Seeing us through to the end of the year we’ve reached out to a number of our favourite artists and cultural creatives to join us in celebrating good things. A bunch of five things that make their world go around, inspire them or just need celebrating for what they are. There’s no theme here. It’s no kind of "best of year" round-up. These are just five things of the many things identified as making the world a better place to be. We’re all about positivity. Almost all of the time. We promise…
Christina and Rex run Big Stir records - one of the biggest guitar pop labels on the planet. Keeping up an intense release schedule, featuring bands like The Walker Brigade, Anton Barbeau and Amoeba Teen. This year they also released We All Shine On, the hugely entertaining album of cover versions from 1970. As you will see, Christina and Rex somehow find time too, to debate the vocal inflections of the harmonies when working with their own band, The Armories. Together they have shoehorned a whole lot into these Five Easy pieces...
Even the subtlest amount of mood lighting can soothe, refresh, or inspire. It can shift a benign or routine experience completely into something magical and extraordinary. Visitors to the Broome or Bulbenko abodes will always be welcomed into an environment enhanced by some form of mood-lifting luminosity.
A room filled with only the amber glow of an embarrassingly overabundant supply of lit candles… or just the flickering flame of a single sandalwood/myrrh scented pillar. The tiny golden-glowing orbs emanating from a waterfall cascade of tiny lights nestled into a paisley backdrop. The surprising variety of luminous choices hiding inside a red or teal lampshade atop a remote-controlled color changing bulb. Dancing lasers on the ceiling in the dark. Glowing red embers in the fireplace after a crackling fire. Sunlight streaming through a stained-glass window. A ball of fairy lights tucked into a glass jar or emanating through the negative-space scales of a metal fish sculpture. Stopping time to drink in the silvery moon as slivers of clouds drift across the sky to reveal the flickering stars just above the stately jacaranda. Firing up the Broome family lightsaber collection in the driveway on Halloween to the delight of trick-or-treaters, young and old.
These are all examples of the ways in which we’ve boosted our spirits and the spirits of others in the most trying of times. The mere recollection evokes endorphins, calms the mind, and lightens the soul.
A LOVE OF LANGUAGE
You can probably intuit how much we adore words and turns of phrase from our lyrics for The Armoires, and even the press copy for Big Stir Records releases, which we strive to imbue with more texture and character than the typical list of influences, press quotes and bland hyperbole. We're amateur etymologists of a sort. A lot of conversations between us get pleasantly derailed searching up the roots and origins or words or phrases that crop up along the way, and there's little that bring us more pure joy. Mere moments before sitting down to write this, we were trying the disentangle the “hore” in “horehound” from the “hoar” in “hoarfrost”, and beyond the stuff we need to look up, we both possess a lot of obscure linguistic lore which we love to share with each other. This extends in many ways to our adult children (Christina's daughter Larysa, 26, and Rex's kids Miranda, 21, and Ridley, 19) who are similarly wired for wordplay and bring a Millennial/Zoomer perspective to our Gen X knowledge base – although it's worth noting that every last one of us has some antiquarian leanings.
Sometimes we find ourselves reconsidering and comparing the vestiges of our regional accents and idioms: Christina's from Detroit and grew up speaking Ukrainian while Rex is from backwoods West Virginia, although both have three decades of Los Angeles living overlaying their origins. And at times in our music, since both of us sing in harmony far more often than either of us do solo, we have to micromanage and codify what might be thought of as The Armoires Style Guide, arriving at a definitive way we're both going to pronounce “electric”, or when a line should or shouldn't start with a conjunction as a pickup note. But the bottom line is that the evolution, side-alleys and flexibility of language and meaning are just endlessly thrilling to us.
Many meals have been shared under the Paisley Pergola at Big Stir HQ or in the homes of our hosts while on tour domestically or internationally, at restaurants between tour stops or local haunts when someone from out of town comes to visit, at gig venues or festivals. All made more delectable and indelible because of the communal experience, some of which even called to be memorialized in issues of the Big Stir Magazine, in whose pages Christine took on the role of culinary columnist.
A full English Breakfast in Lowton-St. Mary, lovingly served by friends Norman and Linda, and Mushy Peas from the Green Lane Chippy in Leigh. Lomo Saltado from the local Peruvian/Japanese fusion restaurant in Burbank. Greek Pizza and Pasta with The Bobbleheads in San Francisco. Searingly hot Melon Salsa from the truck stop taco joint on the road to Fresno with the Swedes from In Deed, the Tiki feast of seasoned chicken served in pineapple halves with sparkle *jets u.k. in Long Beach, while watching Chillingsworth Surfingham in a giant bear head playing surf guitar. Sashimi at Tokyo Garden in Fresno with Blake Jones & The Trike Shop crew, waiting to do a set of our own as The Armoires. Reuben sandwiches and Matzo Ball or Butter Bean Soup at Canter’s Deli with Tony Valentino and Rodney Bingenheimer. Tony ordering a full Thanksgiving turkey dinner and being tickled beyond belief that he could do so in August and that it came with Cranberry Sauce.
It’s utterly delightful to watch faces light up in the Paisley Pergola when a Thai or Mediterranean or Ukrainian feast is set before them, whether they’re locals, Brits, Scots, or Swedes. Vegan Haggis in Glasgow with The Fast Camels. Swedish Meatballs from IKEA with Plasticsoul in Crockett. The list goes on and on. We can cast all pressures and worries aside when sharing a meal with friends from near and far. The experiences are always chock-full of lively and thought-provoking conversations, fascinating stories, and heartfelt commiseration. Many of the artists or bands on the label are remote, so when we’re fortunate enough to bond with them over a lovely meal, our world brightens and expands all the more and reminds us of how grateful we are to be able do what we do and fortunate enough to share it with the people we love and admire.
PETS AND TREES
We're sneaking these two disparate entries in together under the conceit that they encompass our connection to what might be thought of as “the natural world”. And yes, we know there's a danger of a band of paisley-wearing, long-haired individuals coming off as super-granola, hippy-dippy clichés here, but it's not like that. It's also not not like that: while it's not a major thematic thread in our generally impressionistic artistic output and you'll never hear us do an “issue song”, we absolutely do harbor concerns about climate change, sustainability, and a host of other environmental issues. Our connections with our animal and arboreal companions are a different sort of thing, though, far more emotional and approaching the eldritch. Seems like a lot of musicians and artists we know are the same way. Our partnership goes back far enough that the we've tearfully marked the passing of the entire respective menageries we had when we met – Christina's beloved bonded pair of shepherd mixes Lizzie and Lulu and the quirky feline trio of Smokey Joe, Fuzzy and Elvis, and Rex's punk rock “white girl” cat Exene. Irreplaceable as they all are, we're drawn to the comfort and delightful randomness of having animal companions close at hand, and it's been new friends who have seen us through the isolation of the pandemic times and the coming-of-age of Big Stir Records. We can't keep them out of our songs: Goober, the Bulbenko family pitbull with a heart of gold; Maple, an albino corn snake who's the charge of Rex's daughter Ridley, and the feline contingent split across both of our households about whom we sing on “Ouroboros Blues (Crow Whisperer)”, a song written for the next Armoires record. “I got one black cat and an owl cat with Halloween eyes” goes Rex's line (that'd be Kix and Emmylou respectively), and Christina answers “I got twin Maine coons, soft and dark as the midnight skies”, referring to Ziggy and Zorro (who also leant their name to our fake-band alias Zed Cats). A cat’s trill, a dog’s sigh, a hummingbird’s whirr, a dove’s coo are our souls’ soothing balms.
The trees, though... we're just drawn to them. The bounty of the citrus trees on Christina's Burbank property – grapefruit, lemon and Valencia orange – mark the seasons such as they are in Southern California. Rex can trace it all to a soul-deep link with the woods of his West Virginia childhood, spent as a de facto dryad cultivating closer relationships with the oaks, willows and sassafras trees than the neighbor kids (because there weren't any neighbor kids). We both eagerly await – and feel strangely bereft at the end of – the late spring blooming of the jacaranda trees across the LA landscape. Some residents hate them because their borderline-irridescent violet flowers get everywhere, while we love them because... well, because their borderline-irridescent violet flowers get everywhere. We both feel it to our core when we hear a chainsaw signaling that the city's decided that another magnolia needs to come down. Ultimately, this, along with our decidedly spooky coterie of animal familiars, probably makes us sound more like actual witches than bleeding-heart earth mamas... and we're comfortable with that.
MUSIC BEYOND GENRE LINES
Big Stir Records as a label is often thought of as having a “sound” – which makes us happy – but even the records we release often stray well beyond the boundaries of indie pop or melodic guitar rock. Of course we love that music and its formative roots, but as you might imagine we're positively awash in the stuff, and like (we think) most people, we've always listened to a wide variety of music. And these days sometimes it's absolutely essential for us to step away from the jangle and sunshine harmonies to reconnect with the other forms that made us who we are. Even within rock and roll, we were both born too late to experience the British Invasion firsthand, so we unsurprisingly fall a bit more on the post-punk side of the ledger than a lot of our peers. But Christina also loves gypsy jazz, pre-war pop and swing, psych-surf as purveyed by the likes of Insect Surfers, and zydeco... and she spent a fair amount of her Detroit youth in blues clubs. Rex grew up in a household whose radio was tuned to '70s country (both the outlaw and commercial strains) and stocked with folk revival LPs. All of that still fuels us.
Both of us were fundamentally shaped by the dazzling diversity of sounds on '80s college radio – something about having Sonic Youth, Tom Waits and Cocteau Twins on the same playing field is still inspiring to us today. It goes on: Rex spent much of the '90s eschewing corporate grunge in favor of dense and intricate electronica by the likes of Aphex Twin and Underworld, and Christina will extol the virtues of Detroit trash-punkers The Mutants to anyone who'll listen. It all feeds back into our own music, which is really only “pop” in terms of sound and structure, and we love to push boundaries and hear others doing the same. When one of our artists, sometimes nervously, tells us “Well, I'm going to try something a little different on this one and I'm pretty sure you can't sell it as power pop”... that's when we really light up. We like it when there's risk at the core of the artistic process, and we'll worry about communicating our own enthusiasm to the listening public later!
the Big Stir Records website is here⇒