Very few people can transform their inner world and experiences into lasting words and music like Gary Maccagnone from Big Sexy does. In the following interview we talk about music, roots and origins and how one’s experiences can build into art. Some of the deeper thoughts may even go through the walls of every day numbness… Worthy to read, think and in the meantime listen to the song from the brand new album they have just released.
Music Authentic: Welcome to Music Authentic! How excited are you now that your latest album “River of Shame” is out everywhere?
Gary Maccagnone (Big Sexy): It’s a tad surreal. Two years ago when we first started working together, I never expected the songs to be on all the streaming services. I knew very little about how the music business worked – how it had been transformed from the old days. Nevertheless, I am thrilled, excited, and always grateful to every person who takes the time to listen to our songs.
Music Authentic: What are the feedbacks? Could the songs find their audience?
Gary Maccagnone (Big Sexy): So far, the reviews have been good. Some of my gruffest friends, who know little about music, have given me the thumbs up so I figure we’ve passed one difficult test. As always, it will take time to build an audience but that is truly the case with every band in the world. Rarely, do you just jump to the top. People are saying that they like the sound, the unique sound, which is like an author having his own writing style. It’s a voice that people want to hear more of.
Music Authentic: Delivering a full-fledged, thematic album with actual music and instruments and meaningful lyrics is beyond tiring… do you feel exhausted or hyped more?
Gary Maccagnone (Big Sexy): It was important to the band to showcase authentic musical skills, along with meaningful words that are in sync together. Everyone has been trained by good teachers who stressed the importance of balanced compositions. Once we got started, and could see that everyone involved wanted to abide by the highest of standards, it was easy to move forward – at least from my perspective. Yes, I would say we are hyped and confident. We are ready to go.
Music Authentic: My personal favorite is “Disposable Man” from the album, what about you?
Gary Maccagnone (Big Sexy): It seems like, with every person I speak to, they have a different favorite. I suppose that is good. For the record, I want to say that “Samantha’s Song” is my favorite, since that is about my girlfriend and our journey toward happiness. (Haha. If I didn’t say that, I could be in trouble.) All kidding aside, “Disposable Man”, is very personal, since it’s how I felt after my divorce 13 years ago. Looking at it from the perspective of a man, going from being at the epicenter of the family, to being an outcast, is the highest level of emotional trauma a man can bear. Everything he’s worked for and sacrificed for is taken away – and in many cases, turned against him. Now, I understand it works both ways, but I’m a man, and all of my buddies are men and all I can do is speak to what it is that I went through and what my good friends went through. It was dark – the darkest of emotions. “New Mexico Nights” evokes those dark nights, that’s what that song is all about. Being estranged from your children is happening to men all over the western world and its a big reason why the suicide rate is so high among men. The song played in my head for years, after a painful encounter with a customer of mine. At the time, I owned a small soccer training facility. One night, after the last event, I turned off the lights and headed out in the field-house to lock the back doors. As I walked through the darkness, I noticed someone crouched against a wall, sitting like a baseball catcher. I thought it was someone who snuck in but as I got closer, I recognized the man. He was a coach who had come down to watch some of his players train. He called out my name. We talked. He apologized. I could see the despair in his face a tears welling in his eyes. He told me hadn’t seen his kids in 6 months. Every time he went to pick them up, his ex would play a game and say she wouldn’t let him have them. Then, he would take her to court and win, just for her to play the game again. On that particular day, he had enough. He actually drove to the kids school to see them. When he saw them and stepped out of his car to greet them, they ran from him, scared out of their minds. “She’s made me into a monster,” he told me. He told me he was to the point of no return.
The good news is that we turned that situation around. That’s a story for another day. However, his situation got me to think and start researching the subject and I was astonished. “New Mexico Nights” is for all those men who feel like they are at the point of no return. We need to stop doing this to one another. We need to make sure that fathers are interacting with their children as much as possible, regardless of where the relationship stands.
Music Authentic: I was looking for earlier Big Sexy materials and it seems there is a gap… is it a restart or is it just the time when you had enough new to tell the stories?
Gary Maccagnone (Big Sexy): Some are confusing us with others bands with the same name. To be honest, I was given that nickname by a jujitsu fighter in my class. His name is Omar and he began teasing me with the name and then it stuck as the other fighters started using it as well. Obviously, I’m in the heavyweight division. Haha. In regard to the songs, the first one I wrote was “Samantha’s Song”. I have a business partner name Jeremy Harkins, who is a talented singer/songwriter who plays a lot of local gigs. I sent him the song and he started playing around with it. He recorded it on a DVD so one day, and when my father was still with us, I played it for my dad without telling him who wrote the song. I was hoping he would like it and then I could surprise him by saying I was the songwriter. Instead, he took great objection to a few of the lines in the chorus and started ranting about the liberties modern songwriters take. It took me a half hour to settle him down! From there, I changed the chorus and elongated the singing of Samantha’s name and it was well received in front of live audiences.
So the first song was written, and then it took me 8 years later to be inspired to write another. That is when I wrote the song “River of Shame”. I was collaborating with another musician, who recorded his version of the song. Somehow, Alex Goroshko heard the song and wanted to do a version of his own. From there, we started collaborating on a daily basis. Now, I’ve written enough material for 4 more albums. It all just started pouring out of me.
Music Authentic: Speaking of stories: you are also a writer. Which of your novels is the closest to your heart?
Gary Maccagnone (Big Sexy): I’ve written nine books, two of which are novels. I like them both but the first one, “St. John of the Midfield”, is close to my heart. It tells the story of a famous soccer star, stuck behind the wall of communism during the “Iron Curtain” years. He escapes by jumping off a train but unfortunately injures himself to where he cannot play anymore. He turns to coaching and ends up in America, where the story starts.
Music Authentic: How different is it to write a song and a book? Which one is more of a challenge?
Gary Maccagnone (Big Sexy): Writing a song is easier in the sense that a melody sets an early stage for whatever you are saying. What is pleasing to the ear keeps a person in their seat. The accompaniment between the music and the words is then taken into consideration. With a novel, you are out on your own. It is only the flow of your sentences and the manner in which you ease them about that keeps the reader immersed.
Understand though, that they are both difficult. It appears to be easy until you try it.
Music Authentic: Bringing out a full album in the era when musicians are told to release singles feels like a determined rebellion. Wouldn’t it be easier just to “give in” to the treadmill?
Gary Maccagnone (Big Sexy): Big Sexy will never bend to convention. All of our focus is on our work and our hope is that the general public will enjoy it. The marketing comes afterward. At the time, we are busy working on the second album called, “My Temporary Silence.” We want enough material out there in order to do, at least 3 sets. Once we are established in that way, we will put on our marketing caps.
Music Authentic: Here we meet a lot of artists, musicians. Most of them have a day job to make ends meet and find time to showcase and polish their talent after finishing work. Others, mostly younger generations usually use samples and “make a song” expecting immediate return. What about you? It feels you are in for the long game…
Gary Maccagnone (Big Sexy): Yes, definitely we are in for the long game. In my life, I’ve always tried to do things that my friends or family told me I could never do. Haha. Regardless of what it was, I tried to apply the same principles. If I’m doing Jujitsu, coaching soccer, writing copy, or operating a shipping business, I want to make sure to adhere to a high standard. Do the job right. And then repeat. And then look to be successful by being excellent over a long period of time.
Music Authentic: You do have original music. Have you ever felt you needed to compromise your art for an audience?
Gary Maccagnone (Big Sexy): Both Alex and I have eclectic tastes. That’s why you have a country ballad on the same album with, “The Admiral’s Daughter” with it’s more jazzy horn arrangements. In Alex’s case, there is really nothing out of his reach. He’s a prodigy, in my opinion, one of the great composers in the world. He has some classical stuff coming out soon which tells you there is no fear of producing the same type of material every time. You cannot pin, Big Sexy, down, to any one style or genre.
Music Authentic: Being authentic and genuine is a foundation of real music. Yet, most of the radios and playlists are filled with facades. How can true musicians conquer back their audience?
Gary Maccagnone (Big Sexy): I’ve always said that every band needs to just have some fun sometime – not every song has to have an earth shattering message. Still, there has to the elements of good composition present, regardless of the genre, or the intellectual level of the song. And then it has to backed by experienced and talented musicians, who have the expertise to evoke the fitting emotion through their respective instruments. We have a few new songs, called “Loneliness” and “Can you draw Autumn” that prove my point here. They are songs of yesteryear, simple, clean, Alex moves them elegantly from verse to verse, letting the words, melody, and harmony, bring a feel and soothing texture to the listening experience. Again, it might not be stuff that plays on the top 100 hit list but it’s perfect for our audience and that’s what Big Sexy is all about.
Music Authentic: Some write songs out of passion and inspirations others just copy-paste. What was the moment when you knew this is what you want to do?
Gary Maccagnone (Big Sexy): My father was an artist who won a prestigious scholarship to top level art school. That was all thwarted when he was drafted into the Korean War. My mother was librarian assistant, who brought home stacks of books for me to read. I suffered a major concussion as a young boy so I stayed home often to read. After I recovered, and could deal with louder sounds, I started playing the piano. Two years later, I discovered baseball so everything took a backseat to that. It wasn’t until after my divorce that I started playing piano again. For some reason, I couldn’t find inspiration to write stories anymore. I focused on business and my personal growth. Eventually, on account of Samantha, and being around other musically adept friends like Jeremy, I became inspired enough to write songs. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. Now, they tease me that they can’t keep up with the speed in which I write.
I did play baseball in junior college and then I studied literature at Wayne State University and then Western Michigan University. I studied under great writers like Sam Astrachan and Stuart Dybek. I attended seminars that Jim Harrison held. And I once stayed at the home of the great Gothic writer, Russel Kirk, and I had the esteemed Austrian intellectual and writer, Kuenelt-Lidheen, stay at my home a few times. I learned or was inspired by all of them.
Music Authentic: Storytelling is a crucial skill when it comes to music. Do you agree?
Gary Maccagnone (Big Sexy): Yes – and you want to tell the story in the fewest words. In “New Mexico Nights”, I tell the story backwards, in that you learn about the seriousness of the narrator’s plight in the last verse. In the, Admiral’s Daughter, the father and daughter’s lives are intertwined, and juxtaposed, between three verses. In “Swallow the Pain” you can clearly see the condition of the son’s life in the chorus, while he tells the story of his father in three verses. There are two stories being told at once, and both have been negatively impacted by the other.
Music Authentic: Let’s have some fun: would you rather have a meet and greet with Paul McCartney or Bruce Springsteen?
Gary Maccagnone (Big Sexy): I would go with Springsteen since we both seem to be blue collar boys from either the wharf or the factories. Even though my father was an artist, when he came back from Korea, he had to work in the Fraser factories in order to take care of his family. With five kids, and a frail wife, he had to do what he had to do to make a living. We lost him a few years ago and I’m glad I had the time to tell him how much I respected him. Also, Springsteen wrote a song about baseball, Glory Days, – he seems like a guy you could play catch with. I gravitate toward the docks, not the boardroom.
Music Authentic: As usual, I like asking whether people are happy with where they are or are they still hungry for more…
Gary Maccagnone (Big Sexy): Yes, very hungry. I think people will be impressed with the second and third album. We will explore more and keep our audience guessing. We treat every song like a small gem that needs to be cut perfectly and polished, prior to presentation.
Music Authentic: What is the next step?
Gary Maccagnone (Big Sexy): In a few weeks, just like we did with the first album when we released “Burning” as a prelude to, the “River of Shame”, we will release a fun rock song called “Raw Masculinity” and a song called “Say So”, which is our first release of a song written by Alex Goroshko.
Music Authentic: Until the next time, keep us posted and we are looking forward to your new album!
Gary Maccagnone (Big Sexy): Thank you so much for having me. Our group, Big Sexy, is grateful to you for the invitation extended to us. And remember to support all Ukrainian musicians. Let us bring peace to their land.
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