Yes, the Big Pink are fans of the Band, whose 1968 debut album they share a name with. The indie-rock duo's Robbie Furze, especially, is a fan: His parents named him after the Band's chief songwriter, Robbie Robertson.But the Big Pink are also fans of penises. And vaginas. And sex. And the flashing hot images their moniker conjure.
"It's got a full sense of grandeur, it's kind of gay, it's phallic, it's pretty dumb," says Milo Cordell, the group's keyboard and synth player. "And it just kind of stuck."
On their debut album, A Brief History of Love, which came out in September, the Big Pink make a lot of beautiful noise. The London-based Cordell and Furze originally envisioned their band as a "digital Velvet Underground." They piled on layers of noise — synth squelches, guitar fuzz, buzzing sounds that bounce around the room — and laid them on top of actual songs. Kinda like tuneful shoegazers for the new millennium.
They spent a lot of time building those layers, piece by piece, sound by sound. Cordell says it got to the point where things were getting too heavy; the music was nearly crushed under the weight of all the noises they were putting on the songs. "Sometimes we put a bit too much paint on the canvas," he says. "But sometimes we want more, more, more.
"Some of the songs had a huge amount of tracks, a shitload of them, with layers and layers of guitars and synths and noise. It's a wall of noise, really."
It should be noted that the Big Pink sound nothing like the Band. The name of their website (musicfromthebigpink.com) plays off the title of the Band's first album, Music From Big Pink. And then there's Furze's first-name connection. Plus, Cordell's family history — his dad, Denny Cordell, produced hit singles by Joe Cocker and Procol Harum in the late '60s. But sepia-toned nostalgia and musical proficiency really isn't their thing.
"You don't have to be a musician to make music," says Cordell. "A lot of my friends make music and they're not virtuoso musicians. But they got a feel and a groove and a look, and that really counts. That comes from loving sound and making sound and cultivating sound and chopping sound up."
Lyrically, A Brief History of Love is about what the title says it's about. "Too Young to Love," "Velvet" and album highlight "Dominos" are all about falling in love and out of love, and looking for love to fall in and out of. "The album was written in a period where both of us had fallen out of relationships," says Cordell. "We were trying to find stability in our lives, and we had these amazing six months writing the album, where we were completely lost in our history but also really looking forward to the future. We just let that flow."
The Big Pink first started making music together in 2007. Before that, Furze had played guitar with Alec Empire and made an album of abrasive electronica with Panic DHH; Cordell owned a record company that released early singles by the Klaxons and Titus Andronicus. The two studio junkies paired up, found a shared affinity for aggressive Chicago punks Big Black (yeah, the Big Pink's moniker also nods to Steve Albini's former group) and sweet soul music from the '60s.
The vision for their group really wasn't all that complicated. They simply wanted to make electronically enhanced noise-pop that's part Phil Spector, part Einstürzende Neubauten. Last year, they won NME's Philip Hall Award for best new act; last month, "Dominos" snagged the magazine's Best Track honor.
"Robbie never comes around the house and plays me a song on an acoustic," says Cordell. "We normally start with a beat, and then record loads of noise and just fuck around with delay times and that kind of stuff. Then we chop it up and build all this stuff around it."
The Big Pink are in the middle of a worldwide tour, including a stop at the Coachella Festival next month. (Bassist Leopold Ross and drummer Akiko Matsuura join the duo onstage.) Between dates, Cordell says he and Furze are putting together tracks for their next album, which will probably come out in early 2011. "We've been talking about a lot more minimalist stuff," he says. "There's something about hip-hop production that is quite simple. We don't always need 160 tracks.
"I'd like to operate in the same sonic world as bands like Hot Chip and Massive Attack. I think our record is a bit spotty at times. I'd like the next one to be more classical and sound like a real album."