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Biig Piig and the Art of Storytelling

The NiNE8 member talks us through finding meaning in her songwriting process.

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22-year-old Irish-born Londoner Biig Piig a.k.a Jess Smyth, is a person who speaks in a manner beyond her years. It’s a compelling attribute yet also one that clearly explains the contemplative nature of her songwriting. As if tailored just for you, her lyrics touch subtly on topics that band together the thoughts of a generation coming-of-age, all the while telling Smyth’s own personal story. An interesting one at that.

Traversing a nomadic upbringing, Biig Piig’s live-in stints in Ireland, Spain and London spurred the intertwining of Spanish and English in her smooth-toned rap, at moments her soft-irish accent peeking out between her words. Settled now in London, Biig Piig’s career was sparked in the meeting of best friend Ava Laurel, or better known as Lava La Rue, which propelled the creation of the NiNE8 collective, a group of young creatives circling the globes of music, fashion and filmmaking. 

Now, gaining quick momentum over the last two years, Biig Piig has mountaineered world renowned platforms such as COLOURS, and in the process dropped triumphant releases including her 3 EP’s; Big Fan of the Sesh Vol. 1, A World without Snooze Vol. 2 and then No Place for Patience Vol. 3, described by her as a, “bit of a diary”. Her latest drop, double release ‘Oh No’ and ‘Liah’r’, continue to play on themes that have become popular avenues of exploration for her; the tribulations of young love, self-discovery and coming to terms with the past, and set the stage for her upcoming single ‘Feels Right’, to be released in November.

Speaking with an openness you’d expect of the introspective songwriter, Biig Piig sat down with us across the infamous Zoom to talk storytelling lyrics, learning things in growing up and meeting Slowthai.

Your music is often described as lo-fi or jazz-lounge. Why did you decide to go along that avenue of sound?
So, initially the way that I started making music was when I went to a party that my friend was having after a show. There was a cypher going on and I’d never really seen that happen before. That’s when we were about 16. It felt so good to be able to free flow over those kinds of beats, they were mostly beats that you find online, so we would take the vocals off these old beats and just flow on top of them. Then I started to want to release music that I’d written over these beats and that was before I realized that there were a bunch of other producers up for collaboration. So I would just take them off youtube and put them on SoundCloud with my stuff on top of it. Then a few producers on Soundcloud that I started to find that I really liked the sound of, I just messaged them. Yeah, it just kind of happened that way I guess.

It was just the organic sound that came out?
Yeah, I think it was just something that drew me in and I don’t know what it is about the sound. I think it’s just the way it feels, like there’s not so much going on, there’s a lot of room for thought, but at the same time the emotion of the track is still prominent, you know what I mean, so I feel like that was the thing that drew me in.

You have a nice way of storytelling and I think that’s something that’s prominent throughout your music, even with your art, for example, the short films that go aside your EPs. Do you think storytelling is an important part of your process when it comes to writing music?
Yeah 100%, I work a little bit differently now than I did before. Before it would always be a case of listening to beats and if something clicks and something works then you would just write and free-write for ages. You kinda just work yourself out a little bit. Like afterwards and after I finished writing I’d look back on it and think that makes so much sense, that’s why I was like that, you know what I mean. So it’s cool in that way that it makes you discover yourself and touch on things that you don’t even realize are subconsciously affecting you. And then recently, it kind of depends. If I write alone I’ll write like that, and then if I write in the studio, I’ll take the mic and free flow over until I find something that sounds like a word that I wanna use. I feel like there’s more structure in the studio recently. But yeah, that’s kind of how I work now.

And your music covers some pretty personal themes. Is it ever hard to wear your heart on your sleeve when you’re putting out such – maybe it’s open for interpretation – but pretty personal content?
No massively, I feel like there’s a couple of tunes in particular that I find playing live really difficult but in a way that I think is good. But yeah there are definitely ones that still hit a bit of a raw space and it feels shit to reopen that again. 

Your 3 EPs seem like perfect examples of your storytelling ability and wearing your heart on your sleeve. There’s Big Fan of the Sesh Vol. 1, A World without Snooze Vol. 2 and then No Place for Patience Vol. 3. Were you always planning on doing three in a story-like way?
Yeah definitely! I mean initially, I’m a person that has a load of ideas and then when it actually comes down to doing it I’m like, “well, we could do that or we could do all these other ideas”, you know what I mean, I’m not very good at putting myself down and actually being like, “nup, I’m sticking to this plan”. So when it came to the 3 EPs, initially I wanted three of them, definitely wanted three of them, because I wanted them to be about myself and the different sides of myself rather than different stages of my life, but it just ended up being that I wrote them at different years and those years were big years in general. I feel like it was probably just the age that I was at and the things that were going on in my life, and it just kind of ended up being a bit of a diary instead of thought out, trying to explain different angles.

Yeah definitely, from listening to them it’s almost like listening to you grow up over the 3 EPS. I think the first one you kind of start off as – maybe hopeless is the wrong word – but maybe with a want to escape, and then number three your coming into yourself  and your more self assured, or at least that’s what I got out of it. How much of a role do you think moving from teenagehood to adulthood has on the inspiration for young artists in their music, or at least for you personally?
Yeah, I think it’s huge. From the years of like 14/15/16/17 all the way to 25, I think those years are so important and they’re literally the years that you’ll maybe fall in love or try and understand what that is. They’re the years that you’re just curious about everything, and are just experiencing certain things for the first time. Yeah, those years from maybe 15 to like 20, those years are so transformative. What do you think?

Definitely, I feel like I’ve had a lot of realizations in my early 20’s, and looking back on things that happened to me as a teenager I’ve been like, “ah, that’s what that meant”, now that I have a deeper understanding of things. Do you think going into music has helped you realize those changes through writing down those thoughts? I think you may have mentioned that a bit before.
Yeah, no definitely, 100%. The thing is I started writing music before I started releasing music when I moved to London when I was about 14, and I didn’t go to school for ages and it just felt like this thing of being isolated and not knowing anyone and you’re kind of stuck in this weird situation. It was the only way that I could communicate with anything and I just feel like, especially talking about those transformative years, a lot of people don’t feel like they can talk about what they’re going through or talk to people about it. That’s why music kind of comes into the picture and you’re like, “Well, if I put it in a song, it doesn’t sound as sad” or, “It doesn’t feel as obvious”, and it definitely helps.

So I know Ava, or Lava La Rue, has played a massive role in igniting your music career. How has your relationship influenced you and your music since she started inviting you to those cyphers?
So when we were friends in college we’d make music sometimes. It was a lot more like we’d play instruments and stuff, it was a great crack. Then I left school, met this fella, and that was really stupid, and then went down a bit of a fucking rabbit hole with it. Then she literally like – I don’t know what I’d do without her at all, we have this relationship where whenever somethings kind of slipping with one or the other we’ll just catch each other, you know what I mean, and she just caught me at that point when it could have just gone so badly and brought me to that cypher. I just feel like she’s changed everything and then also the NiNE8 collective, we started that up, and that was just to have people close and around all the time that are also creatives. She created that space and I think that was just incredible as well. She’s in every part of everything I did at the beginning.

I was watching your video for SWITCH and I was thinking it looked like the story of how Ava whisked you away and saved you with music, and took you to the NiNE8 collective. Is that kind of what it was?
[Laughs] Kind of, I mean it was supposed to be more about these controlling officials I suppose, like government officials or whatever, but no, from the video she saved me and then we had this car chase with NiNE8 and we were able to escape them, which was good. Yeah, yeah it was pretty much that.

Going back to the NiNE8 collective, I think a reason groups like that are really popular — it’s like with Odd Future as well — is because you see a bunch of kids fucking around and making things, and people are really attracted to that. What’s it like being a part of something like that, something so familial?
I love it! I feel like it’s something, especially in the music industry, that is such a blessing to have because no matter how confused you get about certain things or if there’s so many peoples opinions, you know you’ve always got your people. You can just be like, “Hey, am I being crazy”, and they’ll always be honest and always be the way we always have been. It’s just the fact that we actually just have each other’s backs, so that really makes a difference. I’m a fucking paranoid person as well, so when I start going off the rails at certain things, and then we go and see each other, have a session or just hang out or whatever, they’re just like, “what is up? Talk to us”.

They’ll just pull you back down to earth?
Yeah, a bit. They’re just good fun as well.

I know you moved around a lot as a kid, I did too. When you move around it’s easy to adapt but sometimes hard to make deep connections. Do you think with NiNE8 you’ve found a place where you can just stop and make something, and be creative? Or do you ever have an urge to keep moving, or make music somewhere else?
Not really. With NiNE8 Collective, when we’re all in the room that’s when we’ll all work together and then sometimes I’ll work with Lloyd, or whoever else. Then on my individual stuff I’ll work separately with other people, so no, I never feel an urge to like change anything because it feels like a capsule…

Like it’s just clicked?
Yeah, exactly. And it is that something of just finding a home with it. You just kind of feel like it’s something that’s a constant which is really rare.

So I was listening to a podcast you did and you were talking about being in the video for Slowthai’s ‘Doorman’. I looked it up, because I’m a massive fan of Slowthai, and you were in there for a second puffing a cig outside the club. What was it like working with him? Was he as high energy as he seems?
Yeah, super high energy but he’s great! Him and Louis, who I think is his cousin, who does his videos as well, is just incredible. The way that they work together is just amazing. He’s just a funny guy, he’s sound. That video shoot was fun. It was pretty last minute to be fair, they just gave us a shout the day before and they were just like, “do you wanna come down?” and I was like, “yeah, grand”. I didn’t really know him that well as well but it was nice.

He must have just thought you were cool.
Well that would be cool [laughs].

And then with your new single ‘Don’t Turn Around’, you worked with JD Reid who’s one of Slowthai’s producers or works pretty closely with him. What was it like working with him and how did ‘Don’t Turn Around’ come to fruition?
Yeah, we’ve worked on things before together. We work together a lot. He’s someone that I kind of just click with the same way where it feels like we just know each other. He just knows my faces. We were talking about it the other day cause he was at this video shoot I was at two days ago. He was chatting about it and we were talking to someone else about our working relationship, and he was like, “we just know what makes each other tick now. When she pulls a sly face then I know to like change it up, or if I do this then she knows to like-”, it’s just like we’re starting to communicate without words which is fun. And then with ‘Don’t Turn Around’ he had this sample and he was so excited for it, he was like, “I actually can’t wait to show you it” and I was like, “yeah, sweet”. So I came in and he showed me the original which was the Claudja Barry sample, and instantly it makes you kind of bop and I was like, “this is sick” and he was like, “yeah do you recognize it?” And I was like, “not really”. So I just grabbed the mic and started to make ideas over it. I think there was one part of it that we found hard to unlock. Well, I found it hard to unlock, he was easy with the production of the beat. He just kind of flew off it but there was one little bit where I just had to keep going back to, but we unlocked it at some point.

I was watching the behind-the-scenes for the video as well. And it seems everyone that was working on it was super young, and were close friends, was that what the connection was like on set?
Yeah, Bedroom are the guys that did the video for that. They worked with me and NiNE8 in a shoot about 4 years ago when they were kind of starting out, and they’ve just done incredible stuff since. So it was really, really exciting to work with them again at a different stage of where we were all in, cause they were only like 20 years old, but they’re just incredible. It was such a pleasure to work with them. When it came to the people that were on set, and the people that were in the video – I’d just moved into this house after a breakup and I was thirsting for any kind of wholesome home. This house has been an absolute haven. Initially there were two girls when I moved in and they were so sweet, so we just got on like a house on fire. Then the first week I moved in, I was like, “you wanna come to a video” and they were like, “okay”. So we all went up, and Lloyd (Mac Wetha) was there and Lorenzo from NiNE8, and then Lydia, my old school friend.

Do you have much creative freedom on those sets or do you just leave it up to the people running it?
So on set I wouldn’t be touching anything. What usually happens is I’ll be writing down my ideas for the video that I’ve got for the track, initial ideas and then certain things that I really want in it. Then we’ll go put it out there and see if anyone wants to work on it. If there’s a specific director or team that I wanna work with then I message them directly and then they’ll come back with a treatment around the idea or a treatment around a mood board or whatever else. Then you go back and forth with the ideas to where we’re happy with it and then yeah, shoot day happens. They were great though! Bedroom are really, really easy to work with, cause I was kind of confused, I was like, “I don’t really know”, and then we were on a call and on the call I was like, “I kind of want a barbie house or something” and they were like, “sick, we can work with that” and I was like, “okay, cool” and we just kind of snowballed off one another in that way. So that was really good and I’m really happy with how it came out to be fair.

I feel like it’s always better like that because then everything seems so much more personal or less manufactured.
Yeah, and I mean it was the first time that I was properly dressed up for a shoot as well.

In that big, pink fluffy robe?
[laughs] Yeah, and it was only cause I was like it needs to look like a fairytale rather than real life, but yeah it was so weird because I don’t wear dresses at all so I just felt really funny in it but it came out really nice.

And you recently did an online livestream performance at the London Moth Club. What was your approach to something like that? Was it hard going from performing to crowds to just performing for a camera?
Yeah, super awkward. I can’t lie to you, it was super awkward. It was amazing during songs and it felt like you were almost back on stage, and then the song would finish and it would just be like this awkward, “alright, well that was that song”. It was really fun to be fair and I was really glad to be in a venue again and to do something live, though there wasn’t an audience it felt good to even have a section of that back, but yeah I really fucking miss shows so much.

Did you learn anything new going into it?
I think so, I think I was like let’s strip it down and make it as real as we can because right now I want to make them feel like they’re in the room rather than a different set. If I was to do another one I think I would do it differently just thinking about the set design and all of that. Who was it recently that did one, I think it was Summer Walker, and it was just like ‘wow,’ it really made me think about things. And then also not playing shows forever has 100% changed my thinking about how I wanna do my shows after everything, definitely. I want the energy to be lifted up.

So one of the things that kind of started your career was going on Colours, and you didn’t really know what that was at the time, and now you’re signed to the label RCA. How do you think you’ve changed between then and now, or within the last two years?
Changed in the last two years? I think within the last two years, I mean personally, I think that bleeds into everything else, I think I’ve really started to find a sense of self and I’m just more firm with my decision making. I think I’m just a lot more confident with, “you know what, if you don’t want to do that, just say you don’t want to do that”, you know what I mean, I feel like there’s a lot less questioning on my side, but I don’t know if it’s just growing up and relationships changing that you get that from, or whether it’s moving a bit more into the music industry. If you don’t know what you want to do everyone can get confused, so yeah, just a stronger sense of self than I did two years ago, just in every sense, work and music, all of it.

Can we expect your debut album soon? Or what’s kind of in the future for you?
So I’ve got a good few things coming this year and next year. The album I’ve been working on ‘cause I want to get it right, but no idea on the date on that yet.

Have you thought of any titles?
Yeah but I dunno if I should say [laughs] cause I’m still thinking about it. What if I say it and I don’t like it? But I’ve got a title in mind and I feel like it fits the music and that whole world that is kind of carved out in the making of it right now.

Follow Biig Piig here for more and check out her latest release ‘Oh No/Liahr’ below.

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