Biig Piig has big plans for the pop world

The pop world is one big glittering oyster right now for Jess Smyth. The Cork-born, London-based musician is surfing a swell of acclaim, her songs lauded by megastars such as Billie Eilish and in taste-maker journals Dazed and Confused, The Face and Pitchfork. The buzz is strong with this one.
Biig Piig has big plans for the pop world
Big Piig, aka Jess Smyth, was hyped by Billie Eilish as being the music she liked to relax to.

Big Piig, aka Jess Smyth, was hyped by Billie Eilish as being the music she liked to relax to.
Big Piig, aka Jess Smyth, was hyped by Billie Eilish as being the music she liked to relax to.

Born in Cork and raised in Kerry, the London-based musician includes Billie Eilish among her fans, writes Ed Power.

The pop world is one big, glittering oyster right now for Jess Smyth. The Cork-born, London-based musician is surfing a swell of acclaim, her songs lauded by megastars such as Billie Eilish and in taste-maker journals Dazed and Confused, The Face and Pitchfork. The buzz is strong with this one.

“It’s mad to see your music go so far,” says the easy-going Smyth (22), who releases mysterious and sometimes gorgeously wonky pop as Biig Piig. “Billie Eilish did an interview with Variety and she brought in a few tracks she was into. It was a really nice shout out. She has her ear to the ground.”

Eilish’s Biig Piig selections were ‘Shh’ and ‘Lie To Me’, described by Variety as her “preferred songs to relax to”. They’re certainly an intriguing introduction to Smyth and her writing. The former is a slowly lulling ballad, underpinned by baroque grooves, the latter an acoustic torch song haunted by the ghosts of trip-hop.

“Your influences definitely develop when you’re in a diverse city,” says Smyth who moved with her family from Tralee to Hammersmith in West London when she was 14.

“But I am influenced by my Irish background too. Family gatherings… the whole storytelling thing is embedded in you.”

‘Hype’ isn’t quite the word for the groundswell building around Smyth. She certainly is no flash in the pan, having made incremental progress by putting out a trilogy of EPs showcasing her hazy, soulful voice and spiky wit (one of her early released is called Big Fan of the Sesh, Vol 1).

This led to a deal with RCA. And now, suddenly, here she is, on the cusp of something really big. Looking ahead and reflecting on her past, she seems slightly amazed, if not incredulous, that she has become a pop star to watch.

“I started going to open mics when I was at school and met a whole new community,” she says, referring to Nine8, described by the Guardian as “a collaborative collective of DIY artists”. “It was nice. I had a family outside a family. Those years were important.

She was already comfortable dealing with strangers by dint of her job as a late-night poker dealer. And the open-mics, which involve baring yourself in front of a room of often disinterested punters, became easier over time.

“If you go to a bigger one often people are chatting all the way through. So you close your eyes and do it for yourself. You pull yourself into yourself during a show. I still do that sometimes.”

Irish people moving to the UK often ditch their natural accents the instant they’ve bought their first Tube ticket. Smyth still sounds Irish, her conversation is free of irritating mockney-isms.

“I was born in Cork but I’m not sure where,” she laughs. “It was the nearest hospital I think. We lived near Marbella for about eight years. When my brother was young he had a lung condition so we went to Spain. He was grand.”

After that, the Smyths moved back to Ireland. They lived for a year with an aunt in Ardmore. That was followed by Tralee. London happened when her parents decided to take over a pub in Hammersmith.

“It was mad,” she says of moving from Kerry to the one of the largest cities in Europe. “You’re in this big place and you don’t know anyone. It’s a strange time. But it was exciting.”

She came up with ‘Biig Piig’ in a pizza restaurant with a friend, where the slightly ludicrous name of a meat-heavy option caught her eye.

“Biig Piig fits weirdly,” she says. “It’s cute. But also a bit of a mess. It’s in-between. It isn’t pretty name.”

This was to have been a big year for Smyth then. But her future is of course on hold as the world negotiates the worst pandemic in a century. She is obviously anxious, both for herself and also for her parents and their pub.

“I don’t have a studio at home, so I’m working on stuff I have to record yet. I’m hopefully going to get some equipment soon,” she says. “I just don’t know. It’s strange time, massively. I just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Biig Piig’s new single, ‘Switch’ is out now.

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