At just 23, Jess Smyth a.k.a. Biig Piig has already enjoyed a busy life, full of what she happily refers to as “mess.” She had a sociable childhood spent between Ireland, Costa Rica, and London, growing up around, and later working in, the restaurants, pubs, and bars run by her parents. It was following the family’s move to the UK when Smyth was 14 that she first picked up the guitar, and it wasn’t long before she was performing at open mic nights in Battersea and beyond. She found her crowd at college, when she became part of the collective NiNE8, a group of fashion, art, and music-loving teens brought together by artist Lava La Rue. The open-minded creative sessions with NiNE8 led Smyth to settle into her style and to collaborate with the collective’s producers to create her first official tracks. Softly rapping and singing in a mix of Spanish and English, Smyth put her own idiosyncratic spin on neo-soul, mixing hip-hop beats with lo-fi jazzy instrumentals, revealing intimate thoughts in a haze of chilled-out sonics and silky, sultry vocals.
She released her first (wonderfully named) EP, Big Fan of The Sesh, Vol. 1, in 2018, which features one of her biggest songs to date, ‘Perdida’, and has gone on to release two more, getting scooped up by RCA Records somewhere along the way. In 2020, her singles were imbued with a particularly energetic and confident quality, with tracks like ‘Switch’, ‘Don’t Turn Around’, and ‘Feels Right’ garnering widespread acclaim and reeling in new fans across the world. Now, following yet another move (this time to LA), Biig Piig is working hard on her debut album, dropping latest single ‘Cuenta Lo’ while gearing up for what we hope and pray will be an exciting festival-filled summer.
We caught up with Biig Piig for this edition of our Artist Spotlight Q&A series, where we showcase up-and-coming artists and give them a chance to talk about their music.
Something that first led me to your music was actually the name Biig Piig! Was that the intention when you locked in the name?
So initially, it was just a bit of a running joke. It was funny because it was the name of the pizza that me and my friend got after a night out. There wasn’t really much meaning to it, I just liked the way it sounded. And I was like, well, I’ll just do that, because I don’t think I ever wanted to use my name as my music name. But the more that I’ve had it and the more I thought about it – there’s certain meanings to it. I think I found that like, pigs are a lot smarter than they look and it lets me be a bit messy as well. I don’t feel like it pigeonholes me at all. Yeah, I don’t know; it all worked out.
Growing up you lived in Ireland, Spain, and London. What do you love most about each place, and do you feel more attached to any of them?
I feel like the sense of community that’s ingrained in the culture in all three places, really, that’s what I think I got attached to. And that’s what I think is really cool and just really beautiful. I think the way that people communicate and the way that friends and how much community matters in the three of those places that I lived in, really, really stays with me. I feel like I don’t really get attached to places. It’s more so I get attached to people and like emotionally, that’s kind of what I think makes a place rather than the actual place.
What are some of your early memories of listening to music?
There are different stages. I feel like I remember listening to Gabrielle when I was really young. My mum used to love her and it used to make her really happy. That was kind of when I discovered that music could really pull someone out of a bad place. It was like watching her sing that in the car when she was going through something really tough, and I feel like just to watch her kind of, like, light up with Gabrielle’s song ‘Sunshine’ … That was when I think I really understood the power of music. I remember listening to her quite a lot, and then when I was like 13 or whatever, I liked a lot of pop-punk and acoustic music and my taste was all over the shop… A lot of old school R&B. It was like – yeah, it was just a mess. And I don’t feel like there was one specific genre that I loved. I think it was just kind of anything that makes me feel good, or not, like songs that really make me feel… Something. But there’s a few different artists; Ben Harper, Bowling for Soup, Genuine – I used to listen to him a lot. Who else? Gabrielle and Van Morrison was played a lot, and Leonard Cohen.
How have you been during lockdown and how have you passed the time?
Lockdown has been a bit nuts. I moved so many times; it was a really hectic time for me. I was in a really intense relationship that ended during lockdown. We were living together and everything else – that was really intense. Creatively as well, I feel like I went through a period where I couldn’t really write anything and I felt really uninspired. And then after the first lockdown, I started to write a lot more and got really back into the swing of it. It felt so good. I think I’m still trying to process the whole of last year, just because my living situation kept falling apart. So I kept having to move loads and that relationship happened and then now I’m living in LA. I really like it and I’ve got a project that I’m really happy with, so it’s great. But yeah, definitely a very weird time. It almost feels like a dream. I feel like I’m looking back at it with such a hazy view because I don’t feel like time makes any sense. I think last year just feels like a whole… Vortex situation. It’s hard to remember details or anything, it’s nuts. But, passing the time, I watched a lot of really shit TV. I loved Selling Sunset. That really uh [laughs] that really kept me busy for a while. What else? Reading a bit? Reading and drinking, which I’m going to stop doing now. But drinking for the first one took up a lot of my time as well. Um, yeah, I think just staring into the void and days just fleeting… Sorry, I feel like this has taken a dark turn! [laughs] No, it was grand. I feel like I will never take life for granted again, so that’s good. Definitely a learning curve.
Have there been any artists that you’ve been particularly drawn to during this weird period?
Yeah, there were definitely some artists I think that brought through some incredible music last year, Lex Amor being one of them. Her – I don’t know if it’s a tape or an album that you’d call it? – but it’s Government Tropicana. That was a really, really good project that I really enjoyed. Brent Faiyez, Fuck The World, has just been on repeat for the last like however long. I love that project so much. What else? Bel Cobain. Anything she releases, I just love – I think she’s brilliant. Yeah, a lot of the same tunes. I think I even went through a period of just not really listening to music that much. But those are ones I always come back to. And ‘The Adults Are Talking’, that song by The Strokes. That literally lifted me out of such a bad mood. It kind of felt nostalgic to me in a way and I don’t know, it just really got me going [laughs] and so that’s a great tune. I feel like when I listen back to that now I think of the first lockdown and it just made me feel like I could escape a bit in that song.
You’ve worked on music as part of the collective NiNE8 and created other tunes more independently. Do you have a preference for working collaboratively or in a more solitary way?
With the NiNE8 stuff it’s always fun because it’s like, we’re all just hanging out, we can fuck around and like make something cool for the tape or whatever, which is amazing. And then, with my own stuff, I always work with one producer, so they’ll make the instrumental and I like to write everything, like all the melodies and lyrics and stuff. But then sometimes I’ll even take a beat home and write to it on my own. I feel like you don’t really know until you’re in the room how a session is going to go or how the day is gonna go because you can come up with something incredible, or sometimes not so much. But yeah, I really enjoy working with NiNE8 though. I feel like it really gets me out of my head. And it’s just fun, do you know what I mean? But yeah, completely depends on the day, and the mood and what we achieve with it.
What’s your favourite song that you’ve written and why?
I think my fave song that I’ve written… It changes all the time. Like, I really like some of the earlier stuff like ‘Vete’, which I made with Lloyd [Mac Wetha]. It just kind of reminds me of a time where we’re making music in his bedroom and it was super low-key. Listening back to that is really reminiscent and I really enjoyed doing that, and also I like the way that my vocals are mixed and stuff. It was super stripped back and there wasn’t a lot going on, and sometimes I really miss that because I like the intimacy of that and I feel like there’s the kind of soulfulness of it as well. So that’s cool to look back on. And then some of the new stuff that I’ve made, I really love. There are a couple of tracks on this next project that I’m just like, I think I’m experimenting with a sound that I’ve always really admired as well, so that’s cool. I think with that, it’s super minimalist again, but it’s like, some lyrics I’m really proud of, because – I don’t know if it will translate the same way – but for me, it paints the image perfectly of… I don’t know. It feels like I can see the world. It’s like I can see the imagery perfectly with some of the songs that I’ve written for that project, which I think is really cool. It kind of transports you to that world.
Do you have any goals in terms of where you’d like to get to with your music?
I mean, I really want to get to a place where I can produce myself, because I’m interested to see what that would sound like. And even producing for other artists, I think that would be really, really cool. I just need to understand what my style would be from the producing side of things. So that’s definitely a big goal for me. And then otherwise, I want to just make sure that I keep making music that makes me feel good. I feel like I really don’t want to lose the love for music, and I don’t think I will, but I just hope that every time this like feeling of excitement and release, stays and grows with everything that I make, and the things that I make in the future. So that’s kind of it. Yeah [laughs].
And finally, what are you most excited for when lockdown’s over?
I don’t even know at this point, if I’m being honest. Maybe something like just hugging all my friends and having to sleepover. I’m not even bothered about the pub. Like the first time I was like, “Oh can we just go to pub blah, blah,” and now I’m like, I actually couldn’t even be bothered with the pub. I don’t care, I can drink at home [laughs]. I just miss the smell of my friends and just hugging people and having sleepovers and yeah… I just missed all that, so hopefully more of that.