[Words by Samuel Conley. Photography by Oliver Vanes.]
Speaking with Biig Piig over the phone, it’s her attentiveness to our conversation that sticks with me the most after I hang up. While some interviews feel like a struggle, Jess Smyth (the name behind the Biig Piig moniker) is open, honest and self-evaluative. “I’m super fucking selective with what I put out,” Smyth says in a soft Irish lilt, going on to explain that if she’s not excited about listening to her own music in her free time then it doesn’t leave the studio. At a time when releasing a track can be as simple as having an mp3 recording and clicking a mouse, this level of quality control highlights a sense of deep self-care in terms of her artistry.
That selective attitude to her work is reflected visibly in Smyth’s output. Rising out of relevant obscurity early last year with the warm, retro-facing visuals for “crush’n”, the now West London-based artist burst onto the scene as a lo-fi cherub. Juxtaposing saccharine vocals with Dilla-esque productions that utilise piano loops, chimes and thumping bass, Smyth offers an endearing hip-hop inspired sound that’s starting to make all the right waves. Her initial release was followed with “Vice City”, a syrupy R&B trip that leaps between raps and vocal melodies. “I’ve been making tunes for time, making tunes aplenty,” Smyth declares in the opening lines – a statement that sits at odds with her release rate but which makes perfect sense after hearing in person how strictly she disciplines releases.
That attention to detail appears to be paying off. Smith’s latest drop, titled “Flirt”, merges a pounding boom bap beat with softly-tongued raps and a sugary hook that quickly becomes an ear-worm. It precedes the release of Big Fan Of The Sesh, Vol.1. – Smyth’s imminent debut EP. Though the twenty-year-old artist only has a few tracks on Spotify, together they've amassed over a million and a half streams and Smyth’s performance of “Vice City” for COLORS has two and a half million views. Running parallel to her solo path, Jess runs with Nine8 Collective – an energetic creative crew headed up by Lava La Rue. Thirsty for more details, we managed to squeeze in some time with Smyth in the midst of hectic planning for her first show and the upcoming EP.
When did you realise you wanted to start taking music seriously?
Biig Piig: When I went to college. Beforehand, I had gone to an all-girls Catholic school, which was super strict, and I never got along with anyone there, really. So then I went to college and everyone was fucking mad! I finally felt like I had found my people. I kind of stopped doing music for a couple months and focused on meeting people that were like me. That’s where I met Ava (Lava La Rue) and Lloyd, my producer (Mac Weather). I met them at a music tech course, and then Ava invited me out to some party when I was about 17. They were all having a cypher there, jumping on different beats, and I’d never seen the whole cypher thing happen before. I had never been opened up to that world. I gripped the mic at some point and it just felt so good. I knew it was what I had to do.
How did your first time on the mic go?
Biig Piig: I was fucked to be fair. I was off my tits – absolutely in another world, but I think that freestyle cypher was one of the best songs I’ve ever done. Everyone was like ‘Fuuuuuck’, but no one recorded it! It’s gone now, it’s so bad! Lloyd came over and said, ‘We have to get in the studio.’ At first, I was quite nervous and apprehensive to do it. With the genre of hip hop, in general, I think you need to know a lot about it before you dive into it properly. Hip hop was a mad new world for me. I’d never really left my bubble of making music with a guitar. Things followed through it was fine – my friends helped me a lot so it was grand.
What’s your creative process like?
Biig Piig: I’m super fucking selective – if I don’t like it and I don’t want to listen to it then I’m not going to put it out. I’ve got so many tracks going on. When we’re finished, my producer is like ‘Sick. You should release it’, and I’m like ‘I’m not ready for that yet!’ It’s coming in little bits and bobs – introducing myself slowly is the way I want to do it.
So, how do you know when a track is ready?
Biig Piig: Ahh man, you just know. It might sound really egotistical, but I personally know a track is ready when I listen to it in my spare time. It’s about being a fan of your own music and then being like, ‘This is ready. Let’s put it out now’. When you’re impatient and you want to put it out so badly – that’s when a track is ready.
What can you tell us about the EP to whet our appetites?
Biig Piig: They are all new songs, apart from one track that was on SoundCloud ages ago because it suited the project and suited the concept and whole story I was trying to tell. It’s all fresh stuff otherwise. I don’t really want to release anything twice. Ever. I think it’s really important to just keep moving and not cling on to things that you’ve already released and had success with. The EP is called Big Fan Of The Sesh and the whole concept is running through the way I saw London when I was growing up. I put it into a character. Her name is Fran. She’s just come out of a long-term relationship and doesn’t really know how to cope with it, so she parties a lot. With the visuals, I wanted to capture that nostalgic feeling of when you’re young and you’re out there but you don’t really know what you’re doing.
The upcoming show is your debut solo performance, right?
Biig Piig: Yeah – first time in London launching the whole thing. I am excited but I’m fucking nervous too! It’s weird because you build up to it for so long that you’re like ‘Shit!’ I’m mad excited though – playing live obviously brings it back to when I was younger. It’s going to have that same feeling again, I think. I’ve done a couple performances with Nine8 already back when we were starting out but I’ve kind of been holding back because I want to get this set properly ready and cement it. When I’m doing it with Nine8 we’re doing it with backing beats and you’re just on vocals, but I want this one to be more of a live setting to make it a little bit more real.
Do you feel you have much of a connection with your Irish roots? What’s the musical community like back at home?
Biig Piig: I go back there all the time. I was in Dublin only last week. I grew up there from when I was 12 to when I was 14 or 15. They just treat you as part of a big family there straight away, which is something I miss, especially living in a big city. The musical community is very small right now – it’s only just starting to brew. In Ireland, I think there’s this thing of like, not shame exactly, but to do music, especially if you’re from a small town, you’d be scared shitless to release any music. Everyone’s watching you and everyone’s like, ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ There’s this thing, which is quite sad, but when it comes to the Irish hip hop community, or any other group, they sometimes kind of just stay in Ireland and can't always branch out much. Hopefully, that will change because there's mad talent there. It's just about it being heard outside of Ireland.
What’s next for Biig Piig?
Biig Piig: To play anywhere is a fucking pleasure. I’m excited for any gig. I’d love to branch out and try Japan and the US at some point. Anywhere in Europe would be sick. I’ve tried various jobs, but I fucking suck at everything else! I can’t stick it out for too long. Music is something I’ve been doing, and it’s still super young, but it’s one of those things where if I didn’t have it, I don’t know what I’d be doing.
See Biig Piig at Electrowerkz on April 17. Tickets here.