Rock’s history is littered with power couples whose personal lives were just as much a claim to fame for the artists as the music they made. Ike and Tina’s soulful musical partnership was underscored by years of harrowing abuse; John and Yoko attracted more media attention for bed-ins then they did for their experimental Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins LP; and despite all those memorable, crunchy garage-rock nuggets, the early part of The White Stripes’ career had many fixating on whether Jack and Meg White were brother and sister, husband and wife, or, well, both. For better or for worse, London duo Big Deal, have most in common with the latter.
The group’s starting point is seemingly ripe with scandal. The outfit, made up of singer-guitarists Kacey Underwood and Alice Costelloe, started making music after Underwood, a Californian music teacher in his twenties, gave a couple of guitar lessons to the teenaged Costelloe. The twosome then began crafting stark, six-string-assisted songs that seemingly focused on the intimate inner-workings of a relationship… potentially theirs. On top of some simple strumming, in early track Chair, Costelloe begrudgingly coos about a beau that prefers to keep her at arm’s length, singing, “Only want me for the songs I write about you, about how I like you.”
Other breezy and spacious songs on Big Deal’s 2011 debut disc Lights Out further fuel the fire, including Costelloe’s quip of, “Take me to your bed, don’t take me home. I want to be older,” on Cool Like Kurt, and the equally pro-sleepover song, Talk. Naturally, this has led fans and critics alike to ask, “Are they, or aren’t they?” But Underwood assured The Lab that they aren’t lovers, nor have they ever been. He chalks up the intimacy of Chair and the rest of Lights Out to “a very strange coincidence.”
“Alice and I were both in bands, and I worked at the same school as Alice’s mom. She mentioned Alice wanted to brush up on her guitar skills so I ended up giving her a couple of lessons,” Underwood said, adding that the deep connection between himself and his band mate was immediate, but music-based. “The reason we became friends and started writing together was because we had such similar music tastes and this helped us be compatible to write together.”
There is an undeniable chemistry to their partnership. By using nothing more than a couple of guitars and their voices, everything Big Deal offers is pushed to the forefront. Each and every syllable and sentiment is out in the open. No crashing drums can drown out the longing in their calls, or the pain of heartbreak and obsession in swoony numbers like Homework. If there were any coded messages being directed at each other, they’d get uncovered pretty quickly. Much like their listeners, though, the members of Big Deal still get startled by the frankness of their material. “We usually record demos of the songs and send them to each other first, so we can hear the idea of how the other person wants the song to sound,” Underwood said, “but it’s always scary sharing something you’ve made with someone, even if you really trust them.”
While Lights Out seems tailor-made for the bedroom, the unit has been hitting the stage hard on both sides of the pond since its release last fall. Highlights of the promotional grind have included a successful stop at this year’s South by Southwest festival – where Underwood beamed about receiving countless free meals from Taco Bell – and a charity performance at London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall. Though with some of Big Deal’s songs now dating back a couple of years, the act is ready to move on to new material. Underwood gave details on what to expect on the next album: “We’ll keep some of the stripped down elements but we’ll also expand the sound in the ways that we’ve been wanting to. We’re going to take more time with this record.”
The buzz built up around Big Deal assures that eyes and ears will be fixated on the duo once they deliver their next disc. No doubt some – hopeless romantics, mostly – are still keeping their fingers crossed that the pair will profess their undying love for each other by album number two, but many have accepted by now that all the outfit has to offer are some startlingly beautiful songs. It’s a fair trade, we think.