Andrew Elder, lead vocalist and guitarist for Albany rockers Big Nixon, knows a thing or two about beating adversity.
About one year ago, Elder, 33, was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. The then year-old Big Nixon, which had been slowly gaining popularity on the local scene with a handful of live performances and a four-song demo under its belt, went on hiatus while Elder underwent chemotherapy. The group’s original bassist left, but lead guitarist Jon Faltin and drummer Dave Teta, who co-founded the group with Elder, stuck around.
“Dave and Jon I’ve known for a long time,” Elder said during a recent interview at Circus Cafe in Saratoga Springs. “They really stuck with me, checked in on me. When I was ready to play again, they were right there; they were a huge part of making it happen again.”
With the addition of bassist Mike Thomas in January of this year, Big Nixon prepared its return to the local music scene. On May 30, the group won second place in the Freihofer’s Spirit on the Course battle of the bands, and a recent appearance on the hometown stage at LarkFest on Sept. 20 earned the band three more shows, including an acoustic performance at Tess’ Lark Tavern in Albany at 10 p.m. on Saturday.
“When we first formed, one of our two-year goals was to play LarkFest,” Elder said. “We ended up doing it even after being virtually off for a whole year.”
Album in works
The group is certainly regaining its momentum, with plans to head into the studio in early November to record a full-length album. According to Elder, it didn’t take much time at all to get the group back in fighting form after his treatments were completed in January.
“When I first got sick, I felt really weak; I thought I had something wrong with my cardiovascular system because I couldn’t sing, I was always out of breath,” Elder said. “It took about a month to get back to full vocal strength, and I was quickly building up the rest of my health.”
Thomas’ addition has also given the band a jolt of new energy and fresh ideas. He was introduced through the rest of the band by Teta, who also plays with Thomas in local cover band Moxie. In addition to helping revamp the group’s older material with more complex bass lines and vocal arrangements, Thomas has contributed new songs to the group.
“Mike is really professional,” Elder said. “He took the music we already have, made it more complete and solidified the sound. Within two months, we were playing shows, sounding better than we ever have.”
Back in September 2006, Big Nixon formed out of another cover band, Deluxe, which Teta played guitar for. The band took its name from a suggestion by a friend of Elder’s, although the band’s official explanation is that “Enormous Rutherford B. Hayes was already taken.”
Elder had been playing in cover bands himself in the Albany area, where he lived for three years before moving to Saratoga Springs six months ago. When Elder first began playing guitar at 17, he had actually been a drummer for a number of years before.
“I had played drums, but I realized that if I wanted to sing I would have to get out from behind the drums,” he said. “I’m not good enough on drums to be Phil Collins.”
The group’s mix of melodic pop, funk and hard rock typified on songs such as “Caroline” and the winding, dynamic-shifting “Carnival Raid” developed out of the group members’ varied musical influences. Elder, initially the group’s main songwriter, is a fan of classic punk and classic rock, including The Sex Pistols, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy, along with modern influences such as Soundgarden and Sublime. Lead guitarist Faltin ended up giving the group much of its edge.
“Jon started out as a metal guitar player. So there’s a lot of chugs and taps,” Elder said. “Mike was a ska musician for a while. So we’re ska, grunge, neo-grunge or melodic punk; we don’t scream, we’re not metal, but we definitely have an edge to it.”
The group’s members all range in age from 27 to 33, with Elder, appropriately, being the oldest. Two of the band’s members are married, and Thomas and Teta both have children. So balancing the band with working 9 to 5 jobs and spending time with family can be a challenge.
“As an original band, we don’t make much money, and some of us count on music income,” Elder said. “But the reason we’re doing it is because we believe things will happen, if you keep making good music.”
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