When Los Angeles prog-rock group Bigelf released their 2008 album Cheat The Gallows, momentum seemed to be on their side. After 15 years of slogging it out in the local scene, the group was gaining support slots on arena-rock tours thanks to their brand of catchy pop-rock melodies filtered through '70s psychedelia.
The truth? “The band was coming apart,” says Bigelf leader Damon Fox, in conversation at the Canyon Country Store.
The band were dealing with financial difficulties and offstage tension. Fox's marriage was coming apart, and longtime guitarist Ace Mark left the group in 2010 after the death of his father and birth of his child.
With all of these outside factors coalescing, Fox disbanded Bigelf.
“When you get real low, real dark, and the mojo fades away, you're not feeling your purpose in life,” Fox says. “The Bigelf purpose went away. At that time, I wasn't interested in what Bigelf had to offer and there was conflict inside the band.”
Elsewhere, drummer Mike Portnoy was simultaneously going through band friction, a very public departure from Long Island prog-rock greats Dream Theater. Portnoy and Fox had bonded when the more well-known group took Bigelf on the road with them, and stayed in touch during the rough times.
A phone call between the two helped Fox revive Bigelf for Into The Maelstrom – the group's newest album, which came out yesterday.
“Portnoy had called and asked what was up with the new album,” Fox says. “I told him that Bigelf was over. He joked that he had to get his fix. I told him the only way he was going to hear some tracks was if he played on the album.” And so he did.
Portnoy was not the only outside force inspiring Fox to revive Bigelf. An opportunity came to tour with a singer whose name you don't often see in articles about prog-rock bands – Lisa Marie Presley.
“In a way [being Presley's keyboardist] helped me understand being a frontman again,” Fox says. “It was the first time in a while that I was in the background. At first, it was enjoyable not having the pressure of being a band leader, but of course, all the little things inside me started boiling again.”
As he got further into the recording of Into The Maelstrom, everything started coming together for Fox on both a musical level and a personal level. He saved his marriage, and – with Portnoy tied up with other projects – Fox rehearsed for upcoming live performances with his 16-year old son Baron filling in on drums.
“It's exhilarating to play music with your son,” Fox says. “About three weeks ago, I gave him all of our records to learn. When he started, we were all like 'Hey, great job Baron!' But after the first week it became like we were real musicians playing together. We would criticize him and ask him 'Hey, can you hit this fill?' He had transcended being my son.”
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