What does home mean to you? Is it a place, or people? A dialect, perhaps? Something that reminds you of where you came from. To Jess Smyth – or how you will get to know her, neo-soul artist Biig Piig – home has become equivalent with music.
Starting out young, Jess originally made music not for others but solely for herself. “When I was about 14, I came over to London, and I didn’t have a school, so I was stuck in my room for a long time. I didn’t know anyone to hang out with, so I picked up a guitar and started making tunes to keep myself company.”
But it didn’t take long for her to go out and share her talent with the world. “I remember going to my first open mic and doing my tunes; I made a bunch of friends. I started songwriting around then and found this community of people that I enjoyed hanging out with.”
Born in Cork, Ireland, Jess spent most of her childhood and early teens in Spain. In fact, despite speaking English at home, Spanish was the first language she learned to read and write. But it wasn’t meant to last; after eight years in the sun, her family decided to move back to Ireland, and at the age of 14, Jess had to pack up again, this time moving to London. A lot of settling in and having to say goodbye again, certainly enough for a lifetime. But it didn’t make her bitter. “After a while, you get used to being the person no one knows. You become your own party; wherever you go, you’re like, ‘I’ll hang just out with myself’.”
Jess learned to be independent, a skill that many people struggle with; but as with everything, there are two sides to this coin. “In a way, it was one of the best things because I can go off and do whatever I like. I’m not scared about meeting new people. I love meeting new groups and getting to know their stories. The only downside to it is I do find that whenever things get too close or too intense, I get very emotionally attached and then can very easily detach for some reason.”
An issue that can make it hard to form deep and meaningful friendships. But, luckily, as Jess puts it: “It doesn’t matter where you are, you’ll always find your people. They’ll find you.” For Biig Piig, those people were always connected to music. Specifically, Lava La Rue and the other members of her collective NiNE8 – a bunch of creative minds who create everything from music to cover art and fashion.
Having grown up in Spain, the culture and language massively influence Jess’s music and songwriting, especially notable when she decides to add a verse in Spanish. “Spanish for me is a nice tool because whenever I feel like I need to say something either directly to the person that the song is about or about a situation that I don’t feel I have the confidence to say in English. When there’s something I want to say, but I don’t want that person to know, I just say it in Spanish. I feel like the stuff I say in Spanish is more vulnerable compared to English. It’s kind of like a weird code, I guess.”
It’s a tool that every now and then has been rewarded with an irritated direct message when someone manages to decipher the code and recognises themselves as the subject of one of her songs. But it’s not just the language that pays tribute to the country of her past. Biig Piig’s music is the kind that’s best listened to on long car rides or hanging out with your friends, whenever you feel like escaping the hectic sounds of the world for a little while. Endlessly soulful and cool with big beats and tranquil melodies that make all stress disappear. Listening to her latest track ‘Sunny’, if you close your eyes, you can practically feel the soft, warm Mediterranean breeze and hear the crashing of waves against the shore.
Her first EP ‘Big Fan of The Sesh, Vol. 1’, released last year, was accompanied by a short film that Jess shot herself. “I feel like it’s really important for me, visually, to have everything explained. I don’t know what it is, but when I write tracks, sometimes, I see the video before I see the end of the song. Especially with these three EPs, they were all such important stages in my life that I feel like I need to have those visualised as well.”
Right now, Jess is gearing up for the release of her third EP ‘No Place For Patience’, and it’s an important one for her personally because it reflects all the lessons she has learned in the last few years, often the hard way. “The last two EPs were very much about relationships with other people, and I feel like at the age of 20/21 I’ve realised if you don’t like a situation, as hard as it might be, you have to change it, and that comes with how you see yourself.”
Talking to her about her time growing up it’s clear to see that apart from being an inspiring personality and a wonderful artist, Jess is the kind of friend everyone needs. She will gladly sit and philosophise for hours about the most random ideas (like how speaking different languages might shape your personality) but, most importantly, she will call you out on your bullshit because, most likely, she’s been there. And she’s still learning; another aspect that shines through on her upcoming EP.
“This EP on the surface looks like it might be about a relationship, but it is a relationship with myself. The way that I see myself and maybe that side of me that makes decisions that I can’t stand by. The darker side of yourself, I suppose.”
In her trilogy of EPs, Biig Piig has immortalised all struggles of her teenage years; a process that is both therapeutic and difficult to cope with at times:
“It’s a two-sided thing. In a sense, it helps so much when you write everything down; it’s so therapeutic. You don’t really realise what you’re writing about until you read it after. It’s an escape, and you can evaluate the situation a little bit more. But the other thing would be playing the songs live. Whenever I play tracks that meant something at a dark time, all those feelings come back. So, it feels unresolved sometimes. It’s weird, but when it’s a good show, it’s worth it because you have people in the crowd singing back the same lyrics that tore you apart once and I know I’m not alone in it. They’re helping me heal by just being in the room.”
As far as her plans for 2020 go, Biig Piig is playing it by ear. “I’m figuring it out as I go along. We’ll see how it goes. It completely depends, to be honest, on what people think of the new stuff.” If it’s anything like her previous two EPs, there’s no question number three will be welcomed with open arms. But Jess doesn’t want to jinx it.
“We’ll say a little prayer,” she jokes, but really, there are no prayers needed. With her free-flowing outlook on life and unique take on music, it doesn’t take a psychic to know that we will hear much more of her bilingual raps in the future.
And she’s, quite literally, here to stay: “When I go back [to Spain] I get a sense of feeling at home, for sure, but almost like a sadness because I feel like I wouldn’t fit anymore even though it was a huge part of my life. I’m half from there, half from Ireland. Nothing feels like home, in a good way, though. You become your own home.”
Taken from the November issue of Dork, out now.
Words: Laura Freyaldenhoven