L4LM had the opportunity to chat with Dominic Lalli, saxophonist of electronic duo Big Gigantic. We talked about the live music element of the band, his origins in music, Rowdytown, the Bonnaroo superjam, and much more. Check it out!
Live For Live Music: When was the first time you picked up the sax?
Big Gigantic: Oh man…it was pretty much in Band in school. It’s kind of like your first opportunity to play an instrument in school, and I randomly picked the saxophone. It was something I stuck with and fell in love with more and more as I played it. I ended up getting a full ride scholarship in college, went all in and kept pursuing it. It really became an extension of my musical voice.
L4LM: Definitely! Did you keep with it until your enrollment at Manhattan School of Music?
BG: Oh yeah. I did the whole deal: marching band in high school, and all that stuff. I was always really into jazz, took lessons, got into All-State, and then had a lot of tutelage, and went on to do my Master’s and got a full ride for that as well. It’s just kind of what I’ve always done.
L4LM: Where did your musical influences come from when you were living in New York City during your time in school, and what inspired you to branch out from the traditional, classical sense of the sax and into the world of funk and electronica later on?
BG: Well, I was always pretty into the jazz thing. I studied a lot of classical as an undergrad, but at the same time I was studying a ton of jazz on the side. It also had to do with the guys I was hanging out with. A lot of these guys were really great players and into the jazz thing, and I got into it. I was really interested in improvising. Music is definitely like a whole language, and improvising to me was a whole other level of that language. It’s like holding instantaneous conversations about music and emotion. So I was really into that, and even after Manhattan School of Music I was playing quite a bit of jazz in New York. I had friends who were starting to get into other kinds of music, like R&B and funk, and electronic stuff like Bjork, and that started taking me to other stuff going on in the music world. Going out jamming with a bunch of people one time, I got a chance to sit in with the Motet–they were doing funk and Afrobeat kinda stuff–and they were actually looking for a full-time saxophone player and actually asked me to join the band. That’s what eventually brought me out here to Colorado. While I was living out here at first I wasn’t doing too much electronic stuff, but a lot of funk and jazz. Then I had some friends in town who were making electronic music and playing gigs. We went to see DJs and bands like STS9, and I would go sit in with those guys for a song or a set here and there. I built a bit of an audience by doing that. At one point I remember having kids come hit me up and going “You should start a band! Start a band and we’ll come follow you!” just begging for electronic stuff. This is when Pretty Lights was just starting to come on the scene. So I just bought a computer and started writing music and figuring stuff out, and the computer was cool because I could write and record my layered music and hear it all instantaneously. I would hang out at Alex B’s (Paper Diamond) house every day while he was making a bunch of hip hop. I was intrigued because I was practicing saxophone six to eight hours a day while he was making beats six to eight hours a day. We just naturally connected. He really got me into producing, and then I officially started Big G, now five or six years years ago. It’s really been quite the whirlwind ever since.
L4LM: Was it tough to leave a band like The Motet and start your own thing?
BG: Interestingly enough, it wasn’t. Obviously I love those guys–they’re still some of my best friends–but things had really slowed down for us. Dave, our drummer, had a kid, we weren’t gonna be on tour as much, and I kind of felt like, “Well, shit, what the hell am I gonna do to live?” since this was my job and career. I was already kind of a struggling, starving artist as it was anyway, and I just decided to start my own thing. Obviously, I envisioned doing great things but I didn’t know it was going to turn into this and what it’s become. And so at one point I told the band that I couldn’t do anymore Motet gigs because I was on a full blown tour with Big G. But it’s all coming full circle this weekend, because I’m bringing the Motet guys out for both nights at Red Rocks–we’re gonna do part of the show in a live band-format each night with all those guys who I was out on tour with. So it’s pretty special for me to have those guys come out to play a couple times and bring this whole thing back full circle.
L4LM: We came out for the Pretty Lights and Lettuce mashup show which created an incredible live-band experience. What can we expect that’s similar and/or kind of different with The Motet playing with Big Gigantic at ROWDYTOWN?
BG: Derek (Pretty Lights) is a good friend of mine, has so many great ideas, and is definitely part of my inspiration to bring the Motet guys out and put my music into a bunch of different scenarios. One thing I want to ensure with Big Gigantic is that I never put it into one particular box–one particular thing–so that we don’t get old at just doing one thing. So basically with that in mind, my idea for our weekend with the Motet guys is to really put our sound–and our sound with the live band–into different situations, from some of our old school tunes, to some of our new stuff, so that people can really make a connection with all of it–electronic music, DJs, live music, trap, this, that, etc–and understand that it’s all music, and that we love it all. It’s all just music, so I just want to bring to the forefront the notion that in 2014, music is alive and well. I’m excited to bring our sound, and really the sound that electronic music has found and what’s happening today, into a lot of different situations. It’s gonna be a dance party.
L4LM: Speaking on that, at Bonnaroo we ran into each other at the rehearsal space, and you explained how much preparation and rehearsal went into The Superjam. Do you think that being classically trained in jazz growing up helps with those kinds of superjams and sit-ins?
BG: Oh yeah, absolutely man. I can confidently say that I feel comfortable walking into any musical situation with my sax, and be able to play along with whatever is going on. If I didn’t have the musical background that I did, I don’t think I’d be able to do that. Also just to note: that Superjam thing at Bonnaroo with Sonny (Skrillex) was big in my idea to bring out the Motet, because Sonny had so many great musical ideas for planning that, and it really opened my eyes to how much more you can really do with the whole thing. At that superjam I was able to step in there with Lauryn Hill, Damian Marley, all those guys, and be like, “Ok, cool, we’re in this key…we’re doing this…we’re gonna do that” and so on. Like I said, it’s like a language where you can learn to relay everything to everybody involved. And so in that situation with Sonny, where he may not have known all the technical terms, he and I were on the same page so I could go to all the other band members on stage and get the whole message across.
L4LM: Do you think that you guys were like a “bridge” between the more instrumental, classical band players and the more electronic ideas that Skrillex had?
BG: Absolutely. I think that was the premise for him wanting us to do it, creating a big link between the two worlds. And like that thing with Sonny, we’ve done a bunch of the Mad Decent Block Parties with folks like Diplo, Jack U (Diplo and Skrillex), and Dillon Francis…basically, we are the only real “band/instrument people” on those shows, and I think that’s one of the reasons why they enjoy having us, because we help set up a link, and to show everyone that it’s all just, and we love to have a good time, and we really want to bridge the gap and really bring the whole thing together. Music has always moved forward with technology, and it’s going to keep doing that, just as it had all the way from classical music and the days of Mozart, all the way up to now. It’s an honor to be a part of it, really, and to be able to really sit on both sides of the fence. For me to be a producer, who is really trying to learn production and get better at it every day, and to subsequently be a music coordinator and an instrumentalist, I feel very fortunate to be able to do all of those things and not limited to just one. It’s really cool to live in all of those worlds.
L4LM: You’ve also played in superjams during Jazz Fest with some seriously talented musicians, such as the Fiyawerx Steamboat gigs. Does the same amount of rehearsal go into playing with these guys, or because you’re all so proficient in music and improvisation, are you able to get right into it?
BG: Totally. Shows like that (the Fiyawerx gigs) are what I’m best at, in terms of just being in a band, playing a part in a band, that kind of thing comes so much more naturally to me. It was an honor to play with those guys. That’s more like what I came up doing, so I’m a real natural at those kind of things.
L4LM: Do you think you guys have helped to start a live music movement and pave the way for other artists like Griz to incorporate elements of their craft into electronic music?
BG: Absolutely! I first started doing this type of thing in Colorado because people were nudging me about it and really into it, and I would take it to other places, and people kind of looked at me like I was a little crazy. And now, especially regarding the saxophone, for Griz and deep house tracks where you hear more saxophone in there, you do hear quite a bit. It’s pretty wild that the saxophone in particular has become so accepted in the electronic world, it’s had a bit of a resurgence.
L4LM: There seems to be a void of brass music in electronic music, and we think that artists like you have helped to bring that to light. What do you think the future holds for brass-incorporated electronic music?
BG: I think that, in terms of all live instruments, I don’t think it’s going to stay where it’s at…What seems to happen with musical movements that take over the “underground” scene, like hip hop, which came up at first without any recognition from the Grammys or anything…All these hip hop artists were coming up, and they were killing the game, and there was no place in the Grammys for them. So they had their own Grammys party, and there was this whole to-do about it. Same thing happened for dance music, and early electronica, and here Sonny just won a Grammy. So basically what I’m saying is, with that kind of thing, when it comes into the underground and starts taking over, people go, “I hate this…this isn’t real music…this is all the same stuff”, etc., all the same things that were said about hip hop. And then it comes in like a steamroller and takes over because of the kids, you know what I mean? And then what happens is, instead of taking over all of music, it becomes infused into pop music and pop culture. So now, when you hear popular music, how much of it is like rap, R&B, hip hop influence? A ton of it–you hear so much of it in everything on the radio. It’s not like it’s all rap, or all hip hop, but instead you hear singers, pop singers, with those influences. Now we’re hearing the same thing with electronic music, where something comes up, then settles, then becomes part of the mainstream. Now you’re seeing live hip hop bands, where the hip hop guys are saying, “Cool, let’s bring a live band out.” So I think we’re seeing new ways for musicians to branch out, do something different. I thought we played it pretty well with Sonny and the way he wanted to do it. I thought he had a great vision: have a live band and bring in all these different artists and get them involved the way we all were. I’ve never worked with someone who is so hard working and so passionate, and never stops working–like never stops. We all go to sleep, and he’s still working. And we’re talking 100% sober, just high on creating his own shit. Same with Diplo. I just wonder, when do these guys even sleep? They are just so impressive.
L4LM: Anything else that you want to add for the upcoming ROWDYTOWN gig? Anything we can expect from other aspects of the show, the digital mapping, any of the openers you want to highlight?
BG: Man, it’s just gonna be an awesome weekend. We’ve already got the first night sold out, and the second one is not too far behind. We have a lot of amazing openers, a lot of good friends, and a lot of great up-and-coming acts that are really killing it right now. The Motet guys are gonna come out with us, and we’ve got more hype but I can’t even let you know yet because I’ve gotta keep you surprised. But you’ll see…we’re doing some really cool stuff, and these are gonna be our biggest and best shows yet.
L4LM: Thank you very much!
-Kunj Shah (@KunjShah87)