Q&A: The Big Push - from busking on the streets to a sold-out headline tour

Updated: Jul 1, 2021

Photo: Brad Lewis
Busking is who we are as musicians and how we were born, it’s a big part of us. It’s too much fun to give up.

Words by: Eline Joling

From busking on the streets of Brighton to a sold-out UK headline tour – The Big Push show that old-fashioned hard work and passion can get you anywhere.

The Brighton quartet – consisting of Romain Axisa, Ren, Gorran Kendall and Glenn Chambers - have carved out a significant corner for themselves in the UK music scene with a unique mixture of old rock music from the 60s and 70s, and 80s and 90s hip hop and reggae, presented with vocals rotating between three members.

With a DIY approach and a large fanbase grown organically through years of busking and posting videos online, The Big Push are ready to prove their worth with their six-track debut EP ‘Can Do, Will Do’ – which includes the previously released cuts ‘Watch Out’ and ‘Xbox Marijuana’ – out today (30.06.21).

Ahead of the release, drummer Glenn and bassist/vocalist Gorran caught up with Lizzie's Lowdown to discuss their first EP, finding The Big Push sound, and if they will ever give up busking.

Your EP ‘Can Do, Will Do’ is coming out in a few days, congratulations on that! Are you excited to finally have it out?

Glenn: Yeah, we’re buzzed! Prior to this we’ve released single by single, so it’s good to finally have a full body of work.

Gorran: It’s been really cool. We spent about a month where we wrote 20 or 30 songs, rehearsed all of those and wilted them down to the ones that have ended up on the EP. All of us come from quite different musical backgrounds, so finding a sound and the natural way to finally sit all together but still sound so diverse has been cool. I can’t wait to have a physical copy of it, you know?

How did your different musical backgrounds finally come together to form the sound of The Big Push?

Gorran: We all have things in common, but Ren is leaning more towards an urban style sometimes, a lot of rap and hip hop. Romain’s thing outside of the band is reggae, whereas I am quite a big fan of the opposite end of the spectrum which is more songwriter, early 60s and 70s sort of stuff, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, these old American songwriters. Romain and Ren were already living together at the time, and the three of us started jamming and roped Glenn into quitting his other band to join us as well. That’s how it all started, jamming on the street. We were just going out together and hanging out as friends, doing music along the way, and slowly climbing up the ladder among the pub gigs and things like that to work out where we sat in the middle of that.

Glenn: When I met the guys, I moved over the Brighton with the intention of being a singer songwriter myself, but then I met the guys busking through another musician we were friends with at the time, and just slotted into playing drums with them. When we were playing on the streets, between the guys singing and songwriting in their own styles, each one would step up to the mic and it would be a totally different genre. It was very scattered but loads of influences between old rock music from the 60s and 70s, and 80s and 90s hip hop and reggae, a whole mix of genres and styles that we’ve been inspired by and learned from to create our own sound.

Do you all still take turns on vocals on ‘Can Do, Will Do’ and other future releases?

Gorran: With this EP it was a case that Ren wrote more of the songs and sounded better on them, but there are a couple songs still where there are group vocals, or I might take a chorus or things like that. In general, there still is a balance because it’s quite a cool feature to have three people who can sing. From the response we’ve had, people seem appreciate it when there are quite different things, the mixing of it together seems more real.

How did you go from individual buskers to playing together?

Gorran: When I finished uni in 2016, I was bricking it a little like 'oh god, I’ve got to get a job, what am I going to do, where is my life going?'.

I decided to pack all that in, went hitchhiking through Hungary, came back and decided to start busking for a living. Romain was dabbling in it a bit as well at the time, and I thought 'this guy is great'. I slowly convinced him to quit his job and start playing with me more. We were essentially busking every day just to pay the rent which was tough.

These days, with the internet, you can do so much more by yourself if you’re creative; you don’t need a label as much.

When did you start presenting yourselves as The Big Push?

Gorran: We started playing together in 2017 and throughout 2018 started playing with Glenn as well, but I suppose the whole thing started to get a bit more serious in 2019 when we did our first gig, when we sat down one day and went through a couple of the things we’d been jamming over the last year or two.

Glenn: When I met the guys, they had already written a collection of songs including ‘It’s Alright’, the first single that was put out as a band, which was out around the time I started playing with them. It became a proper unit in 2019 when we were putting out the busking videos on YouTube and started gaining an amazing response through that, and when we played our first hometown show in The Haunt (now Chalk) at the end of that year.

Your fanbase has grown organically through your busking sets and the YouTube videos, and now you’ve decided to put the EP out without the help of a label – was it a conscious decision to keep doing everything yourself to stay true to the busking mentality?

Gorran: Ren has a little bit more experience working with labels and people in the industry and such because he’s been doing it a bit longer and, drawing from his experiences, it’s never really been that helpful. You end up signing everything away and get stuck with what you can and can’t release. These days, with the internet, you can do so much more by yourself if you’re creative; you don’t need a label as much.

Glenn: There have been so many cases where a label will jump on a trend or a genre or style, and they seem to sign up a lot of people like that worldwide to see what sticks and the rest will be shelved. We’ve never been really blown away or impressed when we’ve received an email from an A&R because in our separate careers leading up to this, we’ve seen a lot of that. If we can rehearse and go out, film, and conceptualise the ideas behind the art we’re looking to make, all a label can really do is give us a leg up. Now, we have full creative control with what we’re doing which we really appreciate.

Gorran: Ultimately, it is where we want to get to, but we want to make ourselves into a position where they hopefully take us a bit more seriously and work a little bit harder for us.

Busking is obviously a massive factor in The Big Push’s success, were you able to keep playing throughout lockdown or did you have to take a long break for the past year and a half?

Glenn: We played our last show in March of 2020 at the O2 Islington, and we were kind of aware of the virus, but almost joking that it wouldn’t reach us and wouldn’t disrupt anything we were doing. Then, the following month, everything came to a halt, and we spent the best part of a year just writing and being in the studio.

Gorran: We were starting to pull quite big crowds, and then since the busking videos started doing well on YouTube, more and more people started coming because of that. When Covid happened, at the beginning it was a total lockdown so people weren’t leaving the house anyway. When people started going out again it became a case of looking at things and checking statistics, seeing how safe it would be to draw large crowds together and we decided to take a break and didn’t play until April or May. It was a long time for us to not be playing live music and it did really suck. We were just playing to ourselves in the room of our flat, so we were playing but just not to an audience. When we went back out for the first time on the Bank Holiday weekend it was chaos, it was incredible.

Glenn: It was just getting to a stage where we were busking, and people were flying in from different countries and so on. We would have people who were like, 'if you go busking this weekend, we’re gonna drive from Scotland'. There’s been times where we’ve finished busking and we’re speaking to people while we’re packing up and it could be a couple or a family from Germany or Italy that has flown to Brighton specifically to see us do that - which is mad. At our last show there was a list going around as a joke to gather all the different countries that people were travelling from and there were people coming from Australia and South America - it’s insane! The numbers on YouTube and social media don’t really equate to people in your head until you’re actually standing in front of all of them.

Do you feel any difference in energy playing an actual gig at a venue compared to busking on the streets?

Glenn: With busking it’s like we’ll turn up an hour late due to traffic and there will be people waiting and we’ll set up, and it’s like they’re just kind of watching you, whereas with a show you walk out to a real extreme rush of energy all out once.

Gorran: With a venue there is more of that production element to a show before it kicks in. It’s all contained in a room, so when you step out onto a stage and there’s a big audience in front of you, it’s a bit mind-blowing. The cool thing about busking and why we like it is that it’s something that we can always go out and do, and it’s a bit more relaxed in terms of 'should we do this, or should we do that', and suddenly we’re playing something that we’ve never played before.

Considering busking is such a big part of The Big Push brand, do you think you’ll always keep busking alongside other gigs?

Glenn: It would be sad to reach a day where it gets harder to do, or where there’s too many people, we never really want to leave that.

Gorran: Having said that, we’re obviously extremely excited to start our first tour coming up. I think that’s gonna be the moment where things are gonna hit me a little bit more in terms of the reception of the crowd. Selling out venues in Glasgow or Manchester doesn’t seem real at the moment, yet it has happened. I think we’re very excited now to take things further to a next level. Become a touring band, getting in the studio, start releasing projects like EPs and albums. But we’ll always hold on to the busking as well, it’s a part of us.

Glenn: It’s who we are as musicians and how we were born, it’s a big part of us. It’s too much fun to give up.

Stream 'Can Do, Will Do' below: