Words: Dylan Murphy
Photography: George Voronov
For forward-facing creatives seeking to reconnect, collaboration is key. That’s why Jameson is bringing together Irish talents from all sides of the music spectrum as part of their ‘Widen The Circle’ campaign. Ahead of a collaboration with Dublin’s Monjola, Biig Piig spoke to Dylan Murphy about manifesting experiences and a transformative stint in the City of Angels. Book your tickets to watch Jameson’s St Patrick’s day event here.
Jess Smyth gets a kick out of reading people’s tarot cards. During lockdown a neighbour found a deck in their house and gave them to her in what she half jokes was a moment of fate. For the singer and rapper better known as Biig Piig, it was primarily a way to pass the time and to connect with other people. She even did a reading for Joy Crookes during her lighthearted cooking show on Youtube. While she only has a part-time interest in the clairvoyant practice, that’s not to say she thinks it’s something that should be taken lightly.
“I was trying to learn them and then we had a bit of fun with them. I do think there’s a bit of power in them and I definitely believe in them. It’s basically talking about your past, present and future. But it’s always a lesson, a reflection, to reflect on yourself and makes you think about what you want to do with your future. I got one in New York before a show. Sometimes they can get pretty dark.” Jess says, punctuating her statement by popping another sugar snap pea in her mouth.
We’re sat on the floor of a basement jazz lounge in city centre Dublin in the midst of a hybrid creative session of writing and photoshoots. It’s been six months or so since she returned from a stint in Los Angeles where she put the finishing touches to her The Sky Is Bleeding EP. The project is her fourth in three years and for listeners used to her smokey raps, it’s a left turn. If Big Fan Of The Sesh Vol. 1 and the subsequent two EPs were sleepy diary entries documenting her late adolescence then The Sky Is Bleeding is an escapist coming- of-age movie. One that dreams up romances that blur the lines between reality and fiction in search of fully realising herself.
Having become stuck in a cycle of partying and with songwriting proving one of the few ways to make sense of the night before in the morning after, it’s understandable that many of the songs play out like sad cliff hangers. Needing a change of scenery, Jess booked a one way transatlantic flight to the west coast. With her legs tucked behind her knees and J Dilla’s ‘So Far To Go’ still looping from the session before, Jess recalls her time there.
“I went to LA to finish a project. I went over pre-lockdown, I finished it, I stayed there and then lockdown happened in LA and it was like a ghost town”, she says between bites of the remaining legumes. “I made friends with my neighbours and I was like ‘f*ck it I’ll stay here’. I started collaborating in the block of flats I was in and everyone started to think of music video ideas and started hanging out.”
I started collaborating in the block of flats I was in and everyone started to think of music video ideas and started hanging out.Biig Piig
Depending on your world view, it was either a trip full of coincidences or an experience aligned by forces bigger than ourselves. Having a whole block of creatives to work with was convenient for the bilingual songwriter and being in a new city provided a creative spark. Predictably, ‘American Beauty’ was written out there, but ‘Drugs’, the song that flirts with life “living in the city of angels” was penned in London months before. With that in mind, you’d be forgiven for believing she wrote the experience into existence and for what it’s worth, Jess is convinced she did.
“I really feel like every time I’ve written music, it kind of…” she says trying to verbalise invisible forces. “The power of words, it’s like a mantra or something. I dunno, suddenly, in this space where you are thinking it into reality.”
The collaborative approach she took with residents in her apartment block is something that’s been a through line to Jess’ whole career. For the guts of half a decade she’s been a key member of the trailblazing NiNE8 Collective. The crew of mismatching outsiders led by queer multi-hypenate Lava La Rue slalom between genre and medium like a squad of olympic skiers. For acts who find comfort in their own lane, sharing the stage with GRAMMY-nominated rock outfit Fontaines D.C. might feel intimidating, but for Jess it’s an opportunity to push herself.
“First of all, I was like, ‘Fontaines and then my music?’, but it’s sick because I feel like if you are in an indie scene or a rock scene, sometimes those scenes don’t mesh as much so when you get opportunities like that to get into the one room, it’s so interesting. I’d met them before, but just some of the conversations about writing and about approaches to music were so different, but cool”, she says.
She’s equally excited for her forthcoming live collaboration with Dublin neo-soul artist Monjola. Given their natural chemistry and the name of the track, it feels especially fitting he’s adding a brand new verse to her song ‘Feels Right‘.
“Me and Monjola have really similar backgrounds when it comes to collectives and stuff like that. We met at the last Jameson thing, but feels like we’ve just known each other for ages.”
Collaboration like this is what inspires Jess and in America it was a lifeline at times. It allowed her to make a lot of new friends, great music and unforgettable memories. However, the reality was, moving country brought problems of its own. Swapping London, the city she calls home and the security of NiNE8 Collective for another unfamiliar culture where she knew very few people, right before the most isolating period of the twenty first century was a challenging transition that no one could have prepared for. It wasn’t easy, but it came with valuable lessons.
if you are in an indie scene or a rock scene, sometimes those scenes don’t mesh as much so when you get opportunities like that to get into the one room, it’s so interesting.
“I feel like I was losing my mind a bit before I went out and I lost my mind a bit when I went out there. It put me into an isolated spot, being out in LA. You kind of are on your own, even if you are meeting people. It still felt like I’d pushed myself out into a bit of a dark spot. It was good, but kind of scary.”
While things were still “wobbly” in LA, Jess admits finishing the EP helped her get out of that challenging mindset.
“It made me dive a lot more into it and then I think on reflection listening back to it… It’s weird making a project in that headspace. Listening back to it sometimes I’m like ‘fucking hell I sound so sad on the recordings’. I think after it released and I got my head straight.”
Admittedly, Jess doesn’t really listen to the project anymore. It tends to transport her back to that headspace and in her own words it “feels a little bit cursed”. That’s not to say she doesn’t feel proud of it, but it was an exercise in reflection that brought tough lessons that she isn’t keen to revisit. What has endured though, is a powerful sense of self that resulted from surrendering to her supernatural forces.
“It was more fantasy. It’s like diving into your fantasy and make yourself a part of it. It’s what makes you feel powerful.”
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