Single Premiere: Memphis Weirdo Punks Big Clown Hop Around Chaos on "Frogman"
Following three main releases, an exclusive tape in Japan, and several Gonerfest appearances, Memphis weirdo punk squad Big Clown will be releasing a new limited 8-track 7" vinyl called Beatdown on Swimming Faith Records on June 30th. Ahead of the release, today we have the pleasure in sharing the record's second cut "Frogman," a completely demented spike of chaos that shows Big Clown in full control of an adrenaline-fueled hardcore frenzy that twists primal noise punk and nu-metal clichés into a delirious romp. To dive deeper into Big Clown, we caught up with the band to discuss their origins, how a road trip gone wrong inspired them to channel "butt-rock" on their new release, and of course how to do the "Frogman."
Comprised of vocalist Lucy Isadora, drummer Zach Mitchell and guitarists Jesse Mansfield and Stephen Turner, Big Clown is one of Memphis' latest punk bands who first got together back in 2019 to try and make a record without writing or rehearsing anything beforehand. What came out of the session was the band's debut tape Gains Weight, a frenetic and rattling burst of madcap garage punk that swings with the whole "don't beat around the bush" mentality. A few releases later and several Gonerfest/Goner TV appearances, the band will be releasing a new limited 8-track 7" vinyl called Beatdown on Swimming Faith Records on June 30th. Ahead of the release, today we have the pleasure in sharing the record's second cut "Frogman," a completely demented spike of chaos that shows Big Clown in full control of an adrenaline-fueled hardcore frenzy that twists primal noise punk and nu-metal clichés into a delirious romp. To go with the single's acrobatic vocals and scorching distortion, the group also filmed an instructional dance music video.
To dive deeper into Big Clown, we caught up with Isadora, Mitchell, and Turner to discuss the band's journey together, how a road trip gone wrong inspired them to channel "butt-rock" on their new release, and of course how to do the "Frogman."
Paperface Zine: What brought you four together to form Big Clown? You guys started playing live shows around 2019 right?
Zach Mitchell: Big Clown was based on this semi-naive idea I'd had for a long time based on this video series Beck did where he'd pull in all of his famous musician friends and have them cover a whole album in a day without hearing it first. I wanted to try doing that but with completely original material. I knew Jesse through being survivors of the Mississippi indie rock scene in the early 2010s. I met Stephen through our other band Late Night Cardigan, and Lucy through a fast food review zine I had done with her. Her first band had just broken up and it seemed like a great opportunity to finally get everyone in a room and see what happens. My original plan was for it to be totally Bad Times-style and do one practice, one album, and one show, but everyone had so much fun doing it that they (thankfully) talked me out of it. Our first release Gains Weight was more or less recorded on the spot with no material prepared. That was the template for the band for a minute.
Lucy Isadora: I met Jesse and Stephen through Zach (who I was friends with outside of making zines, despite what he says) and was a fan of their respective bands for a hot minute before we decided to make music together. We did the whole first album while I was in Memphis on winter break from college, and it was so fun that we managed to talk Zach out of the "one album and break up" idea.
PZ: How did you settle on the name Big Clown? Must be a blast when doing artwork or coming up with merch ideas!
ZM: I've had this really stupid list of band names on my phone since I was 19 and had never had the chance to bust it out. The original name was actually Big Titty Clown, but Lucy was worried that she couldn't hold up a specific part of that. The art is all done by my girlfriend and Lucy's childhood best friend, Isabelle. She drew the original Big Clown on a sheet of notebook paper and we didn't have anything else to use for the first album cover so it stuck and now it's just a part of the aesthetic. It really is fun to see the designs, we give her very loose ideas like "clown with muscles" or "weaponry" and she comes up with gold. Oh also we were almost Pantera Bread for a minute, that's one of the other dumb things from the list. Maybe we could've also been Involuntary Manslaughter or Deader Than Hell or John Fucking Coltrane. These are are free by the way.
PZ: What has the Big Clown journey been like so far now a few releases and Gonerfest appearances later?
ZM: Man, pretty fucking weird. I feel like a cartoon character half the time. Our lead singer dresses like a clown and our songs range from "I like getting dicked down" to "the Jackson, MS water crisis was a traumatic event." Very strange to play them in other places and have people tell me it was good and hand me money (sometimes) after. I dunno. Gonerfest was cool though, we were sandwiched in between Erik Nervous and Chronophage last time we did it and it was a very artistically validating moment. We threw snacks into the crowd and had plants with confetti poppers blow them during the last song. In retrospect, it's kind of an insane thing to do when you're the third band of the day or whatever but so much of what this band is built on is "wouldn't it be funny if we did this?" and we try to follow that to its logical extreme.
LI: Big Clown is so fun. I get to make music with some of the most talented musicians I know, and the fact that anyone might also enjoy listening to it is a wonderful bonus. Last year we put out a tape with Dial Club Tapes, and having our work out in Japan was so cool.
PZ: Today, we're premiering the track "Frogman" from your forthcoming second LP Beatdown, which melds frantic bursts of garage punk with extremely fast metal and noise music. Talk to me about how this particular track came together and what the vision was behind it?
ZM: The track is based on this fucked up story this dude Keith in Milwaukee told us when we played up there last year. He kept telling us he couldn't dance at our show because he fucked up his back "doing the frogman" and would not actually explain to us what the fuck the Frogman was. Finally, after hours of prodding, he squatted down, wrapped his hands around his ankles the wrong way, and started hopping up and down. You ever see that episode of SpongeBob where he invents a dance called "The Sponge" that injures people and has a whole song to go along with it? That was kind of the idea, but we realized pretty quickly we can't make people do the real frogman dance so we tell people to do a modified one. It looks more like an actual frog hopping up and down though. Talking about this makes me feel stupid. We got interviewed by the Ole Miss paper one time and the really nice kid who interviewed us teed up my quote about the frogman by saying our new album is really about hard hitting sociopolitical issues.
LI: I loved the idea of doing an instructional dance song. I also loved the idea of bossing crowds around to make them hop like a frog. People avoid Big Clown shows now because they know I'll make them hop around on the floor. What's more punk than doing some bullshit that makes your own friends stop coming to shows?
PZ: Talk to me about how this new nifty music video came together for it?
ZM: I got this Omnimovie VHS camera while I was visiting my parents in Mobile last year and decided to start shooting some local shows with it. It caused me back problems (like honest to god I had to buy a book about "stretching to solve this" back problems) but it turned out really cool and people responded to it well. I figured "Frogman" song needed an instructional dance video to go along with it because the song itself does not actually really tell you how to do the song. A reference point here is "Teach Me How To Dougie," where the song only tells you to "put your arms out / lean side-to-side" and you have to watch the actual video to learn the dance. But, anyway, I just kind of told the rest of the band that I would film and direct it despite having no idea what I'm doing. The video randomly oscillates between black and white/color too, which I didn't know until we watched the footage back after. I think it turned out pretty good. We filmed it at The Lamplighter, which is the truest DIY zone in Memphis. They were cleaning a literal turd out of a trash can while we were setting up and we had to pack it in slightly early because a band told us they had a show with doors opening at 3:00 p.m. in the room we were filming in. We could not find any evidence of that, but I hope they had a good time.
Stephen Turner: We also wrangled in true Memphis homies, Bluff City Vice to be in the video! Having them involved really made the experience all the more fun.
LI: And my brother Sam! See if you can spot the guy who looks exactly like me, but 6'6" and buff.
PZ: As a preview to the album ahead of its release on Swimming Faith Records in June, take me through the recording of it. Where did you record these eight songs and what was the recording and mixing process like?
ZM: Jesse doesn't like being interviewed but wanted me to pass along that the record was recorded "on wumbo." The recording was fucked up. We do everything at Jesse's house in his home studio, but we had this massive miscommunication about when we were going to record. Our dumbass plan was to record all the songs all the way through to completion (sans some guitar overdubs) over the course of a few hours and then roll that directly into opening for Spread Joy that night. I do not know why we wanted to do that and, in retrospect, Jesse was right to not have understood that idea. But we did it anyway. Mixing took a minute because it felt like a puzzle missing a few pieces but Jesse is a genius and eventually something clicked in his brain.
LI: Loud and nasty is the key. Jesse is such a great producer and made this record sound beautiful.
PZ: I understand most of these songs were written after "a road trip gone wrong soundtracked by 16 hours of butt-rock hits." You got to tell me more about this. What were the butt-rock hits? Is this new LP your guys' dive into butt-rock? ;)
ZM: Jesse and I were on a road trip to Florida and back with our other band (and Stephen was with us on the drive home) that just didn't go super well. A lotta weird tension over stuff that doesn't matter. I had really been on this "stuff that sucks is actually good" tip for a minute and didn't really want to listen to anything besides Korn and Stone Temple Pilots. That turned into Jesse, Stephen, and I just kinda driving through the middle of nowhere trying to figure out if Creed is a shoegaze band (they are) and if Limp Bizkit had ideas (they do). I dunno. I think I got brain damaged by the pandemic or something but there was a minute there where I realized that I have no interest in having my music taste be totally cool stuff. I do not care about cool stuff. I just want to listen to music that makes me feel something. I got in this zone where I would just watch that WWF video soundtracked by My Sacrifice over and over again and eventually I realized that I was enjoying My Sacrifice more than I was enjoying the clips of Stone Cold hitting the stunner. At one point I got heavily into Chinese Democracy. During every single Big Clown trip someone inevitably wants to listen to that fucked up Billy Idol cover of The Velvet Underground's "Heroin." You get the picture here. But yeah, before that road trip I think we had "Clown" and "Thirsty" done and almost immediately Jesse wrote "Broke" and "Weak."
ST: That bridge section from Seven Mary Three's 1996 absolute-banger-of-a-hit "Cumbersome" is the vibe I'm trying to channel.
LI: They got me into butt-rock during this time and it's really been so rebellious. Nothing is truly scandalous in music anymore except to dive into the stuff we're not supposed to like! Now I listen to Creed unironically and cry when I see that video of their Dallas Cowboys halftime show. That's punk!
PZ: What are you looking forward to for the Big Clown summer tour? The Buffalo show is gonna be a blast!
ZM: We're playing entirely places we haven't played before, which is cool. Nervous Tick and the Zipper Lips are on the Buffalo show and we all love Biff to death so I'm really excited to finally see him perform.
ST: Big Clown eats good, so looking forward to checking out recommended spots. Meeting and playing with so many talented and genuinely kind people doing their own weirdo music is also a nice added bonus.
LI: What they said, plus I'm excited to visit all the weird roadside things we see along the way. I also am excited to snore so loud that I make Zach mad at me.
PZ: Aside from the new release, what else is on the horizon for the Big Clown crew later in the year? Any Gonerfest 20 after shows? Lucy, any zines?
ZM: We're getting together this weekend to start writing new Big Clown material, which I'm excited about. I have the next two releases mapped out in my head, but I'm sure that somewhere along the way we'll change them up. I'm trying to push the Big Clown rules template (all B tuning, short songs, no overthinking) in new directions and start incorporating some other genres and styles into it. Think black metal, ambient, whatever. Do some real dumb shit like "what if this song has only one chord." We'll see what happens. But yeah, supposedly we are playing a Gonerfest aftershow this year at The Lamplighter. And we'll be playing shows all year even past the tour. We're playing "Steve Albini's Noise Rock BBQ" (I do not remember what it's actually called) on September 2nd in Louisville.
LI: It's called PRFBBQLOU and I'm going to make Steve Albini hop like a frog. Personally, I'm just going to keep adding dumb gimmicks to the set until my work is 90% prop-based. Right now, I'm working on the next issue of my photozine Gig Diary, as well as distributing some zines on radical politics at the shows I book here in Jackson, Mississippi. If your band wants to come to Jackson, hit me up!
Beatdown is out June 30th on Swimming Faith Records.