AOR Heaven has another band to delight the fans of this genre - Big Life. To learn more about Big Life I jotted down some questions which were answered by singer Mark Thompson-Smith quickly.
Please tell us how things started! Did you know each other for years? Or run into each other and figured out you have the same vision? Enlighten us!
Hi Claudia...Mark here!!!
Steve and I have been friends since 1994. I was no longer with Praying Mantis and had put a local band together when the guitarist decided to leave, so the keyboard player Mark Mullholland recommended his mate, Steve Newman. Unfortunately, the drummer, my good friend Big Al Partridge, couldn't continue and it all fell apart before Steve and I actually had a chance to meet..... and he'd learned all my songs too as I'd sent him a tape with them on!!
Shortly afterwards I decided to give up singing and pursue a career in IT as the melodic rock scene had been swept away by the grunge tidal wave.
Steve and I did meet up just after that decision and we've been firm friends ever since. It was unfortunate timing in some ways as he was starting to write and record his own songs and was looking for me to sing them but I'd lost my passion for music completely....but it worked out so well as he decided to sing the songs himself and the rest is history as that was the start of Newman!! What a great decision it was for him as he's a great singer in his own right as you can tell from his albums.
Over the time that Steve has been recording his albums he'd ask me over to listen to his new song ideas and recordings and finally persuaded me to sing backing vocals on a few. I think secretly he was trying to get me back singing full time again ...if he was...it finally worked!!
Why the name Big Life? Seems there are quite a few other bands named Big Life already...
Really?? We did a lot of checking around about 12 months ago before deciding to go with it but didn't come up with any signed bands etc. There's obviously the management / record label company and the African charity foundation... I love their bull elephant image ...and, of course, Nightranger's album.
We really liked the name and went with it.
When did you start writing songs for Big Life? Do you write songs as a band?
Steve and I started just after I'd toured Sweden with The Sweet at the end of 2005.
I'd returned to singing at the start of the year after being made redundant from the IT industry and a close friend, Jackie Braithwaite, passing away suddenly shortly afterwards. That combination made me think long and hard about life after her funeral. I reformed my old local covers band Fay Wray after that sad day after conversations with friends from the band who were also attending. It was a 'Life's too short' moment. We rehearsed and the passion came back singing all those old US rock classics by Van Halen, Giant and Journey. Then out of the blue I had the chance to help out The Sweet.
It was after that tour that I called Steve and told him that I wanted to start writing songs with him..... he was the most obvious choice and I'm really glad that he wanted to write too.
Steve and I write together in a very simple way with him playing an acoustic and me with melodies in my head, pen and paper at the ready. The songs are initially sketches that he then takes in to The Blue Room to start laying down the ideas. It's worked incredibly well... very simple and very natural... we'll do the same for the next album.
What bands / artists inspired you? What are you listening to these days?
I love a whole range of artists who I admire for many different reasons most from the classic days so, Van Halen, Toto, Journey, Heart, Rush, Queen, Deep Purple, Bad Company, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Giant, Mr Big, Bad English, Mister Mister, Whitesnake, Dan Reed Network, Winger. ...there are loads.. It Bites... Jelly Fish.. Absolutely love Xenon's Simple album.. I almost joined them when I was in New Jersey.
To the other extreme I like singers like Anita Baker and Luther Vandross. RIP.... Brilliant rich tones... and Tom Jones... amazing presence live.... oh and Diamond Dave Lee Roth gets special mention as he's so entertaining.
I saw Winger and Mr Big on their recent tours over here and it was great to see them back!
I run rock schools in England so I get to listen to lots of newer bands of all styles but strangely enough most of my young students are in to the classic rock bands too.
I'm listening to the new Foo Fighters and Mr Big albums at the moment.
How much time did you spent at The Blue Room?
We'd been slowly putting the ideas down from 2006 in between Steve's Newman commitments. He's a very prolific writer hence the 8 CDs in past 10 years and he helps out other artists and labels too.
Although 90% of the songs were written by mid 2006, we only really committed to recording what now was going to be the Big Life CD last year so we wrote 2 more i.e. Dying Day and Better Man which we think are two of the strongest songs on the album.
How does the artwork ties in? Who did the cover?
Steve sourced the cover and it reminded us of an old It Bites album that we both liked. It seemed to tie in with the band name Big Life... A happy girl running through a wide open space with a glorious skyline and her whole big life ahead of her!!
The whole uplifting image of childhood innocence and just loving life... Our song Feel Alive is sort of the musical equivalent of that image but in reverse... It's me that's rediscovered that wonderful feeling.
You have excerpts of 3 songs at the player at your website, are these representing the album best in your opinion?
We chose the first three songs off the album to give people a flavor of what we are about and hopefully that interests them enough to discover the rest of the CD.
It's a varied album song wise definitely with light and shade. What is wonderful is to hear back from a lot of people who have had the promo copies is that they like certain songs like the first three and particularly Calling but with repeated plays the other slower paced songs are hitting home too... It's a real listeners album not just an once through and then leave it to one side album.
Any left overs from the recording sessions? Or just bits and pieces you might use later on?
There are two more songs which did not make the album as they didn't fit the flow of the CD and we'd already hit over an hour, so we put those to one side.
They may make the next album. We added the secret bonus track Hands Across The Water (Special Relationship) as a heartfelt thank you to Mike Walsh from the band Departure and all of my American friends in New Jersey... A fun track and tells my US story in a small way... special times... special friends!
Will you do a video clip? Which song(s) would you choose?
If we do a video it will be Better Man.
AOR Heaven, the label you signed with, just released an album Rock For Japan to raise some money to help Japan after the big quake and tsunami. Would you have like to contribute to that sampler?
I'd have loved to as I have many friends in Japan from my Praying Mantis days who, thankfully, are all safe and well. We were asked but time was against us and Georg had so many songs already so he went with all of the kind offers from the other bands who had finished songs ready to send.
These days social networking is very important, what do you think about Facebook, MySpace, etc?
Facebook is certainly a fantastic way of connecting with people... I've not been on it too long but already found new friends and rediscovered old ones from all over the world.
From a band point of view both Facebook and MySpace are great for connecting like minded people in their music community. It's been a godsend to all sorts of bands so that they can let people know that they have albums available and shows to go to.
It's a bit like the initial punk days when bands formed small labels and promoted their own shows rather than having to rely on the major record labels...only on a huge world wide scale.
The upside of the internet is that you can now reach the world easily, but obviously the illegal downloads are a big problem which do potentially undermine bands financially, but in a way it's anther way of getting the band's name out there.
So far no shows are announced, but I guess, you want to get out on stage, right? Do you consider one-off club shows? Or looking for a tour?
We'd love to!!! It's the main point of writing songs, isn't it? That said, we hadn't planned on taking it out live initially, but the reaction to the album has been so positive that we are now seriously looking at putting on some shows later this year after Steve has completed his next Newman album.
What are your plans for the rest of 2011?
I'll be helping out Steve again on his next CD and we'll also be starting up the next Big Life songs ...that's the bonus to this whole thing. Steve and I enjoyed making this album so much that we want to record another one... It will be out in 2012.
Thank you very much, Claudia...all the best!! Mark.
I have to thank Mark for answering my question at length. And if you like Big Life, then let the guys know it! And tell the local clubs that you want to see them live.