Written By: Hayley Bradbrook
Photo: Courtesy Of A Great Big World Website
A Great Big World, New York-based duo Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino, skyrocketed to super-stardom when their Grammy-Award winning hit song “Say Something” featuring powerhouse Christina Aguilera was on shows such as So You Think You Can Dance, The X-Factor, and Glee.
The band has been pretty busy since they released that chart-topping single in 2013. They dropped their second studio album When The Morning Comes two years later, embarked on a North American tour this spring, and are working hard at writing their first Broadway musical.
Jossbecause was lucky enough to talk to the award-winning band about their sophomore album, their musical, and who they would love to collaborate with next.
What was the writing process like for When The Morning Comes album?
Ian: The writing process was very different from our first [album]. Our first [record] we had it was years and years of a collection of songs that we decided to put on an album that was different chapters of our lives for the first five or six years of our friendship.
When The Morning Comes we had six months to write a batch of new songs and record them. Chad and I, we did a lot of co-writes and worked with a bunch of different producers. Then we kind of figured out the writers that we love writing with and the producers we love working with. and we put together that album really quick. The whole album was kind of a snapshot of where we were in that moment, as opposed to a snapshot of where we were over the course of many years.
You have been writing a musical for several years called Strokes of Genius, why did you want to work in the world of theatre?
Chad: I think both of us we wanted to write a musical at some point in our lives and we didn’t know how that was going to be. When Ian and I met, that was the first intention, to try to write a musical. It sort of just felt right and made the most sense but then we started writing songs for Ian, developing Ian as a solo artist and that sort of took priority and then got turned into A Great Big World.
Ian: I think our music has always leaned and had like a theatrical sensibility. Chad and I were very influenced by musicals growing up. It feels like we were kind of born to write musical in a way. We have been working on this show… The tentative name is Strokes of Genius but it’s probably not going to be called that so it’s an unnamed show, we’re about four and a half years in. We just did our first workshop in New York in December where we worked with a bunch of actors who learned the music and the story for a week. It was great to see what’s working and what’s not and now we’re back to the drawing board rewriting songs, tweaking the story and we’re going to do another workshop at some point later this year
Can you give us any hints on what fans can expect from the musical storyline and the songs?
Ian: It’s a show about family with a twist that kind of hasn’t been done I think in a musical yet. And the songs are what you would expect to hear from A Great Big World album only a little bit more free-er and kind of like they’re on steroids.
You recently did a cover of “When I was a Boy” why did you decide to perform that track that explores a young boy’s childhood?
Ian: The cover “When I Was a Boy” is by Jeff Lynne from ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) from an album that he put out about a year and a half or two years ago. Jeff Lynne is a hero of ours and that album specifically just hit us so hard when we were on tour and the whole band were listening to it and we were crying.
The song “When I Was a Boy” specifically the message in that song is about holding on to that purity, that wonder you had when you were a child and not losing that as you become an adult. That’s a message that’s threaded throughout a lot of our songs. We wish that we wrote that song and so we decided and need to do a version of that song!
What do you want the audience to take away from seeing you perform live?
Chad: I want our audience to have as much fun as humanly possible in those moments that they are looking at us onstage flailing our wings and our voices. We’re acting like idiots on stage and people are watching us do that and I just hope they can enjoy whatever that looks like and sounds like.
Ian: I actually want people to just feel like that they are not in this alone and that Chad, myself and our band we’re not in this alone either. It’s this big celebration of oneness and just being in the moment.
What is your favourite part about performing in front of a live audience?
Ian: I would say that it reminds us of why we’re doing this. We can be at home and write songs in a bubble and get kind of lost and feel disconnected even though we finished running these songs. When we go out to perform and it’s and ‘aha’ moment each time it’s like oh these are people that are connecting to these songs that we’re writing and it’s so crazy to us all the time and it just reminds us that we’re a part of something that’s bigger and it’s humbling that we can feel so alone writing these songs yet other people connect to them. It makes us feel really fulfilled and connected.
What is one item on tour that you cannot live without?
Chad: For me it’s the Vitamix. On the bus every single morning I will make a smoothie with my own almond milk, I put my blueberries and my protein and my greens and that sort of sets my day up.
Ian: It takes him like 30 to 40 minutes to make a smoothie it’s so obnoxious.
Chad: The last time I got it down to 20 [minutes].
Ian: Still a long time. My one item that I can’t live without is a Lumio. We saw it on the show Shark Tank years ago. It’s hard to explain but it looks like a magic book, a book from Harry Potter. I use that as a mood light specifically for the bunk on the bus for dressing rooms that have terrible lighting.
You recorded the duet “Say Something” with Christina Aguilera which received an enormous amount of success and worked with rapper Futuristic for the hit song “Hold Each Other.” Who is one artist you would love to collaborate with next?
Chad: I would love to collaborate with Ed Sheeran. I think he’s a brilliant writer and I think we would write some awesome songs together. It would probably be a lot of fun.
Ian: Yeah, Chad stole my answer. I usually say Ed Sheeran and he usually says Beyonce, so I would like to collaborate with Beyonce.
Chad: I just started obsessing over Ed Sheeran’s new album and I think that’s why I said it probably.
Favourite Album of 2016?
Ian: Chance the Rapper Colouring Book
Chad: Beyonce’s Lemonade
Chad: Celine Dion
Ian: I would have to say Jim Carrey
Chad: He loves Jim Carrey!
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This interview has been edited and condensed