Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino make up the duo that is A Great Big World. The pair teamed up while they were both students at NYU, and they've been making music together ever since. Their brand of upbeat, hopeful pop sounds a little bit like Fun. at times, and a little bit like Broadway at other times, so it's no wonder that they got a huge break when their song, "This Is the New Year" was featured on an episode of Glee last year.
But the guys truly catapulted into mainstream consciousness when Christina Aguilera heard their heartbreaking song, "Say Something," after it was featured in an episode of "So You Think You Can Dance." Christina immediately fell in love with the song, and asked A Great Big World if they'd like to record it with her. The song became an instant hit - boosted by performances on "The Voice," the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show and the American Music Awards, and the timing couldn't be better for Ian and Chad: their debut album, Is There Anybody Out There?, dropped January 21st.
After a whirlwind that saw A Great Big World get their first Top 5 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Say Something" ft. Christina Aguilera (and single sales in the millions), Ian and Chad stopped by iHeartRadio headquarters in NYC, where they opened up about everything from rubbing elbows with Adam Levine to the heartbreak that led them to write "Say Something."
Check out Real Questions with... A Great Big World below.
What was it like opening for Maroon 5 on New Year's Eve in Las Vegas?
Ian: "It was two nights in a row for 8,000 people. We had never for played that many people. The one moment that sticks out to me is playing 'Say Something.' When I first started playing the chords, there were a couple cheers, then when I sang the first line the whole place erupted. It took me by surprise. I almost missed the next line... I got excited and the cheers were louder than the music and I couldn’t hear myself playing anymore at that point."
Chad: "That was one of the most special moments in life ever. It’s so many people! It’s like oh my God, people are listening and connecting!"
What preconceived notions do people have about you that are completely wrong?
Ian: "People think that we’re a couple."
Chad: "We’re not a couple though."
Ian: "I feel like we act like an old married couple."
Which crowds were you part of in high school?
Chad: "I was a band nerd and I was in every band you could’ve been in in high school like marching band, jazz band, wind ensemble... I played trumpet. I was always afraid of the football players and the cheerleaders and the popular kids."
Ian: "I was also in all the bands, but I don’t think I was a band nerd. I also played the trumpet in marching band and all that stuff, but my group of friends was very diverse. I think we had one person from each clique represented in our group of friends... It was an eclectic bunch."
What’s your biggest regret?
Ian: "I don’t think I have any."
Chad: "I have a regret. I was training to be a bus boy in Time Square in a restaurant. I can’t remember what it was and then when I got through the training. The last day of training I was like “I can’t do this. This is gross man. I’m not going to be a busboy.” I walked out of the restaurant, didn’t tell anybody and I don’t know why, but I feel like I was supposed to be at the restaurant. I should’ve been a busboy for a little bit. I always had this feeling that was the wrong decision. That was the wrong move."
Ian: "Your one regret in life is that you weren’t a busboy?"
Have you ever been fired?
Chad: I was fired. I worked at Universal Studios in Orlando as a poncho salesman... for some reason in Florida they just expect it to rain every day and even if it doesn’t rain, you have to sell ponchos. I decided to make a deal with this guy. He was like, 'Look let me pay for five and you give me seven.' I was like. 'That sounds like a pretty good deal.' I started making deals.Then they cut me.
Who is your celeb mancrush?
Chad: Chris Pine.
Ian: Adam Levine. Sexiest man alive, right?
Who is your celeb womancrush?
Chad: Rachel McAdams.I want to be friends with her and everything else. She’s perfect.
Ian: Emma Watson growing up, not so much anymore.
How awesome was it not to have to fund your new album on Kickstarter?
Chad: Epic Records has been the biggest supporter lately. I feel like we definitely would not be here without them and it’s been amazing to not feel that financial burden to make a record.
Who is the most famous person you have in your phone?
Ian: Darren Criss. He’s the sweetest guy... We email a bunch but I don’t think I have Christina’s number.
Describe the first time you met Christina Aguilera?
Ian: I was very nervous. I think we both were. I felt super intimidated. I felt like I didn’t belong there. I felt like, 'How am I supposed to sing with Christina Aguilera?' It was also intense because the cameras were on when we met.
Chad: Because they wanted to capture the moment.
What might people be surprised to know about her?
Ian: "After the AMAs she invited us over to her house and we went there and we played paintball with her in her backyard and then watched Black Fish."
Chad: "That was our after party for the AMAs."
Ian: "I feel like she separates the work and the personal stuff really well. For us it’s all mixed in together."
Was it hard to concentrate on performing while the Victoria’s Secret models were walking by you the catwalk?
Ian: "I feel like I want to give the answer to that like a normal guy would give, but I wasn’t taken aback by the model after model. What I was taken aback by was that stuff was happening, stuff that’s never happened before while I played that song. It was so big and theatrical and surprising and people were cheering."
Chad: "I think for me watching this backstage it was crazy to hear this heart wrenching ballad be played while these half-naked beautiful models were walking past."
Did you pal around with Taylor Swift and Fall Out Boy backstage? The models?
Chad: "Yeah, they’re both amazing. All of Fall Out Boy, so cool."
Ian: "I think we were talking to them and Pete Wentz was like, 'Hey you know I was on your mailing list for a while... I’m a fan.'"
Ian: "Taylor Swift was like, 'Hi I’m Taylor.' I’m like, 'Yes I know.' We saw her again at the AMAs and she was still nice to us."
What did you have for breakfast?
Ian: "We had a protein shake with almond milk and vegan protein and frozen berries."
If you could say anything to anyone, who would it be and what would you say?
Ian: "I would tell myself now to chill out a little bit. It’s all going to be okay and it’s all amazing and that I got this."
Chad: "I would tell Oprah that I would love for us to perform for her."
Ian: "I used to go to the apple store and Oprah was my client. I was a personal shopper. I had to show her all these iPods and then load Beyonce music on to them and then bring them to her hotel. I left a CD in the back near her shower robe. I can’t wait to tell her that."
What’s it like to look back at the “This Is The New Year” video now that it’s a new year again and SO MUCH has happened for you?
Ian: "We’re so young!"
Chad: "I think it still has the same energy and sentiment."
Ian: "We shot that video four years ago."
Chad: "I love that video."
Ian: "I do too, it’s special."
Are you still heartbroken?
Chad: "For me writing that song was like closure and whatever I was going through, it felt resolved."
Ian: "For me writing that song was not closure. It was definitely part of the healing process. I was tormented. I tormented myself for it probably a year and a half after that until I finally got sick of being tormented. I thought that that was the way you were supposed to feel. I love feeling that way because it was inspiring and I felt something. I’ve never felt that before..."
Photos by Shelby Case for iHeartRadio