PREMIERE: Big Girl go big on epic late-summer jammer “Summer Sickness”

photograph by Sydney Tate

To see Big Girl play live is to be sucked into and enveloped by the band’s immersive mix of glitter-encrusted glam-rock-ish grandiloquence mixed with unguarded singer-songwriter-ish intimacy—with a notable flair for theatricalized self-presentation that makes the smallest dive bar feel like a Phantom of the Paradise style amphitheater—but not lacking for a light touch where called for nor an overall sense of unbound joy, as personified by band-fronting vocalist-guitarist Kaitlin Pelkey who commands the stage resplendent in her trademark neon orange-red jumpsuit like a flamboyant fighter pilot (or a long-lost member of The Clash?) who just happens to compose rock operas…

…flanked at all times by her two backup-singer assistants (although hardly “assistants” in the sense of remaining in the background!) a duo whose soaring harmonies and choreographed gesticulations and perambulations about the stage are musically and visually redolent of the Shangri-Las crossed with Divine-as-Babs-Johnson taken both the gum-snapping sass and the operatic dramatics of said entities and dialing them up to “11”…

…all of which sits atop a solid musical foundation laid down by a band obviously skilled at making seamless transitions between fever-pitched face-melting musical passage and more dialed-down ornate Baroque pop and pastoral folk passages all of which is pretty fantastic live but which begs the question whether Big Girl can translate their theatrical musical pageantry to the sound recording medium and as it turns out the answer is “yes” based on their brand new single “Summer Sickness” released hot off the griddle today…

…which serves as a sneak-peak teaser to the band’s upcoming debut LP Big Girl vs. GOD but which all on its own serves as a fitting introduction to the full expanse of the Big Girl musical universe over its five-minute running time, a song that should please both adherents of Led Zeppelin III and Led Zeppelin IV in equal measure not to mention fans of immaculately constructed indie pop (e.g., Warpaint, Band of Horses, Angel Olsen) and/or fans of mind-bending psychedelic-tinged hard rockin’ rock (e.g., Death Valley Girls, Pond, Ty Segall)…

…and if you’re into the latter just check out the sick coda of "Summer Sickness" which in actuality takes up the entire last two minutes of the song and all I gotta say is that I’ve already added the track to my songs with sublime endings playlist what with the overall sublimity of the escalating, extended manic panic wall-of-sound outro and then there’s the music video too which is sublime on its own term with its pastoral-psychedelia vibes and synchronized dances performed in a forest clearing and btw if you hadn’t notice the video’s embedded multiple time above so as to be accessible no matter which paragraph you’re currently reading…

…but still you may ask yourself “what’s it all about?” and “what could possibly inspire such inspired music?” and hey far be for me to speculate, but lucky for us Kaitlin Pelkey herself was kind enough to provide some revealing personal insights (on short notice, no less!) into the lyrical content of “Summer Sickness” and re: the song’s emotionally intense genesis as well as the creative process behind its construction and the musical personnel who brought it to life. So read on, dear reader, as all will be revealed after the jump… (Jason Lee)

The release show for "Summer Sickness" happens this Saturday (8/20) at The Broadway (Brooklyn) presented by our friends at Booked By Grandma


Kaitlin Pelkey: I wrote “Summer Sickness” in July 2020. Sitting in my backyard early in the morning I think it was like 6 AM on a Friday. I couldn’t sleep and at the time I was going through a lot, the world was still in quarantine and earlier that year January 2020 my mother experienced a very serious brain hemorrhage.

It changed her life and my life forever. She went from living a totally independent life to losing all of the abilities that made her independent. Talking, eating, walking, voluntary movement, everything. This was all happening parallel with the pandemic when people all over the world were getting incredibly sick and dying. 

It was the most challenging thing I had ever gone through. To experience all of that grief and hardship with my family while navigating this rapidly changing world… it was like being on the moon. Nothing was familiar. Meanwhile the rest of the world was going through this kind of parallel traumatic experience. 

"In this year’s division / suffering is a season / but when the wind is blowing / I feel it die" 

When writing it, I thought of summer sickness as a spell for forgiveness. I was really angry at the time with the injustice of the situation that I was going through personally and then also the injustices happening all over the world. I was trying to find a way to contain the experience – my mom’s illness felt totally enveloping and overwhelming and the metaphor of a season was comforting. In a way it was like an inside joke only I understood — "call it summer sickness" *shrug*. 

If suffering is a season, the intensity and heat of the moment is temporary, necessary. A rare cool wind signals the possibility of release. Death. Freedom. I was trying very hard to admit these difficult truths and find solace in them. 

My mom spent a lot of time sleeping when she was sick. At moments she was in and out of a coma-like state. Often medically induced. I imagine her dreaming a lot and wondered what she would dream about. Before she had her stroke she also loved sleeping and she told me that she would she knew she was really happy in her life when she would have dreams of flying. 

I would imagine this approaching autumn wind, sweeping her up and carrying her to a place of freedom where her body was her friend and she could fly just like in her dreams. Freedom for her and for everybody. I imagined her flying over mountains and skyscrapers and oceans. The big operatic ahhs in the chorus of “Summer Sickness” are the sound of her flight. 

On the creative process and band/record personnel: 

Kaitlin Pelkey: We recorded the core guitar (Crispin Swank), bass (Elizabeth Sullivan), and drums (Liza Winter) live at a studio in Brooklyn in April 2021 with engineer Phil Duke. We later recorded lead vocals at our old rehearsal space in Ridgewood. Crispin set up the microphone and protools session and sat on the floor outside the studio door while I cranked out several vocal takes. I worked in the dark and oscillated between dancing and sitting while envisioning myself singing from the top of a mountain. 

Christina Schwedler of Elee Pink and Melody Stolpp of Sweetbreads added the additional vocals — namely the soaring operatic ahhs in the chorus. 

Summer Sickness was produced mainly by Big Girl’s guitarist Crispin Swank who is responsible for the lush and prismatic guitar arrangements that weave through this song. This was the first song we worked on with mixing engineer Justin Pizzoferrato (Dinosaur Jr, Pixies, Speedy Ortiz) who would become our very close collaborator and co-producer for the rest of the album. 

We figured out a lot about the record by working on Summer Sickness. The production in Summer Sickness set a precedent for the deep and intricate layers of guitars that ended up being definitive to the sound of this album.