It’s been an unbelievable start to the year for 24 year-old Irish songwriter Jessica Smyth; better known to many as Biig Piig. From the announcement of her inclusion in the BBC’s Sound of 2023 list to her song ‘Kerosene’ being nominated for the Choice Song of The Year, things have only been getting better.
What a time, then, to drop your first mixtape. Bubblegum, out today, is a 7-track examination of growing into your 20’s, and all the hardships and peaks that come with that.
“I can’t wait for people to hear it” Smyth smiles as she speaks from her London apartment a few days out from its release, “It’s kinda weirdly come at a perfect time. The project comes out, I turn 25 two days later, it feels like a real turning point”.
In a way, Smyth’s life has been a vast collection of turning points. From growing up in Kerry her family moved to Spain when she was four, as doctors told her parents the warm climate would be better suited to her brother’s asthma. The family lived in Spain for eight years before returning to Kerry when Smyth was 12.
Once back, she had to learn how to read and write in English, an isolating time which saw her unable to keep up with her classmates, before being moved once again, this time to West London at age 14. When she arrived in London, she used creating music as a distraction while she knew no one and was waiting to be enrolled in school.
A few years later, when studying in London’s Richmond College, she met Lave La Rue who would go on to be the founder and creative director of Nine8, the collective which Biig Piig is a proud member and has helped rise to the fore of the capital’s creative industry.
To begin with, Biig Piig started releasing singles and tracks on SounCloud before in 2018 releasing the first of a trilogy of EPs, 'Big Fan of The Sesh', 'A World Without Snooze' and 'No Place for Patience'.
Off the strength of the first two projects, she was signed to RCA records for the final piece of trilogy and has since followed it up with 2021’s 'The Sky is Bleeding EP'.
“They just let me do my thing which I really appreciate” Smyth says of her relationship with the label, “I always worried that by signing with a major that I’d be in meetings with them telling me not to go a certain direction creatively or something, and there definitely has been times like that, but they’ve been so open in letting me stretch things.
"Even with this project, having so many styles and influences and trying to put it together and make it all cohesive; I feel like I’ve learned a lot from that and that I’ve achieved it; so the next project I know it can work and how to make it happen”.
'Bubblegum' has been in the works for over a year, with Smyth tampering and messing with production at almost every chance she could get.
“It’s been such a blur of so much going on” she admits, “it’s been ready to go for a long time. It’s been kicking the womb for a while”. “I was just writing loads and loads last year, had no idea I would be making a mixtape” adding, “but then as I was listening back the likes of ‘Only One’ for example, I wanted to hear that into ‘Licorice’ and slowly over time it formed into a story”.
“The introduction is about changing myself and moulding myself so I can feel love,” Smyth explains as she reels through the tale of the project. “‘Licorice’ is the honeymoon phase, then ‘This is What They Meant’ is where the shift happens and love can be selfish, then ‘Ghosting’ is realising you’ve messed everything up and you need to change and isolate and start again,
"‘Pick It Up’ always brings up these heavy adrenaline feeling of wanting to run head first into chaos; then it climaxes in ending up alone again, dancing on my own and knowing something has to change and being exhausted by the same pattern”.
“As a whole, reflecting on it now, it is kind of just a time of my life where I’m really maturing out of habits and routines” she notes, adding “this is crossing a bridge and trying to find stability more and stop rinsing everything for love and find something meaningful”.
“With this EP I’ve been listening to it non-stop because there are so many memories attached to this project and it’s fun to reminisce on its creation. I feel like that’s always the way with music because it can transport you back to another time, like a little time capsule”.
Throughout the creative process, Smyth has been aware of it’s impact within a live setting; something particularly clear for all those in attendance of her SoundHouse shows last winter.
Hearing the impact of tracks such as ‘Picking Up’ and ‘Kerosene’ was something to behold; and for an artist who had grown up and developed inspired by a jazz-orientated, R&B stylings it felt like a coronation of an artist shedding her skin and kicking-off a new era of her career.
“It’s a bit mad because it’s always been like that” she explains of her ever-changing dynamics, “When you’ve been holding onto something and you’re desperate to put it out, and you’re holding on for months and months, it can seep into your performance. You’re just so excited to show it off and it can give you a new sense of energy”.
“It’s something I had in mind when I was making the tracks, I want them all to translate to a live setting and being in a room with everyone together. It’s felt so good before with tracks like ‘Switch’, ‘Feels Right’; and there are some tracks where even if lyrically they aren’t very uptempo the production in a way… you can feel the shift of energy in the room”.
One of the remaining elements of Biig Piig’s aesthetic that has continued into this new chapter is her Spanish verses, where she has often mentioned using verses in Spanish as ways of disguising messages to those the song is written about, or to discuss things she wouldn’t feel comfortable saying in English.
When did she first realise that was what she was creating? “It just sort of happened” she replies, “When I was writing it just came out in Spanish, but then realising that it was something of an inner child thing; being so close to home that it almost feels a bit hidden if it’s in Spanish; even if it’s not anymore because of Google translate”.
“Even now when I put Spanish in tracks, I guess it was a similar things; there was no way I could put them in English, it had to Spanish” she notes, “It’s just a feeling, it wouldn’t hit the same way in English as it does in Spanish”.
Finally, conversation turns to the Choice Prize and ‘Kerosene’s nomination for Irish song of the year; how does it feel to be supported and appreciated in Ireland despite having spent the majority of your life looking in from the outside?
“It was really exciting to see that and feel like… it felt nice to..0” she pauses momentarily, picking her words carefully, “It does sometimes feel like when you’ve left it’s almost like being, not knowing how to claim your identity even though you feel it… moments like that are so important because it makes you feel like you’re not an outsider”.