Formed in 2014, the London all female four-piece hit the big time when their stunning debut album Love in the 4th Dimension was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, a recognition that here was a good old fashioned indie rock and pop band who had the tunes to back up their enticing female gang imagery. Since then they have indulged in their various solo projects, played backing band to Marika Hackman on her I’m Not Your Man album, toured with The Pixies, and are about to release their second album, Walking Like We Do, followed by a tour with Bombay Bicycle Club and their own UK headline jaunt. Lead singer, guitarist and songwriter Juliette Jackson took some time out to chat with Brightonsfinest.
Obviously, it’s been amazing for you guys. Spring 2017 was when the first album came out…
Yeah, nearly three years ago. Weird. I didn’t even think of it.
Seems like quite a long time ago!
After it came out we spent a year on tour. I didn’t even try and write any songs then. I don’t like writing when on tour. You don’t ever get any privacy. I like to have my speakers around me, and all that shit. It’s easier to have one brain as a performer, for that period. And then come home from tour and use a different kind of brain.
Touring is about putting on the clothes, putting on the makeup, and pretending that your really confident, that your brave enough to be a singer in a band. Being the writer is all about being introspective, being shy, and trying to understand all your deepest, darkest thoughts, and not really talking to people that much. I like to be alone. I like to think that nobody is listening, otherwise I feel shy
So, we were on tour for a year, and then spent a year writing, and then recorded it in January of last year (2019), so we’ve been sitting on this egg for a while, but just going through the record label machine.
That must have been frustrating.
But you’ve been road-testing some of the new songs?
Yeah, we’ve played the singles, and then there’s this song called ‘Why’, and ‘Don’t Think’, which is quite a big live-y song, and ‘Waves’, which is a bit more chilled and ambient, which is nice. Nice to play something a little more downbeat.
While the first album was concerned with love and being in love, this one strikes me as being more about turbulence in the modern world, I guess.
Someone said the other day that the first album was quite inward-looking, and this one is more outward-looking, and that makes sense to me. I feel like when you are writing songs and you are trying to process your feelings, you’re processing and understand the things that are going on around you, the things that you are thinking about. When I wrote the first album’s songs I was really falling in love for the first time. So that was all I could really think about.
In the last three years the world has got a lot bigger, weirder, and scarier. And that is the thing I am trying to process in my writing, the thing I’m trying to understand, I guess.
So, it’s more on a personal level, rather than what is going on around the world?
A bit of both really. The album is about growing up and moving forward. It comes with this sense of instability, which is what has been going on politically and socially, and environmentally. It feels like we are on this cliff edge. I feel like a lot of artists are trying to understand it. Nobody has the answers obviously, but I think there is some kind of solace in music. When you can describe a feeling perfectly, music is a language that is happy and sad all at once. And when things feel stressful and out of your control, and then you find a song that tells you how you are feeling… like freedom from all that. Do you know what I mean?
Absolutely. I mean, music is an escape, in a good way, whether as a performer or as a punter. I mean, I’ve spent the last week processing what has happened post-General Election…
It is a weird period at the moment, and it seems to be continuing. I feel like it started with Brexit, and then Donald Trump got elected. I don’t know, things just seem to be getting more weird and scary. Public discourse has become really frantic and polarised. I don’t know if we can come back from that, to be honest. The goalposts have been moved.
I’m really looking forward to Christmas this year, put my feet up, stop worrying and fretting, get stuck into other things!
Yeah, we really need to see our families, and get drunk! The day after the election we did a radio session on 6Music, and we were feeling all a bit ‘Whoah! What the fuck has just happened!?’ Feeling pretty down about it. But Billy Bragg was also on the radio session, and it was like the 6Music office Xmas party with Billy Bragg. He was like the best person you could meet, the day after a shitty election, because he was so full of energy for the future, like already. Someone who had been campaigning his whole life. It was really inspiring, and it felt really good. In these times you need that kind of space to be together with people, play music together, and get a bit drunk. A tequila!
I got horrendously drunk on election night, which didn’t help matters the next day… So, the song ‘It’s Easy Then’, that’s a bit about what you are talking about?
Yeah, I think so. Sometimes you need to admit that you don’t always want to be able to cope with everything, or to be able to understand everything, whether that’s in your own personal life, or everything going on around you. You do need a space to be vulnerable, a space to not think, or over-complicate things. I feel like when I was writing it I was trying to make myself feel better. The lyrics are definitely a bit of a panic attack, acknowledging quite an edgy feeling, but the music is really rich, and grounding. I find it grounding. Playing it, it’s just these two chords. It just feels really solid
And ‘A Hundred Ways to Land’. “We don’t know where we’re going, but we’re walking like we do” That’s such a brilliant couplet!
It’s the idea of finding strength in what you have around you. Nobody knows what is going to happen, and things are weird at the moment. But we all have our own power, in the communities that we are in. I think that’s really important to remember when you read in the news stuff that is weird, and you feel so disconnected from it, and out of control from it. But really, you are connected to your community, and your town, and your life, and your friends, and you can make a difference, locally. I think it’s really good to remember that.
How did you approach making this album?
It was pretty different. The first album was recorded live, with the intention of recording our live sound basically. We’d been touring for years, and the songs already knew themselves. We were like ‘let’s just record it as it is’. This time around we didn’t tour the songs first. We obviously played them together a lot, but we wanted to make something that sounded less live. I wanted to make something that was deeper, more spacious, sonically. Something that had more levels to it, than just a rock album, or a rock band set up. So, stuff like how sub-bass can go much lower than a bass guitar. We were trying to make sounds that were more hard hitting, or just a bit purer, I guess. We used a lot of drum samples, and worked with the guitar tones a lot more, to try and sound like you could play less of, but still fill more of the gap, if you know what I mean. Working with a less-is-more approach. Because sometimes you don’t need five guitar tracks. You just need one, and you only need it to happen at the end of a song, and it has so much impact, more impact than it would have if you played it all the way through. It was about looking for those dynamics, and trying to make moments.
What is your favourite track?
My favourite song changes every time I listen to it. At the moment it is definitely ‘Your Light’. I feel like that song makes a lot of sense at the moment. We played it the day after the election, and on that radio session. A lot of the lyrics in that song felt really appropriate. When you’re writing a song you never really know exactly why. Sometimes the meaning of a song comes a little later, and what it is for. I really felt it was that song on that day.
And that song went through so many stages, like I had a whole different sheet of lyrics before, to what it is now. But I feel really proud of it. I didn’t really like the lyrics before, but I dug in, and really thought about it, and thought about what I was really trying to get across. And I feel that I did get it across. It’s a nice feeling to have said what you meant to say.
It’s about freeing yourself, would you say, in a nutshell? Are things changing, getting worse, better…
Or you are just growing up and starting to notice them… That song is all those things, but it is about acknowledging darkness… we’re all going to feel bad sometimes about bad things. It’s also about finding hope and joy, and comfort in the things around you, the powers that you do have.
You did an interview with us, years ago, when you had literally juts started, and you name checked The Pixies as one of your influences. And you’ve just been on the road with them. How was that!?
Yeah, it was fine. Amazing! They are my favourite band, and they asked us to go on tour with them, so it was all a bit of pinch myself moment. I got to watch them play every night. So much energy, and they play a different set list every night. They have great fans, who are really into their music. And as a support band, they all arrive early, and stand there and listen and watch. They are interested in who you are and what you are about.
You’ll be doing some dates with Bombay Bicycle Club. How did you hook up?
They just asked us! It’s a big tour, it’s kinda the same size as the Pixies tour. Yeah, we want to play Alexandra Palace, three nights in a row! It’s going to be fun. We’ll be doing a headline tour pretty much straight after, and then another in the Autumn.
For now it’s all The Big Moon. I mean we all have our own things going on. I’ve started writing songs with other people. Celia is playing with Gently Tender, who I’m going to see tonight actually. Soph’s still playing with Our Girl. Fern is making amazing ambient drone music, in a studio in her house. You need that extra stuff to feed into the bigger stuff.