Big Sir

LA WEEKLY Feature: Big Sir

Big Sir Had Serious Health Scares. So They Made an Album About Life and Death


Six years after the members of Big Sir were forced to confront their mortality head-on, singer-composer Lisa Papineau and bassist Juan Alderete are back with their third album of jazz-prog-electronic jams, Before Gardens, After Gardens.

Right around the time they were finishing their last album Und Die Scheiße Ändert Sich Immer, they both fell ill and were diagnosed with serious diseases. Alderete discovered he had polycythemia vera, a rare bone marrow disease where the body produces too many blood cells, while Papineau was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. “The bottom fell out,” says Papineau. “In the midst of this juncture, Juan dreamed a song, woke up, recorded it and emailed it to me in Paris. He said, ‘I know it may be corny to say this, but from now on everything we do really has to make a difference … even if only to us … there’s no point any more to do less.’”

Papineau and Alderete were introduced to each other in 1996 through her band Pet, which she co-founded with composer Tyler Bates (Watchmen, 300). Three years later, their mutual love of ’80s tunes, West Coast hip-hop, and bass led to the formation of Big Sir.

The two were sitting around with their friend, producer Mickey Petralia, trying to think of a proper name. “I think we said something like it should be a name that could be equally used by a 13-year-old’s punk rock grrrl group or a hardcore gay activist group, something tough and fierce-sounding to contradict the ‘94.7 The Wave’ band names the music might invoke,” she says.

Big Sir released its self-titled debut album in 2000 and an album of remixes the following year. Around this time, Alderete created another project, Vato Negro, and later joined The Mars Volta. Meanwhile, Papineau continued working on her solo career and released her debut album, Night Moves, in 2006. She’s since worked with Air, M83, Matt Embree of (Rx Bandits), Jun Miyake, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and many others.

Their latest album is an exploration and reflection of life and death. Its title comes from a poem by Indian mystic poet Kabir about seeking peace and knowledge within. “For me, though,” said Papineau, “what the title evokes is earthly gardens and their heavenly or other-dimensional counterparts. One garden to tend to now and not take for granted, and the other garden not to fear, to see as a place of comfort and deliverance.” - By Ivan Fernandez