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Connections define music as much as notes, melodies, and rhythms do. When it strikes the right personal chords, an album can change moods, outlooks, and even lives. New York pop singer-and-songwriter duo A Great Big World—Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino—treasure the precious bond between artist and listener. Their full-length debut for Epic Records, Is There Anybody Out There?, forges an unbreakable link in that emotional chain.
In late 2013, everybody who had heard the group’s single “Say Something” reacted to it. After playing during a pivotal segment of Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance, this little song began its journey to becoming a big platinum-selling hit. The terse, tearful piano and Axel’s heavenly hypnotic vocals tugged on heartstrings worldwide. One heart that felt it especially hard belonged to none other than Christina Aguilera.
“We got this email from her that was written like a poem about the song,” Axel recalls. “She told us that she wanted to work with us, and we were completely floored. We couldn’t believe it. A week later, we were in Los Angeles recording it with her. Now it’s even more universal, relatable, and broader in scope.”
“Everything just started happening after that,” Vaccarino goes on. “Soon, it was like we’d lived a whole lifetime in just a few months.”
A Great Big World went on to perform the song with Aguilera on NBC’s The Voice, and that version took off to #1 on iTunes. The same phenomena occurred after a heartfelt performance at The American Music Awards, which generated worldwide applause. They closed out the year bringing the audience at The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show to its feet followed up by sold out New Year’s Eve gigs supporting Maroon 5. However, their journey formally begins with the 2014 release of Is There Anybody Out There?
Songs like “I Really Want It” coast forward on swinging piano and uplifting choruses that instantly invigorate and inspire. It’s pop with a purpose and a positive message.
“It’s about committing to the fact that all we have is the moment,” Vaccarino reveals. “We only have right now. There is no future and no past, so we should do what we want to.”
“The song was a confidence builder,” Axel agrees. “It goes back to the origins of the group. We didn’t want to get stuck in our day jobs. We knew that we had to do this now and take control.”
Elsewhere on the album, “Rockstar” encourages chasing dreams with shimmering keys, spritely falsetto, and a soaring guitar solo. “As we get older, we lose sight of our dreams” Axel explains. “Most people aren’t doing the thing they wanted to do when they were kids. It’s buried somewhere. This song is about reconnecting with your inner-child – the part of you that is still dreaming.”
The song also poses the album’s titular question—Is There Anybody Out There? Vaccarino explains “A huge part of why we write music is to not feel like we’re alone. We’re all just trying to feel connected; it’s a vital part of the human experience. Also, we’re secretly hoping the aliens will hear us.”
Now, as for Vaccarino and Axel’s connection, they first met in the NYU practice rooms while still in college. After a few twists and turns of fate in 2012, the friends formed A Great Big World and released a six-song EP funded by Kickstarter. It spawned the viral sensation “Everyone Is Gay”, and “This Is the New Year”, which ended up being performed by the cast on Fox’s Glee. Soon after, Epic Records offered them a deal.
For the future, A Great Big World still dream huge. In addition to endless touring, the boys are in the midst of writing a Broadway musical and a host of new songs. Ultimately though, everything comes back to that simple connection hinted at in their moniker.
“We’re all a part of something bigger,” concludes Axel. “I remember Chad and I went to Yosemite in the middle of recording. We just looked up at the stars. We felt so small, but we felt like everything would be fine.”
Vaccarino leaves off, “There is no separation between people. We’re all an integral part of one great big world.”