Take A Piece: The Sensational Return Of The Big Moon
The Big Moon have never shied from a challenge.
Touring relentlessly, their helter-skelter debut album 'Love In The 4th Dimension' emerged to widespread acclaim, reserving a spot on the Mercury shortlist in the process.
But to create a follow up the band had to take a step back, digging deeper and going further than ever before.
Linking with producer Ben H. Allen - whose credits include Animal Collective, Neon Indian, Gnarls Barkley - The Big Moon flew out to Atlanta, Georgia, pursuing something that felt perennially outwith their grasp.
Somehow, it all came together. Out now, new album 'Walking Like We Do' is exceptional, a nuanced, powerful return, both musically and lyrically daring while offering some of their most potent, and overtly pop constructions yet.
Clash got on the phone to The Big Moon's Juliette Jackson to find out more...
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Congratulations on the record! How does it feel to have it out there?
It’s so good! I mean, I feel so happy! People have been really responding to it, and it makes me feel that what we’re doing is genuinely useful. People have been coming up at the shows, and saying how much it means to them. It’s never not amazing. It feels like a really considered record.
How long did the planning of all this take?
Well, after we released the last album we were touring for about a year, and I didn’t try to write anything on tour because it’s just too hectic! And then I tried to write some songs immediately after we got back and they weren’t very good… they sounded like us playing live. I guess because I was in tour mode I was writing songs with big drum drops or big guitar solos… thinking about our live show, and it just wasn’t interesting.
So I took a few months off, really. I got a job walking dogs, which was a pretty good little side hustle! I started writing again and I think I was just looking for ways to write different sorts of songs.
I wrote a lot on the piano, which isn’t my first instrument, which meant I was going to different places than I was on guitar, and I was also doing stuff like… writing lyrics before going to any kind of instrument, which I hadn’t really done before. And also just focussing on the lyrics more. I really wanted to try harder this time. Looking for new ways to write songs, really.
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You tackle much larger subjects – societal division, Grenfell… it’s all on the record.
Yeah. Someone said the last album was very introspective whereas this one is more outward looking, which I agree with. And I guess that wasn’t necessarily a deliberate decision, I didn’t sit down and think: this album will be about the world!
But I think while I was writing the last album I was just falling head over heels in love with someone, and that was all I was really thinking about, but that was five years ago… so when I came back to writing it seemed like things had really changed and stuff feels really different – politically and socially – so things feel kind of scary.
I guess when you’re writing songs you’re always trying to process what’s going on around you, and trying to put everything into a neat box. Which is impossible, and I’m not saying that I have the answers but it’s like you’re trying to comfort yourself, really. Trying to find a way of articulating something exactly right.
It’s like when you’re reading a book and sometimes there’s a line in it that’s exactly how you’re feeling, or describes something exactly, perfectly right, but you didn’t realise it needed describing to you, and it’s such a freeing sensation when someone’s just said it right. So yeah, I guess that’s what I really wanted to find when I was writing these songs. I wanted to find truth, find the right way of describing something.
There’s that lyric “We don't know where we're going / but we're walking like we do” - it’s like you’re moving towards something you can sense, but you don’t know exactly where it is…
Basically! I’m just looking for strength, I suppose. You can feel kind of hopeless. Things are so unstable at the moment, or seem like they are, and there are so many problems, it’s impossible to deal with them. We read so much news, and there’s so much information, that you hit this wall and it’s impossible to comprehend any of it, really. Comprehend how you could do anything about it. So, I guess I wanted to remind myself of the powers that you do have on a local level, and with the people who are near you. That’s what you can do. Everyone can play their small part, and be kind, I guess. It’s good to remember the powers that you do have.
Did you find then that the community that exists around The Big Moon is a point of inspiration in itself? You must have similar conversations with fans, surely?
Yeah, totally! That’s the wonderful thing about music, and that’s why I think songs exist. It’s just weirdos telling other weirdos that they’re not weird! It is a community and a gig is a space where you can be fucking weird and scream and there isn’t really many other places like that in our society. But yeah, it’s a nice freedom that we’ve allowed ourselves.
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Bringing Ben Allen on board as producer seems to be a key decision with the record.
We tried out a few producers over a few months and weren’t really getting anywhere. Then we heard that he liked our songs, so someone at our label got in contact with him and sent him the demos. So we had a Skype conversation with him and… well, Skype is really awkward – especially with someone you don’t know – and it was all four of us on a laptop and him at the other end, and he just totally owned this conversation. It was like: hey, I’m Ben, what record do you wanna make? I can make you a jazz album, a blues album, a rock album… And we were like: well, this guy is confident!
I think we were really looking for someone who had ideas, these songs were in a fairly finished state, but because we didn’t want to make a rock album again – or we wanted to make a different sort of rock album – we wanted to work with someone who would take us out of our comfort zone a bit, because if it was too much up to us we would have made an album that was a lot more similar to the first one. Whereas he’s got this background in hip-hop, and he’s made some really great but weird albums, like Animal Collective. He’s just really, really good at his job!
And also his studio has two separate rooms, and we would go in one big room and record all the bits of the songs, and meanwhile he would go to this other smaller room upstairs and take my demo, and put it on his laptop and sit on this other whole set of speakers and add loads of cool shit and ideas to this demo, and then come downstairs and be like: what about this drum sample? Which is quite unusual for a producer.
They all vary – of course – and have different ways of working – but it’s not very common for a producer to become a band member, in that way. And to have so many ideas that we ended up with this luxury, and were able to be like: yeah, these are all great ideas! Or: yes we like that idea, but I prefer mine!
You spent three and a half weeks on it, which is about triple the amount of time it took to record the band’s debut LP.
We had a month and it was very different. The first album was… well, we toured those songs for three years before we recorded them, and it was just about literally recording them. We didn’t want to change too much as we knew we liked how they sounded live. It was about capturing that live thing. This one… we had the songs, and the songs were quite produced – we knew all the parts, and how we wanted it to go – but we wanted to avoid having to do it as it was. We wanted to have the space to experiment and try new instruments or just be able to sit with a song for a day.
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Is there a song on the record that you took out to Atlanta, and had radically changed by the time it came to fly home?
There was one - ‘Don’t Think’ - that changed a lot from the beginning. Like, I changed all the words. It used to be called ‘When Disney Runs The News’ and it was about the Disney takeover of Sky News that was happening last year, and it all sounded like a fairytale – a Snow White kind of song. But I think we knew before we left that it had a more anthemic thing about it and I didn’t want it to be this weird, niche song that sounded like Disney. It was kind of cool, but we wanted it to be more fun, to have more feelings in it. That changed a lot.
Also ‘Your Light’ changed a lot. ‘Your Light’ I wrote the lyrics on the plane there, so that was probably the one that changed the latest before we recorded. And I’m so happy I changed those lyrics because they were so shit before. Proper filler! And that song gave me such a good feeling musically that I knew it needed to have more in it, and it turns out being on a plane for 10 hours is the perfect place to write lyrics because there’s not really much else to do and you don’t have the internet. After you’ve watched a few movies you run out of things to do!
The lyrics are really nuanced – it’s a complex record, with each part communicating with the next.
There were some lyrics that were finished the night before we recorded the song! Sometimes you need that pressure to do it. There’s definitely an extra added pressure of being away from home and knowing that you have a time limit on your recording time… which you do always have – even if you’re recording at home – but I guess staying in another city in another country led to a lot of late nights and freaking out but it’s all good. I think I would have done that had we recorded at home, too. You just want to get it right.
The record seems to really be connecting with people – how does it feel to get back out there?
Oh it’s so good to be playing these songs live! Especially now that people know them. It’s really nice. People are coming to the shows and they already know all the words, which is outrageous… I’m still forgetting the words to some of them!
I can’t really describe it. I want to say it’s a relief, but I wasn’t really that scared because I knew that I really believed in this album and I felt like people would like it. I would have been really disappointed if people hadn’t, I guess. But it’s just really amazing, it’s been an amazing week since it came out. We’re all buzzing, and we’re all nervous about when we crash – inevitably! It’s a bit like coming up and coming down… there’s a big rush, and then you have to get into the actuality of touring every day. But even that is a pleasure!
You do tour relentlessly – where does that energy come from?
Ha! Yeah, where does it come from?! I don’t know! There’s something about playing live every night that just wakes you up. It’s like an adrenalin rush, I guess. And it is kind of addictive. But it’s also like, you spend all day – especially when you’re doing something creative – inside your head, doubting yourself, and wondering if any of it is really right or wrong, and you never really know… but when you go onstage you don’t have to be in your head any more.
I guess it’s the same reason people go and do yoga or go for a run or do knitting – you just stop thinking for a while, and you can focus on the thing that is there, and needs the priority. It’s like a release.
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'Walking Like We Do' is out now.
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