There is a reason the members of Big Fresh are costumed with a sense of retro-fied kitsch on the cover of its new EP, “Fall Preview.” The recording, the first of two 12-inch vinyl projects that the veteran Lexington band will release this year on its own Desperate Spirits label, boasts the kind of cherry, groove-centric sound that would be a natural for pop radio — provided the station you were tuned into was broadcasting from 1975.
The recording’s title and group photo carry that feel to a visual degree, making the jacket art resemble a 1970s-era TV Guide cover. But don’t expect Big Fresh chieftain John Ferguson to be the star of the show on “Fall Preview,” which the band will showcase with a record release show Friday night at Willie’s Locally Known and in a July Fourth performance at The Burl. He has relinquished vocal duties to a team of pals of local, regional and even international notoriety.
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“I guess it started out as a whim or some kind of novelty approach, but I had an idea for this batch of new songs,” Ferguson said. “Honestly, I don’t know any singer who loves the sound of their own voice. But I have a lot of friends that sing well and a few friends that have some name recognition.”
On “Fall Preview,” the dance-savvy pop of “Paralyzed” is handled by former Lexingtonian Robert Schneider, Ferguson’s bandmate in The Apples in Stereo. The synthesized swirl of “Tongku” is sung (in Mandarin, no less) by Bianbian of the Beijing band Candy Monster, the beat-heavy and vocoder rich “Yes Yes Yes” features Big Fresh alumnus Kate Pope, and the Zappa-esque pop curiosity “Rock ’n’ Roll Beans” enlists mainstay Lexington song stylist Trevor Tremaine (whose subsequent membership in Big Fresh brings its current touring personnel to 10 artists).
“Fall Preview” saves the best for last, though, by spotlighting Michelle Hollis, a performer with numerous local soul and hip-hop acts, including A Tribe Called Lex, on “Like Swayze.” The song is a mash-up of old-school, noir-style soul and psychedelic soundscapes, with Hollis’s gorgeously chilled singing placed assuredly in the driver’s seat. (Hollis also will also perform Friday with Big Fresh at Willie’s Locally Known.)
No wonder it takes 10 members to bring all that to life onstage, not only for Big Fresh’s Lexington shows, but for a weeklong swing earlier this month that took the band, along with Tremaine’s ensemble, Attempt (which shares several members with Big Fresh, including Ferguson), to major pop meccas New York; Baltimore; Pittsburgh; and Washington, D.C., and more.
“We didn’t know what to expect from, say, New York City,” Ferguson said. “That’s a hard market to tap into. But for a Monday night in New York City, we had a really great turnout and a captive audience. We sold some records, too. We played a festival in Washington, D.C., a few days before that, which was a lot of fun, and played a big show in Pittsburgh.
“All of the shows we made happen we booked ourselves, but we booked them through friends of ours who have bands in those towns. We relied heavily on our network of other musicians and friends, but we had great responses all around.”
But what of the sheer logistics and economics involved in maintaining a 10-member unit for Lexington performances, much less such an extensive long-distance trek?
“Honestly, we are barely breaking even with all of this,” Ferguson said. “But all the participants of the band were willing to put the money we made from playing shows here back into the band. The tour was expensive. We probably did six months’ worth of local shows just to pay for travel costs and hotel expenses, that kind of thing. We just threw everything we made in the kitty and lived out of that. It’s been a very socialist experiment.
“Everyone has day jobs. Everyone has families. But we try to commit to a once-a-week practice for all of this. While that doesn’t always happen, a lot of us have kinds of home studios where we’re able to, if we get a song started, send each other tracks and work on the overdubs on our own. Then we come back and assemble it together.
“Now, carving out an eight-day tour for 10 working people? That was pretty hard. We had to start planning for that last fall just to make sure everybody could get the time off. But everybody still seems to be having a lot of fun with this. Our band is such a big band that there is a built-in party.”