration was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak with Big Sir and get a firsthand look at the creative dynamic behind this band and their insight regarding a shared passion for music enriched with Los Angeles tradition, trust and mutual respect for one another, the influence of fearless whip-cracking manager and Sargent House matriarch, Cathy Pellow, creative contributions and unique signature musicality of fellow artists, and the strong camaraderie setting the foundation for their beautifully cultivated sound. Ladies and Gentlemen… It’s our pleasure to present to you Sound Colour Vibration’s exclusive interview with LA band, Big Sir.


Sound Colour Vibration interview with Big Sir of Sargent House
January of 2012

The both of you met through Pet in 1999. February 7th marks the release of Big Sir’s latest album. How does it feel to be together after twelve years releasing Big Sir’s third full-length album, Before Gardens After Gardens?

Lisa: We actually met doing Pet in 1996, and Big Sir really started solidifying and taking its present form in 1999. Feels great. Feels always… new.

Considering the fact that the both of you have created music expanding throughout a melodic spectrum (Lisa, from your acoustic and ambient approach towards your solo material, and Juan with the music you’ve created throughout your career with The Mars Volta), how do you feel the both of you compliment each other’s approach towards Big Sir and creating such an organic sound?

Lisa: We talk a lot about how much beloved music we share. And where each of us diverge, both in music and living our lives, we have an avid interest in each others perspectives or tastes that are new or different, respectively. You develop trust in the reasons why, enough to explore what isn’t immediately understood of the other person’s choices.

Juan, I’ve read that you make it a point to run everything you have created with Lisa. There’s definitely a strong camaraderie between the both of you. What do you feel to be the foundation of Big Sir that maintains this creative momentum?

Juan: Our mutual respect of each other.  We both knew at meeting each other that we had a strong camaraderie between us.  Our love for hip hop as much as The Jesus Lizard or Carole King or Dali’s Car made us realize we should make music together as long as we live.  Our confidence in each other cuts out a lot of decision making based arguments.  For example, Lisa handles the artwork because she has the eye for it.  I handle beat juggling because I have the computer for it.

Lisa: I juggle dropping the beats.

Due to your demanding schedules and commitments with other projects, I understand that Before Gardens After Gardens was created virtually over constant exchanges, building off of each other’s edits and input, eventually creating these tracks. Do you feel this less conventional (or less formal) approach towards creating an album has built on the character of the album’s entirety?

Juan: “Less conventional” may not be accurate anymore.  We believe this is a very conventional approach in today’s laptop studio world.  We are definitely not the first band to work over the internet.  This album contains both old school and new school approaches.  The first set of tracks were via the internet for sure but the second half of the record was recorded mostly at Infrasonic studios with Robert Carranza engineering.  Both approaches have value and both approaches were utilized.

Lisa: Whatever gets the song out of our heads and into the mix the best.. that’s all that matters…  whatever is available and makes most sense, in the end all that matters is the song coming together.

In what way has the creative process of Before Gardens After Gardens served as catharsis and personal and spiritual growth for the both of you? 6) It’s been six years since Big Sir released Und Die Scheiße Ändert Sich Immer. How do you feel you have evolved in these last six years, and has your approach towards Before Gardens After Gardens changed or evolved from your previous two full-length albums?

Lisa: I think this has always been the case with Big Sir, but more than ever, we have just made music we want to shake our asses to, or music to pop in the car for a long road trip… kool taste-maker-ing or hole-pegging be damned. Less trying to bend the initial song idea to go away from that gut impulse that created it in the first place. Continuing to trust some of the “mistakes” in demos, because the occasional glitches and weird squawks feel groovier than perfection.  I could think of  a number of reasons, but I don’t know if they are correct or redundant, but there is no doubt for us that this body of songs feels like they belong together. We worked very hard on the flow from the dancier beginning of the album into the dreamier/ heavier second half, to make sure it felt right and true.

There are many great cameos in Before Gardens After Gardens (Cedric Bixler-Zavala, Jonathan Hischke, Matthew Embree, Deantoni Parks, just to name a few). When the two of you have worked together for all these years, how did you approach creative input from these additional artists, and do you give these musicians a sense of free reign regarding their part in Before Gardens After Gardens or the album as a whole?  8) What is it that you look for, or take into consideration, when throwing out names of guests for a Big Sir album?

Juan: We have an idea of what we are hoping to hear from our cohorts and that is, what they seem to always bring to anything they work on…their musicality.  Money Mark for instance, always brings in some crazy keyboard or plays a keyboard at the studio in some unconventional way yet, still, you know it’s him.  Cedric has such a unique approach to drums that is not like any drummer.  His Defacto records prove it.  Hischke always has some new bass sound that never sounds like any bass you have ever heard.  It’s that uniqueness that we both love and how it always fits in our music.

Lisa, in your last interview with Sound Colour Vibration you mentioned the amount of mental discipline and self-motivation required of a career in music. Both of you have numerous projects outside of Big Sir. Considering the commitment the both of you have towards each other as artists, would you say that coming together for Big Sir makes you at ease regarding the stress of creating quality material (that the both of you are proud of), or would you say that due to your respect for one another, there’s an added pressure (or higher standard) in that the both of you hold each other’s respect and artistry in such high regard?

Lisa: I think there is always pressure and anxiety to get the song right, to be true to what you hear in your head, no matter what the project is.

Big Sir is part of the RLP and Sargent House Family. There’s no denying that Cathy Pellow is one of the most admirable and hard-working Managers out there. How do you feel your label and management have added to the creative success of your material?

Lisa: Cathy is an incredibly creative soul, so she “gets” her artists’ processes, how they can differ from band to band, how to be supportive but not invasive, how to be constructively critical when it’s time for it, how to use her creativity in marketing and management to work organically for the music and collectively with the artist, so nothing ever feels contrived or false once it enters the “release and promotion” phase. She doesn’t assume we are dummies about the rest of the process and that inherent respect, and her expectation of us to be responsibly active in our own business is fresh and for my part, very welcome.

Juan:  Cathy cracks the whip, cracks heads.  She is fearless.  She stands up for what she believes in and it works.  We all want more labels like Sargent House in this world.

Juan, you’re from El Paso/Juarez, and Lisa, you currently reside in Paris, both locations extremely vibrant with culture, art, and music. What cultural elements do the both of you instill in your music, and how have you bridged those elements in Big Sir’s music?

Juan: I am from Los Angeles…born and raised. I never lived in El Paso or Juarez.  Lisa lived in Paris but has over the past few years been splitting her time between there and LA, and now is for the most part back in Los Angeles.  We, as Big Sir, have always been a 100% Los Angeles band… a Cali band. We especially share a common love of low-rider oldies and slow jams,  and other music that have a rich Los Angeles tradition: hip hop, 70’s AOR, early new wave and post punk.  All of that is strongly there in our way of creating our music.


Big Sir have announced two live dates in Southern, CA for February, below are the dates. Also, don’t miss out on pre-ordering the CD of the new Big Sir album Before Gardens After Gardens coming out next month. The band is also offering a really nice package deal for $30 that includes the Digipack CD release, 11×17 poster, canvas tote bag and a choice between two shirts printed on American Apparel. Check out the pictures and links to buy from the Big Sir Hello Merch Store.

From Big Sir: We are very excited to announce two new west coast shows for Big Sir with Marcel Rodriguez Lopez of (Zechs Marquise & The Mars Volta) electronica project called Eureka the Butcher featuring Sadah Luna don’t miss them if you are in the  area:

2/19 @ Hemingways Lounge – Hollywood, CA w/ Gregory Rogove
2/20 @ Harvellle’s – Long Beach, CA w/ The Vespertines

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