The defining moment from "Big Dogs," the new record by the Madison band Seasaw, happened months before any of the songs were even recorded.
Meg Golz and Eve Wilczewski, the two women that comprise the popular musical duo, said they were packing up their equipment following a performance at a music festival in the summer of 2017, when an impatient member of another band came on stage and began handling their equipment without permission. When Golz confronted him, the man responded with swear-laden anger.
“If you want to play with the big dogs, you need to get the f*ck off the stage,” he told them.
It wasn’t long before the duo realized they had stumbled on the name of their next album: “Big Dogs.”
The album, a collection of bright and brash rock music that brims with robust vocal harmonies and muscular guitar riffs, comes out Friday. The band will host a corresponding release party Saturday at the High Noon Saloon, 701A E. Washington Ave. Tickets are $10 for the show, which starts at 8 p.m.
Golz and Wilczewski said the encounter at the music festival profoundly shaped the new record. Once they got over the intensity of the confrontation, the two found themselves enthralled by the very notion of a “big dog.”
“We processed it the whole way home,” said Golz. “The more we talked about it, it got more humorous.”
The album’s titular single “Big Dogs” is the song most directly inspired by the festival run-in — although Golz and Wilczewski said it ended up informing the other tracks too.
“All the energy we had from that one song manifested into the other songs,” said Wilczewski. “It kind of was like fuel to make the album.”
The song “Big Dogs,” in part, captures the absurdity the two found in the encounter. When Wilczewski had gone to confront the aggressor to seek out an apology, he blustered, “I don’t even like you!” The line tickled the two of them so much that they indirectly quote it ("You said you don't even like me!") in the chorus.
The song also channels some of the irony Golz and Wilczewski find in the idea of a “big dog.” Their aggressor had used the expression to display power, they said, but at the same time it betrayed insecurity.
“When someone feels inadequate, but they want to be seen….some people do that in an unhealthy way and bully you,” said Wilczewski.
In the music video for “Big Dogs,” Golz and Wilczewski lean into that irony. The video depicts Golz and Wilczewski leading real dogs through an agility course in a gymnasium, but failing to impress the judges (also played by Golz and Wilczewski). They then lead stuffed dogs through as well, but fare no better. Finally, they bring out the “big dogs” — represented by an invisible-dog-on-a-leash gag prop. Those dogs win the show.
Golz and Wilczewski also noted the sexism imbued in their encounter: “In my experience with people who use that term, when you’re thinking of a stereotypical big dog...usually it’s a very masculine thing,” said Wilczewski.
The two play with the gendered nature of “big dogs” in the photos they package with the album. For example, the cover art features Golz and Wilczewski cockily staring back at the viewer through turquoise-tinted shades — an image they hope will lead people to question what a “big dog” is in the first place.
Besides the “big dogs” theme, the new album is also defined by a new sonic identity for the band. The warbly and playful vocal harmonies from their older music is still there, but they’ve swapped out their previous foundation of acoustic folk pop for guitar rock. Their sound melds garage rock rawness with bright pop arrangements, evoking indie bands like the White Stripes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Sleater-Kinney or the New Pornographers.
Golz said the sonic change has been some time coming. They had toyed with rock sounds in past music, but this marked the first time that they embraced it wholly: “We realized together that we loved playing and writing that kind of music,” she said.
“We have created a more powerful, thought-through, cohesive sound,” said Wilczewski. “As a listener, you’re going to hear a more cohesive and strong product.”
The two also say their album also is tied together with a sense of urgency about what they see happening in the world. For example, there's "Sheep's Clothing," a song they wrote about the election of Donald Trump. They also said the song "God (Zilla)" was inspired by anxiety over nuclear war.
For the release party, the two said they'll continue playing into the theme of redefining and rejecting the notion of "big dogs." For one thing, they’ve made a point of booking other acts who they feel buck the mainstream, or who have a unique voice: the Madison experimental rapper Son! and the Milwaukee pop singer Lex Allen.
The party will also feature little dogs: There will be a pre-show “puppy party” that starts at 7 p.m. to raise money for Underdog Pet Rescue. Golz and Wilczewski said that they plan to donate a portion of the proceeds they make from their album to the organization.