Combine a helping of bluegrass, a smattering of Metallica, and a little bit of Phish. Mix well. Now you have your very own Big John Belly, the Charleston City Paper Music Award winner for up-and-coming act of the year.
Yet this isn't a band that expected any accolades — at least not right now. After all, members Mike Schmitt (drums/percussion), Dallas Baker (bass/vocals), Isaac Morrison (vocals/guitar), and Adam Coyne (guitar) only came together to form the band last year and have yet to record any studio material. "You're telling us we've got a big following?" Morrison says when asked about their recent recognition.
But a regular presence on the local music scene, including frequent slots on the Pour House deck, has given the band a loyal audience that thrives on live shows. And much in the way of Widespread Panic, it's their live recordings that have contributed to Big John Belly's appeal among local jam-band aficionados — that, and a lot of hard work. "It speaks volumes for the music scene here, that if you push it, and practice, and get good, and you try to perfect your passion, then you can do something," says Baker. "We're one of the youngest bands here in Charleston, so it's kind of nice to get something together, intimidate some of these bands that have been here forever, and see you're ruffling their feathers."
The band credits Morrison for Big John Belly's vision. But Baker, along with the other members, agrees that their sound — self-described as 'jamrocktronicagrass' — comes from the broad spectrum of influences and styles they each bring to the table. Coyne is a fan of progressive rock, while Morrison's influences include a mix of jam bands, like Umphrey's McGee and the Grateful Dead. Baker harbors a love of bluegrass, but he admits it's the hard stuff too that inspires him. "Since I have an appreciation for heavy metal, it definitely comes out when I play," says Baker, "and that's why I never mind how heavy any Big John Belly song gets — because the heavier, the better."
As for the future, Big John Belly plans to hit the studio in January in hopes of having an EP pressed by February. In the meantime, they'll concentrate on honing their craft. "Jimmy Herring once told me, 'If you think you're good, you're never going to get any better,'" says Morrison. "And that has stuck in my heart. If he's touring with a multi-million dollar band, Widespread Panic, and playing in front of 30,000 people, and still, in his daily pursuit, he tries to get better."