A Great Big World had a great big year last year.
The piano-pop duo of Ian Axel and Chad King recorded a No. 1 song with Christina Aguilera (“Say Something”) which went on to win a Grammy and performed everywhere from “The Voice” to “The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.” And its debut album “Is There Anybody Out There?” wasn’t just a feel-good album; it really presented the idea of love, regardless of gender or sexuality, to the pop format in a pre-Supreme Court-ruling country.
The band, which keeps its positivity and momentum going with its latest release “When the Morning Comes,” hits the stage March 5 at the Waiting Room (334 Delaware Ave.). I spoke with Axel and King on the phone about their success and the lessons they’ve learned from their rocket to the top.
Buffalo.com: Love is such a strong theme in your music, especially how it pushes beyond gender and sexuality. Was this an idea you wanted to explore right out of the gate, even on your first album?
Axel: Chad and I are very open and honest people, and our songwriting sessions are like therapy sessions, so the topic of sexuality will come up. Chad and I are on opposite sides of the spectrum. There are kids all over the world that need to be hearing songs like that so they can know that its OK to be who they want to be.
[See photos of when A Great Big World performed at Starry Night in the Garden]
Q: Having such a large platform to spread awareness and create more open-mindedness with your music, do you think you set a precedent for more pop artists to take the lead on similar topics?
King: I definitely think that’s a hope and a goal, but perhaps not the goal going into our writing. It was a therapeutic thing for me, since I’ve never heard a man sing about another man in pop music before. Once I got over that, I did wonder why more gay men weren’t singing their truths in songs? I would love to hear it more on the radio. Messages we’ve gotten from kids who hear songs like “Hold Each Other” on the radio … they’re powerful and moving.
Q: In terms of different musical explorations, what did you want to change the most musically between “Is There Anybody Out There” and “When the Morning Comes?”
Axel: We wanted to explore both of our voices and that’s a big thing that makes it different even from other bands. We weren’t as much of a unit in the first album, but in this new album it was a focus of ours. We wanted to keep the positive messages, and the goal is to be as vulnerable as we can.
Q: Are there any lessons that you carry with you now after hitting the top of the charts and winning a Grammy to now? What’s the most important thing you learned from those experiences?
King: I think for me, staying humble to who I am and being as authentic as possible. It’s very easy to listen to outside noise and follow it. For me it’s been a journey of listening to my gut and Ian’s gut.
Q: As a duo, what is the most important thing you’ve learned from each other through two albums?
Axel: I think that it’s really important that Chad and I continue to communicate really well. When we got sucked up into the whole “Say Something” craziness, it was a roller-coaster ride. We didn’t have time to reflect or talk about things. Whenever we got together for a second, we were always tired and anxious. We missed just hanging out.
King: I don’t even think that in the moment, we missed it. We didn’t have time to even long for it. We forgot how to relax. We took it out on each other.
Axel: We were yelling at each other a lot, so being able to communicate and be best friends, which we are, is most important.
Q: What’s the process of writing like between the two of you? Do you bounce both lyrical and musical ideas off of each other?
Axel: For me it’s always “how the hell are we going to write a song?”
King: After every song, it feels like it’s going to be the last one we’ve ever wrote.
Axel: There’s a big sigh of relief, and we think “we still have it.”
King: Things are bouncing between us at a million miles a minute. Things happen when you’re not really thinking of it. When we write a song, we’re one unified energy.
Q: If there’s one message you want to send to the listeners with your new album, what is it in a sentence?
King: Let love in.
Axel: We’re all in this thing together, and music is a reminder of that.
Who: A Great Big World
When: 7 p.m. March 5
Where: Waiting Room, 334 Delaware Ave.
Info: waitingroombuffalo.com, Ticketfly.com