Vancouver's Big Rig Steer Hurt Into Heartfelt Reflection on Self-Titled EP

Vancouver's Big Rig Steer Hurt Into Heartfelt Reflection on Self-Titled EP
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The Courtneys' universe expands with the birth of singer-drummer Jen Twynn Payne's new project, Big Rig. Their self-titled debut doesn't veer far beyond the wanderlust Vancouver rockers' emotional spectrum — Payne still finds herself preoccupied by grief and heartbreak — but Big Rig is personal for her on an even deeper level, honouring the love of country music ingrained in her from growing up in Alberta.

Intentionally or not, Big Rig wound up being a bit of a family affair. With idle time between projects in the months prior to the pandemic, Payne found herself trying her hand at guitar and jamming with her banjo-picking cousin-in-law, Geoffo Reith. Thus began the writing sessions that yielded Big Rig.

The EP has an unhurried quality that Payne attributes to her novice guitar skills. True, she doesn't shred like her Courtneys bandmate Courtney Garvin, who released the propulsive, micro-dose jammer Somewhere as Gum Country in 2020, but it's just as easy to lock into cruise control with Payne's rhythms as it is with Garvin's. And without Big Rig's slow builds, the heart-wrenching crests of songs like the wistful "Lemons" and the absorbing "Clozer" would lose much of their emotional heft.

For the most part, Payne and Reith, along with cellist Mackenzie Bromstad and bassist Giles Roy (who fronts gauzy, tidal alt-outfit Woolworm), sound like the Courtneys decaled with truck references. They trade sea breeze and salt air for mud and dirt, swap frolicking along coastlines for crying in corn mazes. Despite recurring songs about dating fails and existential ennui, Payne's deeper navel-gazing on Big Rig leaves less room for her usual leisurely fancies.

Not that Big Rig is all serious. Payne playfully namedrops reality show cast members on the nearly eponymous "Bachelorette," continuing her fondness for pop culture references and placing the song in the same rarefied class as the Courtneys' "Lost Boys" and Keanu Reeves love letter, "K.C. Reeves."

On Big Rig's six other ambrosial, moderately pastoral tunes, though, Payne continues spinning her hurt into heartfelt, though not always healthy — or self-respecting — reflections. "I don't want to be the one to chase you," she sings on "Clozer," echoing her history of unrequited longings, before pledging, "And if agony is killing me / But the bliss of it is thrilling me / Then I'll take another hit of you / Just tell me what I have to do."

All that said, Payne is well aware of her own tropes and habits. "How come every song I write, they sound so sad? / No matter what I try, I can't make them sound glad," she sings, interrogating her rut on the ironically titled "Happy Song" as Reith's banjo warps and her affable guitar melody wends around her lament. Though she feels incapable of breaking free from being a two-note lyricist, it's necessary to clarify that "Open 83" is an ode to her father, who drives a pickup truck, in which she tries to process the moment she learned about his mesothelioma.

The Courtneys' music has always been tailor-made for slacking off and hitting the open road with the windows gaping. Similarly, Big Rig feels ideal for lazy summer days despite its pervasive melancholy; Courtneys fans will find their hearts swelling the same way, only to be disappointed if they seek a radical departure. Maybe Payne will take a major detour some day, but for now, it's best to just sit back and enjoy the ride down the country roads of her nostalgia. (Peaceful Tapes)