Big Eyes are a fema—wait, no.
"I always get a little twinge of 'What the fuck?' when I see 'female-fronted,'" says Big Eyes singer and blazing guitarist Kate Eldridge. "When it's the first thing there, like that's the first thing people need to know about our band?"
"I like to refer to us as not a female-fronted band, but a male-backed band," bassist Chris Costalupes chimes in with a grin. "It's a bit more progressive."
As Eldridge, Costalupes, and drummer Dillan Lazzareschi slowly weave through the Women Who Rock exhibit at EMP (which is mostly just a collection of clothes worn by Mama Cass, Gwen Stefani, Lady Gaga, and Aretha Franklin, among others), we come upon one of Joni Mitchell's lyric notebooks. Her handwriting is impeccable and youthful—penmanship I dreamed of having when I was in high school.
"She wrote her lyrics in a notebook just like Taylor Swift does in that Diet Coke commercial!" I (dumbly) joke. Eldridge laughs, "Oh my god, when Taylor Swift first came out, I was having a conversation with my mom, and she was like, 'Kate, it's so amazing! She writes all her own songs and plays the guitar and sings. I was like, 'Oh, good for her! Hi, I'm Kate. I'm your daughter."
Though she insists she's awkward, Eldridge, who writes all the songs for the band, carries herself with a cool, subtle confidence. She's been playing guitar since middle school (and viola for years before that) and has been in bands for nearly as long—one of her bands before Big Eyes was Cheeky, a great Long Island–based pop-punk band that put out records on both Quote Unquote and Freedom School Records. And perhaps because Eldridge can shred better than most humans, male or female, she doesn't seem intimidated or even that bothered by the undeniable double standard in the music industry.
Speaking of Taylor Swift, not only is it not news when a man writes his own songs, but when men sing song after song about their ex-girlfriends, they're never criticized for it the way Swift, for example, has been (earlier this year, after Swift broke up with One Direction's Harry Styles, Billboard.com quipped, "It's time to play a familiar game: Which song is about Taylor's ex?" Huffington Post, Vulture, and several other blogs have posted similar quizzes ad nauseam). Sting has a song about stalking a woman, and people play that shit at weddings as an ultimate declaration of love for chrissake, and I think we can safely say nearly all pop songs are about relationships.
"It's so stupid," says Eldridge. "That's what all my songs are about, too. A good 80 percent of [my songs] are about relationships, I'd say."
Thankfully, she hasn't had to defend herself against too many Taylor Swift comparisons. "I get a lot of Joan Jett comparisons," she says, while we stand in front of the pink blazer and "Bad Girl" T-shirt Jett wore on the cover of I Love Rock 'n' Roll. "I grew up in the town she lived in. She's cool. I definitely have a lot of the same influences as her, like Cheap Trick and Gary Glitter—a lot of that classic rock stuff."
Big Eyes' catalog is a must-hear for those who still throw their fists in the air when they hear Jett snarl, "I don't give a damn about my reputation." And their latest release, Almost Famous (released last spring on Grave Mistake Records), is their best yet. Their sound, thick with distortion and free of modern slickness, will strum a nostalgic chord in your heart. "A Matter of Time" sounds like a fuzzier, beefier Ramones song about getting over a broken heart, while "Wanted Sometimes" is your new best friend for all those moments you're pining over someone you had, and don't necessarily want anymore, but still kind of miss. "I don't care who you're kissin'/I just like to think it's me you're missin'/I don't mind that you're not mine/It's just nice to feel like I'm wanted sometimes," Eldridge sings with both wistfulness and a matter-of-fact tone.
Almost Famous is also noticeably thicker than 2011's Hard Life. Before, their songs had the same bouncy pep as, say, the Fastbacks. In fact, the song "Back from the Moon," released last year as half of a two-song single, sounds like the follow-up to the Fastbacks' fed-up pop-punk anthem "Gone to the Moon." ("I didn't even hear that Fastbacks song until afterward," says Eldridge.)
But Almost Famous is darker. It sounds almost like their relocation to Seattle from New York two years ago, and the city's dreary eight months of clouds, played a role. "I used to play a Fender Mustang through a Music Man through a Fender cabinet, which has a very thin sound," says Eldridge. "Then I started playing out of a Marshall cabinet. That thickens it up. And I started playing an SG, so the sound got a lot fuller. That's why the newer stuff sounds heavier and fuller.
"There's a lot of heavy music [in Seattle]," she continues. "In New York, there's still a lot of jangly softer stuff. It's not like I was ever in that whole New York scene anyway. I always felt like I never really fit in anywhere."
Even though Big Eyes have technically been a Seattle-based band for a couple years (Costalupes is from Reno, and Lazzareschi is from Tacoma), they're still trying to find their place in the local music scene, which is partly why you've probably seen their name on just about every club calendar in town.
"When we first moved here, we had to let people know that we lived here and who we were," says Costalupes. "We played so many shows as soon as we got here. And we still do! I think we've also done a pretty good job of not just being a Seattle band but also a Northwest band—we'll play Portland, Vancouver, and Tacoma as much as we can."
Costalupes estimates that the band is also on the road for about half of the year—putting so many other bands' two-months-a-year tour schedules to shame. "You've got to stay in people's minds," adds Eldridge. "A lot of bands in Seattle don't leave Seattle, and no one's heard of them. And then they go on tour, and they're like, 'Why is my show so bad?' Because you don't tour and you don't try to do anything! They're just content with being a cool Seattle band."
Big Eyes, who are currently on tour in Europe, aren't trying to be just a hobby or a regional band. "Everything we do, I just always try to step it up," Eldridge says. So the next time they play Seattle, be sure to catch 'em when you can. They don't stay in one place for very long.