America is on the mind of the London-based Big Ideas. The brainchild of The Boxer Rebellion’s Nathan Nicholson and Adam Harrison, Big Ideas’s narrative of life in the country, knotted in grief and loss, hopefulness, and resurrection unravel on the three-track The American Dream.
Traversing deterioration and transformation, The American Dream is a look into American now. Though written prior to the events of 2020, the EP is a three-part scene for how things would play out.
Mixed by Billy Bush, who previously worked with The Boxer Rebellion, “American Dream” is a reflection of a time, the opening of a pop soundtrack to the year behind and a vision of a future ahead. Featuring Huey Lewis and the News saxophonist Johnny Colla, the song came together through a haze of ‘80s nostalgia with Harrison threading the instrumental around Nicholson’s lyrics. It’s the year of the human being living in the American dream sketches a mixed drawing of a country as is—a mess and a miracle in one.
Inspired by a phrase he heard on the Netflix series “Last Chance U”—“It is what is is. It was what it was,” helped fueled “American Dream.”
“I took that line as the lyric and made it about growing up and leaving that kind of town, growing up there,” says Nicholson. “You’re a big fish in a small pond.”
Unearthing more Americana roots, “Highway” decelerates to reveal another account of a small town that failed to return to its former glory, into the synth fissures of “Hurricane.”
The first chapter in Big Ideas’ music- and film-led EPs, for Nicholson, born and raised in Tennessee, the UK-bred Harrison and London-based filmmaker, writer and photographer Ben Lankester, the project is the trio’s response to the current state of the world and how the reality of the American dream isn’t always what it seems.
“The idea with The American Dream was this feeling of wanting to break free,” says Nicholson. “I grew up in a small town in Tennessee, which was kind of sheltered, but you still grow up having these big aspirations. When you’re young and you’re in that kind of scenario, you desperately want to get out and see the big world.”
Accompanied by a short film around the title track, Nicholson and Harrison worked closely with Lankester to weave striking visual around the music. Lankester’s “American Dream” follows the story of an aspiring boxer, representing one’s journey in America today.
“What I relished about the challenge of creating the video for ‘The American Dream’ was the dichotomy between the seemingly breezy surface of the song and the very contemporary dystopian themes running almost hidden underneath,” says Lankester. “Could we push this dark narrative concept as far as we could whilst ensuring the film always worked in service to the music? This was the challenge that was a pleasure to tackle head on.”
Big Ideas formed around the the start of The Boxer Rebellion’s U.S. tour around 2018’s Ghost Alive. As Nicholson and Harrison started sharing ideas for a different project, everything began circling around The American Dream. “Adam and I started writing songs on the side, just to try new things,” says Nicholson. “So we already had this back and forth with each other without actually getting in a room together.”
Written in 2019, Nicholson says there was no concerted effort to control how Big Ideas would sound or consciously make it echo The Boxer Rebellion, nor was there any predilection of how the music would resonate in the year ahead.
“When we were writing the ‘American Dream’ song last year, it was a was very much like a dialogue of the last four years,” says Nicholson of how the songs reflect the country’s current state. “The band touched on that with our last record, but you can apply a Bob Dylan protest song to 2020. It all fits in just fine.”
Ghost Alive was more of a fragmented process for Nicholson, since the album was recorded two weeks after his father passed away. “Those songs, once we recorded them, meant a whole different thing to me,” shares Nicholson. “It was kind of a weird way of reinterpreting the songs because they formed new relevance to that event.”
Moving into the next two phases of Big Ideas, there are two EPs worth of stories ready for release in early 2021. The next collection, entitled I’m Changing, is centered around more personal reflections, says Nicholson. “It’s been kind of nice to have it staggered,” says Nicholson of the three pieces of music. “It gives everything a little spotlight.”
Eventually, Harrison and Nicholson may combine all three EPs into one album and hope to perform the music live, but there’s no rush. These are still uncertain times, so they’ll let the music speak for now.
“There’s a beauty in that people are figuring out different ways of working and discovering how best to put art out there,” says Nicholson. “We just want to try to put out the best music we can.”