So, Andrew Klein is hiking one Sunday afternoon in Bear Mountain State Park, located in the state of New York. And during this hike, he talks about the one project that’s been a part of his life for nearly a decade: performing in a band known as Big Mean Sound Machine.
Based in Ithaca, the Machine has been a well-known source for exotic party music. The band originally started in June 2009, when Klein, guitarist Dan Barker, bassist/composer Angelo Peters, trumpeter Bobby Spellman and keyboardist Rob Tate (who is now working on his Ph.D. in English at Duke) formed a group called The Buddhi (pronounced “booty”). Although they released an album, Klein says the creative juices just weren’t flowing.
“That band sort of fizzled out towards the end of our time in college,” says Klein. “We just sort of weren’t feeling entirely fulfilled creatively with that band.”
As they moved on to performing music as Big Mean, the band picked up their Afrobeat sound from their Ithaca College days. Klein remembers one political professor, Naeem Inayatullah, hipping him to artists like Tony Allen and Fela Kuti and giving him more intel on what Afrobeat is all about.
“A lot of Afrobeat comes from politics,” he says. “It is struggle music, at its core. And when music and politics converge, we get an interesting result. In that case, it is Afrobeat. In other cases, you know, folk rock, steel-pan music from the Caribbean, etc… Generally speaking, I think we did a lot of critical thinking in college, and that was a big influence for us. We also knew we wanted to play party music and we wanted to play dance music, but we also wanted to be intellectual and something for all audiences, of all ages and backgrounds.”
Depending on which weekend you see them, the Machine can fluctuate between nine to ten members. The band is also an equal-opportunity ensemble; one of the players in their horn section is female.
“We, at one point, had three women in the band, all in the horn section, as a matter of fact,” says Klein. “But most of them have gone on to do other things – some of them music-related, some of them not.”
Klein, who teaches drums and does other gigs when he’s not in BMSM, will attest that it’s difficult to hold on to members. “It’s tough to keep people in the band for so long, you know,” he says. “The pay is kind of enough to keep it going, but none of us are getting rich or truly making a full living off of the band alone.”
The band still manages to release new music. Their latest album, “Runnin’ for the Ghost,” was released in April. Klein says the band has finally gotten the hang of recording music the same way they would perform music on stage.
“Each record has become progressively more live, in terms of the recording process,” he says. “And that has been something we’re interested in because it’s getting closer and closer to the feel that we’re building a reputation with, in terms of our live performances.”
For the past few years, Klein says the band, notoriously known for doing as little rehearsal as possible, has been performing an average of a hundred shows a year. In fact, they will be performing at Pour House Music Hall Friday night in Raleigh. As mentioned before, Big Mean Sound Machine wants people of all ages, all colors, all whatever to take in their music and enjoy themselves.
“We want people to know that we’re not really that big or that mean,” says Klein, laughing. “They should feel free to come be part of our extended family, because that’s what our mission is. It’s to create a community and, especially, in a time like we’re finding ourselves in currently, where unity and community and creativity are just so much more important now than ever.”
Who: Big Mean Sound Machine, with Funk You
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: The Pour House Music Hall, 224 S. Blount St., Raleigh
Info: 919-821-1120 or thepourhousemusichall.com