INTERVIEW BY JOE FITZPATRICK
Since forming the lifelong friendships in their hometown of Williamsburg, Va., the members of BIG MAMA SHAKES have been hard at work building a name for themselves both in the local scene and beyond the Commonwealth. After relocating their unique version of “soul rock” to the new home base in Richmond, Va., the band, whose current lineup includes guitarist and vocalist Brady Heck, keyboard, harmonica player, and vocalist Elijah Righter, guitarist and mandolin player Caleb Austin, drummer Chandler Matkins, and bassist Peter Cason, has been consistently rising to the top of the Richmond music scene. They are currently working on finishing their debut album, As She Does, which will be released in spring 2015. We caught up with the band to discuss their popular status in Richmond and the wild performances they deliver on stage, their recent Indiegogo campaign to help fund their new album, and whether or not their song “Let It Grow” is about growing out a big lumberjack beard.
Your band recently performed at The National as part of their “On the Verge: Best of the 804” concert series. How were you selected to headline that show, and how was the performance?
Peter: We did not headline the show. It’s a local show, and it’s set up by ticket sales. I do feel very good about the performance, though. There were 400 people there, and they were going nuts (laughs). So it was a whole lot of fun, and the rest of the bands seemed to really like us.
Brady: That show is going down in the books as one of the wildest shows we’ve played. Over the last year, we’ve been doing a whole lot of stuff, and we’ve got a reputation for being a pretty wild band live. That kind of took the cake as far as our live sets go.
Elijah: Just to make a note, some of the bands that we played with were GRIFF’S ROOM BAND and LUCY IN BATTLE ARMOR. LUCY IN BATTLE ARMOR was the headliner that night.
Just out of curiosity, what about your performances make them so wild?
Chandler: I personally think what makes our performances so wild is the energy that we bring to the stage. Most of us have been playing together for years since high school. We all have such a passion for it and charisma, and when you bring five people together that love music as much as we do, it kind of just clicks. We just rip it wide open.
Elijah: I would like to say that one of the things that brings the energy we have on stage is Chandler and his ridiculously intense drum playing (laughing by the other band members in the background). Chandler breaks his sticks just about every show. Like imagine an octopus playing drums (collective laughter).
That’s a good analogy. Are you all originally from Richmond?
Chandler: We all grew up in Williamsburg, Va., and that’s where we all met. But we are based out of Richmond, Va. right now.
Is BIG MAMA SHAKES a reference to a movie or something?
Brady: Actually, the dumb name comes from an old band that me and our bassist Peter used to be in. One time, our keyboard player Elijah played with us, and he wasn’t actually a member of the band. So for laughs, and whatnot, we called him BIG MAMA SHAKES. … It sounds good; it’s got a good ring to it.
Currently, your band has an Indiegogo campaign in progress to fund your debut full-length album, As She Does, and, as of this interview, you have raised more than $1,300 of your $4,000 goal. Do you think crowd funding will continue to be a popular trend in the music industry for many years to come?
Caleb: I think it should be, as long as people don’t get too tired of it. But I hope not because we really need to make some money.
Peter: It’s an extremely useful tool if it’s able to get out there. When you go on the Indiegogo website, you can see all these [campaigns] that are at 150 percent of their budgeting, and they got there because they got number one on the Indiegogo views or something. They basically paid to get it. … It’s a really weird system that I don’t understand, and I hope to understand it (laughs).
With the increase in bands having a social media presence, do you think that there is less of a desire for bands to get signed to a record label to put out their music? How does BIG MAMA SHAKES feel about that?
Brady: For sure, definitely. It seems like these days record labels actually are pretty lackluster in what they offer. Most don’t offer support to upcoming bands; you have to build yourself before record labels will actually do anything for you. It kind of defeats the purpose [of getting signed to a record label] in that sense. A lot of the bands that we associate with have done bigger and better things than us. We’ve kind of had to work for everything we’ve had, and, in a sense, it seems like record labels take a little bit away from that. As rewarding as it is to have a big name backing you, it doesn’t really work [in your favor] to make out with everything that you deserve.
Peter: For an example of what Brady was just talking about, a friend’s band of ours here in Richmond — they’re relatively big — was offered a contract by a big name record lable, but they weren’t offering tour support or album support. So basically they were just doing nothing and putting their name on their CD. A lot of bands, from what I [understand], are receiving such offers. I don’t understand how that helps us at all.
Elijah: This is really unfortunate because there’s really not much that we have been able to find on our own that makes you money, like “real money,” as a band, and record labels used to be a certain amount of opportunity for that. Live music, as a whole seems to be becoming a lot less profitable, and it’s already starting to disappear a little bit. It’s probably going to keep disappearing unless we do something about it.
Chandler: I think one of the big things is that there is so many people trying to be musicians now. Everybody and their brother wants to be the “next big thing.” I think it’s good; it brings a lot of diversity to the music world and arts world in general. But it’s not always necessarily the greatest thing.
What is the current status of the songs that will be on your new album, As She Does?
Peter: All the drum tracks are done. Most of the guitar tracks are done. Almost all of the bass tracks are done. We’re nearing completion.
Where are you recording the new album, and who is producing it?
Chandler: We’re recording the album in a studio in Williamsburg, Va. called Unkempt & Overcaffinated Studios. It is more of a home grown studio, not a big place. It’s got a very homey vibe to it, and they offer fantastic prices for what they are willing to give you. The studio also has great connections inside that can really help you as far as mixing and mastering, even shows. The studio engineer that is recording our album, Colin Cross, is the drummer for BROKE ROYALS, who was also one of the bands we played with at The National, and it all came together because we were recording the album together.
Have you set a release date for the new album yet?
Peter: The release date is Tuesday, May 5, and we are looking to have an album release party the weekend before that and invite people to the prerelease party. But before that, we are having two singles come out.
Chandler: The first single will be coming out on April 21, and the second single will be coming out on April 28.
In August 2014, you guys released a video for your song “Let It Grow.” I’m assuming this song isn’t about growing facial hair, or is it?
Peter: It might as well be at this point (thunderous laughter).
Brady: I wrote that song, but considering that my facial hair is pretty lackluster compared to the rest of the band, it might as well be about my sheer desire to grow a full lumberjack beard (more thunderous laughter from his band members). I grew up in a really country, rural way, in the sense that my dad was real backwoods, and my whole family was like that. It’s sort of like paying homage to that, in a sense. The reference, “We were raised here by the river,” which is the first line of the song, and that is in reference to the Chickahominy River, which runs right by and through our hometown.
Probably my favorite part of that video is the two vocalists singing at each other in the same microphone. Is that common for you guys to do while recording?
Brady: Actually, yes. Me and Elijah, our keyboard player, are the two main vocalists in the group, and that’s a pretty common practice for us when we are in the studio especially if we are doing harmonies together. On one of the new songs that is coming out on the new record, we just sort of did this entire disco harmony just the two of us locked up in the room.
Elijah: A funny note about that harmony that we were doing, [while] we were doing it, we found out that we only hit the right pitches to that backing harmony when we were doing jazz hands together (laughs from the band). If you are listening to “The Fighter,” when the harmonies are blowing up in the background, just remember that jazz hands made it happen.
Brady: Those harmonies are sponsored by jazz hands. I think [singing into the microphone together] actually helps the recording quality of it, or at least the vibe altogether. Me and Elijah have the opportunity to vibe really well off each other in a setting like that, and I think it makes the entire thing more natural.
Do you have any other shows coming up that you would like to announce?
Chandler: On Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015, we will be opening up for GRIFF’S ROOM BAND at Capital Ale House in Richmond. On Saturday, March 14, 2015, we will be playing a showcase at Peabody’s (18+) in Virginia Beach, hosted by Shaggy from Z104. On Friday, March 20, 2015, we will be playing a house show in D.C. called Babe City. We will be playing with THE DELTA SAINTS and THE VACANT STAIRS on Saturday, April 4, 2015 at The Camel in Richmond, Va. On Saturday, May 2, 2015, we will be playing at Cary Street Café (21+) in Richmond. We are so swamped with the album right now, but the moment it’s released, it’ll be a whole new ball game with too many shows to count. We will have a huge CD release party in May, [with more details] to be announced.
Peter: We are also going on a tour of the east coast from Richmond, Va. to Portland, Maine in June and July.
For more updates on BIG MAMA SHAKES, be sure to visit their website, “like” their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter and Instagram, subscribe to their YouTube channel, and listen to their music on Soundcloud.