Big Dipper Crashes on the Platinum Planet is the latest, and perhaps boldest, excursion into the perilous realm of Astronomy Pop by veteran indie-rockers Big Dipper. Inspired by a triumphant reunion tour in support of Merge Records’ 2008 3-disc retrospective Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology, the band returned from the stratosphere with a stellar collection of brand new songs. Just a few weeks after touring, Big Dipper began recording the new material in Gary Waleik’s top-secret Command Module studio. The album boasts cover art by Guided By Voices’ main-man Rob Pollard, a huge Big Dipper fan (Pollard rates them the 20th greatest band in rock history, #19 being T. Rex!) Big Dipper Crashes on the Platinum Planet will be launched from the Almost Ready Records platform on this November.
The recording line-up consists of guitarist/vocalist Bill Goffrier, drummer/vocalist Jeff Oliphant, late-era Dipper alum Tom Brewitt on bass and the aforementioned vocalist/multi-instrumentalist/producer Waleik, with special guest appearances by Commander Frank Borman and Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell of the Apollo 8 Mission as well as some of the Dippers’ offspring.
The disc’s 12 songs shimmer with Big Dipper’s trademark sound: twin vocals, ethereal harmonies, dynamic guitar arrangements by Goffrier and Waleik (dubbed by some a “two-headed guitar monster”), Oliphant’s powerful drumming and Brewitt’s melodic bass playing.
But longtime fans may also be surprised at how easily Dipper has stretched its own boundaries.
Freed from the burdens of limited studio time, artificial deadlines and dealing with insane record company reps, the band took its time in recording the songs it wanted to in the ways it wanted to. The result is a range of styles from Pink Floyd-era psychedelia to hard rock to unfettered pop. According to Goffrier, “It was nice taking the time to make each song sound exactly the way we wanted it to. We’ve never had that luxury.””The opportunity to record again was really a special gift. It was a wonderful experience,” says the eternally optimistic Oliphant. Brewitt adds, “Access to home recording was key. It allowed us to try some things we would not have been able to if we had been paying $300 an hour in some fancy pro studio, like Abbey Road or Olympic.” “There’s an advantage to recording in one’s own studio,” relates Waleik. “We would work like crazy if the ideas flowed. We’d watch movies and have a few beers and some laughs if they didn’t”.
Standouts include “Lord Scrumptious,” a sonic parable comparable to Goffrier’s best and “Princess Warrior” which is almost certainly the hookiest song ever written about cancer recovery and one of three songs on which Oliphant steps out from behind the drums to deliver lead vocals. There’s also an updated, highly-suggestive vocal version of the vintage Big Dipper instrumental “Guitar Named Desire,” and “Robert Pollard,” Waleik’s ode to one of rock’s greatest songwriters, which masquerades as an exploration of the complex relationship between perspiration and inspiration.
It was in 1985 that Gary and Bill collaborated on their first song, “She’s Fetching,” then decided that forming a band might be a good idea despite lingering bad feelings about the breakups of their respective preceding outfits, Volcano Suns and The Embarrassment. They recruited Steve Michener (also in Volcano Suns and, later, Dumptruck) and drummer Jeff Oliphant. The band recorded a six-song demo in 1986, one of the tracks, “Faith Healer,” receiving heavy airplay from local radio stations, leading to an unexpected deal with the hugely influential Homestead label.
Their first release was the 1987 mini-album Boo-Boo. The full-length follow-up Heavens, was released later that same year, garnering glowing reviews in People Magazine and Rolling Stoneas well as nationwide airplay. Their second full-length album, Craps, followed in 1988. After several coast-to-coast North American tours and two in Europe, the band signed with Epic Records, which released 1990’s controversial Slam. Michener soon left with the group continuing on for another two years, splitting up in 1992 after releasing just one more 45 and recording more than an album’s worth of material that would go unreleased until Merge Records’ 3-CD anthology of Big Dipper’s Homestead work and post-Epic recordings, Supercluster. The band reformed for a 5 show mini-tour in April 2008 with all original members, which lead to their latest spate of composing and recording.