NME finds The Big Moon surrounded by open suitcases, abandoned cheese toasties and outfits strewn across the floor. The band race around the photo studio attempting to clear space like they’re Sims on fast-forward mode. “We’re on an escalator to releasing our album now, and we just need to get to the top of it,” bassist Celia Archer says, dumping a bundle of clothing onto the floor and gesturing towards a nearby chair. “We can’t jump off,” she adds ominously. “We’ve been sitting on it like an egg, incubating it,” chimes in vocalist and songwriter Jules Jackson. “Telling everyone how great this egg is gonna be when we crack it.”
Spending an afternoon with The Big Moon, it’s clear that they have grand plans for this humble egg of theirs. After shooting to indie stardom, they’re not content with another orbit of the same planet. Instead, their second record ‘Walking Like We Do’ – which is out now – is a conscious attempt to shake things up all over again.
But first, a brief introduction. Back in 2014 – when rock star fantasy was but a gleaming dot on the horizon – the band started out with a modern-day version of a ‘Join My Band’ Post-It note. Armed with an arsenal of demos – largely written on guitar in her bedroom – Jules found herself in search of a band to help bring her creations to life. But she didn’t just want a backing group of competent live musicians. Instead, she knew that The Big Moon needed to be more than that. They had to be a proper gang.
After badgering various mutuals over Facebook and deploying numerous enquiries over text, Jules found Celia, Soph and Fern. The chemistry was immediate. “The first time we played together I cried because I’d wanted a band for so long, and I’d finally found the right people,” Jules told NME back when the band first formed.
Six years later and The Big Moon have crammed together in countless tour vans over many thousands of miles, and it really shows. Frequently chaotic company, the band possess a spooky gift for finishing each other’s sentences. When they catch another member in the act of being overly modest, all hell breaks loose. “Fern’s trying to move the focus back onto Jules!” guitarist Soph Nathan warns us, as drummer Fern Ford tries to downplay her trumpet parts on the new album. ”You smashed it!” Jules says approvingly, before Celia suggests a toast. “To Fern!” they all yell, smashing their mugs together. Moments later, it’s time to toast Jules’ songwriting. “Right,” quips Soph, “can we talk about me now, then?”
Looking back, The Big Moon struggle to make sense of their meteoric rise thus far – but they’ve certainly found themselves surprised by the realities of being in a successful band. “When we played Scala ahead of the debut,” reminisces Celia, thoughtfully munching on a biscuit, “it was our biggest ever show at that point, and we’d sold it out. We crowdsurfed! We had finished our [debut] album! It was a whole time. The next day Jules woke up and there was a dog shit in her bedroom.”
“Actually, it was three dog shits,” Jules grimaces, remembering the unsavoury gift left by her housemate’s dog. “Three dried up shits. I was too drunk to work out how to clean it up properly, so I just got some loo roll on my hand and picked it up – it was quite dry – and I put it in the bin. Then I sprayed perfume on the three spots.”
“Jules was like, ‘Yeaaaah, I’m a rock star now!’” Celia laughs. “‘Playing big venues and we totally nailed it… ah wait – this is my life.’”
The Big Moon’s debut, ‘Love in the 4th Dimension’ was magical precisely because it seized on the giddy excitement of a band that had come together almost by fluke, touring the world and making a record together for the first time. It was also set against the rosy-eyed backdrop of Jules falling in love with her now-fiance – who proposed onstage at last year’s Green Man festival. Though disposing of rogue faeces certainly featured in the members’ personal stories before, that same grim realism never made it onto the first record. Rather ‘Love in the 4th Dimension’ was a perfectly ambitious, infatuated and wide-eyed first effort.
That same debut bagged The Big Moon a well deserved Mercury Prize nomination. “All these cameras were flashing,” says Jules, recalling their stroll down the red carpet. “My face started twitching.” “Smile and wave!” laughs Fern.
‘Love In The 4th Dimension’ now stands in noticeable contrast to the band’s second album, where the worries of everyday life are inescapable. The title – ‘Walking Like We Do’ comes from one specific lyric on ‘A Hundred Ways to Land’. “We don’t know where we’re going, but we’re walking like we do.” It’s a quarter-life crisis, encapsulated.
“On that first record, I was falling in love and starting a band, and writing songs for the first time, and throwing shit at the wall,” agrees Jules. “Mercury-nominated shit,” Celia reminds her. “Is this a song?!” Jules picks up. “Yes? Let’s go with it! This time I feel a bit older, and different. Everything feels big, strange, and very scary.”
At some point in your 20s, things begin to shift. Despite feeling like an oversized baby flailing cluelessly along, one guess at a time, the tasteful wedding invites somehow begin to stack up in your designated ‘scraps of paper’ drawer from friends who appear to have their whole life plan sorted out already. Some of us are instead ageing millennials with an unnerving abundance of dad energy – and there’s plenty of processing along these lines taking place on ‘Walking Like We Do’. “You only ever write about things you’re trying to understand, or things that need explaining,” Jules reasons. “When I listen to music, I want it to tell me something that I don’t know.”
Accordingly, album cut ‘Barcelona’ grapples with a farewell blow-out for a friend who’s moving away to Spain after making a fortune on BitCoin investments: “I’m at the party wondering if it’s alright for me to toast her future, and drink heavy for mine,” sings Jules. ‘Your Light’ – possibly the biggest banger The Big Moon have ever put their name to – falls firmly into the escapist category; the planet is burning, so we might as well have one last hurrah. And ‘Holy Roller’ meanwhile searches for something concrete to believe in, swiping aside payday loans, casual porn consumption, and data trails in the process. “I’m gonna start a religion,” declares the chorus prophetically. The latter is the very first song Jules wrote for ‘Walking Like We Do’ after a period of creative stasis. “For a couple of months I was writing songs that sounded just the same as the songs we had been playing on tour,” she says. “It didn’t feel quite right. It needed to go somewhere else. Opening some double doors maybe?“
“Parting the sea?” suggests Celia. “Yes,” Jules concurs. “Like Moses.” The band snort in mild horror. “That’s your headline,” laughs Soph. “Jules thinks she’s Moses”.
“Staying the same didn’t feel right, it felt pointless,” their vocalist continues, newly composed. “I know how to write those kinds of songs about love, or whatever. I guess ‘Holy Roller’ isn’t that different to the songs on the first album, but lyrically it’s more specific. I felt good about it.”
The pursuit of a shake-up led to some unusual new routes; for a particular track her approach pointed firmly in one direction. When it came to ‘Take A Piece’ Jules penned the song for a superstar; though if you’re picturing The Big Moon singer putting on her Max Martin cap and heading off to pop songwriting bootcamp, then think again. “Mentally, I was trying to write it for someone else,” she starts, “but that other person has literally no idea at all.”
Who did she have in mind? “It was Zayn Malik from One Direction!” she announces. ”I’d seen that documentary about One Direction where everyone saw how crazy their lives were. I was trying to find new ways to write new kinds of songs. So I thought, maybe I’ll just pretend I’m Zayn?”
Your video for ‘Take A Piece’ is heavily inspired by 1990s and 2000s pop. Nostalgia is everywhere in music at the moment. Why do you think that is?
Soph: “Genres are less specific now. There are less subcultures. It’s kind of a mush? Perhaps now is the time to go back?”
Jules: “Nostalgia feels like quite a safe place. I remember when we were getting ready for the ‘Take A Piece’ video. I was looking at pictures of Britney and Justin in their double denim couple-y days [at the 2001 American Music Awards] and thinking about being a child, reading magazines, looking at that picture, and not worrying about anything bigger.”
Returning to 2020, there is a lot to be concerned about. You campaigned for Labour during the recent general election, and protested with Extinction Rebellion last year. Do you feel a responsibility to speak about these things publicly?
Jules: “If you have thousands of people who might listen to you, it feels like you should talk about these things, really. Of course you get a few people saying, ‘urgh, stick to the music.’ Which I love!”
Celia: “It’s a really important balance. We pick what we’re going to say, and how we’re going to say it. We also do stuff in our own lives that stays separate. You don’t want to just stick a rainbow flag or an Extinction Rebellion sticker on something – it’s really important [to get it right]. We are musicians, and there are some things we don’t know much about, even if we personally feel strongly about them. You don’t want to be spreading misinformation. We try and do it as responsibly as possible. Yay! Life!”
Though ‘Walking Like We Do’ is by no means a stridently political record, the bleak current climate lingers in the fringes – there’s often skepticism, and a feeling of hopelessness that was absent from the debut. ‘Dog Eat Dog’ – written not long after the Grenfell Tower fire of 2017 – is The Big Moon’s most sombre song to date. The blaze in North Kensington killed 72 people, and a police investigation is still ongoing. Meanwhile, many of the residents made homeless by the fire have still not been rehoused permanently. Though ‘Dog Eat Dog’ doesn’t directly reference to the tragedy, the song touches on social divisions and exploitation by the rich. “It felt like London was grieving for a long time,” Jules says. “It still is. It felt like such a strong symbol for something that’s really wrong in our society, the division between rich and poor is so wide now. I didn’t set out to write a song about that, or anything,” she says.
“But it was in your mind?” offers Soph. “Yeah,” Jules nods.
Sketches in hand, The Big Moon’s minds turned to recording; after working with indie production don Catherine Marks (INHEAVEN, Wolf Alice) on the debut, they decamped to Atlanta this time around to hole up in Ben H. Allen’s studio. It’s an established rock’n’roll cliche – a band makes it big, and jets off Stateside. Though The Big Moon seem amused by any suggestions of hedonism and excess, their decision to hole up in studio was one of practicality. “I think it turned out being cheaper to just fly there,” Jules shrugs. “And Ben would’ve needed to get nicer flights [to record in London], ‘cos he’s like, a real person,” observes Celia.
Still, after pouring everyday life into ‘Walking Like We Do’, escaping from it ultimately shaped the record. “We got to live there with no distractions,” Soph says. “We live in Atlanta now!”
Ben H. Allen, the producer behind experimental rock records such as Animal Collective’s ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’ and ‘Halcyon Digest’ by Deerhunter, also proved the perfect match. “It was really exciting to be super experimental,” enthuses Fern, recalling one slightly hungover recording session for ‘Waves’.
And the final brick of ‘Walking Like We Do’ fell into place at the last minute, with Jules finishing ‘Your Light’ on the plane over. “It had a whole different set of lyrics before that,” she admits. “Which were quite fillery.” Not content with adopting a “that’ll do” approach, she dug deep. “And now I actually think it’s my favourite song that I’ve ever done.”
‘Your Light’ isn’t just their best and biggest song to date – it’s also the rabble-rousing centrepiece of an album that feels both optimistic and skeptical at the same time. ‘Walking Like We Do’ is a coping mechanism for troubling times. “Nobody has the answers,” concludes Jules. “But music is there to help.”