Big Fat Head keeps the vibes up with ‘Bobo Rising’

The five-piece Columbus rock band will celebrate the release of its new album in concert at Cafe Bourbon St. on Friday, May 31.
Big Fat Head
Big Fat HeadMichael Rasnic

Nate Wilder started Big Fat Head in part because “there weren’t a lot of freaky punk bands in town.” 

“Everything was either too loud or too goddamn serious,” the singer and guitarist said in late May. “I feel like there aren’t many people just chugging along, saying something really weird, rolling around on the ground, playing for free, giving things out. There’s this growing attitude among bands where everyone is like, ‘Well, it’s tough to make it on tour!’ and ‘It’s tough to be in a band.’ And I’m like, I know. I never did it because I thought I was going to make any fucking money.”

This freewheeling spirit helped to shape Big Fat Head’s 2021 album, Digital Citizen (Clean Demon Records), along with standout track “Columbus, Ohio,” a jangly paean to the band’s hometown that seems unlikely to turn up in any future Experience Columbus tourism spots. (“I like the Wendy’s and I hate Les Wexner’s tits,” goes one line.)

But in the months that followed the record’s release, Wilder struggled to adjust, torn between a desire to preserve the early chaotic spirit of the music and a belief that he needed to take the band more seriously for it to carry forward.

“I started it to be this cheeky little fun thing. And then people seemed to be hanging around, and it was like, ‘Well, I guess I want to say something real or make something that sounds awesome,’” he said. “And to do that after successfully making something cheeky and goofy is easier said than done. Some of it started to feel like, ‘Oh, this is kind of like work. And I kind of hate this.’ And that became disillusioning. And then I started to second guess things. And I started to think, ‘Maybe there was no need for me to start this thing at all.’ … But I’ve done away with all of that negative thought. I think it’s cool. I think rock ‘n’ roll is cool. And everyone should do it.”

These contrasting ideas are all encapsulated within the self-lacerating “Pendulum,” a deeply fuzzy slow burner that falls near the middle of Big Fat Head’s excellent new album, Bobo Rising, out this week on Clean Demon. “I hate the way they play their instruments, man, as much as I hate my own songs,” Wilder drawls. Then a beat later he adds, “But it feels way too good to stop.”

Elsewhere, the band bounds between spectral rock tracks (“Kahiki,” which sounds as though it should arrive with smoke machines and an elaborate laser light show in tow) and headier tunes such as the rubbery “Ricochet,” in part about preserving the good vibes in a life that has a way of passing more quickly than most of us would like.

“And then some of them are lovey-dovey or lame or just don’t even mean that much,” said Wilder, 25, who will join bandmates Olivia Stefanoff (bass), Jordan Latas (guitar), Felicity Gunn (keyboards) and Stanic Russ (drums) for a record release concert at Cafe Bourbon Street on Friday, May 31, playing alongside the heavy hitting trio of Golomb, Son of Dribble and Gus and the TV. 

The members of Big Fat Head recorded Bobo Rising alongside engineer John Hoffman over a weekend in April 2023 at the Lodge in Dayton, Kentucky, a renovated Masonic temple where the bandmates slept in a ground floor gymnasium and laid down tracks on the second floor in a room outfitted with a small stage. The sessions coincided with a lineup shift that Wilder said changed the way the group wrote and further loosened up its sound. Big Fat Head’s previous drummer had a metal background and his playing tended to be crisp and technical. Russ, in contrast, “has a lot more feel,” Wilder said. “It’s a lot more garage-y. … It’s not the most technical stuff, but it’s pretty exciting for us and I think it keeps the vibes up.”

Wilder’s desire to balance his musical ambition with a more casual, good time feel is also reflected in his approach to songwriting. While he projects an eternally chilled-out demeanor in conversation, he said he can be, at times, a bit of a control freak when it comes to bringing his vision to life.

“I’m still like James Brown, cracking the whip,” he said, and laughed. “Everyone has good ideas, but again, there’s five of us. And so, I don’t really like to crack the whip and be a dictator, but sometimes logistically it’s just like, well, I’m going to figure this thing out.”

Though Wilder grew up in an artistic family – his mom is a painter, and his dad is a glassblower and wood carver who crafted the wooden heads that grace the cover of 2022 EP Villain Pop – he didn’t begin to take music seriously until well into high school, when he started playing bass in a series of alt-rock cover bands. After he discovered the likes of Morphine, the Pixies and Nirvana as a teenager, Wilder pivoted to guitar, driven by a desire to craft his own songs

“Nirvana was the one that really made me want to pick up a guitar because everyone was like, ‘Well, this guy sucks, but he’s a good songwriter, so that’s cool,’” Wilder said. “And I was like, maybe that can be my thing. I was never trying to be good. I just felt like I liked songs and three chords, and I liked pop. And I just liked that whole philosophy [Nirvana singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain] had, like, ‘I’m a pop guy who writes pop songs,’ and then it was all gnarly feedback and smashing guitars. And that kind of thing was eye opening for me. And it was probably around the same time I learned someone put a urinal in an art museum, which was like, wow, you really can do whatever the fuck you want. And, like, wow, life is pretty crazy.”

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