Sat in a bustling Leaf Café, Liverpool, the Big House are seated immediately downstairs from the live room above, scene of several triumphant shows the duo have played over the past 18 months.
Comprising of musical/romantic partners Candie Payne and Paul Molloy, the pair’s material deftly plots a course between folk, country and classic pop.
At heart a duo with a band’s name, the moniker fits perfectly as the couple are able to leave a packed venue spellbound with just their voices and an acoustic guitar or appear with as a five-piece band with full rhythm section.
“The Big House revolves around a nucleus of me and Candie. Music-wise we could always just work like Johnny Cash and June Carter,” Paul explains, pointing up a treasured influence. “It could just be our voices and a guitar. We could end up doing an acoustic album where it’s just us two. They’re all options.”
Drawing from a deep well of influences, the duo’s sound takes in The Byrds’ later incarnations, country rock pioneer Gram Parsons’ various projects, particularly his work with Emmylou Harris along with a smidgen of the Grateful Dead’s sunbaked psych-country.
Citing the War on Drugs’ woozy modern classic ‘Slave Ambient’ and lo-fi dance merchants Django Django as current listening choices, the couple boast a hugely impressive musical history between the two of them.
As a solo artist Candie’s sumptuous noir-pop debut album ‘I Wish I Could Have Loved You More’ was released to critical acclaim in 2007. and was followed by an appearance on Mark Ronson’s ‘Versions’ album and accompanying world tour.
Collaborating on tracks with luminaries such as Kevin Ayers, Paul Weller and former linchpin of the Stands, Howard Eliot Payne, two deliciously strange singles with Kings Have Long Arms ‘Big Umbrella’ and ‘Are You One’ (as the Chanteuse & The Crippled Claw) followed, the latter a firm BBC 6Music favourite in late 2010.
2010 saw the singer taking her place amongst an all-star cast on David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s much lauded Imelda Marcos biography/musical ‘Here Lies Love’ as Candie added a duet with St. Vincent to her remarkable CV.
At the same time Paul served as lead guitarist in Liverpool band the Stands who released two critically applauded albums in the early 2000s. Following their break-up his guitar skills found a home in the Zutons, joining them in time for their third album ‘You Can Do Anything’ in 2008.
The end of June sees the unveiling of the Big House’s debut single, a double A-Side, which finds the duo in full-on band mode backed by a crack squad of Liverpool musicians on both tracks. Brilliantly evoking the warm breezes of the California climate and ‘Rumours’ era Fleetwood Mac, live favourite ‘Canyon Home in the Sun’ sees Paul take the lead as vocalist, closely shadowed by Candie.
The flip side (in old money) sees the roles reversed as Candie takes step forward for neo-Motown stomper ‘Caught Up,’ the horn driven arrangement making the most of her dramatic lead vocal. Successfully aiming for classic single territory both missives clock in around the three minute mark, their concise catchiness demanding immediate replays.
The single understandably showcases upbeat songs from the band’s catalogue, while equally rewarding, more reflective numbers such as ‘Pebble Lane’, ‘Sweetheart’ and ‘Counting Thunder’ are being saved for a later date.
Displaying the in-built melodic fluency of their material, the tracks demonstrate one of the duo’s principal strengths, the ability to pen material adaptable enough to be played as scaled back unplugged versions or in wide-screen incarnations.
The CD single proudly bears the catalogue number BCR01, the inaugural release through the band’s own label, Bearcub Records. After some fraught experiences with record companies both large and small over the years, the couple have decided to take control of their own affairs and utilize the DIY approach.
“Basically we’ve both been signed to major and independent labels and it can be frustrating not being in control,” Candie explains of the development. “We knew what we wanted to do, how we wanted to present it. We had the songs and we thought, ‘Why not just do this ourselves?’” she shrugs, smiling. ‘We’ve already done the groundwork and established who we are and what we’re doing. If anyone wants to come in then we’re an established unit and people can’t play with that formula. They’ll be buying into what we’ve created.”
Having full autonomy over the timing of the records’ released was also a major factor in setting up the label. “I think my record got put back six times possibly,” Candie recalls of the release of her debut album. ‘It got to the point in interviews where people were saying ‘When’s your record coming out?’ and I was saying ‘I don’t know, it’s saying this date now but…’”
“To be honest, we haven’t even approached any labels,” Candie continues. “We thought we don’t want anyone tampering with this, we just wanna do it our way,” Paul agrees. “If things go according to plan, we’ve got that control and we can negotiate with people if they want to get involved.”
“It’s the first time we’ve done anything like this. It’s challenging, mainly fitting the admin side of things around the music,” Paul explains. “Now we’ve really established the label and set it up, it’s time for us to have fun again,” he grins. “We can get on with recording and bankroll the records ourselves.”
With Candie involved in preparations for her second solo album alongside her releases with the Big House, Paul focused primarily on establishing the label. “It’s not that hard. It’s just time consuming really,” Paul says. “It’s quite a bit of admin that goes with it.” “I’m more like the artwork side of things,” Candie notes. “Paul does the office stuff and I do the creative thinking,” she laughs.
Affording a mixture of directness and immediacy, the duo have opted for the now-fully reactivated format of singles as their main vehicle for releasing music to begin with. Partially inspired by Phil Spector’s run of classic 7”s in the early sixties and with the humble 45 undergoing a massive renaissance in recent years, the duo’s concise songs are a perfect fit for the format.
“Singles fit in with our ethos. That route is definitely the thing for this year,” Paul nods. “We’ve already done the pre-production for the next one. The label gives us license to experiment, if we were with a big label we might not be able to.”
The duo then drew up a plan to bundle the advance tickets for the launch gig and the single in one package, with additional discs to be sold at the gig, a concept the duo hope to continue. “One of the plans was just to do singles,” Paul states. “After a few months you do another a launch and it makes it more of an event, they become collectable that way too.” “We’d maybe do something like it every five months,” Candie explains.
The launch night for the single at the Kazimier Paul promises “will be something special” with a hand-picked support bill and the band’s line-up featuring a double-bass for the first time.
A wealth of over 20 complete songs already stockpiled meanwhile strongly indicates the quality of future releases looks set to remain as high as that of their superlative debut.
The Big House play The Kazimier, Liverpool (Single Launch) on Sat 30th June