John Edds likes to wind people up. When the Big Soy singer/guitarist takes the stage with drummer/keyboardist Adam White, he often turns into the Don Rickles of indie rock, mocking a kid’s mohawk one minute and egging the crowd into dumb Pavlovian cheers the next.
“I tend to talk a lot of shit when we play,” Edds explains. “I’ll make fun of people, and I’m a total ass, and it’s so fun.
The Irish are used to this sort of calculated, tongue-in-cheek bravado. It’s what they call “taking the piss.” But when Edds and White toured Ireland in April, even their thick-skinned hosts would occasionally work up a bit of agitation in the face of Edds’ rants. “Do you realize,” one guy asked Edds after a gig, “that if you were from here, we would have kicked the shit out of you?”
Fortunately, for all concerned, Edds and White are based in San Antonio, where they’re part of a mini-movement of underground-rock duos that also includes Druggist and Robo Trumble. Even among SA duos, however, Big Soy stands out, largely because of the visceral power and merciless volume of their assault. As Edds puts it, “I play through two amps and we’re loud as shit. That’s the whole secret.”
But at least part of the secret comes from the band’s dark, rhythmically jagged, and harmonically unnerving material, delivered by Edds in a tuneful yelp that alternately suggests that he’s about to come unglued or he’s simply stopped caring about anything. White bolsters his no-frills, rock-solid drumming with strategic, left-handed stabs at his keyboard. Their intuitive interplay reaches a peak with Star By Your Name, Big Soy’s new seven-song EP, which surely rates as one of the finest local rock releases in recent years.
Edds and White are both tall and thin, with dark beards, and a healthy appreciation for the absurd. White tends to be more diplomatic and careful with his words, while Edds conveys an unabashed cockiness. As White jokingly puts it, “`Edds` is the crazy rebel and I’m the square one.”
They met five years ago while both were working at Central Market (they proudly note that they’re currently opposed to the whole day-job concept) and bonded over a shared appreciation of the Walkmen. White also benefitted from some false-pretense cool points. Edds was impressed by White’s collection of vintage punk posters, including a G.G. Allin concert flier, only to learn later that they belonged to White’s wife.
For a while, White played guitar, and even after he switched to drums, the band occasionally toyed with a more conventional trio format. But they grew to like the musical flexibility that comes with a duo lineup: the ability to write a song, rehearse it once or twice, and drop it on an audience the next night, without fear that the bassist or second guitarist will miss the chord changes.
Unlike most two-pieces, however, Big Soy never leaves you wishing for more. Edds masterfully fills both the low and high ends with his meaty guitar riffage and White uses the keyboards to fill in the blanks. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call them a power duo.
Edds says the group’s long-term goal has been to capture their speaker-shredding live sound on their home-studio recordings, and concedes that they didn’t come close to that on their debut full-length, 2005’s Putting the ___ in ___.
By contrast, Star By Your Name explodes from the outset with the bitter, unforgettable “Beautiful” and never lets up. In the frankest possible terms, Edds digs around in the ash heap of a floundering relationship and finds little cause for hope: “What happened to you, beautiful?/you used to be so bright/now you’re so dull.” Later, he observes: “Some things disappear, and there’s nothing in their place.”
Throughout the EP, Big Soy’s playing is a model of spare aggression. Edds turns a recurring, three-note riff into a framework for the feral “Broken Leg,” and White enables the title song to rock out in waltz time.
White says the band is concentrating on producing EPs rather than albums these days, partly because they can “release them more often and not have to make as big a statement as an album makes,” and partly because he says they become lazy if they don’t have a project going at all times.
The band has been anything but lazy, however, when it comes to booking live performances. Two years ago, they set up their own tour of England, and last year they played at a fledgling, SXSW-wannabe festival in Toronto called Indie Week. That’s where they crossed paths with a Limerick, Ireland quintet named Vesta Varro. “We were the only two good bands there, so we made friends and they invited us to Ireland,” Edds says.
While in Ireland, Edds and White learned the difference between good and bad Guinness, delighted in the Green Island’s lack of an open-container law, discussed U.S. presidential politics with Vesta Varro frontman Damien Drea’s jazz-drumming father (who briefly teased the group into thinking he was a bigot when Barack Obama’s name came up), and sold tons of CDs.
“Irish people are super-friendly,” Edds says. “They’re like Canadians, but not as overly apologetic.” By way of explanation, he recalls that in Toronto, he accidentally “shoulder-checked somebody in a stairwell in the hostel we were staying at and almost knocked the guy down the stairs. He goes, ‘I’m sorry.’”
With Star By Your Name completed, the band expects to sign with an as-yet-unnamed Houston booking agency and head out on an extensive East Coast tour in a few months.
“It’s economical,” White says about traveling with a duo. “We tour in a small economy station wagon. When we play a show and make $200, we get $100 each, and that’s not bad at all.”
Edds adds: “Obviously, there’s a lot less personality-conflict issue. Waiting on your deadbeat bass player to show up, or whatever. And Adam and I have almost zero personality, so there’s no conflict there.” •
w. Blowing Trees and The Living Strategy
10 pm Fri, May 23
2718 N. St. Mary’s