The Big Moon – Interview – 2017

There were doubters. There probably still are. But anyone with an iota of musical appreciation should acknowledge that in Juliette Jackson, we have found a rare gem. A shining star who just knows how to write naturally, space and dynamic thrust at the fore, as a songwriter and a lyricist. Already universally acclaimed, Love In The 4th Dimension is a stunning debut album from the London/Brighton four-piece. Last year they played The Great Escape with two big shows and will be back on 20th April for a headline show. Jackson took time out from a bit of down time with her boyfriend in Rotterdam to talk SXSW, discovering guitar music, learning to write songs and being a waitress in a cocktail bar…

Where are you?
I’m in Rotterdam, which is where my boyfriend lives. I’m half here and half in London. I was in America last week so I came here for a few days. I go back to London tomorrow.

What’s Rotterdam like?
The buildings have high ceilings and big windows, and the roads are wide. And there’s loads of room for cycling, and the parks are big, and not too many people. Whereas London is so overcrowded.

How was SXSW?
First time we’d been. It was one of the most fun weeks I had ever had in my life. We did 11 shows in five days. Started every morning with a bowl of cheerios, and I ended every night with the same level of drunkeness, on margaritas. It felt like it happened all on one day because of that routine. And because of the jet lag and it was very hot weather, which was confusing but really nice, and because we did so many shows. And suddenly I was on a plane home. And the planes home didn’t have any TVs! What the fuck?! A nine hour flight with no TVs! I was so upset about it, until I put my headphones on and took a valium and fell asleep for the whole thing. Thank God I had that! But that week was so exciting, amazing and intense.

Did you get to see anyone else play?
We saw lots of bands. Shame, who are really, really good, and we hung out with them a bit. Also saw Japanese House who were really good. Also this girl called Gabriella Cohen from Australia. She’s amazing. Meilyr Jones, this Welsh guy, bit like Morrissey. At one point he was wearing someone’s rucksack but leaning into the crowd the wrong way. Where did he get that rucksack from?

Would you call yourself a Londoner?
I think I would. Even before I moved into the centre of London I lived in a suburb, in Bromley. I’ve lived there long enough to feel like a hipster. I’ve got heart shaped sunglasses… I’ve dyed my hair. I feel Londoney.

Were you in bands before The Big Moon?
Yeah, I’ve been in loads of bands, but never as the singer or the writer. I was too shy. I played the bass at the back. That was my thing. Before we started this band I was working as a waitress in a really fancy cocktail bar, but I wasn’t making the cocktails because I didn’t know how. I was just pouring water into people’s glasses. I was the water girl and had to dress quite smart, and fill up people’s glasses of water, people who would spend hundreds of pounds on drinks, while I was on the minimum wage, and feeling a bit like ‘Why the fuck are you spending all this money on drinks?!’ I feel uncomfortable around cocktails unless they are really cheap. I didn’t have any qualifications. I didn’t go to uni. So, it was either go to university and try and make something of my life, or I can try and start a band. So I did that.

You just went around asking people to be in your band?
Yes. A lot of my friends were in bands at the time, so I asked them if they wanted to leave their band and join mine, or if they knew anyone who played instruments, or if they could learn to play things, or they had brothers or sisters who played things. Eventually I found everyone just through friends, through sending people endless annoying Facebook messages, and putting posters up, and hanging out in guitar shops and looking for people who looked kinda cool. So embarrassing.

Did you teach yourself how to write songs?
When I first started trying to write songs, it was just me, by myself. I downloaded loads of tutorials on how to use Logic, and watched all of those, which are so boring. But I felt I had to do it to make some demos, to be able to record my ideas. I have a terrible memory and can’t really work things out unless they are right in front of me. So, I started using all of that and started making little demos, and experimenting. They sounded awful, but I think that if you’re trying to write a song it doesn’t really matter how it sounds, it’s more about the actual content of the song. In a way, that limitation of everything sounding a bit shit, because you’re plugging everything directly into your laptop, it means you end up experimenting more with the notes you’re playing, and you think more about the lyrics, because it doesn’t sound great so you have to work harder to get a good song. My demos still sound awful, I’m really bad at it.

What were you listening to growing up?
I didn’t really listen to much music when I was growing up. I don’t come from a particularly musical family. My dad did have two records that I remember: Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield, and Abba, the one with the helicopter on the front (Arrival). I used to look at that a lot and think ‘what? What’s going on there’? As a tenager I used to buy Smash Hits and go for whatever they said was cool and pull out the posters. I had loads of posters like A1, Steps, and Vengaboys and really shit bands. And then a friend at school said ‘I’m going to see The White Stripes at Brixton Academy’. ‘What’s that? Where is that’? I didn’t know anything about it, but I went along and it completely blew my mind. I’d never heard music that loud before. I’d never seen anyone play a guitar live before. I hadn’t realised how much I had missed out. I was 14, 15 when I went to the show. My world was blown up. ‘I want to play a guitar now’! I bought an acoustic guitar from a guy from a local newspaper, and tried to play it. I was rubbish for a long time. It was quite difficult, and I am quite impatient. And I was learning out of a book that had that song by Lionel Ritche, ‘Hello, is it me you’re looking for’ (she starts singing it), basically a song about phoning people.

Can you tell me about Love in the 4th Dimension?
That song is about feeling so in love with someone that you’ve gone onto another level. At the same time as I was trying to write songs I met someone and fell in love with them very quickly, and was floating on air. I hadn’t ever felt like that. You know when you’re lying in bed with someone and you’re feeling like you’re not really there, and you’re actually floating on the ceiling and looking down on the couple… ? So, I ended up trying to explain that kind of sensation and doing research on theories on other dimensions, like the astral plane, and The Summerland, this place people are supposed to go with their souls in limbo before they go to heaven. Kind of in between planes. It just seemed the right title for the album, too. There are a lot of love songs on the album, and the whole thing happened at the same time as I’ve been falling in love with someone. The forth dimension aspect is also like how you escape when you listen to music. Like when you put your headphones on and close your eyes, and you are in another world. So, in that way it felt like a really good title for an album as well.

You ended up working with Catherine Marks?
She was a name that people kept mentioning to us long before we even started thinking about recording an album. I’m not sure if that is because she is a girl and we’re all girls. Possibly. Up until we worked with her we had been doing it ourselves, but we wanted to work with someone in a studio who was objective and not playing an instrument. We had worked with a couple of others but she was the one who came in and said ‘I don’t want to change anything, keep all your settings on your pedals exactly the same. Keep all your amps and guitars.’ She really liked the way we sounded live, and that’s how we liked it too. And, we’d been touring these songs for two years, so we just wanted them to sound as we played them. We didn’t want anyone to come into the studio and project a big vision on to what we were doing. Catherine made us sound like us, but on a really good day! She’s a total boss. Really encouraging, but also brutal sometimes in a way you need in a studio. She would stand half out the door, smoking cigarettes and drinking Diet Coke and staring into space, and then suddenly turn around and say ‘I know what we have to do with the drums!’ I want to be like her when I grow up.

How about Soph, your guitarist. She’s from Brighton?
You say it Soph (as in sof-a), not Soph (as in sof-t) We have a band lawyer, and we had two meetings with him ever, and he kept calling her Soph (as in sof-t), and we were trying to listen to all this important legal jargon, but also trying really hard not to laugh. I don’t think you are supposed to laugh when you’re talking about legal stuff.

She was studying in Brighton, and lived with loads of bands in Brighton. She lived with The Magic Gang for a long time in a realy messy, dirty house. She’s also in another band called Our Girl, who she sings and writes for. You should look them up! When we first met she was in like four bands. But as The Big Moon got bigger she had to turn them down, and now she is in only two. I don’t know how she finds time to do all her other stuff. She’s an absolute machine of rock.

She is into graffiti too?
I’m not sure if she is doing any, but I’m sure most graffiti artists like to stay anonymous, don’t they? She might have an alter ego. She might even be Banksy. Banksy may be a girl.

Who is Banksy? That is the £500m question…
Well, I’m telling you now, she is Banksy.

Last time you were here was for The Great Escape. I saw you play at Komedia.
That was so early, like a matinee show. I remember that show well. Everyone was hung-over. We were hung over. Everyone just stood there and looked at us. We did another show that evening at the Corn Exchange, which was the total opposite. Everyone was so drunk and it was late.

We’re looking forward to your Haunt show
I love The Haunt. It’s one of those old school venues. There’s hardly any left in London. Painted black, lots of cupboards that lead nowwhere, an upstairs balcony.
Jeff Hemmings