The Big Moon come across like four different parts of the same person. They finish each other’s sentences between sips of coffee, all the while dutifully filling in holes in one another’s biographies. But perhaps to the surprise of some, frontwoman Juliette Jackson writes the band’s songs in complete solitude.
“[Juliette] lives near the market where I get my groceries from, so sometimes I’d be like, ‘Wanna come in for a cuppa?’ and she’s like, ‘No! I’m trying to finish this song!’” says the band’s Welsh drummer, Fern Ford, miming Jackson’s blustering frustration.
At a bustling central London cafe on a brisk British morning, the entire band – Ford, Jackson, Sophie Nathan (lead guitarist) and Celia Archer (bassist) – are crammed around a table built with only two adult-sized humans in mind. They’re here to discuss their upcoming second album, Walking Like We Do, although the conversation often finds itself coming back to the travails of the modern music industry, as well as the prospect of an impending apocalypse.
The Big Moon formed in 2014 after Jackson posted a call-out on Facebook in search of instrumentalists to help her execute a budding songwriting vision. The call-to-arms worked: soon after coming together, the group began hitting a stride, combining ’00s-style indie with Jack Antonoff-ed hooks and production. It was a sleek guitar band sound as indebted to Taylor Swift as it was the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
The quartet burst into wider prominence in 2017 with their debut album, Love in the 4th Dimension, which earned them a place on the Mercury Prize shortlist. Thematically, the album was interesting with the metaphysical: infatuation dragging you headfirst into the unknown. This time around, though, Walking Like We Do’s songs offer a liveliness only this plane can. Optimistic, danceable pop rock shot through in flashes of modern anxiety and heartbreak, where keyboard chords have mostly replaced the grungey guitars.
A bigger audience has meant more shows. During a soundcheck in Toronto last year, the band’s punishing schedule appeared to physically and mentally grind Ford – who was juggling roles as tour manager, driver, and drummer – to a halt. She collapsed, crying, even though she didn’t feel sad.
Because of the position you’ve found yourselves in, it might seem ungrateful to complain about working conditions. But musicians – especially independent or less commercially successful ones – are increasingly flagging mental health as being a big issue.
FF: It’s the best job in the world, but it’s not the easiest. It takes its toll in so many different ways. You’re away a lot from your closest friends and family. You’re away for long periods where there’s nothing, then you have this burst of adrenaline for like an hour and it’s… [gestures a sudden deflation] afterwards. So that, everyday, fucks up my moods. You have to find some kind of equilibrium in all of that.
It’s essentially a 24/7 job when on tour.
SN: It’s about finding a way to do it that gives you a sense of routine – in a healthy way. We’ve toured enough now that we’re getting more professional about the way we see it. At the beginning, it was more like, ‘We’re on tour, this is so much fun!’ But you can’t keep that up.
CA: Musicians complaining and suddenly starting to moan about their mental health is good. It’s quite nice to hear people who do the same job as you being like, ‘Hey, I feel weird at the end of a tour. Does anybody else feel weird?’
JJ: We have to work with it at the end of the day, because this is what we all want to do. It’s hard to be honest about those feelings because, well, this is a dream job. This is my dream job – every time I have a bad day, I remember what it felt like to work in a cloakroom, or work in a bar. This is still better. But it’s really hard to be honest about when it’s shit because people just don’t get it. I still have friends who joke about when I’m going to get a real job.
SN: I feel guilty sometimes with friends who work full days.
So when you say that you’re suffering from burnout, do they almost struggle to believe you?
SN: When I’m at home, they’ll say I’m not doing anything. I am – it’s just in a different way. It’s not like people always make me feel like that, but I do sometimes get that feeling. I’m not really doing anything, then I go away for a month and it’s like, ‘Oh my god, this is so intense.’
CA: Then you cry.
SN: It is comforting to know that other people feel weird and that it’s normal [for a musician].
An awkward segue, but one of the things that has caught my eyes has been your visuals. Juliette, do you think about songs visually – and who comes up with the ideas for the videos?
JJ: We usually come up with the ideas ourselves. When I’m writing, I do think about visuals a bit. I quite like watching videos while I’m listening to a song that is half-written.
Because I work on my laptop, with my guitar or whatever, you can get really stuck looking at these little blocks of music that you’ve recorded – graphics, sound waves. But if you watch a video on mute while listening to your song – and I’ve got some favourites, like Robyn, who has got some great videos – you can suddenly hear your song.
Just music videos or other types of videos, too?
JJ: Just music videos, because they have loads of slow-mo and dancing and flashing lights.
SN: It’s a great idea! Your senses are distracted and you’re not overthinking with your eyes.
Your videos have a strong sense of self-awareness.
JJ: The video for ‘Your Light’ – which is the one [where we’re riding] bicycles – we spent ages just trying to decide what to do for that video because it was our first single back [after the first album] and we wanted it to be more serious [than previous videos].
CA: ‘It’s not a joke! We’re not a joke!’
JJ: Like, we mean these things – we’re a serious band. We developed this little routine on the bikes and then, obviously, the puppets appear. There was a moment where we looked at each other and went, ‘Oh, we can’t help it. This is just who we are.’
Is this lack of self-importance central to your music?
JJ: I think it’s just our personalities. We take our music seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
SN: The songs aren’t sad, even though some of them are about sad things, or are moving in certain ways.
CA: [With our] first album, there was a lot of, ‘Who are these girls that just bounded onto the scene? Oh, The Big Moon? Lol!’ It was a bit like, ‘Do you not take us seriously? Maybe we should make people take us seriously.’ But then we [realised] that’s boring, and we’re not like that.
And where does the album title come from?
JJ: It’s a lyric from the song, ‘A Hundred Ways to Land’. It just summed up the whole feeling of the album, which is about growing up and moving on and going forward. But also about trying to feel strong when everything in the world feels quite unsteady.
One recent quote that jumped out at me was from Juliette, regarding the daily political madness. You said, ‘Has [it] always been happening or have I just grown up and started noticing it happening?’ Why do you think you’ve not been able to answer that question?
JJ: It feels like things are bad at the moment, and it’s really scary. But, for example, my dad – after we released ‘Your Light’ – he came up to me and hadn’t heard it before. He was like, ‘Things have been bad before, Juliette.‘ And I was like, ‘But you don’t know, Dad!’ – being a bit of a teenager. It is true: things have been really bad before and people worked things out and things got better, then worse, then better again. I’m not saying that we should forget about everything, that it will be fine. But there is a history of things that change.
So do you think younger generations are slightly exaggerating the doom and gloom?
FF: Sometimes I think everything will be fine. But I think a lot of the doom nowadays comes from things that are just so much bigger than people, as a result of people – like the climate. The thing everyone is worried about is the existence of our species. How do you even soften that feeling?
CA: When you’re a kid at school and something bad happens, like your friend you’ve been best friends with your whole life doesn’t want to talk to you one day, that is the end of your world. Even though the whole life you’ve known this kid is only like three years – and this is nothing in the grand scheme of things – but that’s what is real to you. That’s your whole experience. It doesn’t even have to be that the actual world is ending. Which it is.
JJ: Things only get better because people are worried about them and do things about them. You have to feel that urgency.
Would you consider yourselves a political band? Do you think it’s even possible to be an apolitical band in a world guided and shaped by politics?
JJ: The world is political. Or even choosing to write a happy song that’s not about what’s going on in the world. Trying to find a way of being hopeful is still political. Putting out a pop song to distract from it all is political. If you read the news, you can’t help but have that stuff in your brain, even if you wanna write a love song. It comes in the context of everything.
I personally can’t take artists seriously when they say there is no politics in their music. The fact you’re able to create this art is inherently political. It’s all interconnected, is it not?
CA: Being a musician is a luxury. For the vast majority of people who are able to make music, it’s expensive to get started and you have to feel comfortable enough to know that if you take risks, it’s going to be alright. You have to be wary of that.
Is that something you’ve considered before? Obviously, it’s near-impossible to be working class and become a musician because of the costs of entry. Rap, grime, and drill are currently some of the only avenues for working-class voices to be heard.
CA: It’s [a problem] in all of the arts, really. It costs money to be able to tell your story, which means that only certain stories are being told. This is partly why we’re in this mess: what half of us are fighting for is to allow more people to be able to do what they want to do in life.
Walking Like We Do is out 10 January on Fiction Records.
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