Meet The Big Moon, the UK band mixing politics and pop music
After the runaway critical success of their debut, the UK four-piece are back with an album built for the chaos of worldwide change.
Header image and in-article image by Pooneh Ghana.
While The Big Moon are a band largely yet to break into the Australian sphere, all signs are pointing to their imminent arrival. Their debut album, 2017’s Love In The 4th Dimension, was a critical success in their home country (think Mercury Prize shortlisting, Glastonbury performances, NME Award wins); their rock-y, guitar-driven songs on love and new relationships the perfect introduction to a band which seemingly presented itself to be an exciting new force in UK indie-rock, more Dream Wife than Wolf Alice as a simple comparative.
Three years later, and a lot has changed for The Big Moon. For one, the band - led by Juliette Jackson on vocals, with bassist Celia Archer, drummer Fern Ford, and guitarist Soph Nathann alongside her - are living in a version of England where it’s almost impossible to ignore the chaos of change, with both an ongoing Brexit and a general election that led to the swearing-in of conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the lead-up to their new album’s January 2020 release. They’re working with new instruments and people too, producer Ben Allen (Animal Collective, Gnarls Barkley and Bombay Bicycle Club) joining them in a studio mapped out with influences in Frank Ocean, Vampire Weekend and James Blake - a far stretch from the people who you’d think, considering their debut.
All of these things have gone into Walking Like We Do, a record that’ll take your impressions of the band and their sound and smash it across the sidewalk. It’s a shimmering indie-pop record that feels multiple times slicker than their DIY-built debut, focusing on the comforting warmth you can bring out of strumming guitars and relaxed pop hooks - a natural antidote to the all-encompassing stress than can be seeing the society you’ve grown alongside thrown into chaos.
From the second the first melody hits on its opening track It’s Easy Then, it’s clear that Walking Like We Do is going to be an album that comforts you more than anything else. It’s a record that soars rather than lags behind, with catchy and quotable hooks meeting this at-times existentialism that its happy-go-lucky melodies often charade. The aforementioned first track, for example, swallows lyrics on the impending societal doom occurring around us and chases it with an instrument the band experiment with throughout the album: the piano.
You’ll find many other examples across the album’s duration, with The Big Moon using Walking Like We Do as a vessel for experimentalism and growth. The Grenfell-inspired Dog Eat Dog is a piano-led ballad stripped right back to its bones, while tracks like Waves find the meeting point between Dog’s subtleness and the rest of the record - airy and washed-away, but still capable of slapping you in the face if need be with its growing melodies. Take A Piece, meanwhile, welcomes their most pop-centric moment - its video is a tongue-in-cheek take on boybands and A&R-designed pop groups, to layer it further - while songs like Holy Roller show they’re still capable of crunchy, grunge-noted rock, something the band probably won’t be ever able to shake off.
Here, talking to Pilerats on the day of the UK general election - “good luck with today,” is how the phone call ends - The Big Moon’s Juliette Jackson breaks down Walking Like We Do and the chaos it comes from, their experimentation with pop, and a whole heap more.
To start, I actually wanted to back to before this album was written, because from an outsider's perspective, it felt you were very much thrown into the deep end of releasing your debut album: festival shows, Mercury Prize nominations and so on included. Was there anything you were able to take away from that time and apply to writing the new record?
l think you just learn as a band what you are capable of without hurting yourself. A lot happened for us very quickly and it was really good, motivating and exciting and it still is when you get a big show, for example. It still feels like "oh my god I can't believe we've got this big show!"
We've been going for like five years now, but you learn what's possible a bit more: we did a US tour year before last where we were driving ourselves around - all the way across America - while also tour managing ourselves, sorting out our own shows and doing everything basically. It was a very self-sufficient tour, but also we were playing two shows every night and that broke us all of it really. It was a really amazing experience, but it was fucking intense.
Is there anything about that DIY element that you're attracted to in a band, even if you're getting bigger nowadays and are capable of palming off jobs to other people?
Yeah, I think it does feel really nice to so stuff yourself. We were doing all of our own artwork and videos and we actually still are, but maybe not so much nowadays. We're doing less now than we were, because like I said you don't want to do too much, because then you lose the ability to actually play or enjoy writing music and having any kind of creative thought. Occasionally, it's still nice to do a festival show where we just do it all ourselves.
Do you think that coming into this album having that realisation of "we can do everything ourselves and still be a great, successful band" gave you more confidence?
Yeah, definitely. It gives you confidence in a big way, but as well as also knowing that you have a platform or a fan base already really changes how you approach - not so much your approach to writing - but like it changes how you feel about it. A lot of the first album songs - half of them almost - I wrote before I'd even found enough bandmates. These were the first songs that I'd ever written, so I was kind of just throwing shit at the wall really to see if I could do it. So, some of those songs are really like the sound of me trying to find my way in that whole process, but this time, I know what I'm doing. I know a bit more about what I want to say and I have got access to my studio and all these things that we didn't really have before. This time, we knew we could do what we really wanted to do.
I was reading that when you started to write this record, you did it in a similar way to the first. Then, around six months in, you switched things up because you wanted the album to "breathe more." Was that an easy thing to do? How do you approach doing that?
It's not easy. I wouldn't say it was an easy thing to do, but it was definitely something we really wanted or something I really wanted. I spent six months writing songs on the guitar as I would have, but then you'll keep going back to the same places and you'd just instinctively do the same things even though you're trying to be different. I didn't want to release an album that was the same, even just on a personal level, like there's no point in doing the same thing again. I love our first album, but we've done it - we did it. We know how to make a rock album - we know how to record ourselves live and layer it over guitars.
This time, it was all about finding ways to get out of our comfort zone a bit. It felt quite scary at first attempting to write on the piano and in the back of your mind you're thinking "how are we ever gonna play this live?" But in the end, we decided to not think about that and it just freed us up. Once we decided we were gonna do whatever we wanted it felt great. We were so limited by the shape of being a guitar rock band with two guitars, bass and drums, but then once we opened the door to all the other kinds of sounds, everything just got easier really.
We also realised that whatever kind of song we play, it's always going to be a Big Moon song just because it's always going to have my lyrics on it; it's always going to have all of our voices on it; it is always going to sound like us and I think that gave us a lot of strength - realising that we had that character built by that point.
You say all that, but there are also songs on the album like Holy Roller which still has quite a guitar-rock crunch to it. Was is still important to have some kind of that rock sense on the album considering it was something that was quite heavy on your debut?
Yeah. I think we just decided that as weird as we try to be, that rock sound would always come in naturally and it did at its own instinct. That's just what we do when we're all in a room together, rehearsing and practising and writing, we're always going to play loud guitars - we can't really help it. When it came to the new sounds on the record, we'd say something like "okay, let's maybe write a song on piano", but at some point, it's going to have a payoff whether we like it or not. So, let's try not to and it will just happen - and it did, although in a bit of a different way.
I was reading how there was a little bit of hesitancy to move away from the sounds that defined the first album and grasp at pop music a bit, because you didn't want it to seem self-indulgent. How did you go about combatting that?
Yeah, that was specifically about one specific single of the album, Take A Piece. That was actually the only one where we were like "Can we do this? Is this okay?" because that song is like, the most poppy song we've ever written and even when I was writing it, I was pretending that I was a pop star in an effort to find new methods to write different kinds of songs.
I was writing on piano because that felt different and I wanted to give our sound a new spin. For this one, I was trying out pretending to be someone else - I was pretending that I was Zayn Malik from One Direction who I think had his solo singles and album everywhere at the time, and I had seen this documentary about One Direction and they seemed to have crazy lives. So I was like, "Okay, I gotta try this today," and then that song kind of happened. So it definitely works as a method of writing a different type of song. I think the more we played it, the more we were like "Okay, we can do this!"
And then there was the video, we just wanted to dress up like Britney Spears because why not?
Do you think that poppier direction is something you'd be keen to explore more of in the future?
Yeah, I guess it's a little bit different from the outside and people can make their own judgments, but for me, I've always felt like all of our songs have a connection to pop music. All the music I listen to is pop music - I listen to the radio all day - and I like songs with choruses and verses. That is what I want in a song; that's all I've ever needed. So, I'm sure it'll keep happening, it's all just about the way it's recorded I guess that emphasises how poppy a song is or not. We have pop hooks but they're not recorded in a poppy way, so it's sort of like pop in disguise.
It's interesting because even just five years ago telling a rock or indie band they were going poppy would be a bad thing; it'd get you slapped in the face.
I don't understand that at all because all the good songs are pop songs though. There's a reason why they stick in your mind and why the lyrics mean something to you, it's because it's been perfectly packaged and tied up with a bow. That's what pop music is.
I think a lot of people are releasing that pop music isn't just one sound.
Going a bit deeper into the record, there are some pretty big themes here and they all feel really timely - we're talking on the day of the UK election, for instance - and a lot of how the UK looks and acts is going to be shaped by today. Do you think that considering the circumstances the album has been written and released among, it was somewhat of a natural step to go into some heavier, socio-political themes with this record?
Well, I think things just changed. The world just kind of changed and it felt bigger and scarier. The first album was all about falling in love with someone for the first time so that was all I was thinking about. That's the feeling that I was really trying to process. Now, it's been three/four years since writing those songs and when I came back to writing things just felt totally different then. Everything that was in my brain was different.
I guess this album is just the sound of us trying to process that and trying to understand what's going on. I think that as a songwriter, when you write you are trying to translate something - like a feeling or a situation - and trying to explain it in a succinct way or in a specific language. There's nothing else I could have written a song about really at the moment. There are definitely still a couple of love songs on the there and there always will be, but I guess it all just comes in this wider context of what things feel like at the moment; politically, environmentally.
We were talking about confidence earlier, and I think that's a good example that shows your increasing confidence. Look at social media, you could put up a tweet with the slightest political context and it would turn into an avalanche.
We wrote a comment on social media yesterday being like "please vote" and it was quite clear, but we'd still always get those messages from people being like, "Stick to the music please!" Like fuck off, let me say my words!
I really fell down a rabbit hole on Twitter yesterday, somebody said that and then I went on their page and started reading all of the things they were saying and then I started reading all their friends were saying. I definitely climbed outside of my bubble for a minute and I saw the other side. There was a lot of people that I would really disagree with on everything there. It's good to do that sometimes - see from the other side of the argument - but sometimes it's just fucking stupid.
To finish this off, there's quite a lot of stuff tackled on this record: changing sound; the band's evolution; the messages and politics behind it. Is there anything you were hoping people take away from it?
When I listen to music, what I'm really looking for is to hear something explained to me in a perfect way. We'll walk around all of our lives with this churning cauldron of thoughts in our heads and it's so much effort to articulate them all the time. There's so much effort to use words to say what we're thinking because languages are limited. I think music does it better music; it is a language that understands that things aren't one dimensional, or just happy or just sad. It's always a cocktail of both and somewhere in between.
I guess I just hope that people can hear some truth in it and hear what they needed to hear and find freedom or like relief in not being able to think about that stuff.
The Big Moon's new album, Walking Like We Do, is out now via Fiction Records / Caroline Australia.
Follow The Big Moon: FACEBOOK