Singing with superstars and performing with supermodels are just two of many mind-blowing hookups Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino experienced last year. The piano pop duo, known as A Great Big World, performed on “The Voice,” at the American Music Awards and at Victoria Secret’s famed lingerie show. However, it was a phone call from Christina Aguilera, asking if she could sing on their song “Say Something,” that got the ball rolling.
“When we got the call, it was disbelief that went into a panic attack,” Axel says. “I knew what this meant; I knew our lives were changed forever.”
Still, it was a hookup eight years earlier, while both were studying in NYU’s Music Business program, which put the 28-year-olds on track to the top of the pop charts. Though Great Big World’s seamless harmonies seem like destiny, the union wouldn’t have happened if Axel hadn’t, literally, stalked Vaccarino.
“We were put on the same project and I asked him to listen to my songs,” says Axel. “He was like, ‘No, I’m too busy, I don’t have time for anything else.’ He really wanted to practice by himself, but I went to the practice room and looked through all the windows until I found him. I had to be pushy, I had to.”
Vaccarino agrees with Axel's assessment: “I was really weirded out by how forceful he was, trying to have my friendship,” he says.
The pair both laugh warmly at the recollection. “Then, when he played me his song ideas on piano, I flipped out. Those concerns went out of the window. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so stupid! We should be writing together; we should be friends’.”
The pair say that choosing between their original recording of “Say Something” and the one with Aguilera was just too difficult, so A Great Big World’s debut album, “Is There Anybody Out There?,” which was released in January, includes both cuts.
“I love both versions,” says Vaccarino. “I was definitely married to the original, but I love what Christina did: I love that she added this female element. She made the song more universal than it might have been. You have the two parallel male and female worlds, and they don’t come together until the end of the song. It’s all harmonized except for that last line. It’s very dramatic.”