New York City-based rock-noir trio Big Lazy’s cinematic strain of Southern-tinged, gothic jazz-blues is a crafty mixture of American styles, many of which predate rock and roll and most of which veer from current obsessions. Even with identifiable notes of rockabilly, country and surf in the soup, the band is often justifiably bundled with forward-thinking post-rock acts. “Whether it’s Thelonious Monk or Link Wray, most of the music that inspires me is grizzled and timeless,” says guitarist and bandleader Stephen Ulrich. “Then again, I love the band Deerhoof.”
During songs like the ominous, latin-tinged “Minor Problem” Big Lazy fashions instrumental music that tells stories and evokes images without the need for words. “I don’t usually write with characters in mind – more like a sense of the place that haunts the music,” says Ulrich. “Maybe it’s my parent’s attic, or a dive bar I’ve played in. What’s interesting to me is that people are made to feel like participants rather than bystanders. People often tell me, ‘You’re playing the soundtrack to my life.’”
Taken from the band’s latest album “Don’t Cross Myrtle,” the white-knuckled “Night Must Fall” is an infectious symbiosis of off-kilter Raymond Scott antics and Dick Dale’s devil-may-care surf style. Drummer Yuval Lion and Bassist Andrew Hall provide gritty, nuanced grooves for this wordless landscape. Ulrich takes inspiration from such stylistic mash-ups. “I’ll listen to George Jones and Thelonius Monk together,” he says. “I’ll think, ‘Why do I like these two guys so much? Maybe they don’t connect at all, but I’ll find a way to sneak in between them and come out with a little bit of their energy.”
Ulrich has developed his affinity for evocative sound within Big Lazy, and outside the band as well. Many know his compositional skills from HBO detective comedy Bored to Death. It’s a natural extension of his fascination with film composers such as Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota and Elmer Bernstien. “A lot of what I’ve been inspired by is Big Sky Western soundtrack music as well as scuzzy East Coast film scores.” says Ulrich.
* Big Lazy, with The Claudettes and Chachi & the Bandidos, 9 p.m. Apr. 16, The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia.,$12; hideoutchicago.com. “A Conversation with Film Composers,” 2:30 p.m. Apr. 17, Chicago Distilling Co., 2359 N. Milwaukee; CIMMfest.org/cimmcon.
Spotify playlist: http://bit.ly/lazySPOT
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.