, the new album from producer extraordinaire Big Data (Alan Wilkis), features guest appearances from Twin Shadow, Rivers Cuomo, White Sea, Kimbra, Jamie Lidell, and many more. The “paranoid electronic” artist saw major success in 2014 with his hit single “Dangerous (feat. Joywave)." Wilkis was named one of Rolling Stone
’s “10 Artists You Need to Know” and USA Today
’s “On the Verge” artist. The success has been a long time in coming.
“I’ve been playing music since I was 5,” says Wilkis via phone from a Washington D.C. tour stop. “I started on piano and at age 12, I got into guitar. I’ve been playing ever since. Music has always been my thing. It’s in my DNA. I started getting into producing and recording starting in college at Harvard. I’ve always listened to so much different music. I’ve always loved electronic music especially. I try to throw a few things into the blender.”
Wilkis says he had “a lot of music friends” at Harvard that encouraged him to listen to different types of music.
“There was a surprising amount of music on campus,” he says. “I heard a lot of jazz. I played in a hip-hop group. There’s a vibrant community there and in Boston there’s tons of music there.”
He released the first Big Data EP in 2013 and followed it up this year with 2.0
, a concept album about the dangers of technology.
“Each song has some kind of technological starting point, whether it’s an article about something weird that just happened on the Internet or Edward Snowden,” he says of 2.0. “I would keep a list of stuff that was happening in technology. When I got together with the singer for each song, we would go through the list and see if any ideas jumped out. Once we would pick the starting point, we would think about how to boil it down to one word, the thing that ties it all together and makes it into a pop song. I want the songs to be listenable in different ways. I want the technological stuff to be there if you want it to be there. I also want you to just hear from a musical enjoyment angle.”
The “musical enjoyment” part can’t be understated. “Dangerous” features a beefy guitar riff, handclaps and falsetto vocals. It sounds like the Bee Gees on steroids. The video, which features two buxom women running in fancy sneakers, suits the song perfectly.
“Originally, I had an idea to do a video that was a commercial for a running sneaker,” he says. “It became evident that the sneaker made you do something evil. That was all I had. I met the two directors and the three of us turned it into more of a story. What is the evil thing that the shoe makes you do? Who is the company behind it? Who are the people at the advertising agency? It’s taking a crack at advertising and consumerism and how we’re being sold stuff that the companies know is bad for us, but they still sell it to us. They use sex and violence and bright colors and smiles. It’s poison. I wanted to do that while using sex and violence to sell my own music. There’s some irony in there.”
For the live show, Wilkis says he tries to keep things as organic as possible.
“Basically, having played guitar and being in bands in my background, I knew I wanted the show to feel like a band,” he says. “I didn’t want it to be a cheesy DJ thing. I like real musicians and I like when there’s showmanship. Step one was to put a rhythm section together. As we’ve been touring more and more, the band has grown. We have a bassist, a drummer and a guitarist. I sing the male vocal parts and I have a singer who does the female parts. We sing together and do a lot of the harmonies together too.”
Big Data, On and On, Chappo, 8:30 p.m. Friday, April 3, Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-5588. Tickets: $15, grogshop.gs.