Big & Rich: Technicolour cowboys come to play

Take your vitamins and stay hydrated. That's the advice from Big Kenny Alphin and John Rich for those planning to witness the pair during their debut Australian performance at next month's CMC Rocks the Hunter festival.

Alphin and Rich, otherwise known as Big & Rich, serve as one of the main attractions of this year's three day event, which will take place from March 15-17 at the Hope Estate in the Hunter Valley.

Joining them on the bill is a who's who of international country music, including Rascal Flatts, Billy Ray Cyrus, The Band Perry, Adam Brand and Corb Lund to name just a few.

Arguably the most in demand duo in country circles, Big & Rich boast sales of more than five million, spanning four studio album releases, the most recent being last year's critically acclaimed Hillbilly Jedi.

They are known for pushing the boundaries of the country genre, incorporating many different influences to create their own distinct sound. It would be quite fair to say they are without peer.

And they are equally well known for their electrifying stage shows.

''You're gonna want to drink a lot of water before you get there because when we tear into a show it is no holds barred,'' promised Rich. ''We actually bring up people from the audience to sit on stage and jam with us. We have a bar on stage and we do a couple of shots to the crowd. It's a wild show man.

''Cowboy Troy - people should go and look him up, he's going to be touring with us and has been touring with us since the very beginning. Big black rapping cowboy is what we call him. He comes out and does a couple of songs and just lights the place on fire.

''It is an absolute throwdown. It's probably not like any country show you've ever seen before.''

Alphin was quick to agree, adding that the fact that the show would be a first for both the band and the audience would certainly add to the electricity.

''Every time we go to any new place and you see the excitement of the fans from music that has been in our lives for a long time it's humbling but it's also incredibly exciting and energising,'' he said.

''I expect this to be one of our more over the top shows. We keep hearing about all of the places down there and that the Hunter Valley is one of the most beautiful around. There's wineries there. Gosh, if we just got into one of those wineries for a day before we went on stage could you imagine what it would be like?''

Rich said the pair had known for some time that there was a demand to have the band tour Australia.

''We had heard that we've got a lot of fans down there,'' he said. ''There's a lot of them [fans] on twitter and online that hit us up all the time and go, 'come to Australia, come to Australia', so we're hoping when we finally do turn up that it's just a rock 'n' roll Big & Rich party.

''Big & Rich music is a cocktail that you've never had before. Australians are their own cocktail as well and we've always thought that our music would match up really well with the fans down there ... that irreverent, no holds barred, no boundaries kind of country music. That's what we do and we've been told for many years, 'you've got to come down to Australia and do your thing, they're gonna love you', so we're hoping that's the case.''

As for any notions of what to expect from Australian country fans, Rich joked: ''We've been told to expect a lot of nudity.''

Quite seriously however, Rich said he feels like he has a fair grasp on what to expect, due to the Australians he's gotten to know who are based in Nashville.

''There's some great Australian talent in Nashville that some people might not know and I just wanted to mention one name - Kylie Sackley,'' he said. ''She's one of the great singers and songwriters here in Nashville. She and I actually wrote a Faith Hill hit together and she's written a whole lot of other hits for people. I've known her for more than 10 years.

''Sherrie Austin is another one. The talent and the soul of those Australians that are over here in Nashville is something that has always had our interest and seeing where they came from and what's in the water down there and what's in the dirt down there ... we just can't wait to see it.''

Alphin said he too had a soft spot for Australia.

''They probably don't know Keith Urban down there either,'' he joked. ''When I was first in Nashville in 1994 I used to go and see him playing in the same little clubs that we layed the sweat down on stage and he's been an inspiration for a lot of us for a long time and its just great to see how his career has flourished.''

Before the Big & Rich rollercoaster left the station, Alphin and Rich were maintaining solo careers and initially came together to write for themselves and other artists.

The notion to record as a duo seemed logical and Horse Of A Different Color saw the light of day in 2004. It included tracks like Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy), Big Time and the extremely cool Kick My Ass.

According to Alphin it set the blueprint for each work that has followed.

''I came from kind of a rock world but was writing country songs every day,'' he said. ''John came from a little bit more of a country world but was writing rock songs with me and we were rapping and putting swing and any other genres of music that we loved into the Music Mafia shows we were doing and it was really the slamming together of all of those influences that ultimately became what that first record was.

''We've just kind of stuck with that all the way through it and still to this day we are experimenting with what we think is the next step that moves us and will be the next music that people might be hearing all around the world. We're always just pushing our own limits and making the music that moves us and makes us happy and we feel if it does that then it'll do it for our fans too.''

Rich agreed with the notion of experimentation.

''We like to make records that really shock the system a little bit,'' he said. ''When you listen to Hillbilly Jedi, track three does not sound like track two and track seven doesn't sound like track six. It takes you on a trip, a musical trip and the subject matter kind of goes all over the place ... that's really become the Big & Rich thing. To expect the unexpected.''

Something that did come as a surprise to many punters was Alphin and Rich's decision to put the band on hiatus following the tour cycle coinciding with the release of their third album, 2007's Between Raising Hell And Amazing Grace.

''We rode a lightning bolt from about 2002 to 2008 or 2009 and we needed a break basically,'' said Rich. ''We always knew we were coming back to make more records, but everybody else started speculating on it and started saying, 'Big & Rich is not coming back', and we said, 'yeah, just hang on another year and we'll show ya'.

''We went and made Hillbilly Jedi and came back raging with it. We did about 70 concerts in 2012 and we'll be doing about 70 in 2013, along with coming down to see you guys for the first time.''

Alphin said that putting together an album was always a difficult task yet extremely rewarding.

''A record's never done until its done and it was just an exciting experience to go back into the studio and slam our voices together and make another great record like Hillbilly Jedi.''

Rich said that writing for Big & Rich did require the pair to enter a different headspace.

''There's really not any other artists that do what we do,'' he said. ''If you write for other people or write for different projects, you try to write what you think is the greatest thing they could do. Fortunately Kenny and I know a lot of artists. Kenny wrote a number one song for Tim McGraw, I've written number ones for other artists, but when you sit down to write Big & Rich music, man it's a whole new concoction of creativity that happens there.''

For Hillbilly Jedi, the duo called in Dann Huff [Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flatts, Megadeth] to produce.

''First of all he's one of the great sonic guys in the world,'' Rich said. ''Everybody knows that about Dann. But Big & Rich is such a wild stallion and we're just kind of running as fast as we can when we get into the studio and Dann is a real thinker and a real construction kind of guy, so we thought it would be an interesting combination to put his skill set in with our skill set and see what we come out with, which is really one of the best sounding records we've ever done.

''I think that Dann was excited to work with us. He said that he'd always wanted to put his hands on Big & Rich and has been a fan of what we've done on our records preceding him. You could really feel his soul in the studio man. He stepped up big. I got many calls from him late at night, midnight, 1am in the morning working on our tracks at his house. It was really something he put his soul into.''

As for the notion of working together, fans can expect to be seeing and hearing Big & Rich for many years to come.

''The important thing is that we keep coming back to that place that keeps generating great creativity and the authentic style of what Big & Rich started out as and that we have a lot of fun doing it, and we're having a lot of fun right now,'' said Alphin.

Rich was quick to add: ''It is fun because in Big & Rich it's not addition it's multiplication. We step out on stage and there's an intangible that happens when we're out there. You'll see it when we're on the stage. You'll go, 'yep, that's what I've been hearin' about'. We don't exactly know what is going on there ... it's a chemical, emotional, physical reaction that's happening out on stage and it bleeds right on out into the audience. Everybody feels it.''

For details on CMC Rocks the Hunter visit the website http://www.cmcrocks.com

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