By Lauren Keene
From Replacements and Big Star tribute shows to songs about the king of power pop, it’s no secret that Milwaukee has a strong affinity for the waning genre. Brooklyn power poppers Big Eyes has unsurprisingly accumulated a sizable Milwaukee following with their classic rock ‘n’ roll-inspired punk tunes. This Sunday, they’ll be back in town for a show at High Dive with fellow rockers Joust and Milwaukee’s own Bad Wig.
In 2016, Big Eyes released their third LP “Stake My Claim” on Don Giovanni alongside Appleton’s very own Tenement and the rest of the label’s ever-expanding roster. Kait Eldridge has been Big Eyes’ frontwoman and sole consistent member since her project’s inception in 2009. We talked with Eldridge about her influences, extensive touring history and still experiencing sexism in punk.
Explain: Do you think being on a record label as prolific as Don Giovanni has changed Big Eyes’ prospects in any way?
Kait Eldridge: Don Giovanni definitely expanded a ton in the time between our first and third LPs. They were putting out a ton of bands with members who weren't just all cis males by that point. Our politics lined up well, and it seemed like it'd be a great fit for us to come back. Don Giovanni seems to cast a wide net with their audience, and I think it's the right place for us to be right now!
Do you think the political content of your music has changed since 2016’s “Stake My Claim”?
I tend to keep my lyrics fairly vague because I’m a private person. I also like to make it harder for people who are trying to figure out if a song is about them (laughs). It makes my lyrics easier for people to relate to. I love to see what people think certain songs are about. Sometimes they hit the nail on the head, and sometimes they’re WAY off.
Do you predict a lyrical shift on your next LP?
Yeah - The older I get, I do find myself getting a bit more specific. The overall tone of my lyrics has always been pretty angry and depressed, so I’m sure the awful bullshit that’s been going on lately will just completely add to that.
Big Eyes was recently mentioned in a New York Times podcast about how women are dominating contemporary rock music. How does it feel to be celebrated in that way, especially as a woman fronting a band of all men?
We’re a “male backed” band! (laughs) I have played in bands with other women over the years, so I think it’s really just a coincidence that I’ve been the only woman to ever be in Big Eyes. I felt honored to be included in that podcast.
Even though recent punk ethics preach acceptance and tolerance, do you still experience sexism? Do you ever feel like you’re treated differently because you’re a woman?
Yes, of course. Sexism is still VERY real and something I have to deal with pretty often. It’s obviously a bit better at DIY spots, but if we are playing a regular club in a smaller city, it’s pretty much inevitable. I’m also small (five feet tall) and look young for my age – I’m 29 and ALWAYS get carded – so a lot of times when we first arrive to a venue, I’m the only one who gets asked what I play, I’m talked down to, I’m asked to see my ID but nobody else is, etc. It happens much more frequently than you’d expect. If a man sends an email it comes off as “direct” or “to the point”, but a woman could send that same friggin’ email and it’d come off as “bossy” or “demanding”. We have a male booking agent now, so at least I get to deal with the internet bullshit less (laughs).
What challenges have you faced being the only consistent Big Eyes member?
I’m in charge of all the boring, behind-the-scenes kind of stuff. I’m grateful to all of who have been able to hop on board for a bit, and I don’t expect people to stick around forever. When you get down to it, it’s obviously “my” project. People want to work on their music, have other obligations, etc. It can get frustrating and redundant teaching new people the older songs, but we just keep it fresh by always working on new material and working on covers.
After touring regularly for nearly seven years, do you have any advice for musicians who are thinking about becoming a “full-time” touring band?
I tend to pack light and just make sure to do laundry once a week so we all aren’t taking up the entire van with multiple bags – and our dirty laundry doesn’t get a chance to ferment for all that long! Remember to wash your sleeping bag! Make sure to get some alone time, and don’t go too hard every night or you’ll wear yourself out really fast. Label your phone charger so your bandmates don’t snag yours!
You guys are from New York, where of course many other “up and coming” rock bands are from, too. Who are your favorite NYC bands to play shows with?
There are so many bands here, so we try to switch it up as much as possible, to be honest. But, we like to play with our friends, of course. Shellshag are always a blast! A few of our other friends have a new band called Midnight Calls. We recently played with a new band called Fealty, who are a really cool punk band.
Who do you consider your biggest influences both musically and lyrically?
My biggest overall musical influences have got to be The Ramones, Chip Trick and Thin Lizzy. My biggest lyrical influences are Paul Westerberg, Dee Dee Ramone, Nick Lowe and Joan Jett. In the past couple of years, my biggest influences both musically and lyrically have been Squeeze, XTC and Blue Oyster Cult.
Is Big Eyes named after the Cheap Trick song? I’m sure you get this question a lot.
Yep! I actually made a whole list of all my favorite Cheap Trick songs and thought that “Big Eyes” sounded like the best band name.
If you had to give someone music recommendations, what would you suggest? What have you listened to over the last few days?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Badfinger and Gene Clark the last few days. The seasons changing always gets me in a sappy mood. Lately, I’ve been pushing Queen’s “The Game” and XTC’s “Black Sea” on my friends.