As any K-Pop idol will attest, being multi-lingual is a pretty good tool to have in your Gen-Z pop kit. These days, western audiences are widening their horizons, embracing a wave of new artists who sing across languages. Yet, for Jess Smyth, aka Biig Piig, it’s mere part and parcel of a childhood that saw her move from Ireland to Spain and back to London, allowing her to embody a wealth of different cultures in her music.
“Most of my listeners are in Central and South America, which is bizarre but super cool, that music can travel like that. Most of the time, Spanish just comes out of me the same way it would writing in English. But then there’ll be other times where I want to say something that I’m worried someone I like is going to hear, so I’ll put it in Spanish in the hope that they won’t understand it. I mean, unless they use Google Translate, and they’re probably not going to be bothered are they?”
Jess might be surprised at just how many of her admirers may resort to a quick Duolingo lesson in an attempt to decipher her mind, however. Having drawn attention with 2018’s excellently-titled ‘Big Fan of the Sesh’ EP, she’s steadily released small projects that tap into the ever-growing lo-fi, bedroom rap scene, dashing it through with her own unique sense of space and place. Newest EP ‘No Place For Patience’ takes her studio experiments to glorious heights, throwing around elements of neo-soul in its understated, late-night production. For a self-confessed people person, her music is noticeably laid-back in nature: how did such an extrovert end up sounding so intimate?
“When I moved back to London at 14 I felt really isolated - I didn’t know anyone or really talk to anyone for like, six months, so the only way I could communicate was by writing and talking to myself,” she explains. “As much as I feel really connected to other people and I always love chatting, when it comes to writing tunes, it’s always more of a diary. I’m pretty bad at expressing my emotions a lot of the time, especially with people I’m in a relationship with. I’m a bit of a dick sometimes, I’m not going to lie! I can be a bit like, ‘Oh you’re my whole world’ and then just get scared and run away, but with tunes I can be honest about everything.”
“Most of the time, Spanish just comes out of me the same way it would writing in English.”
Whether she’s nattering away ten-to-the-dozen about someone cool she met recently or filling us in on all the jobs she’s had before settling on music (“I’ve done bar work, charity fundraising, poker dealing, I was a nanny in Switzerland for a month or two… I’m really shit with normal jobs”), Jess is endlessly funny and disarmingly open, slang and swears peppering her speedy Irish patter. Her lack of filter makes her infinitely likeable, as does her desire to collaborate, both within her London “squad”, the Nine8 collective, and beyond.
“I honestly don’t know how solo artists tour completely on their own - I’d literally drive myself mad,” she laughs. “Nine8 is all people of a similar age and ethos creating a safe space to ask questions and help each other out. This industry moves so quickly and you can end up feeling a bit lost; everything feels like you have to prove yourself all the time, so to have a family and a base who don’t care whether something is successful or not is great.”
While the debut album might be a little way off, Jess isn’t short of projects to keep her busy. Determined not to re-use any material that’s already been released, she’s currently trying to avoid “drawing blood from a stone”. Meanwhile, her energies are being thrown into a different audio project entirely.
“I’m working on a podcast of kids stories, but told in ways that make them aware of important issues like climate change and immigration,” she explains, getting giddy. “It’s going to be called Story On The Farm, and I’m going to hopefully be able to get other musicians in to voice some of the characters. We’re only on the first draft, but the early recordings are sounding good, so we’ll see. I’d also really like to make some clothes – nothing high fashion or anything, just some cool t-shirts with printing and embroidery. Y’know, I’m just thinking aloud, but maybe I could release a line of pyjamas to go with the storytime podcast. Lemme just write that down, that’s actually a pretty sick idea.” She rummages around for a pen, pausing as she scribbles furiously. “Oh my god, yes. Here we go lads! It’s all starting here!” A podcast, pyjama line and a debut album, all inside of a year? That’ll do pig, that’ll do.
As featured in the December 2019 / January 2020 issue of DIY, out now.