By Juan R Govea “Johnny” with Bio by Ken Shimamoto
Big Heaven is the newest new wave garage band from Fort Worth with front woman singer-songwriter Mandy Hand leading the Fort Worth Dreamy Life Records synth pop band saying the group formed in 2017 and released their first EP “Strike a Match” in 2017.
Hand’s songs combine sunny, beguiling songcraft with an energy and verve that will resonate for listeners who relish rockin’ pop sounds, from ‘60s girl groups to ‘80s outfits like the Go-Go’s. Hand’s lyrics are intensely personal – “about things that happen in my life, or things I want to tell people but can’t any other way” – while her melodies are informed by her “unabashed love of pop music.”
Her handiwork is framed by the multi-layered synth and keyboard arrangements of Steve Peglar, with whom she previously played in the eccentric indie rock unit Sloan Automatic.
Originally a singing bassist, Mandy started writing songs in earnest in 2011, and went on to play with indie pop bands Diabolical Machines (appearing on their “Drag You Away” EP), Pentacon Six, and Crystal Furs (appearing on their self-titled debut full-length).
She met multi-instrumentalist Jesse Gage while playing in a Kinks cover band, the Dedicated Followers of Fashion, and the two of them founded Big Heaven as a band with a punkier, guitar-driven sound. Drummer Ricky Williford was added before Gage left due to other band commitments (Sur Duda, War Party) and Big Heaven dissolved. At first, Hand was discouraged, before Dedicated Followers guitarist Brock Miller told her, “You can be Big Heaven any way you want – solo acoustic, electric band, whatever.”
The impetus to bring Peglar into the fold came from producer Robby Rux, who suggested adding synths to some Big Heaven tracks, and reached out to Peglar – a keyboard maven and collector, who’s recorded solo under the rubric Binary Void, and as a member of Magneto Combo – to borrow some equipment.
Mandy Hand of Big Heaven | Photo Britt Robisheaux
“I listened to the songs and thought, ‘These aren’t punk songs, they’re new wave songs,’” says Peglar.
When Hand invited Peglar to join Big Heaven, he wanted to create settings for her songs that were “atmospheric and ethereal, simple, yet full.” At the same time Peglar wanted to make the sound “more organic” than samples and programmed sequences would allow.
Hand says, “We have the best of both worlds – a metronome-solid beat, with the ability to stretch our songs out live, depending on the situation.”
Breaking the seal on Big Heaven’s new sound with a six-song CD-EP, “Olivia,” on the prolific Indy label, which she says were tracked last August, using Peglar’s instruments.
Going forward, Big Heaven plans to release two EPs a year, “one in the spring and one in the fall.” So far, Hand says, “One show has led to another,” but once their repertoire is documented, the duo plans to step up their live activity.
The latest EP “Olivia” was released last week with a Saturday release show at Lola’s Saloon branding Big Heaven’s electric bop pop sound.
The EP takes a fresh style on post 80’s punk similar to the new wave genre of the time. Dreamin begins with Peglar’s synth like keys incorporating Hand’s guitar and vocals that introduce the be-bop vibe to the 6-tracks of “Olivia.” Titled tracks like Who, Same People, Jim Smells Like Weed and Nothing Left To Lose hold fast to the eclectic style of the EP incorporating a range of fun lyrical situations listeners can bop their heads to.
The digital EP is available on streaming platforms and Bandcamp.