During 12 years of sonic partnership, vocalist Lisa Papineau and bassist Juan Alderete's mesh of meditative lyrics, electro-inflected boom-bap and prog-jazz has combined fury and philosophy in a way that doesn’t have to shout to be heard.
Formed in 1999, their band, Big Sir, brought together the operatic tone of Alderete's fretless bass with Papineau's penchant for soulful restraint. On Feb. 7 the band released "Before Gardens, After Gardens," their first album in six years, via Rodriguez Lopez/Sargent House.
Despite their positive outlook on an album over half a decade in the making, the inspiration it took to make it has taken a serious, very literal toll on their bodies.
Shortly after completing their previous album, "Und Die Scheiße Ändert Sich Immer" in 2006, Papinaeu and Alderete were both diagnosed with life-threatening diseases. Alderete was found to have polycythemia vera, a rare bone marrow disease that makes the body produce too many red blood cells, while Papineau discovered she had multiple sclerosis. And just three weeks before the release of the album, heavily steeped in reflections on life and death, Papineau was also diagnosed with cancer.
Despite their health obstacles, both have been incessantly busy with projects ranging from Alderete’s work as the bassist for The Mars Volta to Papineau’s solo career and collaborations with artists like Air and M83 and ME & LP with Matt Embree of RX Bandits. But even with so many other projects to occupy their time, both admit that their shared sense of humor, affinity for bass and West Coast gangsta rap creates a bond that keeps them together.
Ahead of Big Sir's gig at Harvelle's in Long Beach on Monday, Papineau and Alderete spoke to Pop & Hiss about crafting their new album and facing mortality head-on.
Pop & Hiss: What is special about the chemistry you two have with this project as a bassist and vocalist?
Lisa Papineau: Musically for me, the thing I responded to as a singer was the tone of the fretless bass and how much like a voice it sounded and being able to kind of sing along with it, not like you’re a solo singer. And with this project, all the comments about my voice are "it's whispery sounding." Well, it’s not whispery and it took a lot to find an organic tone that’s playing along with the bassline and I don’t want to disrespect the space that bassline creates. I’m going to try to slip under it.