Biig Piig’s wearing her heart on her sleeve
Jess Smyth has charmed the likes of Billie Eilish with her soothing neo-soul. The Irish singer’s new track Switch proves she can turn it up a notch.
At first, Biig Piig’s new single wasn’t political. “I thought when I was writing it that it was about a relationship,” the 22-year-old musician born Jess Smyth tells me. “But then I was like ‘actually nah, it definitely isn’t!’ It’s that same hate but just for something else.”
The new tune, Switch, speaks to the helplessness so many of us felt after December’s election: “When did we get lost? Now it all comes down to us” she sings, as the beat gains intensity beneath her voice. “Things are so turbulent and there’s so much anxiety that’s around with Trump and Boris and shit – if it can change someone’s mind on something or console something I think that’s really cool.”
Biig Piig’s proved she’s truly capable of consoling anxieties. Name-checked by Billie Eilish as her favourite music to relax to, her easygoing sound and relatable, bilingual lyrics are gradually increasing her fanbase (last year, she signed a major label deal with RCA). But Switch is a departure from the laid-back pace of her previous tracks, with a whirring bassline building into a drum’n’bass banger.
It’s hard to pin one genre on Biig Piig. Her sound fluctuates between the folk music she grew up playing, neo-soul and the alternative hip-hop with which her collective NiNE8 have made their name – combining silky vocals often sung in Spanish (she’s fluent) with warm, dreamy beats.
Her background influenced her eclectic sound – she was born in Cork, Ireland before moving to Spain, where her parents ran an Irish pub, and she eventually ended up at sixth form college in south west London. It was here she met Oli Maharajh (Bone Slim), Lloyd Macdonald (Mac Wetha) and Aiwa Laurel (Lava La Rue), who would go on to form NiNE8 (named after their shared birth year 1998). Oh, and if you’re wondering about the name, it’s a joke from a drunken night that stuck – inspired by a pizza menu.
Despite the NiNE8 members shooting off in their own directions (other members include Nayana IZ, Nige, L!BAAN, LORENZORSV and Kxrn), the collective are still finding the time to connect with each other. “Last month we had two weeks straight in the studio, which was really nice, cos I feel like we haven’t actually made stuff in ages. Being in a space where there isn’t any judgement, where you can be like “what do you think of that?” and they’ll tell you honestly, is sick. And working on each other’s projects just gives you a different feel for understanding each other, as artists as well as people, which has been cool. We’ve learnt a lot from each other.”
We’ve met on a rainy, pre-lockdown, evening in Hackney, and Smyth is back in the studio, this time with LA based producer Gianluca Buccellati. “Luca’s a genius,” she says, after playing me a track they’re working on. Buccellati is just as enthusiastic: “After we did the second day I was running out to tell my friends, like ‘you guys have no idea what we made these past two days!’ I walked into this random studio I’d never been to before, and I had some beats, and immediately she just sang over it, she had the whole song figured out.”
“That’s my favourite way to work — I just grab the mic and flow off it,” Smyth says. “I usually write there in the room, just vomit all my feelings onto a page.” The songs she’s released so far attest to that rawness, delivering moments of vulnerability which catch you off guard. “Did she break your heart? Aren’t you glad she did?” she sings in Pingu, seemingly referring to herself in third person, consoling a lost love.
Alongside the session with Buccelatti, Smyth’s been experimenting in the studio with various producers, including some you’ve probably heard of. All this material is being created for the first Biig Piig full length. The project is “still very much in the making”, so don’t hold your breath. But while the songs will be carefully crafted, you’re guaranteed unfiltered emotion with Biig Piig. “I just put it out and hope for the best, like a fucking note in a bottle – just chuck it into the sea and see what happens!”