Recently unearthed from 2016's audio archives, this is the long-lost interview with Norman rock music project / narrative experiment Big Dumb Buildings. It was one of the first to use the Choose Your Own Interview format.
A collaboration between music scene veterans Gregg Standridge and Brian Eads, Big Dumb Buildings is “an imaginary band, an invention, an amalgamation.” The band’s 2016 debut album, Concrete Cages, veers into the art rock and topical oddity of acts like Frank Zappa and They Might Be Giants.
Its release show, held at an art gallery, did not feature performances by Standridge or Eads, but rather saw other area musicians covering the new material as if paying tribute to past hits from the fictional band. The event also featured Photoshopped antedated posters, a faux historical timeline, and a lore-filled Big Dumb Buildings backstory.
Despite the project’s moniker and occasionally blocky aesthetic, Standridge and Eads thought well outside the box in devising it. From its experimental songwriting philosophy to its wild breadth of instrumentation and styles, Big Dumb Buildings is one of the most interesting bands to never exist.
What follows is an interview with Standridge and Eads from 2016. It is one of the first interviews conducted by Evan Jarvicks using the Choose Your Own Interview structure, well before the founding of Make Oklahoma Weirder.
In this interview format, the subject chooses from categories to determine which questions are asked. Each category has a varying degree of control, both on the part of the interviewer and the interviewee. This structure is designed to empower the subjects interviewed as well as broaden the topics discussed.
Le Menu—a list of general music-related questions from which the interviewee “orders”
Jarvix Asks—questions asked specifically with the artist(s) in mind, prepared or otherwise
The Envelope of Introspection—an envelope of blindly-drawn paper slips with open-ended life questions printed on them (from thoughtquestions.com)
Do you think crying is a sign of weakness or strength?
Brain Eads: Are we allowed to answer “it depends?”
Gregg Standridge: You gotta shed some tears. That’s just the way it is.
Eads: Being ok with crying is a strength.
Standridge: I’ve never done it personally, myself. (both laugh)
What encourages you about the music scene or industry?
Standridge: I don’t like how the music industry works at all.
Eads: No one does.
Standridge: I’m not depending on the music scene to make a living. I make a living teaching music, so it’s great. Whenever I get to go do this, I can do whatever the hell I want to do. I mean, I don’t want to do anything horrible and ugly. I want to do stuff that’s fun and creative. In answer to that, not much. I don’t like the idea that you’re gonna go play a gig, and somebody’s really more worried about how many beers you’re gonna sell. That’s the way it is. I’m not a beer salesman.
Also, you know, the whole idea of how you get it out. It is better in that you can get your music out to people a lot more easily with the Internet, but also, all those guys with the money brains have figured out how to get their slice of that real quickly. A buddy of ours got 10,000 streams. He got his check, and he could buy a pizza. Like, awesome! That works!
Do you identify as Big Dumb Buildings, or do you think of the band as an entity all its own that you simply called into being?
Eads: I would definitely say the latter.
Eads: When the art exhibit came along, which was really Gregg’s idea, we came up with the concept.
Standridge: Which was Craig Swan’s idea.
Eads: Yeah, Craig helped us flesh out the concept of Big Dumb Buildings as, what was the tagline?
Standridge: “The Greatest Legend That Never Was”
Eads: Yeah, a band that we’re not a part of with the fictional characters and everything. It’s really separate from us.
Standridge: It’s kind of weird because we want to continue to do stuff with it, but then you start thinking about the groundwork you laid down. Are we really those guys in Big Dumb Buildings?
Eads: We kind of painted ourselves into a corner. (both laugh)
Standridge: We’ll just step over the damn paint getting out.
Eads: There’s not a lot of rules with it, so the second thing doesn’t have to make sense with the first, assuming there’s a second thing.
Are any of your musical influences non-musical?
Eads: I’d say probably so. I think most people’s are. It’s not directly expressed, but it’s a feeling, that mood you want to capture. That’s what better songs are about anyway. It’s not about the beat, the background, or whatever. It’s about–how does it make me feel? Where does it take me? What memories does it evoke?
Standridge: I’ve been heavily influenced by Milli Vanilli, but it’s not really music. (both laugh)
Sorry, that’s a joke.
Eads: You could say the same thing about modern radio.
How do you feel about the label “novelty band”, and is it one that you’ve run into with this project?
Standridge: Earlier press coverage didn’t say we were a joke band but talked about joke bands.
Eads: There’s a lot of humor, some of it intentional, some of it not. Zappa, who’s a big influence on Gregg and me, had lots of humor in his music, but you wouldn’t call it a joke by any means. His music was serious. It would put the fear of God in musicians, whereas Weird Al Yankovic does joke song after joke song. We try to go for humor, but most of the time not just jokes.
Standridge: Yeah, I think that’s well said. I don’t think it was like Weird Al Yankovic. It was like Zappa with less talent. (both laugh)
Eads: But it was a joke, the exhibit. The bands were all riffing on the fictional history and making up stuff beyond that.
Standridge: It was hilarious.
Eads: That was kind of an in-joke.
Standridge: There was somebody that actually thought that that was a band. That’s the funny part. There was some girl who was like, “Oh, I’ve never heard of these guys.”
Eads: Yeah, Craig said a lot of people were confused if it was a real band or a fake band, which is kind of cool. You can go out, have a good time, and not be really sure what you saw.
Standridge: The first thing we did [for the album] was “Candy Bar”, and it was just this thing where we were banging on crap. Then we started writing stuff. I think there’s really only one song that we didn’t keep. Everything else, we just said, “hey, we’re gonna make this work no matter what. God, that’s ugly. God, that’s horrible. Awesome.”
The best part about it was the creative flow of “I don’t care! Let’s do it!” And you know, you try to make something that’s good, not just as a joke, but something that is good and interesting and weird.
Is there such a thing as perfect?
Standridge: There’s no way.
Eads: I have to defer to Mr. Standridge. He’s right. You’ve got to have something to aspire to, but –
Standridge: Yeah, you can’t get there. The closer you get, you know, you can’t quite get there.
What is the latest great album or song you heard?
Eads: The last great thing I listened to was Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
Standridge: It’s hard to beat that. That’s the first vinyl I ever purchased with my own money as a 14-year-old kid.
Eads: Mine was “Locomotion” (all laugh) which is a good song.
Standridge: It is a good song.
Eads: It has an awesome guitar solo.
Standridge: I was trying to think of something new that I thought was really cool. I go back and listen to an Aimee Mann concept album called The Forgotten Arm. I listen to that a lot. She was the girl in ‘Til Tuesday. She writes some really cool stuff.
I tend not to find great things in the mass produced stuff.
I understand you’ve had a long history here with Norman’s music scene. Have you two always known each other? How did you meet, and what started this project?
Standridge: I can tell you how we met. It’s really funny to me.
Eads: I don’t remember this at all this way. I don’t remember it being as funny.
Standridge: I had just moved back from Los Angeles. I was playing music around. A guy told me that there was a band in Norman auditioning guitar players, so I called up here, they sent me the disc, and I learned the tunes. I went down for my audition, and this dude opens up the door who has this curly permed hair down to here with this big ol’ beard and these piercing blue eyes. He’s looking at me like I’m a psychopath. Somebody in the back goes, “Who is it, Meat?” So they call this guy “Meat”, and I didn’t wanna go in there. That was Brian. (all laugh)
Eads: I had that much hair, if that tells you how long ago we met. That was what, 34 years ago?
Standridge: He wasn’t playing in the band that I auditioned for, but he lived there. Eventually that band broke up, and we started playing together in a band called Doc and the Delivery Boys.
Eads: Gregg was way advanced when we met. He was a big influence on me musically. He turned me on to a lot of great music. He showed me so much with the guitar, how to approach the guitar. He was studying classical around that time, too. I got to see aspects of it I never realized.
There’s a nonmusical influence–him.
The way it started out with Big Dumb Buildings, we had an open slot on Sunday between gigging a church and practicing with The Sunday Flyers, one of his other bands. He’d run over, and we’d just make stuff up in an hour. Sometimes we recorded stuff in an hour, too.
Standridge: We liked it so well that we just kept meeting up and kept making time for it.
If budgetary and time constraints were not a factor, what would your dream project be?
Standridge: I hate to use the words “rock opera”, but I’d love to do something along the lines of some big work like that. It would be really great to do something where the people have to be involved as well. The thing we did was really fun, so I’d like to do something like that on a bigger scope. People had to play a part in that as well.
Eads: We didn’t do anything. It was everyone else. They didn’t know it, but they were all part of the art project.
That was kind of the concept behind the Pete Townshend Lifehouse project that never got off the ground. Part of that eventually became Who’s Next? It was part of the concept that everyone would participate in it, but no one really understood what it was all about.
Standridge: It was hard enough explaining to people what this thing was all about.
Half of your album is made up of shorter songs. What makes you decide which songs to make full-length?
Standridge: We tried to make the short songs the building songs. There was an undercurrent where each of what we called a “bumper song” had something to do with a building.
Eads: It was the thing linking all the songs. Once we were close to having enough for a whole album, we were looking for a way to tie it together.
Standridge: It was fun, too. Writing a little one-minute song was pretty freeing.
Eads: You don’t have 20 hours to get hung up on a bridge, just 60 seconds and done.
Standridge: They’re almost like jingles.
Eads: If you notice, all the short songs are listed [on the album] as lowercase. There’s so many layers to Big Dumb Buildings. (both laugh)
If the average human lifespan was 40 years, how would you live your life differently?
Standridge: That’s hard. If you’re from a perspective of a person who’s 20 or 15, it’s different from a person who’s 56. I’d be dead now.
Eads: Don’t wait until 56 to do this project.
Standridge: Right, exactly.
Eads: It’s probably good advice even if your lifespan is 80, 90, or 100 years, but live it up, get it now. Don’t live fast and die young, but don’t hesitate to do things that you wanna do.
Standridge: That’s probably what I would say. Don’t be so fearful.
You made a point to explore any idea no matter how weird or dumb. Is there a song that turned out a lot better than you expected it to?
Standridge: I thought “Igloo” turned better. There’s a couple of them, though, that did. I thought “Car Fish” came out really good. For “Igloo”, Brian had this really cool riff, that intro riff you hear. I was supposed to go over there the next day, and I had nothing written, so I literally sat on the counter and wrote “Igloo”. It was about a 20-minute thing. I was like, “Wow, I like that. That’s cool.”
With “Car Fish”, I was in an airplane. I can’t stand to fly, and I was just typing out crap. I happened to hit on that whole idea. I was like, “Wow, car fish, yeah, ok, cool. Let’s write about a car fish.” I thought it came out good.
Eads: I want to ask you one out of the Envelope of Introspection.
Evan Jarvicks: You want to ask me one?
Standridge: Yeah! (laughs)
Jarvicks: Ok, that’s fine. I’m down for turning the tables.
If you could do it all over again, would you change anything?
Jarvicks: I’ve yet to meet a person who wouldn’t. Well, I wouldn’t say that. There’s a lot of people who say, “I wouldn’t change anything because I’m happy with where I’m at.” I feel that way because you can change something and never know what the result is going to be.
Jarvicks: If I wanted to change something…what you mentioned about fear and hesitation took me a long time to overcome. I kind of do music too, and I only started that the last three years. It’s always been in my mind, but I always talked myself out of it. I eventually gave over and said I’d regret it if I didn’t. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Standridge: One of these days, you’re gonna throw dirt in our faces.
Eads: Hopefully we’ll be dead then. (both laugh)
[fortune cookie] An understanding heart warms all that are graced with its presence.
Standridge: I think that’s probably my wife, but she joins in sometimes, in the idiocy that is us.
Eads: She’s very understanding.
Standridge: She is understanding.
But did we get our lucky numbers?
Jarvicks: Yeah, 46 37 35 11 12 5 31.