*Disclaimer: This article originally ran in The Daily 49er’s special issue Localmotif on March 8, 2016. We bring this to you under the author’s permission.
Since publication, Big Sun has headlined the summer festival, Live After 5: Psychedelic Summer, released two music videos, and signed to European label to initiate their international influence this spring, which will be presaged by their sophomore 12-track album Pretty Primitive. In the meantime, the boys are waiting to hear back about their South By Southwest submission and have managed some air time a few days ago when KLOS-FM’s Mr. Shovel aired their single “Touch Me Right.”
How one frontman drifted from the edges of the country to the center of the Long Beach music scene.
By Brooke Becher
Scattered in front of a laundromat near the traffic circle, a concrete conference began. Coming fresh from a photo shoot behind a Vons, the five debauchees of Big Sun are dressed in a clash of modern trends and vintage threads. The boys quip their way through questions.
They released their first album, Spacelift, on Jan. 23. They find it hard to describe their sound. They also mention a shared dislike for the cops.
Both shoeless and shirtless, keyboardist Josh Bartlett chimed in on a policy he’s established in the Long Beach DIY house-show circuit.
“After a while, we just started to cut the music early [since] the cops always come at 10 p.m.” he said through a curtain of long locks. “On the count of three, we get the crowd to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ — nobody wants to ruin a birthday; it works every time.”
The discussion then shifts to Big Sun’s big bang, as the focus fixed on frontman and founder Piotr Fraszczynski.
“Piotr picked us up as he went on his travels,” lead guitarist Matt Bonin explained. “It kind of played out like ‘The Wizard of Oz.’”
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
During the early 20th century Polish diaspora, western Slavs flocked to Chicago, the unofficial capital of Polonia. First-generation U.S. citizen Fraszczynski witnessed his father parlay $10 into the American Dream; earning a living through building houses to flipping them and from teaching to beekeeping.
Though Fraszczynski came of age in a loving home, peer pressure and persistent bullying took their toll. As an escape, Fraszczynski turned to heroin.
Rehab steered the misguided adolescent back to “the top of [his] game.” After a premature graduation, he flew south for the winter, settling in Louisiana to lick his wounds.
“They told me to find a higher power,” Fraszczynski said. “But my passion for life, for my family, for everything that I do was big enough; I already had something to live for.”
He wanted to make music.
Fraszczynski arrived in post Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, and found himself in the debris spilt over the city. He spent two and a half years helping to mend the devastation as a Project Hope volunteer, which also served as a form of self-healing.
“It was the first time I danced again,” he said, remembering a St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the French Quarter just a month after his arrival.
A gutted two-story building became home for Fraszczynski and his Project Hope roommates. Hanging sheets divvied up the rooms. Plumbing was as sophisticated as a dump bucket.
Despite past hardships, Fraszczynski found that the vibrant nightlife and rich musical soul oozing from the Big Easy resuscitated the dormant musician within.
Upon arrival, Fraszczynski had barely plucked a guitar string — a stark contrast from the “all-day, every-day” mentality he previously lived by. But within his first few months there, he busked in the streets, collecting money and miscellany in an open case.
“Over there, I really applied myself to [connect to] people not only musically, but personally,” Fraszczynski said, assuring that Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” never failed to coax passersby into a quick do-si-do.
Then, he met a girl — and on came the cliches:
Girl takes a semester off from her studies at Yale University. Boy recruits girl to Project Hope. Girl returns to New Haven, Connecticut. Boy lives in a teepee on a sugar plantation with a hermit named Coyote for three months, then follows her to the East Coast to “fall in love, or whatever.”
Within the year, boy loses job, concludes the relationship and follows the yellow brick road cross-country to California in ex-girlfriend’s dad’s black Geo Prizm, a joyride he’s still $200 in debt for the car.
Like the bright-eyed girl in blue gingham, Fraszczynski skipped his way to the next backdrop with a woven basket of roughly written songs. This time, it was Long Beach.
Filling garages with musicians “who could have been anybody” at the time, he formed Coyote, the prototype of Big Sun.
At the shabby wild-West saloon otherwise known as Haskell’s Prospector, Fraszczynski met drummer John Miranda who was playing with These Are Villains, a drum and guitar three-piece driven by clean hooks and gritty riffs. After some negotiation, the two groups brokered a drummer swap. Miranda, a jazz-trained minimalist, tagged in for former Coyote percussionist Max Cogert, a heavy-hitter partial to complex signatures.
When Fraszczynski wasn’t drafting members, he honed his craft as lead singer in a Long Beach City College choir class while continuing an on-and-off pursuit of a music degree.
Fellow tenor Bartlett, 18 and fresh out of high school, partook in a mid-class jam session with Fraszczynski that doubled as an audition for his troupe.
“Then, out of nowhere, [Fraszczynski] said, ‘Hey man, that was cool. Do you wanna play my Moog sometime?’” Bartlett imitated the prophetic discussion he had with the lead singer. “The whole experience was pretty synchronous.”
Now that keys were covered, Fraszczynski needed someone on strings.
Part of the same scene, the paths of Fraszczynski and Bonin wove in and out of similar cliques and identical shows. However, formal introductions delayed until the two became coworkers at a phone service company.
While on a trash run, Bonin took notice of the unconventional work methods practiced by the company’s top salesman, Fraszczynski.
“He was on the phone bitching out some lady, pressing the mute button so he could talk shit in between sentences,” Bonin said. “I thought, ‘This guy is going to get fired soon,’ which lead to ‘Hey, you wanna go smoke a bowl with me in my car?’”
Two years after their office relations, Bonin returned home from an eight-month stint in Thailand to a call from Fraszczynski, inviting him to take over lead guitar for a band he was working on.
By now, Big Sun had ignited a following from memorable performances at local venues and within the house-show circuit. Daniel Chavez, a veteran of the Long Beach scene since ‘08, piqued interest in the newcomers walking on as the eighth bassist Fraszczynski recruited.
While on the clock at Rebel Bite, Chavez booked Big Sun to play at the restaurant. Their raw energy and “dedication to the psychedelic sound” set them apart from the acid-drenched noise of other groups, including his own Karl? and Thy Squid.
“If somehow Pixies and The Zombies combined forces to start a King Crimson cover band that [ironically] only played originals and happened to be listening to a lot of Cake at the time — that’s what they sound like,” Chavez said.
And with just one show, Big Sun clicked into alignment — no ruby reds or northern witches needed.
Never coming home; Emerald City vagabonds
On a Saturday night late last month, about 140 scene supporters and weekend warriors swarmed Danger Mob’s headquarters, a small backyard in downtown Long Beach to bask in Big Sun’s seven-track record release of Spacelift — their first official compilation.
Though the rich, psychedelic space-rock seems to launch its listener into ascent, the concept of staying grounded was rooted in its production, Fraszczynski said.
Bluesy grooves crawl across the crowd as Technicolor lights tie dye the crowd.
“Spacelift is a lot more about bringing you back to earth,” Fraszczynski, the sole writer of the songs, said. “It’s like when you go to a really good show, or you hear a really good song, it puts you back in touch with that innocence and that purity.”
Fluent guitar riffs steal the melody, hypnotizing all within earshot. In lieu of a whammy bar, Bonin curls dragged-out riffs by bending the neck of his electric Ibanez. He’s unattached, but in control and very present.
A synthesized wall of sound swallows the set as Fraszczynski’s coquettish vocals lead “Touch Me Right,” a track suited for lovers in dimly lit rooms. The tone warbles into scratchy, aggressive demands backed by the synth-guitar swagger of “Honey in My Arms.”
On the grounds of noise complaints, cops arrive to cut the set short. The psychotropic couriers close the night with a fragment of the album’s epic, seven-minute jam session “Summer Anthem” as the horde of music-aficionados evacuate the premises.
But for Big Sun, the party continues …
Next up, they look to play in neighboring cities such as Orange County, but in a calculated manner.
“Long Beach really does have everything. If you want to see a certain kind of show, you’ll be able to find it,” Chavez said. “So we want to take all of Long Beach with us to add to the noise we’ll already be making on stage.”
The five-piece plans to self-promote in search of fresh crowds, uncharted venues, a D.I.Y. tour and to amplify their social media presence.
The good and bad experiences accrued along Fraszczynski’s travels culminated in congregating a line-up of “the best musicians [he] has ever worked with” that illuminate Big Sun.
“In the first stages, Big Sun was a lot of me trusting these guys to essentially paint my life’s masterpiece; that includes them believing in it, and making it their own,” Fraszczynski said, noting Bonin and Chavez’s stake in the 22 new tracks currently archived for what’s to come and Bartlett’s aesthetic aspirations for their brand.
“On this next album, there’ll be a lot more collaboration in the core songwriting process as well as overall input now that we’ve come together on the same cloud.”