Mark our words, Big Jesus is a name you will be hearing a lot of in the future; and now is the perfect time to get acquainted with the Atlanta quartet. With a busy schedule for their first time overseas, playing shows with Good Charlotte, Citizen as well as a handful of headline shows; we were lucky enough to sit down for a chat with vocalist/ bassist Spencer Ussery and guitarist CJ Ridings. Find out all about how the band came together, getting discovered by the Madden brothers, their forthcoming album Oneiric and more.
MOSH: How did the band get together?
CJ Ridings: So it started as my solo project as I was interning at a studio and I was putting my time into that and didn’t have much time to be in a band. I just wanted to record some songs and put them up online for free. Spencer was the first person I thought of to collaborate with. I can’t really sing at all, I’m an awful singer so he was the first person I thought of.
He was up for it, so him and I did some demos with a friend of ours playing drums and eventually, a few months later made an EP, put it online for free. It just started as something fun, alright we’ll play a show and it went well, played a bigger show, it went well, and eventually we made our record ourselves in 2013. Then after we self-released that, got hit up by record labels and we never imagined it would come to that.
Spencer Ussery: It started as a side project and something we didn’t really take seriously. It was something we did for fun; “let’s just go to the practice space and jam.”
MOSH: So the name, what’s the story behind that? When you Google Big Jesus, some of the first things to come up are articles about that one John Lennon interview.
CJR: It wasn’t a reference to that, but people have said that to us. That’s cool, I like that.
SU: It’s a coincidence.
CJR: It’s completely random, like I said when we started it was never meant to be serious so I initially just said it to make Spencer laugh. I said it should be the band name and we never changed it because we never thought anybody else would hear it.
SU: We just laughed at it. I was like “Okay, this is good, this is fun.”
CJR: Now I guess it’s too late.
MOSH: Well it’s never too late. Do you know Daylight? They were previously Daylight, they’re now Superheaven.
SU: That’s right. Also Viet Cong changed their name to Preoccupations.
CJR: But whenever anybody does that, it’s always sort of a bummer. I thought Viet Cong was a cool name.
SU: It’s a great name, but there was a lot of backlash for it being racist.
CJR: Yeah, I can see that being a problem.
MOSH: You guys are on the management company MDDN.co. How did you get in touch with the Madden brothers?
SU: Our record label knew we were looking for management; they were the one who helped us find management. They submitted to all the people they thought would love to work with us or maybe work with other bands sort of like us. We talked to a few, we had phone meetings with some people. We were looking for someone who sounded passionate and we didn’t want somebody to just take us on. So one of the people that the label sent it to turned out to be Benji and Joel’s lawyer. The lawyer heard it and said “Well, damn, I think Benji and Joel might like this. Let me pass it on to them.” They had only just started the management agency a year ago or something like that.
It got to them and they were immediately stoked on what we were doing. They immediately had a vision for it and wanted to call us on the phone straight away. We were at practice, huddled around a speakerphone and talked to Benji for the first time. Next thing we know, a week later we flew out to LA to meet him and his brother. They just showed us around town for a couple days, we got to know them a little better and here we are.
CJR: It seemed like a no-brainer after meeting them. They’re so passionate about music and nice, down-to-earth people. Obviously, they have been through enough things to be able to guide us correctly so it seemed very natural.
MOSH: You did some shows in Europe with Good Charlotte, what was it like having your managers on the road with you?
SU: It’s really fun. I mean, anytime we’re with Benji or Joel. It was like that when we flew out there, it was immediate kindred friendship. They feel like brothers to me and we’ve known them for half a year. The bond we’ve created with them is solid. So having them around is awesome, it’s a lot of fun. The European shows with them, in Germany and Utrecht (Netherlands) were insane.
MOSH: Cologne was your first show overseas as well right? How was that?
SU: Yeah, our first ever. 4,000 people, it was so crazy. You literally couldn’t see the back of the room it was insane.
MOSH: You were on the Good Charlotte tour, now you’re with Citizen and they’re both very different. You guys are not very pop-punk compared to the GC lineup; how has the difference been between the two tours?
SU: It’s a nice change of speed. These are the shows we’re used to, shows like this. Afterwards, you can actually squeeze through and watch Citizen play. When Good Charlotte played in Germany, I went out to the bar up front and I couldn’t squeeze through. People were like “No! Nein!” It’s a totally different change of scene and pace.
CJR: Crowd reactions have been insanely different.
SU: This is more our speed. We do welcome huge shows, we want to experience that as well. So it’s a nice balance.
CJR: The people that come to shows like this [Citizen] are more consistent show goers that are big music lovers. Not to take away from anybody that goes to the Good Charlotte shows, but there are people that would go to a Good Charlotte show that would probably go to one or two concerts a year.
MOSH: They do have that nostalgic element and the crowd tends to be a bit older.
CJ: Yeah, the demographic is a little bit different. At those shows we could start playing a riff and people will start clapping. Nobody’s going to do that here. They’re going to stand with their hands in their pocket and watch you but it’s still cool. We’ll sell ten times the amount of records at these shows than we will playing to 4,000 people because the people that come to shows all the time, true music lovers and appreciators want to support smaller bands.
SU: We don’t play a style of music that you can mosh to, or you can jump around to. We’re used to people kind of just standing there and soaking it in. We get head bobbing, which I love. You don’t need to be pushing around or anything. Also at the Good Charlotte shows, because we’re brand new and people are hearing us for the first time, it’s a new experience and people are soaking it in.
CJR: Or trying to decide if they like us or not.
SU: Or wondering what the hell is going on. “What is he saying?” “Wow, those guitars are fuckin loud.”
MOSH: Your new album is called Oneiric and releases next month, and your previous record is called One – is that meant to be a play on words? How do the albums compare/ build up on each other? There are a few songs that are making a reappearance on the new album.
CJR: Yeah. It was the idea that since almost half of it is the record we self-released; it felt sort of weird giving it a title that was unrelated. It’s not super obvious though, you’d only know it if you knew that self-release that we did. We thought it would be a cool little easter egg like that, the first three letters are the old record.
It’s come to mean a lot of different stuff. It relates to the lyrical themes in a couple different songs and also just in the sense of the reality of our band. Since December, since when we got to record our new songs; we got to live out our dream that we’ve been trying to do. There’s a lot of different meanings, that when we thought of it maybe it didn’t have that; it wasn’t just that, but now it’s becoming all these things.
SU: It’s developed into something really special.
MOSH: Could you tell us a little more about your song ‘Shrimp’?
CJR: It’s one of the more personal songs on the record. A lot of our lyrical content sometimes will be a bit obtuse, it’s left for interpretation.
SU: A little removed from personal experience.
CJR: Yeah, or something about dreams, something like that. But this song more straight up a song about a girl. It’s a song about a girl that I dated for a while named Alison, which is said in the song. From being in a band, you meet people on tour. So I met her on tour and we lived pretty far apart and for reasons like that, we had to end the relationship. It’s sort of a bittersweet song where it’s saying “This is ending, but it’s not because anything terrible happened.”
MOSH: Growing up in Atlanta, what was that like? How’s the music scene?
CJR: It’s really diverse, but everything is blended together for the most part and everybody hangs out with each other and supports each other. We had our van and trailer stolen a few months ago and the community in Atlanta completely backed us. They threw benefit shows, donated money and helped us replace everything. It’s something that we totally didn’t expect. We already loved Atlanta and the scene that we were in, but that just sealed the deal. It definitely confirmed the sense of community that our city has.
MOSH: After the new record releases, any plans to come back over to the UK?
SU: They’re not scheduled yet.
CJR: Nothing concrete, but we want to.
SU: We’ll be back.