by Julia Leiby
From the beginning of opening track on DC 4-piece Big Hush’s new tape ‘Who’s Smoking Your Spirit?” it is evident that the band is possessed with a new frenetic energy and a harder, faster style, a major shift in tone from their past releases. Around a year ago in November 2014, they released Wholes, a tape that guitarist/vocalist Owen Wuerker refers to as having ‘mellow, pretty songs,’ and “Who’s Smoking Your Spirit?” is a departure almost entirely from the feelings Wholes creates. The band’s members, Genevieve Ludwig, Owen Wuerker, Chris Taylor (formerly of Pygmy Lush) and Emma Baker, write the skeletons of the songs separately and then work on them together in practice. Ludwig wrote "Pay to Play," Wuerker "Cold Shoulder" and "Cough," and Taylor wrote "Walk On" and "Say Anything".
The tape starts off with ‘Pay to Play’ a fast-paced, anxious pop rock song that builds in speed and uneasy feelings, as Ludwig sings among crashing and swelling guitars, “Cameras hissing low tones / Doing what you’ve done today / You already know what’s wrong / You already pay to play”. ‘Pay to Play’ establishes the catchy, tense and disquieted mood of the record. ‘Pay to Play’ fades into “Say Anything”, which clocks in at only 2 minutes, but packs a killer guitar hook in that short time, and a restless, yet determined melody, as bassist/vocalist Taylor laments “Do what you got to / Can't really stop you.” Big Hush is at its best when the different vocalists in the band sing together, as they do on ‘Cold Shoulder’. Wuerker sings through heavily distorted guitars, “I couldn't be alone,” then with about a minute left in the song, the distortion clears, Baker’s drumming is at the forefront, and Ludwig sings, “You thought every pair of eyes was another open lane / She said sit still and stay sane”. This is a high point in the EP, as sometimes the distortion and heavy mood can be a little overwhelming. Throughout, Ludwig’s vocals are a moment of brightness in the overall dark tone of the record. The next track, Cough, which was the single from the EP, has a doomy, shoegaze-influenced lead hook, then again the guitar fades mid song as Wuerker asks, “Are you really just letting this happen?” and then sings with bitterness and sarcasm in his voice, “Very special, very punk / Do you ever get enough?”. The EP’s lyrics are often warnings, demands, or questions directed to people. The closing track has a more positive tone but continues the overall uneasy feeling of the record, as Taylor sings “Just want you to feel the same way as me / I don't wanna walk away either”.
The record, compared to the slower, poppier ‘Wholes’, is brimming with anxiety and negative energy, though it succeeds in a dramatic way. I called drummer Emma Baker on the phone and Owen Wuerker was with her as they took turns answering questions about the new record, the band, and their involvement in the DC scene. Despite the different songwriters and their respective styles, the record is cohesive and reading over the lyrics, it is hard to distinguish who wrote which songs, because they each have such a consistent antsy, almost paranoid mood to them.
Big Hush was formed when Wuerker started playing music with Ludwig in 2012. She was dating Taylor at the time, and played him their tapes, and he decided to join on bass. Emma Baker joined the group shortly after Wholes was released, and the band had a few different drummers before her. Wuerker says that after Baker joined the band, she “pushed them to play songs faster” which Baker laughingly says “at least ½ of the band wanted to do”. The band is on the DC label DZ tapes, run by Brett Isaacoff, and Baker says, “Brett’s probably the nicest person I’ve ever met in my life; he works really hard, and believes in the band. He’s probably our greatest resource.” Wuerker says he feels “kind of honored” to be on the label.
When asked about the title, Wuerker explains it is a lyric to a song not on the album but a new addition to their live sets, and to him it fits in with the uneasy tone of the record. Wuerker says the new record is punk and shoegaze-influenced, mentioning bands like My Bloody Valentine. Baker has known Wuerker and Ludwig since the 7th grade, and Taylor since 9th grade, saying the band are best friends, which can be “good and terrible [at the same time]”. Baker has been involved in DC bands since high school, when as a senior, she began drumming in Sad Bones with her friend Danny, and Wuerker was briefly in the band. She was also the drummer for Young Trynas, a band led by Taylor Mulitz of acclaimed DC punk band Priests, and Young Trynas has now become a project called Flasher. Wuerker spent his summers and winter breaks from college playing in bands and recalls singing at bonfires with Danny and Emma.
Big Hush, with “Who’s Smoking Your Spirit?”, have cemented their status as one of the most exciting, moody and intricate bands to come out of the DC scene in recent memory. It is not often that a band can almost entirely change, speed up and distort their sound but remain entirely entrancing to listeners. Fans of ‘Wholes’ may need a little time to adjust to Big Hush’s new sounds but it is worth the wait.