Listen to Portland’s Helvetia deliver an eerie rendition of the Vince Guaraldi classic “Christmas Time is Here.”
Big How is asking you a question. It’s the same question they’re asking themselves, and true to their name, it’s a big one. This “How?” echoes throughout their self-titled second album, their first release since 2012’s Who’s There, an interrogation of sentiment, of dedication and the creative act, of the tensions between work and expression and the ways in which we make and speak and love.
Recording began last year, before guitarist Ben Klein made the move down to Los Angeles, and so the underlying question is in some ways one of practicality. In another sense, it’s a more metaphysical how, one focused on the process itself, and it’s in this sense that the record really comes to life.
The band’s sound is rooted in the earnest simplicity of indie rock, but with a a range of influences that spans far beyond, and through the use of subtle effects and understatedly technical arrangements, Big How manages to sustain a sound that seems both familiar and unexpected. Frontman Sam Barber’s vocals sit at the center, sonically unshrouded in a way that’s perhaps atypical for the genre, but that allows his words the space to resonate apart from the music. It should come as no surprise, then, that he did his own mixing.
“At this point I can’t really imagine doing an album without being involved in the production,” He says. “When I was younger I didn’t realize how much impact production could have on a band’s music. It wasn’t until I started looking at who was producing all these bands I was listening to—Damien Jurado, Jessie Baylin, Pure Bathing Culture, Foxygen—that I realized it was all the same guy, Richard Swift. That’s when I really started to get into it.”
So perhaps part of the answer is that–the dedication to each part of the process, the holistic approach to creation, but surely there’s more to it as well. Perhaps as you listen close, you begin to hear something happening, Big How pulling back the curtain to reveal its true nature–that inside the question was where the answer lay all along.