The Big Easy is a solo project from underground North Jersey artist Stephen Berthomieux, done with the help of musicians Jesse Minikes, Zak Ali, and TJ Alamo. Previously frontman of another local band, Politics As Usual, he formed this project to bring a classic rock ‘n’ roll sound to the alternative rock he’s been playing for years. Influences for this project have been artists like The Replacements, Spoon, Pavement, The Strokes, and Elvis Costello. Having released his debut EP A Handful Of Friends, the group has been playing local shows relentlessly in support. We sat down with Stephen to talk about his music, his party-loving attitude, and his adventures on the road, all tackled by his personal motto: “women let you down. drugs let you down. rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t.”
Fameless Quarterly: What is the meaning behind your band name?
Stephen Bethomieux: When I first started playing shows with these songs, I just used my name, cuz’ I’m not a fan of stage names if you’re by yourself. But using my name on stage was too long and people could never remember it, so by the second show I came up with the Big Easy.
FQ: I ask because it really seemed to fit with your sound. There’s something about A Handful Of Friends that is infectiously laid back and energetic, even on songs with more serious themes. What is the meaning behind it?
SB: I guess I figured that’s what the basis of rock’n’roll is about. You can whine about a girl all you want, but at the end of the day, rock ’n’ roll is really party music. When it came to my songs, I wanted to put out that vibe, but I still wanted to convey the feeling of themes I could relate to.
The lyrics are more “stuff to get off your chest,” but the music still has that feel-good vibe.
FQ: You have been playing nearly a week since the album dropped. How many shows have you performed in the last few months?
SB: I’ve done two, three shows a month. Most of these shows have been around the city, between Manhattan or Brooklyn, but we throw a few shows in Jersey as well. It’s the only way to really get out there. Even if today you can market your music through the Internet, live shows are still the only way to reach fans on a personal level, nothing really does it like that.
FQ: How have people been responding?
SB: Generally good, people seem to love us.
FQ: What kind of energy do like to bring to your performances?
SB: I try to bring as much energy as I can. If the band is dancing around, the crowd is going to start dancing around. If it looks like I’m genuinely having fun on stage, and I’ve been told that a lot, then people get into it as well.
FQ: How do you prepare for a show?
SB: I like to drink a lot before I play (laughs). I never played a show completely sober. It’s a slippery slope — you don’t wanna get too messed up — but I always end up second guessing myself if I don’t loosen up a bit.
FQ: You seem to be completely in love with playing the local scene, from cramped bars to sweaty basement shows. How did this love story develop, and what is the most enjoyable aspect of it?
SB: My favorite gigs are the DIY basement shows, it’s where you really get fans. I feel that’s the best way to go for any upcoming artists. The people that go there are those that are really there to listen. I play more shows with promoters in random bars and shit, but you really have to understand that they don’t really give a shit about you, and sometimes you’re more likely to bring people yourself rather than picking up new fans. Plus, DIY shows are so much more fun, and people are probably going to be drunker than they’d be at a bar. People are going to start dancing, grab your mike and start singing randomly. They’re really fun to play.
FQ: What have been some of your favorite venues to play at in NYC and the area?
SB: Like I said, I really prefer the basement scene. But as far as venues go, we recently played Arlene’s Grocery, and that was pretty good. I really liked playing Cake Shop and Trash Bar in the Lower East side. Soon we’ll be playing Bowery Electric for a second time. That was a lot fun, one of the bigger venues we’ve played at.
FQ: Well, then how do you have a good time while shuffling around the challenging and chaotic music scene of New York?
SB: I’m not saying playing in a bar is not fun, but its hard to capture it. I try to rock out as hard as I can. If I jump around at a basement show, I do the same gig over there.
People definitely respond differently though, you’re playing to a different crowd. The connection is more distant, but that’s the goal — to the get them riled up.
FQ: Future plans?
SB: Good question. I just dropped the EP in June, but only in digital form; I’m trying to get a physical release. After that I want to take to the Northeast, and play shows around Connecticut and Boston. I want to get connected with people there, and play as many small basement shows over there as I do here. We’re going to try releasing a split album with a couple friends, like my friend Tom Warren who plays bass for the Front Bottoms and has a solo project called Big Neil.
I have a whole album’s worth of material, but I’m waiting for the right time. I’m waiting to get picked up by a label.
FQ: So you wouldn’t want to remain independent?
SB: If I could do without a label, I totally would. But the support provided by a label is tough to match. I’m going to start recording in a few months, get another EP out, and see if I can get more exposure.