The son of immigrants from Greece, Steve Bigas grew up around Toronto, where his father worked in a factory all week and played the accordion in Greek weddings on weekends. His brothers blasted rock, and his neighborhood rattled with reggae and soca. He picked up the guitar early, quitting school to work for a lighting and sound company.
“I had a really good Canadian fake ID,” says Bigas, a gregarious, big-bearded 48-year-old, via Zoom from his home in Willow Springs, just south of Raleigh.
In the razzle-dazzle alt-rock nineties, his band, King Clancy, decamped for Los Angeles. As they strove for a record deal, Bigas—an acolyte of the sound-design guru Daniel Lanois—burnished his résumé as a producer, an engineer, and a backing guitarist involved in Grammy-winning projects by the likes of blues legend Taj Mahal and reggae dynast Ziggy Marley.
Not long before the millennium turned, The Band’s Robbie Robertson signed King Clancy to DreamWorks Records, a subsidiary of the movie giant. Bigas was in his mid-twenties.
At the same time, but a country’s breadth away, Fal—just Fal, rhymes with “pal”—was born in North Carolina, where she mainly grew up in Garner. In a house filled with classic R&B and hip-hop, she was especially drawn to neo-soul artists like Erykah Badu, though hearing Spin Doctors’ “Two Princes” on retro alt-rock radio was also a formative experience.
But it wasn’t until her mother brought home a Taylor Swift CD that she thought about playing herself.
“I didn’t know who she was—I was in second grade,” Fal remembers. “I realized I wanted to play guitar and write songs. Taylor has this very structured verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus-type layout, and I got inspired by that.”
On an eight a.m. Zoom call, the 22-year-old is sitting on an unmade bed with exactly the kind of serene composure you’d expect of someone who teaches day-camp kids yoga, guitar, and dance for a living.
After putting a few of her songs on SoundCloud over the last few years, Fal started performing at open mics shortly before the pandemic. At Imurj in Raleigh, she bonded with Nick Clarke, 24, who got her into a traditional studio to collaborate. For months, she heard about Clarke’s mentor, Steve Bigas, and this studio he had out in the country, which sounded more appealing than a recording booth.
One day, Bigas showed up and played some impromptu guitar, and they all decided to jam at “the barn,” which is really a converted two-car garage stuffed with the fruits of decades of vintage-gear farming.
Whoop’s first jam was one year ago, in November 2020, with Fal on vocals, Bigas on guitar, Clarke on bass, and Taha Arif on drums, though he left the band after the recording of its debut album, Whoop!, out November 19. Will Perrone, a 30-year-old friend of Clarke’s, is the new drummer.
“It was like, let’s get together on Friday nights after my kids go to bed,” Bigas says. “It was very mellow at the first jam, very downtempo, lots of space. The first thing we ever played actually became the second-to-last song on the album.” That was “Nash Park” (hi, Raleigh), an Eilish-ish piano respite from the procession of danceable grooves. “We all looked at each other like, next week, we all come with bangers.”
The band spent months jamming, with Fal drawing her tough yet tender lyrics from the dozen journals she totes around, and then poring over the recordings to find parts to hone into songs.
The exuberant result combines the crunching stomp of nineties rock with the buoyant bounce of nineties R&B, seamed with Bigas’s far-flung influences—notice the reggae axle turning the oiled riff of “What I Want”—and bound up in song structures of distinctly Swiftian crispness.
“I’m really proud of the record, but I think we’re better live,” Bigas says. “That’s how we recorded it. We took a couple months to get tight with those songs, and then it was literally Sunday morning for three hours to tape, live off the floor, banging out two takes of each song, and that was it. I’m the old guy, so there’s no better vibe to me.”
Though Fal admits that fronting a raucous live band is new to her—and though it seems at odds with her introspective musical tendencies—she is an energetic, assured pop-rock singer and seems sanguine about making her live debut in Whoop’s livestreamed album-release concert on November 20.
“My friends describe my music as chill and having coffee shop vibes,” she says. “I don’t ever write anything that goes to the level of hype we go to. I’ve always had that in me, but it’s always been just me and my guitar, playing a little something. But I have this itch to do it. Imagining I’m some rock-star character helps me, and the band boosts my confidence.”
“She’s a natural,” Bigas adds. “There’s a deep spirit there, an old soul, and to find someone who has such a knack for melody is hard. All the reviews of the first single”—that would be “Cool,” which is kind of like a blustery garage-rock Breeders—“say the same thing: ‘Just another band until she starts singing; if some bro started singing some bro stuff, I probably wouldn’t have listened to the song.’ Which was the goal.”
Though King Clancy made three records for DreamWorks during their decade in LA, none of them ever got released. More of Bigas’s success stems from his time as head engineer at The Mint, a unique hybrid of a recording studio and supper club in LA, where he recorded Taj Mahal and started his long collaboration with Lanois.
After King Clancy, he and his wife lived in Canada for a few years before deciding they wanted to move to the U.S. East Coast, where his wife was from. “We literally went like this and pointed at a map,” Bigas says, covering his eyes. “I think it was all the trees that sold us.”
Whoop is the first band he has been a core member of in years. If it represents new horizons for Fal, it’s a laid-back return to old ones for him, and perhaps this respective motion forward and backward explains how they span the generation gap between them.
“I think ‘fun’ is the word that comes up most when we talk about our music,” Bigas says. “Keep it fun, keep it danceable and singable. The beautiful thing to me is, it’s just bass, drums, guitar, and vocals, so the genre is just whatever part you’re playing. It’s music, it’s all been done, so you always tend to play something based on something you’ve heard.”
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