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Biig Piig
Biig PiigPhotography Malini Vaja

Irish artist Biig Piig makes romantic neo-soul songs about city life

Watch a short film from 20-year-old singer and rapper Biig Piig, based on her excellently titled Big Fan of the Sesh EP

Biig Piig’s new EP, Big Fan of the Sesh, tells the story of a teenage character, Fran, coming out of a doomed relationship, partying hard, and feeling lost in a city that’s constantly moving and always changing shape. “The songs are like a scattered journey through an intense relationship,” the 20-year-old artist, real name Jess Smyth, says of the EP. “From the nerves of first speaking to that person in ‘Flirt’, to completely losing it in ‘You Know Better’, re-evaluating everything in the aftermath in ‘Perdida’, and the light-hearted feeling of seeing a friend after all the craziness in ‘Lydia’, each track stands with its own emotional viewpoint.”

Smyth grew up between Ireland and Spain before settling in London, living above the Irish pub that her parents still run. When she was 17, she inadvertently struck upon her unique musical style during a drunken freestyle at a house party: razor-sharp lyrical observations about the angst and emotions of youth, half-mumbled and half-sung over smoked-out, jazzy hip hop/neo-soul beats. She was encouraged to record her ideas by her friend Ava Laurel, better known as Lava La Rue – founder of the London-based NINE8 collective, a 15-strong crew of young musicians, artists, and creatives doing things with a DIY-or-die approach.

A new short film explores the ideas of the Big Fan of the Sesh EP, which Smyth conceived as the first part in a trilogy of EPs. Smyth is currently working on the next two releases as well as a collaborative mixtape with the rest of the NINE8 collective, as well as plotting her first London show, taking place at Electrowerkz on April 17. We caught up with her ahead of time to talk the new EP, her stint working as a poker dealer, and peeling oranges with Dr. Dre in her dreams.

What was the first song you ever wrote called?

Biig Piig: I think the first song I wrote properly was called ‘How to Love’. I was, like, 14 at the time, and it was about loving someone who drinks a lot. It’s kind of sad I guess – but it was a good track!

Who do you look to for lyrical inspiration?

Biig Piig: A lot of the time I like my songs to sound as if I’m speaking to the person listening. So I really like taking inspiration from artists that describe things as they are, but have a way of making it sound more romantic.

Your parents run an Irish pub. Did you ever put songs on the jukebox while you were growing up?

Biig Piig: My dad is super touchy about the music played in the pub – he likes the lights really low and the music to set the mood, so there were limited choices when it came to CDs played, but some real gems. I remember always playing ‘Blue Velvet’ by Bobby Vinton when we had a pub in Spain. I just really liked watching the adults drinking and chatting to that tune.

Has the pub been caught up in the unstoppable spread of London gentrification?

Biig Piig: Not really you know! It’s a real time capsule. Dad still only plays those tracks, and most of the guys that come to drink are like family at this stage. We still have lock-ins, and the prices are relatively (similar). It’s a real special place, I hope it never changes.

You used to work as a poker dealer. Has that been helpful in sussing out when someone in the music industry is bullshitting you?

Biig Piig: Maybe. I haven’t thought about it like that. 90 per cent of the time I work on intuition on character first, and then watch what techniques they’ve used with other acts they’ve worked with. I think it’s just important to remember that anyone you bring on board is essentially helping you build your vision. Everyone needs to have trust and should understand the bigger picture might take some time to happen, but if they believe in it they won’t question your motives and if you’re working with the right people you won’t have to question theirs. I haven’t had any conversations about signing to any labels yet, but if that comes about, I’ll be going through the same steps if it feels right.

How would you describe your style?

Biig Piig: I think I’m pretty laid back. A tracksuit or big trousers and a top, sometimes something fancier.

“When you’re young in a city like London things can seem really intense and fast, it can be hard to see things clearly in the rush of it all” – Biig Piig

You’re part of the NINE8 collective. Why do you think you fit in so well with them creatively? And how do you keep track of all 15 members?

Biig Piig: I think the great thing about NINE8 is that we’re all so different as individuals, and that shines through in the art and the music. Everyone has their own unique flow and style, we collaborate and it’s like a cocktail of that, it’s ace. As for keeping track of everyone, we meet up a lot through the week. The music board in particular are always doing something, whether it be writing, playing, or just hanging out.

‘Biig Piig’ is a name taken from a pizza menu. What sort of pizza was it, and what does it say about you?

Biig Piig: It was a pizza that had every kind of meat on it. It was gross, but it did the job – I’m a vegetarian now. I think the name ‘Biig Piig’ made a mark and felt like I fit it pretty easily. It puts no pressure on me to be a certain way – I can be a mess, and I can also be cute and put together. I don’t feel like it limits me in any way. Just feels right.

Tell us about the new short film you’ve made.

Biig Piig: On this short short film I worked with the fellas who did the video for ‘Crush’n’. They’re called Forever Films, they’re two 20-year-old guys from Brighton and they’re awesome at understanding an artist’s aesthetic. The video is only five minutes long and it’s very emotional, but I feel like I was very emotional at 17. It’s supposed to be almost like the character I play (called ‘Fran’) is looking back and retracing events, listening back to phone calls that took place after a breakup, not dealing with everything very well, partying a lot, and trying to make sense of it at all. I think when you’re young in a city like London things can seem really intense and fast, it can be hard to see things clearly in the rush of it all. Snippets of the EP tracks run throughout the film.

Big Fan of the Sesh is the first in a trilogy of EPs. What are the other two parts about?

Biig Piig: I wanted each EP to display a key time in my life that I feel made me the who I am now. EP2 is focused on a time where I was working super hard at something I wasn’t passionate about, and how time flies by too quick to be doing that. EP3 is still in the works of figuring out what story I’d like to tell.

What do you think ‘the sesh’ – as a concept, as a way of life – says about young people and the times we live in?

Biig Piig: I think it means different things in Ireland than it does in the UK. It made me sort of nervous to title it Big Fan of the Sesh because I feel like in the UK ‘the sesh’ is really associated with ‘lad culture’, whereas when I’m back in Ireland I see ‘the sesh’ or ‘a session’ used in a way to describe what it’s like when I see the people I love and get to spend some time with them. Drinks are involved, but it’s less about getting smashed and more about that feeling of home.

What’s the last dream you remember?

Biig Piig: I’ve just finished watching The Defiant Ones on Netflix (and) I dreamt that I was on holiday with Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine in a penthouse and I was going through my set in front of them, but I couldn’t get all of the words out and Jimmy got mad. I can’t remember the rest of it. We were peeling a load of oranges at some point.

Biig Piig plays London’s Electrowerkz on April 17