The Official Biography Of Big Heavy Stuff: Part One

22 March 2024 | 4:08 pm | Nick Kennedy

Nick Kennedy, from the beloved Aussie outfit Big Heavy Stuff, is here with part one of the band's official biography.

Big Heavy Stuff

Big Heavy Stuff (Credit: Sophie Howarth)

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Big Heavy Stuff – Biography - 1991-2001

Author: Nick Kennedy

Sydney rock quartet that existed from 1991 - 2004.

Greg Atkinson - guitar/vocals

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Eliot Fish - bass/vocals

Nick Kennedy - drums

Carolyn Polley - guitar/vocals

Previous members :

Darren Atkinson - drums/vocals

Darren Jones – bass

Always the bridesmaid…

You are now able to hold in your hands a glorious 2LP vinyl copy of our ARIA award-nominated album Size Of The Ocean, reissued by Love As Fiction Records. From this distance, I see it was a pivotal moment for us.

And like we were trying to do with this very album, I’ll try to keep this brief.

Size Of The Ocean. Credit: Matt W. Bayes  

At the turn of the ‘80s, the brothers Greg and Darren Atkinson dissolved their previous group Ups And Downs, retained their lighting person Carolyn Polley and formed a new band that would reflect their love of the indie music from the time, from shoegaze to Slint, leaving behind a lapsed contract with Australia’s most famously successful independent label and a session with Pixies producer Gil Norton.

Piggybacking on the deal with Ups’ final label, the minted Big Heavy Stuff quickly recorded 1991's Pops Like Crazy (Volition), neatly bridging the latter ‘80s indie guitar of the final Ups EP Rash with the sound of the new decade Big Heavy Stuff were now existing in. Lead guitarist Carolyn Polley sang her sole lead vocal on the highlighted track Superstar (a Carpenters cover), and with the attendant video, it looked like she'd become one.

Big Heavy Stuff. Source: Supplied

Big Heavy Stuff Mark 1's sole album, Truck from 1993 (Volition), really is a classic, and I urge you to check it if you haven’t. The first Big Heavy Stuff album featured the brothers Atkinson and Polley on lead guitar and backing/sometimes main vocal and Darren Jones on bass. It was half recorded and mixed in a handful of iconic Sydney studios, the other half recorded for a triple j’s Live At The Wireless that I'd heard at the time of the original broadcast and was blown away by. Two singles, Chaos and Skin A Cat were released from it with videos.

Eliot Fish and I were witnessing it all and were playing on bills with the brand new Big Heavy Stuff band with our own post-high school power trio The Templebears. A couple of years later, El and I traded places with Darren Atkinson as he started a new group, Atticus, with our ex-bandleader, and BHS MKii was born. 

Credit: Sophie Howarth

By the time this Big Heavy Stuff ensemble recorded our first album together, we sounded like a different thing to MKi. That first line-up of the band used the BHS moniker somewhat ironically. We began to grow into a heavier beast that reflected our, you might say, monochromatic loves at the time. The inspiring commitment and sounds of the American underground captured our hearts.

But first things first. The transitional EP Trouble & Desire (Volition-1994) was the only recording with the rhythm section of Jones/Kennedy, Greg Wales engineering to a 16-track tape machine in Camperdown, Sydney. Recorded mostly live, the so-called "limitations" of the studio are pushed, and it still has a cracking vibe.

Credit: Sophie Howarth 

After Jones' departure, the remaining three of us spent what felt like an eternity in the wilderness but was really about 6 months touring the EP and auditioning other players. El took pity on my pleading for him to join us and made himself available, thus saving the band (at least for the first time).

By this stage, we had a brand new energy and set our eyes on recording this new sound as soon as we could. Wales became unavailable at the last minute but recommended we use a young engineer he'd worked with, David Trumpmanis.

Credit: Sophie Howarth 

Covered In Bruises (Volition - 1995) was an EP or mini-album, depending on whether you counted the 90's obligatory "secret unlisted track" at the end. It was recorded quickly and, being a six-song deal, was bursting with energy. The late Andrew Penhallow, our label guy, enthusiastically named us "Volition's Helmet" - which in hindsight was either an acknowledgement of us being an outlier for the label's usually more electronic bent or a playful dis. I wish I could ask him which.

R.I.P. Andy, a truly visionary label guy.

A year later, we recorded our first full-length album with this line-up, Maximum Sincere (Hypnotized/Shock 1997), again with David Trumpmanis. We had 20 new songs and recorded them all using a string quartet and a cowbell. The sessions were less focused than the ones we did the year before; we were only together as a band for around half the time. We also did our first post-Truck triple J Live At The Wireless session around this time. 

We refocused, then toured it hard, had radio support for the four (!!!) singles released from it, and we even got to tour nationally with Radiohead for their OK Computer Australian tour. But just last night, a friend told me how dramatically we seemed to change course after it, and some of the harder-edged rock fans seem to concur.

If you add the Covered In Bruises EP before it, that’s 26 and a half songs in the style we were cruising in.

I think it was enough for us - we were a restless bunch. 

Jon Coghill from Powderfinger lectured me one night on tour, telling me that we should pick a lane.

There’s merit to that argument, but it’s also often assumed in this country that there’s a set pathway to a sustained career in music. We had managers but often felt they were acting against our interests. Of course, this can be their function if business isn’t your interest, which it wasn’t. 

Credit: Nick Kennedy

We just loved to make music together, and our songwriter sang like an angel. This was put on hold for the aforementioned recordings,, maybe because we felt we’d be lost amongst the rest of the screaming happening everywhere at the time if we didn’t join them.

Credit: Sophie Howarth

We also had a lot of fun with those records, and we had our vision set for the long term. The era we individually came up in meant we were inspired by the post-punk school of pushing boundaries within our parameters, rejecting familiar ideas but also exploring contemporary avenues. We were deepening our understanding of where our strengths lay too.

Carolyn was briefly replaced (on her suggestion and with her blessing) by guitarist Adam Young (Daisygrinders) for the second half of the Max tour. We did a photo shoot with him and a live disc recording from Adelaide stands as the sole recording we did with him. 

Adam has a background in country rock and punk, so we were schooled on our road trips with his mixtapes. In hindsight, I think some of his influence appeared on the forthcoming album.

Credit: Sophie Howarth

And so, with the hard-edged format exhausted, we pushed for more melodic sounds - this is what you can now listen to on your record player for the very first time.

Wayne Connolly, my bandmate in Knievel both then and now, is our country’s greatest gift to lovers of fine sonics, and consequently, his work doesn’t date records in a certain period. I see him as partly responsible for why this album is a favourite of many who know of our existence.

Our dear friend, Julian Knowles (Even As We Speak), made himself available to overdub at Western Sydney Uni which gave the album some texture. Late nights back at his beach abode were hilarious and unforgettable, all of us vying for Musicology Top Dogg.

Size Of The Ocean had a difficult release, but after an aborted attempt, it was finally rescued by our touring buddies Jebediah, who set up a label with their manager, Heath Bradby, called Redline.

Credit: Sophie Howarth

Another Live At The Wireless session was recorded shortly after the album was released. 

Again, four singles had either a soft or hard release. We were limousined to the red carpet at the ARIAs and toured extensively. At this stage, TV appearances were still happening for the likes of us, and supporters at Channel [V] and radio station triple j were getting the music out nationwide.

We did another album after this one, but that story is for another reissue.

The band wishes to thank Matt Tutt at Love As Fiction Records for making the new 2LP edition happen.

Size Of The Ocean Album Cover by Mark Gowing

Big Heavy Stuff & Love As Fiction Records are pleased to announce that a pre-order will commence on 22 March 2024 for a vinyl release showcasing the band’s Like a Version and Live at the Wireless performances on triple j in 2004. The recording will be made available to fans for the first time and features songs from their album Dear Friends and Enemies as well as a cover of Bjork’s Hyperballad

Live at triple j 2004 as well as the remaining copies of Size of the Ocean can be ordered from Love As Fiction Records and Big Heavy Stuff’s Bandcamp page.