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A Great Big World is brining "Say Something" to Summerfest on Saturday, June 28. (PHOTO: Joseph Llanes)

Pop duo A Great Big World becoming a great big deal


It's good to have fans in the music industry. It's even better if one of those fans is a famous, powerful pop star.

That's exactly what happened with the duo of Chad Vaccarino and Ian Axel, better known as A Great Big World. The two met at NYU, where they began writing and performing together before recording some singles and EPs. One of those singles, "Say Something" – now off of their debut album "Is There Anybody Out There?," released last January – caught the attention of pop diva and "The Voice" star Christina Aguilera. With her help, the piano ballad became a radio hit.

The boys are now riding that success on the road, touring with an upcoming stop at Summerfest on Saturday, June 28 at the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse. Before then, however, OnMilwaukee got a chance to chance with the guys about working with Xtina, their plans for a stage musical and their early goals for album number two.

OnMilwaukee.com: How did you guys wind up teaming up with Christina Aguilera for "Say Something"?

Chad Vaccarino: "Say Something" was featured on "So You Think You Can Dance," and then within two weeks of that show, we found about Christina wanting to collaborate on this newer version. Once we found out, we were in Los Angeles within, like, a week, recording the new version with her.

OMC: What was it like working with her?

CV: It was incredible. It's was a huge moment and learning experience for both of us because it's like, how do you record with this superstar, this icon, someone who you don't feel you're on the same level as?

Ian Axel: There was a red button that we had to press to talk to her through the glass, and Chad and I were like arguing who was going to press the button to say something to her. I was so scared. I was, like, not fully confident in what I wanted to say because, you know, we don't feel like we're at her level. But we had to build the confidence to feel like we deserve to be there and that we were actually here working together.

OMC: Which one of you ended up being the guy to press the button?

IA: Chad pressed the button (laughs).

CV: Yup; I did (laughs).

OMC: Who are the major inspirations for your music? Who are the people who really got you into music, as well as really inspired the sound you're trying to create?

IA: I think a common thread for both of us is Disney movie musicals. But besides that, we're very different. I grew up listening to a lot of piano-driven songwriters, like Ben Folds, Randy Newman and Elton John. They were my inspirations. I watch how they played the piano, and I imagined myself singing one day, never thinking that I would actually sing. But I dreamed about it.

Also, I love Danny Elfman's work, and I actually want to score movies at some point in this.

OMC: When it comes to Disney movie musicals, which ones are your favorites?

CV: I mean, "The Lion King" is pretty awesome, but also I feel that "Aladdin" is pretty awesome.

IA: My favorite is "The Beauty and the Beast."

OMC: What? No love for "Tarzan"?

CV: I mean … no (laughs).

OMC: You guys are writing a Broadway musical yourselves right now, correct?

CV: We are! We're over halfway done, and we're shooting for a deadline before the end of the year to be finished with it, so hopefully that'll be up by next year. It's our music on steroids. It's all original music. It's been the most rewarding writing experience for us because it feels very easy. It feels like the easiest type of writing when you have to write with a narrative.

IA: I don't know; it's pretty hard. I would say it's the most fun I've had writing. Chad thinks it's easy, but I think it's really difficult. But we both agree that it's fun.

OMC: Is there any chance I'd be able to hear the story you're working on for the show?

CV: Not yet because we want to make sure it's officially announced before we talk about it, but we are dying to tell you. It's a show about family, not in the way that you would expect. It's funny, and it's filled with a lot of heart. It's basically songs that we'd write for ourselves, but we can take more risks because it's for theater.

OMC: Obviously you guys just released your first album back in January, so this is probably a crazy question, but have there been any thoughts about the next album yet? Or is that so far out of sight, out of mind?

CV: We're thinking about it, but we want to make sure we get the musical done. But we're definitely thinking about it, and we're thinking about who we want to write with, and we have a bunch of ideas that we're working on that we haven't finished that we're excited about for the next album.

OMC: Is there anything that you want to try differently on this next album or improve upon?

IA: I think we're definitely open to collaborating a lot more than we were, considering the past six months for us. We have, like, a team of people we might want to collaborate with, and maybe it's actually possible now, whereas like a year ago, it wasn't. So Chad and I have always pretty much written all of the songs ourselves. Rarely have we written with other writers, but now we're more open to that.

OMC: Who would be your dream collaboration?

IA: I mean, lately I've been saying Beyonce. I just want to say hi to Beyonce.


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