Visiting the offices of Mute Records, the iconic indie label behind Depeche Mode, Erasure and Moby, would be a holy pilgrimage for many. But for Alice Costelloe, the 19-year-old singer-guitarist of the London duo Big Deal (her sole bandmate is California native Kacey Underwood), it's more like a "school outing."
For starters, Big Deal is not an electronic act: Costelloe and Underwood rely only on their guitars -- usually an acoustic and an electric chugging out lines that would work just as well with Dave Grohl smashing away behind them -- and their voices. But their refusal to dilute the immediacy and, let's face it, romantic ambiguity of their setup is what makes their 2011 debut, Lights Out, such a choice late-night album.
PAPERMAG phoned Costelloe at her East London apartment, where she filled us in on everything from gigging as a tween to the band's top priority once they hit New York this weekend for shows at Glasslands at Mercury Lounge (hint: it will probably involve the word "Ray's").
Am I just talking to you, Alice, or is Kacey in there somewhere?
It's just me. Kacey's playing basketball, actually. I'm way better than him, anyway, so don't worry about it.
Yanks, who needs 'em. So where are you right now?
I'm just sitting in my bedroom. We just practiced, so I'm just relaxing.
You guys still practice in the bedroom?
We normally do, but we're going off to Europe tomorrow morning so we figured we should probably do a proper one in the studio before we go.
This will be your first time in the States. Any plans?
We have to go get pizza, because Kacey loves pizza, and apparently that's the best place for it. That's pretty much the only plan.
How're you feeling about SXSW? Have you heard much about it, what it's like?
We saw our friends in Grouplove the other day and they were like, "Wow, just prepare yourself. It's like a weeklong party. You should sleep until then." It sounds pretty crazy.
How has life changed since the album came out?
I finished school last summer, so we have so much more time now and we pretty much just spend every day trying to write. Sometimes it's just like hanging out, but you still feel like you're working on something. Yeah, and Kacey quit his job, so this is just what we do now. So I think we feel a bit more kind of pressure to work hard 'cos we don't have any other distractions.
When you did the album, were you ever tempted to bring in bass and drums? Did you ever doubt the power of your setup?
I mean, we still "doubt the power." When we recorded the album, we literally went from just writing these songs in our bedrooms do being like, Oh, we can record it as an album now, and there wasn't even time for us to think, Does it actually make sense to just have an album of two guitars? And so we didn't have time to doubt it; it was too late once we'd done it. But I think, you know, the really great thing about working with Mute is that we wanted to just be able to make our album straight away because we had it ready and we didn't want to lose this energy we had and realize that what we were doing might not work. And yeah, it's only now that we crave the drums.
The official video for Big Deal's "Distant Neighborhood"
Have you thought about that for the next album?
We still gotta concentrate on this one first I think. But who knows? Maybe the next one will be an electro album. I don't know. It won't be, probably.
Do you both live in East London?
Yeah. We don't only stay in East London, but West London is a whole different place. The studio was in Mute's offices in Hammersmith, which is kind of a great place to record. I don't know if you know Hammersmith, but there's nothing there, there's no distractions...it's like a foreign place for us. Going to the Mute offices is like going on a school outing or something.
What was the first album that made you fall in love with music?
I think it was this album that my stepdad played when he first moved in, so I was a little kid. It was The Velvet Underground & Nico. Yeah, I just remember like just wanting to hear all those songs again, and I never really like heard that kind of music 'cos my parents had never really been that into music, or if they were it was kind of like Patsy Cline or Van Morrison. So it was the first kind of, you know, more relatable music. Yeah, I think it was that one.
As a guitar player, who are your favorites?
[Laughs.] I so don't even think of myself as a guitar player, so you've totally thrown me off. Kacey's the guy that's all about the guitar parts and I'm all about the vocals or something. When I was growing up I was a really big Smiths fan, really into Johnny Marr, but I don't really know that much about guitar, so, I like it all.What was the last thing you listened to?Zuma by Neil Young actually just broke my record player, which is really, really annoying. But yeah, that's why I know. 'Cause it broke. Amazing record.
Big Deal plays Glasslands on Sunday, 3/11, with 2:54 and Zaza. Tickets here. They play Mercury Lounge Monday, 3/12 with 2:54. Tickets here.