Big Tusk wants you to fall in love. Not with the strapping young men in the band, but with another human being while you’re sweating the night away in a basement to one of the group’s tunes.
The West Philly psych-rock outfit Big Tusk is at the beginning of what it hopes to be its biggest year. With the band’s EP “Flood” now on the digital shelves, the three bandmates said they’re looking to move hearts and souls in the physical world. The Wesleyan University-bred musicians have only been settled in Philadelphia for about a year and a half, but they’ve made it their mission to spread good feels from basement to basement.
“I want people to dance,” said drummer Howe Pearson. “I want someone to fall in love. I want someone to cry.”
The typical Big Tusk tune is a balancing act between spacey head-nodding and groovy hip-shaking.
There’s a feeling of surprise, a slight jam aesthetic that comes out of the fact that the band writes and records everything right out of the basement of its cozy West Philly house, where visitors are invited to remove their shoes upon entering.
The band’s musical DNA could probably be decoded somewhere within the staggering vinyl collection in the living room. “[Keyboardist David Thompson’s] uncle just brought over all his albums,” said guitarist Sam Long. “Most of these aren’t actually ours.”
This prompted a brief musical discussion between Long and Thompson, who sits cross-legged on the couch. They run through the albums in their collection, from the Beatles to Yes.
The bond between the members of Big Tusk is an important component of the band, especially considering they live together. Beyond simple roommate politics, though, the band said fellowship is a feeling Big Tusk seeks to find for themselves and give to others.
“We were talking to people who moved [to New York] and have bands there now, and it’s such a different scene,” Long said. “It’s so much more stressful.”
What Philadelphia offered Big Tusk, besides cheaper rent, was a community of musicians that is far less adversarial.
Perhaps the greatest encapsulation of this idea is the basement show. Long said he fondly remembers coming to Philadelphia venues when he growing up in Montgomery County, but band members agreed that the true gem of the city is its basement scene.
“House shows have been my favorite shows,” Pearson said. “You get to play with bands that already bring a lot of friends, and the vibe is just amazing.”
“You definitely get people who want to listen to you,” Long said.
For Big Tusk fans that prefer to shake it out at shows, Pearson offers a suggestion. He stands up from the couch and begins shimmying his torso back and forth, letting both arms flail limply about and slap him loudly in the chest. He dubbed the floppy dance move “the retirement home,” but said a kid he met doing an after-school program calls it the “chicken on roller-skates.”
“Flood” features wild, bursting cover art by Big Tusk’s friend Dan Obzejta from Los Angeles. Band members said it reflects the collage-like sensibilities of their music, and although they’re definitely not making it up as they go along, there is an element of the unexpected in the way the songs explore different sounds.
The EP is Big Tusk’s tightest and most focused set of songs so far, but the band said it doesn’t mean it has lost its sense of adventure in writing music.
“We put so much time into this EP that it’s hard to say that there isn’t intentionality with it,” Long said. “Even if we did something unintentional, we intentionally chose to keep it.”
They’ve even treated the neighbors to some of their experiments, accidentally. One evening Pearson was blasting a “krautrock-y” drone in the basement without considering that the speaker was angled directly toward the house next door. When the confused neighbor failed to reach Pearson, who wasn’t carrying his phone, he asked one of the other residents to come over and listen to the throbbing loop that was filling his house like a trippy nightmare.
“I checked my phone later and the texts were like, ‘Hey man, who took the bad acid over there?’” Pearson said. “‘Seriously, I’m getting flashbacks. It feels like Gitmo in here.’”
But Big Tusk wants to share more than just a few laughs. The band said its goal for the year is to start connecting with the folks who come to its shows by letting the music creep into everyone’s personal headspace just by sharing its music.
“If we’re completely lost in it and feeling it, that’s the best way to reach out to somebody,” Pearson said.
Tyler Horst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.