“Music should be generous”: the Big Moon on mixing down-to-earth lyrics with dancefloor fun

Following the success of 2017's Love in the 4th Dimension, the London quartet chase maximum emotion on their new album, Walking Like We Do.

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“When I listen to music, I want it to tell me something that I don’t know, or make me notice a feeling that I’ve been having but couldn’t describe before,” says Juliette Jackson. “I want it to speak the language that music can speak that words can’t by themselves, which is lots of emotions all at once.”

As lead singer and songwriter of the indie-rock quartet the Big Moon, Jackson chases this in her writing too.

When she was writing the band’s debut album, 2017’s Love in the 4th Dimension, Jackson was “falling head over heels in love with someone for the first time. My brain was quite fluffy,” she says. “Fluffy” though she may have been feeling, the record was praised by critics for its convictionenergy and sheer musical prowess, and was nominated for a Mercury Prize. It was, Jackson says, “the sound of us becoming a band. We toured for three years and then recorded the sound of us touring. It was a snapshot of that time.” 

Three years later, their second album Walking Like We Do (out this Friday on Fiction Records), is “all very intentional”, insists guitarist Soph Nathan. When I meet her and Jackson, along with bassist Celia Archer and drummer Fern Ford, in a busy central London cafe, the band are bundled around a table, slurping soup. “I think a lot of people who listened to our first album knew most of the songs already, because we played them live so much,” Nathan continues. “So arguably we should be more nervous for this one! But we’re not. We’re comfortable now, we know what we’re doing.”

It took them a while to feel so content. After a solid year touring Love in the 4th Dimension, the band came home to London, where they existed less as the Big Moon and more as ordinary people doing ordinary jobs – dog-walking and working in coffee shops. (Nathan also spent time with her other band, Our Girl, in which she is lead vocalist and songwriter; they released their debut album Stranger Today last August.)

They lived a little – Archer suggests – not just to recalibrate after the immense exhaustion of touring, but to give them something to write about next. “A band’s first album is interesting because it’s about someone’s life and then the second album is just about being on the road, which can be quite samey because most people’s road experiences are pretty similar. So it was good that you went and had some life,” she says, looking at Jackson. “You need time to reset, have some experiences, feed your creativity.”

“Yeah, you need to read some books, see some friends, fall over,” Jackson nods.

“Get back up!” Archer responds, giggling.

“Do it again!”

The brilliance of Walking Like We Do lies in the Big Moon’s willingness to push back against all the things that made their first record so successful – razor-sharp guitar riffs, warm, humour-filled lyrics, unapologetic romanticism – without disbanding it completely. From the Wurlitzer-like flourishes of “It’s Easy Then” to the Mariachi brass of “A Hundred Ways to Land”, the result is a record just as down-to-earth and tune-driven as their first, but one that is also willing to address the anxieties and uneasiness of mid-twenties flux. 

“I knew I wanted to write a record that was different from our first one, in a rebelling against your parents kind of way,” says Jackson. “Once we realised we could do anything, that we could be as bold as we wanted, any pressure went away. I realised I didn’t have to write songs that were just for guitars. We could write any kind of song on any instrument and because we’re singing it, it will still be our song, it will always sound like a Big Moon song.”

The first track Jackson finished was “Holy Roller” – a burgeoning song with a cinematic feel, enticing in spite of its plodding tempo. Its finishing touch is the chorus’s subtly enchanting counter-melody, played by Jackson on the flute she previously hadn’t touched since she was 12. It was, Jackson says, “the first song that sounded a bit different, and felt freer”.

“It’s funny that you talk about it in this passive way,” Archer points out, “like this song just popped up that had flute in, rather than: ‘I wrote a song and I played the flute on it.’ You worked really hard and it’s a great song.”

Archer encourages her bandmates to take full credit for their work, and is keen to draw attention to the challenges of the recording studio. “You hear people say in interviews, ‘Everyone told me not to do that, but I went with my gut’. But everything is always told to you from the point after it happened; the story is told at a point of success,” she says. “When you’re in the studio, you’re like: ‘My gut is telling me a lot of different things – or my gut is saying this but I’m hungry, so maybe it’s not the smartest thing to listen to right now.’ We learnt to allow space for things to happen, but also to be dogged about it.”

You can hear this determination on Walking Like We Do, but the Big Moon’s tenacity and honesty doesn’t come at the expense of dance-floor fun. As Nathan puts it: “Jules loves a pay-off.”

“I realised that,” nods Jackson. “There’s one song called ‘Waves’ which I set out to make super minimal, just loads of singing and piano. And then at the end it just goes: ta-dah! I can’t help it.

“It’s about finding the thing that gives you the most feelings. There’s so much emotion to be had. Let’s have it! You don’t want music to be cold. Music should be generous. When a song gives you another chorus, you’re like, thank you! You wanna give everyone everything. There’s no point withholding.”

 

Ellen Peirson-Hagger is the New Statesman’s culture assistant.

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