A whole new ‘World’

Written by Gregg Shapiro

With two full-length albums to its name, 2014’s “Is There Anybody Out There?” and 2015’s “When The Morning Comes,” pop duo A Great Big World, alias Ian Axel and Chad King, appears to have the world at its feet.

Hit singles such as the Grammy Award-winning ballad “Say Something” (a duet with Christina Aguilera) and “Hold Each Other” have cemented the pair’s following worldwide. Influenced by Ben Folds, as well as the music and lyrics of North Salem’s Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, A Great Big World is the musical equivalent of a great big hug. The pair brings that hug to Ridgefield Playhouse March 22, and we talked with them beforehand:

A Great Big World has helped usher in a return to pop music that is both sunny and serious, which is also exemplified in the music from “La La Land.” Do you see A Great Big World on the same musical family tree?

Chad King: “Both Ian and I were inspired as kids by Disney musicals ‘The Lion King,’ ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘The Little Mermaid.’ We have that dream of putting our music to a movie, whether it’s an animated film or something like ‘La La Land.’”

Ian Axel: “That’s been the goal since we met. I told Chad that I wanted to write a musical with him. That’s what I originally wanted to do. Chad convinced me to start singing instead. We kind of got sidetracked. Now we’re finally writing a Broadway show. We love being artists and performers as well. We’re trying to juggle both.”

Which came first, the song “Cheer Up!” with the line about “a great big world” or A Great Big World as the name of the band?

IA: “The lyric came first, then the band name. We were having the hardest time figuring out what to call ourselves. Then we said, ‘Let’s look at our lyrics.’ We felt like the song ‘Cheer Up!’ encompasses what our music is about — positivity and hope and love. We (also) try to connect with our inner-kids a lot of the time. That’s why we chose that line and that name.”

How did the Grammy-winning “Say Something” duet with Christina Aguilera come about?

IA: “’Say Something’ was written maybe six years ago. I released the song as a solo artist, when Chad was my manager. When we formed A Great Big World, we decided to record it for our album. It was on (the TV show) ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and the response was good. Christina heard it and emailed someone on our team. She said she wanted to sing the song. She was moved by it. We were floored and freaked out. We were like, ‘Is she sure she wants to sing it?’ (laughs). We flew to L.A. a few days later and recorded it with her.”  

As longtime musical collaborators, what makes you play well with others and together?

CK: “Our relationship has evolved to the point where we’re brothers now. We’re honest with each other; often more honest than we are with ourselves. That part of our relationship is beneficial for us as a band, as artists going through this journey together.”

IA: “When I met Chad, I was like, ‘Oh, yes, I know this guy.’ It was like I knew him from another lifetime, kindred spirits.”

What were some of the challenges and rewards of making a second album, such as 2015’s “When The Morning Comes”?

CK: “I think living up to what happened with the first album and ‘Say Something.’ How do we get beyond it? It was really difficult to do going into the writing and recording process. Everyone’s expecting something and that weight is on your shoulders.” 

Have you begun work on your third album?

IA: “We’re just starting to write for it and figure out what that means. We’re also working on a Broadway musical at the same time. The last six months to a year has been spent working on that show. We’re just starting to transition back into the next album.”

A Great Big World performs at 8 p.m. March 22 at Ridgefield Playhouse. Tickets are $39.50.  For more, visit ridgefieldplayhouse.org.

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