INTERVIEW: Biig Piig dances her way to the bank

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Biig Piig may sound like an aggressive artist name, and it most definitely reflects her big beats, lovely vocals and command of dance styles, but the soft-spoken singer/rapper whose real name is Jessica Smyth actually has a shy demeanor. Until she hits the stage. Speaking of the stage, Biig Piig appears at The Echo this Thursday for a headlining date, followed by a slate of European tour stops through the end of March.

Biig Piig released her debut mixtape Bubblegum back in January and she continues her trend of attention-grabbing one-word song titles, from the liberating dance-pop tune “Kerosene” to the tripped-out, two-stepping “Liquorice” to the down-tempo, moody “Ghosting”. It’s on the Deb Never-featured musical kaleidoscope “Picking Up” that Biig Piig really lets loose with her collaborator, navigating different tempos, two-step garage and jungle. With sold-out tour dates, past appearances at events like CRSSD Fest and Okeechobee and previous tours last year with Big Wild and in 2021 with Emotional Oranges, Glass Animals and Jungle, it seems this Piig is dancing her way to the bank.

Smyth worked at a gallery and at pubs and restaurants at 17 and by 19 her career started to take off. She’s a member of collective NiNE8 and was recognized as the BBC’s Sound of 2023 which also included Fred Again.., Cat Burns and FLO. Though she didn’t come from a musical family, Smyth loved singing and formed a sense of self in her songwriting as a teen, and she might even surprise fans by her love for music by Ben Harper. Born in Ireland, she spent most of her childhood and teen years in Spain, so her approach to music and her overall sound is a smattering of styles that work really well.

“So I didn’t really grow up with a lot of music around,” said Smyth. “My mom and I would sing in the car to Gabrielle and when I got to London I was in an isolated place I guess. And that’s really when I found Ben Harper. There are these songs he has and the lyrics really spoke to me so much. The realization of like OK, this is like the power of music, the fact that this man that I don’t know on the other side of the world can make me feel not alone is like unreal, and he really changed my life and the way I saw music. Off the back of that, I couldn’t get enough. I started writing and going to open mics around 15, made a lot of friends and hung out with them for a long time. At 16, went to school and I feel like every time things have gotten difficult or things have felt in a very kind of shaky place, music always comes back and grounds me. It always finds its way back into my life to bring me back to myself and to community as well. I think that’s the real power of it, it can really take you out of a situation and reconnect you with people.”

Biig Piig still pinches herself about doing music 24/7 because years ago she was just posting songs on the internet. In fact, her artist name is a bit of a joke and an alias she used to be unidentifiable on the web, but lucky for her the streams and fans were coming and the name was solidified. She laughs at her artist name and has really grown into Biig Piig.

“That came from me and a friend on a night out, just like a stupid, kind of drunken thing where we were going to order pizza,” said Smyth. “There were all these names on the pizza menu and Big Pig was one and we ordered it and thought the name was hilarious. Initially it was just kind of a jokey nickname and I went to put stuff up on SoundCloud and realized I was shy about releasing my music so when I went to put it out I didn’t want anyone to know it was me so Biig Piig was the name, not thinking it was gonna go anywhere and it just stuck. So now it’s my name. I like that it’s not too pretty of a name either.”

Photo by Elif Gonen

Fast-forward to industry beginnings, Biig Piig was given a shot by ColorsxStudios in Berlin, which has been a launching pad for a number of other major talents, from Billie Eilish and Doja Cat to Daniel Caesar and Mac DeMarco.

“I work with great producers but I’m a songwriter, lyrics and melody are my thing,” shared Smyth. “Even from the beginning, just finding beats on YouTube and writing over them and putting them on SoundCloud. I was doing that as well as working full time at different jobs and then got a message from COLORS [Studios] Berlin and they said do you want to come over and do this. And I must have had 200 listens on a song. I was like this is crazy, I told my friend Lloyd (Mac Wetha) and he said you have to do it. So I got on a plane and hit Berlin and that was really the moment where I realized that something I made and recorded in Lloyd’s bedroom has transported me into a different country, something’s happening. And off the back of that I guess everything sort of snowballed slowly. But it took me a long time to realize it was a full-time thing that I was able to do. I remember I signed my first distribution deal with an EP and I thought I could do this full-time and quit my job. Even at that point it didn’t feel real. Still to be honest it’s crazy to think this is full-time.”

“It’s like my best version of myself when I’m on stage. I feel like it’s the place where I can let go and express the most, fearlessly.”

On the Bubblegum mixtape, one of the gems that may surprise listeners is “Ghosting”, which showcases a pure vocal with gentle falsetto and both English and Spanish verses. It speaks to Biig Piig’s heritage and comes off completely authentic, likely giving her an edge in an industry that is increasingly global. Regarding the mixtape title Bubblegum, the title seems like it’s something you want and something makes you happy, but Smyth clarified the hidden meaning.

“I guess it was more like overall, the meaning is something that feels sweet on the surface but is actually quite a bad habit. That’s kind of the message of the project. I’m Irish but I grew up in Spain, so I speak in Spanish and I speak English at home and then moved to Ireland, so it’s always been a part of my life. It’s kind of mad when it finds its way into my music, cause it feels quite like it’s more like an inner child dialogue that comes into it when I need to write in Spanish vs. when I need to write in English.”

Biig Piig is bringing back some styles from the late 90s and early 2000s like two-step garage and dance subgenres like jungle that really had an impact on artists out of London at the time. There’s an experimental element to the tune “Picking Up” with Deb Never, one of the standout tracks on the new mixtape, and we’ll call it a total banger. It’s up-tempo and chaotic, unpredictable and one of those tracks you hope to hear on a memorable night out that might be completely fuzzy.

“I think to be honest, my playlist or my liked songs —I’m like the worst person at a party to ask because it’s just chaos,” said Smyth. “It like jumps from acoustic tracks to jungle tracks to garage beats to techno to R&B to neosoul, it’s just like all over the place and there’s no order, to grime. As a whole, obviously everything takes an influence. But with my track with Deb, we were in the studio and they had her and Mac Wetha. They were playing these guitar lines and I was like this is sick, like I really want to try something over it. The story kind of unfolded in the lyrics and I was like I know what I’m talking about now but it needs almost anxious energy and drums when it comes into that chorus. She started playing around with these drums and I was like alright sick. It just came together so quickly and in such an organic way. I feel like sometimes when you try not to mull the song too much it will kind of form itself into what it wants to be.”

Photo by Tamiym Cader

Biig Piig came across as rather reserved during this interview, and it’s not all that uncommon for artists to be shy in an everyday setting. The magic seems to happen with her when she performs —she completely comes alive.

“Ugh, I love it,” said Smyth. “It used to be a different story way back but when I hit the stage recently and kind of like found myself, now it’s just from the start to the finish it’s almost, it feels like an electric energy I guess. It feels like I can be free and bounce around. It’s like my best version of myself when I’m on stage. I feel like it’s the place where I can let go and express the most, fearlessly. Maybe that’s why I might be able to communicate how I feel a lot of the time in person as well as I can in the music.”

One song that sounds like it was made for live moments is the soulful, nu-disco cut “Feels Right”, and this really gets to the inspiration Biig Piig experienced when recording —she simply wanted to make music that people would enjoy in person.

“I consciously have been making music that I want to play live for a minute now, since I kind of got back into playing gigs,” said Smyth. “It’s something that definitely has influenced writing in the studio, where it’s like I want this to feel like it does in the room when everyone is moving together and you can feel the energy shift and the world pauses for like an hour. It feels so good and I just feel like wanting to be tapping into that more. Just because the shows feel so good with the music and the production and where it is right now.”

Biig Piig plays The Echo on Thursday, March 2 at 7:00 pm with V.C.R. 

Words by Michael Menachem
Main image by Tamiym Cader