Nine Songs: The Big Moon
Juliette Jackson has always loved guitar bands.
Jackson didn’t grow up with her bandmates in The Big Moon - guitarist Soph Nathan, bassist Celia Archer and drummer Fern Ford - who were formed after Jackson recruited musicians to play the songs she was already writing in her bedroom. But meeting later in life meant they had each already formed their own music tastes to bring to the writing table. Jackson puts it simply: “If we all liked exactly the same music we would sound quite boring.” Instead, the band’s music is vibrant and dynamic. “There are bands that Fern likes that I hated at first,” Jackson admits, “but they’ve grown on me.”
Now the quartet listen to music most when they’re driving from show to show in their van. “We’re a little bit pushier than just recommending new tracks,” says Jackson, “Whoever’s driving gets to play whatever they want.
We speak before the band’s other three members head over to Jackson’s to get ready for the Q Awards and then speed to Oxford for yet another sold-out show. The Big Moon won’t win the Best Breakthrough Act Award for which they are nominated (Rag’n’Bone Man will take that instead), but later that night the quartet will go on to play a stellar penultimate show of a twenty-date UK tour - their biggest to date - which concludes at London’s KOKO two nights later.
Her chosen songs – from Dusty Springfield to Pixies, and The White Stripes to The Kinks, have a dirtiness to them. Just like the racket with which The Big Moon jump around onstage and scream into their microphones, the songs Jackson cites as her most inspirational are tune-laden pop songs with an undoubted raw edge.
“Pixies are my favourite band, I've definitely listened to them more than any other band. It was hard to pick a song, I ended up just closing my eyes and pointing because I didn't really know which one to pick. With Pixies I feel there's just so much there; all the stopping and starting and the screaming and Kim Deal - Kim Deal's voice and Kim Deal's basslines - and all the weird timings, the freaky lyrics that don't make any sense and the loud and quietness of how they play. They've been a really huge inspiration to me.
“When I listen to Pixies I feel like music can be anything, it made me stop worrying what a song is gonna turn into. Before The Big Moon I always used to try and write songs and I never really got anywhere. I used to listen to music that was more polished and finished and I'd compare my music to that and just feel like "Ugh! I'm never gonna be as good as them." But Pixies sound so free and wild. They prove that music can go anywhere and if you feel like turning around and playing a different timing and completely different music suddenly, you can just do that. I love how surprising their music is.
“All four of them have their own brilliant thing going on: the drums are really cool and sometimes jazzy, Joey Santiago’s guitar lines are amazing, he's also got that ugly, gnarly guitar thing going on that I love – loads of bending, clashy notes. And Frank Black as well! No one screams like that.
"I think they're all amazing but I guess Kim Deal has a special place in my heart because there's just something about her, she's so fucking cool. Her voice doesn't sound like anyone else's, it's so pure and so smooth, she's a huge inspiration.”
“I wasn't sure if I could pick Pixies as well as The Breeders, but fuck it! They're two different bands.
“I wanted to put this in here because seeing as this is the story of The Big Moon, as a band we have quite a broad range of music tastes. We all love bands and guitar music generally, but there are so many styles and it can go so many different ways. We all like a lot of the same bands but there aren't that many songs where we have that special cross-over moment and we find a song that we all adore. In the van, whoever’s driving gets to play whatever they want.
“Quite soon after we formed as a band we went round to Fern's house to try and think of a band name. We had this great night where we got really drunk and danced to Tom Jones. I seem to remember making quite a lot of mess, spilling drinks and stuff. It was just four girls getting very drunk together. We all realised that we loved this song and someone put it on the playlist.
“We were thinking about calling our band No Aloha after that, for about a week. We even wrote it in big letters on Fern's bedroom wall. We thought it'd be a really cool name, but then in the end we thought it'd be a bit of a mouthful to say on stage - "Hi, We're No Aloha!" - and we didn't want a lifetime of spelling it to people. But whenever it comes on in the van we're always like "yaaaay"!”
“Do you know that film Empire Records? It's got Liv Tyler and Renée Zellweger in it and it's a very 90s’ coming-of-age movie about these kids who work in a record shop. I used to be completely obsessed with it, I wanted to be Liv Tyler and I wanted to have her fluffy jumper. They used to put loads of sugar in their coffee and when I was fifteen and starting to make coffee for the first time, I used to put ten sugars in it, because that was what the kids in Empire Records did! This song comes on at the end, just as all the characters are dancing together. It’s so lifting and so fresh. There are no other songs in the world where an accordion sounds so good.
“I've listened to other songs by The The but I'm much more of a song person than an album person. I'll make playlists and go back again and again to the exact same song. I feel like they've got a couple of other bangers, I can't think what they're called, but 'This is the Day' sounds exactly like what it is. It sounds exactly like what they're singing: "This is the day when things fall into place!"
“It's also a song that me and Celia really bonded over when we first met. We both realised at the same time how much we love that film and we both have it as our 'wake up in the morning and pull your finger out' song.”
“I wasn't sure if I should put this song in, I was wondering if I should make weirder choices but then I was just like "fuck it!"
“It's one of the best songs ever, I go back to it again and again and again, and it always feels so good. There's something so satisfying about it – the way the chords change and the meaning of the lyrics. Isn't it about the Kinks' manager hooking up with a girl who was actually a guy dressed as a girl? It's such a cool thing to write a song about, but it's really subtle. Unless you listen carefully, you don't really notice that that's what it's about. I love songs that have a secret meaning. It's so simple, but so satisfying.
“It's also a very beautifully written song with the way the melodies go and the way the key changes. But because it's the Kinks it has this really cool ugly, rough sound that makes it feel so much cooler. The best songs are the ones that are beautifully written, but recorded in a dirty way.
“I'm always looking for ways to make our songs more interesting. If you just play all the chords and everything is perfectly in tune and in time, the music is whitewashed and comes out as a straight line. It's boring. Soph and I are always faffing around with guitar parts and trying to find ways to make them less in tune, or less pretty. You can have the most basic song, but if you cover it in stuff that's a little bit discordant or a little bit weird it makes it all so much more interesting.
“I couldn't really say when I first heard ‘Lola’. It's one of those ones where you're just born and you know it. I didn't go and buy it in a second-hand shop or anything like that. I don't know where that came from, I don't even know when that started but I've got a few Kinks records and I really love them.
“I got a big record dump from one of my best friend's dads when I was a teenager. He's been really influential actually, he gave me so much music. My music collection was just there suddenly, a big stack. There was loads of Motown stuff like Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, The Supremes and Marvin Gaye. He used to be a Northern Soul DJ in Yorkshire or somewhere and he's just a cool dude – maybe I first heard the Kinks because of him.”
“The album this song is on – A Girl Called Dusty – was in that pile of records that my friend's dad gave to me and that was the first I'd ever heard of her. I love the key change: it sounds really sad but really hopeful at the same time, it gives me a lot of feelings.
“I used to listen to this album obsessively. I'd sit and listen and while I was listening I'd type out the lyrics and listen again and try to dissect everything in the music and work out how it sounded like that. How it sounded so good – where each tambourine hit was in every bar, where the key change comes in and why that feels so good and whether the key change goes up or goes down. I got really analytical and lame about it. I just really wanted to understand why it was so good! It’s just as incredible as “Walk On By” and those other Burt Bacharach songs – they're all so emotional!
“I don't think I have listened to the Gene Putney version, or maybe it's something I've heard and not really noticed, I don't know. If it was on the radio I’ve probably heard it. It’s the Dusty version that I have in my heart.”
“It's such a tune! That's the main reason it's on this list, I want everyone to listen to it more. I love the vocal delivery – that crooning is my favourite – that really smooth, male, cheesy-sounding vocal: I love it.
“I love the sentiment. I don't know exactly what it's about but I'm guessing it's about when you meet someone for the first time and you screw it up and you gotta start again. Or you meet someone and you're too awkward to be cool and you're like "fuck! I just wish I could meet you all over again and be a cool, normal person.” I love the lyrics "When I next saw you, my heart reached out for you! My hands stuck like glue to my sides." It sounds like the feeling you have in a dream where you can't run. It's another one we listen to in the van all the time. It's just such a banger.
“We always wanted to do a cover of it but we haven't quite got round to it yet. I really enjoy covers. It's really fun to take someone else's song and rip it up, pull it apart and add new music into it, whole new parts, or take lyrics out and put new lyrics in and just fuck it up. I love playing covers live and surprising people with them, because we can see it in their faces: they know we're playing something they know, but they can't work out where they know it from, because we're playing it so differently.
“At the moment we're covering Bonnie Tyler's “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and it's just so bombastic: I didn't wanna totally change it. We used to play a cover of Madonna's “Beautiful Stranger” and that one was really different from the original. If we did ‘Rip It Up’ I'd definitely sing it in that crooning voice, because I love it so much. I'd get Celia to try and play that weird bubbly bass line with some cool pedal.”
“Again, with Blur it was hard to pick just one. I really love how this song starts, I like that guitar part, the scratching chuggy thing and then the way it explodes into this Beatles-y chorus.
"I think Graham Coxon might be my favourite guitarist ever. It's that same thing: he's always offsetting Damon Albarn's beautiful melodies with really freaky, strange discordant guitar lines. I think they like different music, right? I remember Graham Coxon loved My Bloody Valentine, really droney guitar music like that and Damon Albarn is more poppy, and that combination together sounds so cool. You can always hear Graham under all Blur's songs, just making it all so much cooler.
“I wasn't really caught up in the Britpop war, I grew up hearing it come through my older brother and sister's bedroom walls really. They used to play Blur and Oasis and Pulp, there was no distinction. There was no war going on in our house. We just loved all of it!
“I feel bad but I haven't listened to Blur's most recent album. I need to listen to more new music but I'm pretty lazy about it. I love songs that I know and you know that feeling when you can sing along to a song that you love? You can't do that with new music or you have to get to know it first. It's just laziness! I always find listening to other people's music inspiring and I'm always like "ooh I wanna write a song that's like this!" And quite often that'll be a spark into something else entirely, but I don't wake up in the morning and put on an album in the way I imagine a lot of people do. I listen to music in the van a lot, that's where I listen to music the most.
“I'll see new bands at festivals or Soph is really on top of new music. In the van it's normally Spotify, we have a playlist that we play all the time but there's no new music on it, its pure 80s’ and 90s’ sentimental classics. It's called FM FM! It was created and started by our wonderful ex-tour manager. We all love Magic FM, so it was meant to be the whole of their playlist made without adverts. It's so long that you could listen to it for days and not hear the same song twice.”
“I've got no idea what it's about but from what I can tell it's about a monkey that explodes things, a monkey that likes the colour red but doesn't like green apples, so he explodes the apples. I just think it's really cool. I love The White Stripes. I love Jack White. I love Meg White. I love how simple their songs are, and instinctive. It feels like they've just started playing at that moment and they're making it up as they go along, just seeing how and where it goes. Even the lyrics - the "exploding monkey" - it feels so random.
“They let the music go where it wants to go naturally, they don't get bogged down trying to glue together complicated bits of melody. Quite a lot of the process of songwriting is trying to find ways to stick bits together and it becomes mathematical in that way. Sometimes you get swamped and weighed down with two bits of music that you can't find a way of joining. And then I listen to The White Stripes and think "Ahh! You just play them next to each other, you don't have to join them." It's like what I said about Pixies, they make me feel like music can be anything and can be as simple and as messy as you want. And as loud as you want! I find it really freeing.
“A lot of songwriting is getting in the right frame of mind, so it's good to have this music that doesn't make you feel worried about what you're doing and not be overly precious about it. If one bit of music isn't working with another bit you've got, you can just throw it away and write another bit, it actually doesn't take very long and maybe it will be better. Or maybe it will be worse, but whatever! There's something magical about it.
“I loved the three-colour thing the White Stripes did, the little codes in the lyrics about the number three and the symbolism in the album covers. And the way they pretended to be brother and sister! Or were they? Or weren't they?! They're just so fucking cool. Out of all the bands to come out of the last twenty years I think they're one of the best.
“I'm also so glad they broke up. I'm so glad they stopped and that Jack White does his other stuff now. They left the things that they did and they didn't change. It was just perfect.
“I feel like this could be an old song but it sounds very modern as well. I love how sleazy and 70s’ it sounds. I picked it because I went to see Fat White Family a few years ago and before I went to see them I'd stopped playing guitar for a long time, given up on the idea of starting a band and had lost interest in music a little bit, I'd been in bands for years but nothing had ever happened. Then I started going out with a guy who was really into music and he took me to see Fat White Family and loads of bands actually around that time, but I saw Fat White Family play in The Macbeth in Hoxton.
“It was so exciting! I hadn't really expected anything, I‘d just heard the name and I thought it sounded stupid. I felt like I walked in completely by accident and then I saw them and it felt how it felt and I just knew immediately that I wanted to start playing guitar again and make loud noises with people and have that feeling more. I knew that I wanted to start a band, basically.
“I love the distortion on the vocals, on a lot of our earlier recordings I was putting distortion on the vocal, it's a little bit less now but it's still always there. I think it smooths everything over, or sands it down. I really love the tension and release in ‘Auto Neutron’, there's that moment halfway through where he screams and all the music gets loud and I've listened to it over and over again, trying to work out how that sounds so good. That exact moment is so perfectly timed and mixed.
“Fat White Family are so guttural and thrusty on stage. It's passionate. It's hard to explain, but it's just really cool. As The Big Moon we really try to feed off the crowd and what they’re doing, you have the odd show where everyone's just standing staring at you and in those situations it feels really strange to be onstage at all and to be making noise, you realise how weird it is that you stand on a box and make loud music and people just watch.
“It’s the shows where people let their hair down and have a crazy time that are the best. That's why we go to gigs, to have a physical experience and be there in a place with a load of people you'll probably never see again, but you'll have bonded by the fact that you love this music. You throw yourself into each other. It's so important that we have a reaction like that.”