Brisbane artist Paul Donoughue aka Big Strong Brute creates intelligent indie-pop music that anyone and everyone can dance too. Recently going from a solo performer to being backed by a full band allowing him to get into the groove a bit more on stage he hit up a string of dates down the east coast of Australia. When you talk to Paul you get the sense of a highly intelligent, on the ball individual whose really been putting in the hard yards to get to where he is.
After a little bit of work and changing plans around so that I could get on the phone with him (even if I was sitting in a mesh cage on my break at work) talking with him is fun, he’s super laid back and just an awesome guy.
Hey man hows things up in Brisbane at the moment?
I’m actually down in Sydney at the moment, so the weathers really nice and I’m enjoying my time here like I always do in Sydney.
Are you still on tour at the moment?
No, not at the moment. I’m playing down here tomorrow night as a one off gig, then I head to Melbourne in a few weeks for some shows down there.
You played your hometown Brissy a few weeks ago, how’d that go down for you?
It was really good, really fun. The line up was good. We had Stevie which is an electro duo and it like only their second show I think but they were really good. It worked out to be a really good mix actually. We had a lot of artist
there on the night, had a lot of fun. We’ve played at Black Bear like so many times now but it’s always a really nice vibe there. The staff are all really nice and Tim who does the sound is really good. It’s just like our home base really. We’ve been there so many times but it’s always really good fun.
When you’re constantly travelling and playing interstate shows are you the type of person who always works out a check list of things they need to remember to bring with them?
Yeah I’m pretty good at making list. I definitely make lists before I do these kind of things, cause I’m one of those people. It’s just one of those things. I’m notoriously bad at remembering things like guitar picks and guitar straps, those little annoying things. I need to buy five of each of them and to leave them strategically leave them in places, maybe even different cities just because I always forget them. It’s one of those things where I’ve just started asking people in the crowd for guitar picsk, cause inevitably someone in the crowd is a guitar player and they’ve got one in their wallet. The other stuff if kind of harder to come by on the fly though, that’s why I try to make sure I don’t forget. Other than that I try to travel pretty light. I’m pretty good at wearing like really dirty jeans, and I’m not precious about it, as long as I have a really decent jacket with me I’m not to phased about having to be constantly changing my wardrobe. Wash and repeat.
When you are on the move, do you actually get much time to hang out in the cities you visit?
Yeah, we don’t really do long strings of dates because we all have day jobs and other commitments so it’s generally more we’ll do like we are now cities separately over a month or so. We’ll do weekends cause they’re generally the easier way to do things for us. We’ll do like 24 hours in town, and having said that we generally don’t actually do much I suppose, once you’ve kind of arrived, rested and had some drinks that’s kind of it really. I have family in Melbourne so whenever I”m in Melbourne it’s always on my list to try and work out some time with them and I usually try to take a little extra time. This time around however we’ve only really got 24 hours. These days it makes a lot more sense finically to kind of get in and out fairly quick.
When you’re approaching a new project and you’re a multi-insturmetalist like yourself at the start do you tend to gravitate towards one instrument or sound to begin with?
Yeah I kind of wanted to make the new record a bit more upbeat then the last one, noisier, a little more carefree. The last one was a lot more acoustic guitar based and I kind of wanted to let my hair down on this one, have a lot more synths and noisier guitars and have it more driven by drums. That was the vibe I was going for, more I guess bringing out the rock. I’d played solo for so long since the last record because I was living overseas and it was kind of the only option I had. Being a solo guy with a guitar started to feel really limiting and really boring and just not challenging at all. That made me lose a lot of interest. I started to listen to a lot more loud, loud music way more and that’s where my interest laid so that’s when I decided to make this loud record that would require a band that would require electric guitars, synthesizers and all of that kind of fun stuff.
Now that you are transitioning into this new area for yourself, playing with a band, how do you decide what parts that you’re personally going to play and what parts you’re going to hand over to the band?
I guess I’m sort of the least technically proficient musician in the band so that means that the less I have to do in terms of everything outside of singing the better. I have trying to be working out a scenario where I can focus on a bit less and just really focus on the singing and have the other guys do more, I think that works better. Obviously most of the time all the songs are written by me on a single guitar so it’s a questions of just initially taking it to the band, but with the songs on the EP it was all done by me so all of the layers were as well. It’s basically just a question of sitting down with the band and working out in the live shows who plays what layers and usually I play the simplest parts because Pat the guitarist is extremely good and I am not.
Now that you are free’d up on stage, have you started to bring your dance moves out?
Yes! It’s part of the reason that I try to leave the technical guitar work to people that are better then me, I want to focus a bit more on bringing my dances moves to the live arena. I do feel like it’s important to bring a show. I mean it’s fine and I’d go to see a band that just stands there in t-shirts playing for 45 minutes, but I feel the audience expects something more from shows now. To be giving them a little bit of a performance, particularly now that they have so much choice, I mean they can stay home and watch Netflix all night so you’ve kind of got to turn them on a little bit I suppose
You’re dance moves were really bought out in the latest video. Some Napoleon Dynamite inspiration?
We definitely watched that. My friend just kind of said “ I think we should just film you in your living room dancing like no one’s watching” and that’s kind of what we did. It was also a question of we had limited time and no resources so we just decided to have fun. It was tiring but definitely fun.
Is there a go to dance move that you pull out?
Not really, I mean in that video theres some Elaine from Seinfeld which is the weird thumbs and the kicks. She is the inspiration I’m bringing to the live shows now, and the part in Pulp Fiction with John Trivolta and Uma Thurman, that song and those moves definitely.
Is it a whole different feel now playing with the band?
Yea it’s way different. When your by yourself it’s very dependant on the venue, the crowd and the mood as to if the show works or it doesn’t. You can play really amazing shows solo if the crowd are on your side. If they are then it’s amazing it becomes really intimate and really special and it’s really enjoyable for both the crowd and the performer. On the other hand if the crowds not feeling it and you’re really having trouble connecting because maybe it’s not the right venue or not the right bill, or maybe people are drunk people are talking, which you know is fine I mean they’re in a bar, but for a solo artist in that kind of environment it really kind of sucks. If you’re in a band in that position though you’re in a team, it’s not just you, you’ve got your mates with you and you can say the rooms not working out tonight but we’re just going to have fun and it’s loud so it’s less awkward, which is important. It became quite taxing doing the solo thing because it was so out of my hands it was so dependant on the room. Now though with a band you can have fun regardless of what people think.
I think for the most part it’s easier for people if they’re just turning up as punters not knowing what to expect it’s easier to win them over because it’s more dynamic. You can do the really quiet stuff and you can do the really loud stuff with big beats. You’re much more limited as a solo act. The shows are so different now and they’re so much more enjoyable for me because I’m not alone on the stage and I now have people to hang out with before, after and during the show. It can be quite lonely when you’re just playing solo, sometimes it feels like a bit of a choir and when you go to new places and venues and you don’t know anyone it used to feel quite alienating. It’s much more enjoyable now with a band.
You’ve changed a lot over the past few years, going from solo artist to performing with a live band an you’re ever changing sound. How do you sum up Big Strong Brute?
Ummm…. I don’t know. That’s kind of a hard question. I guess it’s probably pretty honest low-fi pop music that tries to not take itself too seriously, and without and emphasis on fancy production.
It’s a good sound man I’m liking it and I can’t wait to see what comes next from Big Strong Brute.
Thanks man, can’t wait to show everyone.