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Nomadic music-maker Jess Smyth—better known as the rapper and singer Biig Piig—is deeply connected to the music she makes, with her heady jazz aroma giving off sweet nostalgia.
Silencing background noise, Jess’ voice focuses the mind, awash with a refreshing clarity: tinged with a kind of subtle melancholy, her sing-song lyrics are understated and her sentiments feel profound. Connecting with her creative community NINE8 via close friend and MC Lava La Rue, Ireland native Jess has lived amongst eclectic groups of creatives throughout her whole life. From her childhood spent in Spain and across London and Ireland—singing in Spanish and speaking with an Irish-London lilt—all vibes on record feel unique and authentic, while her resilience swims alongside a beautiful fragility as she communicates her past and present emotional pains.
Demonstrating a poetic maturity beyond her years, the internal monologues Biig Piig explores on the daily translate with epic fluidity, track to track, while influences such as Patti Smith and Amy Winehouse drift in and out of her DIY productions. Headlining her own tour across Europe after a successful summer of festival appearances and EP releases, Jess opens up to Complex about her hopes—and fears—for the music.
Where are you living at the moment?
White City. I moved from Peckham two or three weeks ago. My mum runs a hostel here so I’m staying here for now. I wanted to move somewhere cheaper and easy-going; I’ll just see how it goes, and then I’ll make a decision where I want to live after the tour. I’m not really a homebody, if I’m honest: I like being out and about. I used to have a thing where I couldn’t write if I was outside of my room, but I’ve learned to adapt that when I’m on tour. I get itchy feet after a few months in jobs, relationships, my home. I’m writing most of the new stuff in studios in sessions, not outside of the studio. When I’m with people who are making the beat, I like to keep everything all in one place mentally.
How changed do you feel by your experience of living in London?
I feel like you really have to know yourself well living in any city or you can quickly become isolated. There comes a point when you just put yourself out there because you can’t second-guess situations, you just have to make connections. I am so lucky to have my group of friends; finding familiar communities is sick. I think if you put yourself out there, you will draw similar people towards you.
Your music feels very intimate, especially on your new EP No Place For Patience, Vol. 3 EP. Is that the vibe you were going for?
When you write tunes sometimes, it feels like you can’t communicate certain feelings to yourself and other people until you write it down. I will get deep in writing and just note it all down, then a few days later I’ll read it all back. And that’s when I understand what I was writing about. It’s a reflective cycle—it lets you know yourself a bit more. The chance to get to perform the music and connect with strangers who feel a similar type of way is just amazing.
I really hope with this EP, it’s like a moment to be able to reflect the growth through the three EPs. I hope that people that listen to it feel a similar way that I do releasing it—like a resolve to a long-going situation, a raw end to a story I felt I couldn’t put behind me for a long time.
Success feels close to the next failure for me, and that’s daunting when I write really personal songs—I can be in a dark place for a week while I’m conjuring those emotions.
I identified with how empowering you find your own emotions. How overwhelming does the process of songwriting feel for you?
Things can be going really well—connecting with the sentiments, the emotions—then, out of nowhere, you start to feel insecure that you’ll make a wrong move or express a part of yourself that people won’t like. Success feels close to the next failure for me and that’s daunting when I write really personal songs—I can be in a dark place for a week while I’m conjuring those emotions. Playing my music live can affect me profoundly. A lot of my songs are about unresolved issues—when I wrote them, I wasn’t it a good place, so playing them live puts you back into a difficult headspace. Even if the show goes great performing that material, you focus on the negativity and hurt you lived back at the time you experienced it originally. It’s like being on loop with yourself. The crowd’s response does validate me, especially when it comes to thinking what somewhere in the world, some kid I might not ever meet knows me in this intimate way. It’s like the third dimension: when people in different worlds share the same experiences and feelings.
Every element of your sound and music feels like time just spent hanging out with a mate—nothing feels posed or manufactured.
I’m so shit with social media... I’ve been told off so many times! I just don’t know how to portray myself outside of who I truly am. I don’t want to feel untouchable. Some people use social media to portray themselves as artists and amplify their art and day-to-day life. It’s sick when people go about social media like a project, but I just don’t have the patience for that.
You open up about relationships when you are writing—are you happier in a relationship?
It’s great when you’re happy in your relationship, but that doesn’t happen too often. Right now, I’m in a space where I want to see what happens naturally and not pursue being single or in a relationship—just feeling like whatever happens, happens. I’m just chilling. Right now is the right time to be alone. When you’re in a relationship, you don’t always process things right away and so being alone is important when reflecting on what has happened in previous relationships. I think having those thoughts and revisiting those memories is important to process before you dive right into the next thing. When you pressure yourself to be in a relationship, you compromise, and you are forced to give up elements of yourself. I think sometimes people use a relationship as a personality trait, but I have date nights with myself! I pamper myself and watch films. Sometimes friendships can be as influential in relationships.
You’ve just come off your first European tour—how did you find that experience?
It was crazy! I loved it so much. Seeing people come out from other cities and respond the way they did was incredible, and it just reminded me that music is so powerful. Right now with social media, everything can feel kind of distant, so to see it translate and engage in real life was beautiful. I honestly can’t wait to go again... I could stay on tour forever.
You’re obviously used to collaborating with people having been in NINE8, but outside of that collective, which artists would you want to work with on some music?
I know this is a boring answer, but I never like to say who I want to work with in the future because I feel like I’ll jinx it [laughs]. If it’s meant to be, it will be, and I guess we’ll see if it ever does.