Art imitates life; you might hear that on Big Nothing’s new album, Dog Hours.
“This album was made during a really weird time and that shows,” says Hopewell native and Big Nothing bassist Liz Parsons. “There are a lot of songs about worrying but it’s a very warm album, too. I think we are all really stoked about how this album sounds, how it turned out amidst everything being so hard. It just sounds gorgeous and full. All of our talents really shone through.”
Big Nothing held a record release show earlier this month at Johnny Brenda’s in Philly; before that, the band played with the Bouncing Souls at Brooklyn Bowl Philly. But between growing a vegan doughnut shop, the pandemic and finding time to record, shows have been few and far between. So we met up with Parsons recently to chat about what’s in store for the band, what it’s like to produce an album in the pandemic, what she misses about NJ, vegan doughnuts and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
NJ INDY: Congrats on the new album. It sounds beautiful and reminded me of some older college rock and power-pop stuff like Big Star and The Replacements. What are some of the band’s influences, and what were all of you listening to the most while making this record?
Liz Parsons: Yeah, I feel like our direct influences have always been The Replacements, Teenage Fanclub—we are all always listening to them all the time. Tom Petty and Sonic Youth, too.
NJI: You’re lead vocals on a few tracks from the new album, did you do the writing for those tunes?
LP: No, so, Pat (Graham, guitar) actually wrote two of the songs that I sing on the album. I was sort of having a tough year creatively. Matt (Quinn, guitar, vocals) wrote a majority of the songs; he sings all of those. The one song I did write is the third song on the album and the other two Pat wrote but he wanted me to sing them, so that was really cool. … Pat’s a really great songwriter, I think he wanted to just try something different this time around. He just didn’t want to sing.
NJI: What was different about the process for this album?
LP: We started demo-ing a couple of these songs pre-COVID, and we were talking about recording and prepping for it and then everything shut down. So we took a little break because everything was confusing and weird [in the beginning of the pandemic] and then when we all started talking again, because we couldn’t see each other in person, we started sending songs back and forth. So we did not write these songs together.
NJI: That had to be strange, right? That’s usually a big part of the process: getting together, collaborating, working through the tunes.
LP: Yeah, I mean, jamming together, we couldn’t even do that. Everything was written in separate houses. We would talk about each song a lot and then when we finally felt comfortable enough to hang out again we didn’t even practice, we kind of just went right into recording.
NJI: Wow, not even a session to work out the kinks before hitting the studio; that’s stressful. Do you feel like that negatively affected the production of this album in any way or did it all come together the way you envisioned, and where did you record?
LP: Our friend Ian recorded us at Metal Shop in Fishtown. It’s really a stone’s throw from our houses, which was nice; I could just walk there and record. Actually, we all feel like it came together really cohesively and naturally, despite everything. It might have sounded completely different had we been able to work on songs together, full-volume; the attitude of the songs and the sound might have come out differently… but I wouldn’t change anything.
NJI: So you played with the Bouncing Souls [at Brooklyn Bowl Philly] in November, which you called a ‘huge bucket list moment.’ That’s usually a dead giveaway that you’re from New Jersey. Anybody else that’s on the list?
LP: To play with a band like Teenage Fanclub would be amazing. We almost had a show with Archers of Loaf, COVID shut that down, but that would be fucking sick. You could name a number of those ’90s bands and I would be super, super excited [to play with them]… and then we’ve played with a lot of cool bands before. The Menzingers have taken us out—which was really fun, they’re great people. Iron Chic, toured with them for a little while, amazing, really cool people as well. I’ve always really wanted to play with Hop Along. We have yet to do that and it’s funny because we are all kind of friends but, just because you’re friends doesn’t mean you’re going to be involved musically… so, it’s just kinda like, waiting, hoping that something cool happens.
NJI: Fans of Big Nothing might not know this but you’re like a badass, trained baker/chef. You’ve been working at Dotties Donuts, a vegan doughnut shop in West Philly, for years now. Can you explain the relationship between Big Nothing and Dotties Donuts?
LP: I’ve been friends with Matt and Pat for a very long time now, just through music. I used to go see their bands play. And then, Chris [Jordan], I met through forming this band; he hit up Pat when I first moved to Philly, asking to jam. [Around the same time] I hit up Pat and was like, ‘Can we start a band, please?!’ And he was like, ‘Yeah! Uh, there’s this guy, I don’t know who he is but he wants to play with us, so lets try it out.’ It all worked out and here we are… So, Matt owns Dotties. Dotties existed before the band. I started working there on and off years ago while I was still working at Sprig & Vine [an incredible vegetarian restaurant in New Hope, PA] because I just wanted to be involved so badly. And then once I quit [Sprig & Vine] and moved to Philly I started working there full time. And then the band formed. So, it makes things a little complicated [for the band], like us trying to be away at the same time but Matt is super accommodating for the band stuff with work schedules and everything. I’m super thankful for that.
NJI: So are there plans beyond Dotties for you in the future or are you in love with where you’re at and being a part of what’s going on there?
LP: I’d very much like to open up my own bakery but I need more money and I need a plan. Before the pandemic, I was just very focused on music and doing that as much as I could, so that [baking] was on the back burner and now that music’s not necessarily the most important thing anymore, I’m thinking about baking a lot more. Dotties is going really well, we’re opening up a new shop soon [Wissahickon area]. Things are just going to keep going up and I love working there. It’s really exciting to be a part of this thing that just keeps growing and getting cooler. I mean, my bosses are my friends but they’re the best bosses I’ve ever had. I’ll stay here for the foreseeable future because I love it.
NJI: Vegan doughnuts. In my limited baking experience, the first ingredients I’m thinking I’ll need from the store are eggs and butter or cream. I’ve been able to try Dotties in the past, thanks to you, and vegan doughnuts may be even better than regular doughnuts. How are they so damn good and how did you get into vegan baking?
LP: For our doughnuts it’s all basically the same ingredients you’d expect except no eggs, butter or milk. Flour, sugar, yeast, water, shortening and spices, that’s it. I started getting interested in veganism in high school, meeting some cool older people [vegans and vegetarians]. I liked it and I didn’t really care about [eating] meat anyway. Then, baking, I also started in high school. I got a hold of these vegan cookbooks from Borders [bookstore] RIP, I would sit there and copy down recipes after school and then run to Shop Rite, buy ingredients and make a bunch of things. It was just a really fun way of spending my free time, you know? Those teenage years were kinda rough so it was definitely a really nice thing, and then I learned that I could go to school for it. … I didn’t really learn anything about veganism or vegan cooking in college but it helped prepare me for the working environments of kitchens.
NJI: So you went to Johnson & Wales for culinary and you did that for two years? Was it challenging navigating culinary school whilst being a vegan?
LP: A little bit. I mean, I kind of had to stop being vegan because you have to try [the food you cook]. You’ll fail if you don’t. Also, I had no money for food and I survived on milk and cereal or crappy pizza. [After college] as I got older it was easier to pick back up again.
NJI: So we’re outside of the incomparable Boro Bean in Hopewell because you’re back visiting Jersey. Do you miss it? How often do you get back?
LP: I miss it so much, all of the time. I wish I could come back more but it’s hard with my schedule. I try to get back at least once a month. Lately it’s been a lot less, this is the first time I’ve been home in two months. Usually I try to visit family and friends but sometimes I’ll not see anyone; just come for a hike and go back to Philly. [In Philly] I’m like only an hour from home … and I’m constantly trying to defend New Jersey with my Pennsylvania friends. They like it but they just won’t admit it.
NJI: Favorite food spot in Jersey outside of Boro Bean?
LP: Main Street Bagel in Flemington is my favorite. Best bagel I’ve ever had in my life. I like Bagel Club, too, but Main Street is just special and nostalgic. I like to go to Brick Farm Market [Hopewell], as well. Then there are some spots I like in Princeton; there’s a vegan restaurant called Planted Plate, it’s so good.
NJI: Circling back to music; I think I saw something about a side-project of yours on social media of all places. What’s going on with that?
LP: Yeah, it’s called Lippy. Back in November I recorded some songs at my friends’ studio in the Poconos. So we went there for a few days, the first day we learned the songs and the next day we recorded them. I’ve never done anything like that before so it was really cool. I had these songs sitting on my phone for years and I wanted to do something with them.
NJI: So the friends you recorded with were the members of Big Nothing?
LP: Well, Pat played on it but he was the only member of the band that was involved. His fiancée, Gabby, came with us and played guitar and then our other friend Pat played drums. Matt, another friend and producer at the studio, played bass. I basically just sang, which is all I wanted to do. Actually, we played a very serendipitous show like a week or two ago. We practiced for two nights and then played the show. A bunch of our friends came, it was so much fun. We played three songs and we covered ‘Song 2’ by Blur which was awesome. Never felt cooler. I don’t have crazy plans for that [Lippy]. I don’t know what I’m doing with it, but I had to do something [with those songs]. If we play more shows, that’d be great.
NJI: So, with your music, it seems like there’s no grand ambition. There’s no stress of writing or touring or promoting because the band isn’t your occupation. You write songs and play shows because you love it and it’s just part of life with your friends, no?
LP: Yeah, we’re friends before anything else. We just love hanging out. I mean, the pandemic has really forced us into this whole ‘we’ll play when we play’ mentality. If COVID didn’t happen we’d probably have a bit of a different attitude, like, ‘Let’s tour, let’s do this and that,’ you know? That whole [mentality] doesn’t seem pointless but things are just a bit different now. You depend or count on something [the band, touring] being big in your life and then it gets taken away from everyone. So we approach [music and the band] in whatever capacity that we can now. We’ll keep doing it, though, that’s for sure.
You can purchase/download music from Big Nothing and Lippy here: https://bignothin.bandcamp.com and here: https://getlippy.bandcamp.com/releases. And if you’re visiting Philly, get a dozen doughnuts at Dotties and thank us later.