Thursday, March 20, 2014
Square Zeros #12: Marisa Cerio (Big Quiet, Murray)
"As the feeling blasted through his heart, he knew nothing could ever be the same. He had a favorite song: a song he could call his own." – "A Hard Day's Pete," Nickelodeon's The Adventures of Pete and Pete (1994)
"I definitely heard [R.E.M.'s] Out of Time when I was 11 or 12, and immediately I knew that was what I wanted." – Marisa Cerio
You know what I like even more than interviewing musicians for Square Zeros? When one of those interviews practically requires me to watch Pete and Pete as research. Among the show's many achievements was introducing a generation of kids to a particularly dreamy form of jangle pop through background music by Polaris, the Apples in Stereo, and Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields, among others.
Interviewing singer-guitarist Marisa Cerio of Brooklyn rock and roll outfit Big Quiet made it clear that I wasn't the only affected party. Named after an episode of the children's show, Big Quiet taps into the seemingly built-in nostalgia of that style with the self-assuredness of a band who's found the only sound that matters.
For me, it's always been a beautiful aesthetic, and though it belongs to that moment of the late 80s and early 90s, it always comes out timeless when properly done. By bringing into the conversation her prior band Murray, Marisa showed that she's been doing right by the great American jangle pop tradition from the outset.
In specifying her style as "American" jangle pop, Marisa pointed particularly to bands like R.E.M. and Pylon as influences. While Marisa's voice might carry a bit more attack on "Lady Lyandria" than a Michael Stipe, it fits perfectly here with the angularity and more forceful vocals of Pylon's Vanessa Briscoe. But, you know, if Pylon wrote a song with a way funnier story behind the title.
On "Ours," the other songwriter in Murray (Marissa) takes lead vocals, so we hear a bit more of Marisa's Peter Buck-influenced guitaring. Though she let us know she wasn't yet playing her dream guitar — Marisa is easily identifiable fronting Big Quiet with her FireGlo Rickenbacker 330 — her tone still cuts through in a manner for which the Ric330 is truly built (Buck, Paul Weller of The Jam, and Pete Townshend of The Who are among its adherents), working with the bass to push the song forward.
Indeed, the conflict between the sweetness of Marisa's tone and Marissa's more dissonant playing brings a darker texture to "Ours" and the track "Bust Out" that their vocal harmonies serve to reinforce. The soft verse vocals and chiming minor-key guitars of the latter perhaps reach for something like The Cure, before rising into a more angular, bass-driven final act.
I want to say that listening to Big Quiet after hearing Murray shows Marisa zeroing in on her favored style, but it's clear that the sound is one that has always been with her. I know we call those early years "impressionable" for a reason, but there's something about these songs that really transports. I didn't ask Marisa what kind of guitar she played in those early years before she snagged her Ric, but in my mind's eye, she's rocking a KrebStar3000 Eviscerator.
Check out Big Quiet at Matchless on Friday, March 28 for their Hearts Bleed Radio showcase. For more information on HBR, check out our interview with HBR founder Stephen Perry (SZ #2).