Concert preview: Big Business at Ace of Cups

Andy Downing

When Los Angeles duo Big Business decamped to El Studio in San Francisco in November 2018 to record its new album, The Beast You Are (Joyful Noise Recordings), the setting felt a bit like End Times.

“It was during the fires up in Chico, [California], and the city was covered in smoke. … You couldn't really go outside because, visibly, the air quality was so poor,” said bassist/singer Jared Warren, who joins his bandmate, drummer/singer Coady Willis, in concert at Ace of Cups on Saturday, March 16. “Then the space itself is in a very industrial area, so it was desolate and smoky … and we were just holed up in this dark bunker. It was kind of apocalyptic.”

This dark, desolate feel bleeds into the music onThe Beast You Are, out April 12, which includes cryptic lyrical references to flames, blood-strewn wastelands and shadowy destructive forces (“Nobody's safe,” Warren sings at the onset of the massive “Abdominal Snowman”).

“I can see that [smoke-filled setting] having worked its way in; I was finishing up some lyric writing in the studio,” Warren said. “But that whole summer, even before we went up to San Francisco, it was just a lot of fires. Malibu was on fire. It was pretty gnarly, and I would say the record reflects these crazy times, for sure.”

The Beast You Are, much like its 2016 predecessorCommand Your Weather, is a leaner, more menacing affair, owing in part to the band's decision to resume recording as a duo following years spent working alongside additional musicians. The paring down also served as an added motivator, Warren said. “It was a little bit like we had something more to prove, or perhaps a bigger chip on our shoulder since we were a two-piece again,” he said.

Even recording amid lung-choking smoke, the musicians occasionally pulled back to allow the songs to breathe a bit more, as on the droning “The Moor You Know,” a patient earthmover built on an ominous bassline, horror-film synthesizer and steady, skull-crushing drums.

“Maybe it's getting older and wanting to pace yourself, or at least being aware of it,” said Warren, momentarily distracted by the several bald eagles he spotted swooping outside the band's tour van. (“That's crazy. Sorry, that's a notable sighting,” he offered in apology.) “Not to say it's the easy way out, or anything. It's just being mindful of creating a live set that has pacing and keeps people engaged, and keeps us engaged, too. It's been good on tour, especially playing larger places where you can appreciate those spaces in the music. If you're playing in a big place, and it's really loud, things resonate in ways they sometimes don't in those smaller clubs.”

8 p.m. Saturday, March 16

2619 N. High St., Old North

ALSO PLAYING: Lo-Pan, Primitives

Ace of Cups