The Big Moon: “I’d love to write some songs for a Disney film”
The English indie rockers tells us about touring, coming up with songs in their dreams and the hope that one day they’ll write something for a Disney movie
Image: El Hardwick
It’s a Wednesday afternoon when The Big Moon’s Soph Nathan and Jules Jackson join us on Zoom from their London homes. They’re both chatting away with mugs of tea in their comfy jumpers – an awfully normal sight for a rock band – after a hectic day driving equipment here and there for sound checks, rehearsals and setups.
“Yeah, we’ve been busy,” says Jules, lead vocalist and songwriter, who’d been doing all the driving since she’s the only one with a car. “We’ve had lots of rehearsals recently and I’ve just got all of our guitars set up all at once because they’re all very well played and quite neglected.”
The pair, alongside bandmates Celia Archer (bass) and Fern Ford (drums), are preparing for a run of gigs starting this month, where they’ll be playing songs from 2022’s Here Is Everything live for the first time.
“I took all of [the guitars] to see the tech guy,” continues Jules. “And he talked me through every detail of every guitar and the stuff that he changed. I was standing there thinking, ‘you have to remember this, you have to remember this,’” she laughs. “But there’s so much and I’ve forgotten all of it… sorry, Soph!”
Among the shows and festivals on the agenda is the band’s biggest headline gig to date at London’s Roundhouse – which seats around 71,000 people – on 31 May. “I grew up in Camden near the Roundhouse and they had different workshops and stuff for young people, and I used to rehearse there when I was a teenager,” says Soph, lead guitarist. “So, for me, it’s quite exciting to be playing our own show.”
And it goes deeper for Jules, too. She wrote most of Here Is Everything herself, being pregnant at the time, whilst trying to navigate her way into motherhood during lockdown. The Roundhouse will be the biggest showcase Big Moon have done of perhaps their most personal album yet.
“It’s nice to know that the songs are already out in the world and we’re playing them live for the first time, but people will already know them and love them,” admits Jules. “I think when we play a completely new song that no one’s heard before, I always feel a bit terrified,” she giggles. “I don’t know what that reaction is about because everyone’s always really nice about things. Like, no one’s ever booed us off stage!
“The other songs that we’ve played a bunch of times, it’s like, ‘Yes! I know this one. I know how to react, I know what I’m playing, I know where I am on stage,’ and you get into a rhythm. But these are just, like, a mystery.”
Out with the old, in with the new
Here Is Everything is the third studio album by The Big Moon, following 2020’s Walking Like We Do and their 2017 debut, Love In The 4th Dimension, which earned them a Mercury Prize nomination. Each one mirrors events from the band’s lives – from the high-flying rush of falling in love, to deep social and political turbulence, to family drama, to dealing with the recurrent feeling of instability.
They’ve all opened up a new chapter now, but things are still different. Especially post-pandemic. Three years ago saw Soph teaching guitar to fans over Zoom and Jules and the others working in farming and other small jobs to pay the rent. The band’s emotions have changed, their attitudes have changed, and they’ve matured.
“I feel like before the pandemic I worried about [playing live] more, but since we’ve been able to get back together and play together, I’ve just been really enjoying playing guitar and, like, making the most of those moments,” says Soph. I’ve been like, ‘Yeah, this is great! I love being able to do this.’ And that often overrides any nerves which is really nice when it does.”
But it’s not just on stage where things feel different. They’ve even seen a change watching others play too – soaking up the atmosphere of a gig and tasting how it feels to be an audience member instead.
“I saw Big Thief live and they did a solo in the second song, and I just – the sound of the guitar made me start crying,” Soph continues with a laugh. “And I was like, ‘Woah!’ You know when you’re a bit like, ‘What?’ This is intense.’ I mean, I was like, that’s good – I’m enjoying it! I’m appreciating it more now, in a way.”
Jules adds: “I got really emotional going to see Self Esteem last year. And that was the first show that I’d seen post lockdown, post having a baby as well. And I also just cried like an idiot.
“It’s just – the physical experience of the loudness and the lights and being surrounded by thousands of people who are all singing the same words and feeling the same thing at the same time is really special.”
It’s a kind of magic
Fans are the beating heart of a band – something The Big Moon fully agree on. Late last year, the foursome played a few intimate gigs in record shops and small venues to adoring fans who’ve loved their past albums. It was a safe space to share stories with one another – fans opening up to the band, or even the other way around – and it was therapeutic.
“We did an in-store tour – so we did stripped back versions of our songs – and a lot of them are very personal songs for Jules and myself to play in a really intimate setting,” says Soph. “But we chatted to people after or whoever came to each show, which was really lovely to do. And, I think, extra lovely after not being able to play for so long. We really love that and it meant a lot to be able to just talk to people and catch up.”
“There were so many people who had taken the songs into their lives and had their own stories and emotions attached to them that they told us,” adds Jules. “And it’s just so amazing to know that what we’re doing is worth it and it does make a difference to people’s lives. I think, when you’re doing it, it’s easy to think ‘Oh, this is just music. Whatever.’ But it is also – I don’t know, music is so important.
“To me and to other music fans – it does change how you see things sometimes and it enriches your experience, I guess. And it’s amazing to find out that we’re doing that for other people.
“There was one woman who said to me that she’d had PTSD after a very traumatic birth and that listening to our song, Trouble, was helping her,” continues Jules. “And that song also kind of does that for me. It’s like there’s magic in that song. Every time we play it, I’m like, ‘Yes! I feel better now!’”
But it can be a double-edged sword, writing about real events. At least Jules thinks so. When you take a key occurrence in your life and turn it into a song that’s about to be heard incessantly, it’s not always the escape you want it to be. Instead, it’s like you’re stuck there.
“I’ve been trying to think about music differently – I think, with our last album, it’s all so true and so real,” says Jules. “And I think that’s kind of become a bit of a burden to me when I’m trying to write stuff. I feel like everything I say has to be completely true and honest and real. But I’ve realised that music can also be an escape. I mean, I haven’t really done anything yet, but I’m just exploring what it would be if it wasn’t true.”
While Jules does the bulk of the songwriting, the others lend support in different ways. Mostly through individual ideas, suggestions, or just support. It means the creative process is largely a different experience.
“For us,” begins Soph, talking to Jules, “you bring the song and we’re like, ‘Oh my God, when did you write this? This is great!’ and that kind of thing. But, for you, you’re planning it through time and one chorus might take ages but something else might be easier. Obviously, I’m not experiencing that, so for us it seems different to what you’re actually experiencing when you’re trying to write. But the main thing is making the environment right for you.”
One of the biggest questions anyone has for a musician is how they get their ideas for a song. What’s their process – do they have one? Do they go with the flow? Is writing songs easy, difficult, exciting, fun… strenuous at times? Well, it turns out there’s a common thread. Sometimes all you need to do is fall asleep.
“It’s happened where I’ve had a dream about a song and I’ve woken up and managed to remember it,” says Jules. “Or you’ll just be waiting at the bus stop and then realise that there’s a melody just looping in your head. Like, why is that there? Did I just hear that in a shop?”
“That’s the thing I normally have with dreams,” Soph chimes in. “Often, I’m like, ‘I’ve just made the best song ever in my dream.’ And you wake up and you have no grasp on it. Like, it might not even have existed.”
“The other day I was ill,” continues Jules, “and I had a really high fever, and I was just making up these mad gobbledygook songs in my head and I couldn’t stop. It was so weird – it’s never happened to me before. Just these really bizarre melodies made out of things that sounded like words but weren’t words. It just kept happening – like, every five minutes I’d just be like, ‘Ugh. What’s that? What’s that?’ It was scary inside my brain!”
“Words, or…?” laughs Soph.
“They weren’t even words, Soph. I don’t think it could’ve been extracted,” Jules jokes.
“I also think that even if you write something completely fantasy, it’s always based in reality, right?” She continues. “Because it’s coming from you and your experiences and stuff that you know. So, yeah. I don’t know. It also definitely happens when you write a song and then later you realise it’s about something else – and you didn’t really know that you were doing that.”
“It’s just weird,” adds Soph.
“But writing also includes, like, listening to music or going to see music live – it’s really inspiring,” Jules jumps back in. “Just making time for that or making plans for that. But I’m, like, super lazy, so I have to really make an effort to do those things. I’m like, ‘Ugh. Fine. I’ll listen to this album. God!’ And then I’ll really enjoy it.”
Pleasing the inner child
With more touring and new countries to explore right around the corner, the band are constantly achieving new dreams that, just three years ago, in the height of the pandemic, seemed out of reach. But life has picked up again and there’s one dream Jules has had her eye on for a while.
“I’d love to write some songs for a Disney film,” she grins. “I recently watched a documentary about this guy called Howard [Ashman]. And he wrote all the songs for Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin… and those films that I grew up with – like, Beauty and the Beast was the first film I saw in the cinema, they were my movies as a child. And it was just amazing to see this footage of them being recorded.
“I don’t know – I just never appreciated that a person would’ve written those songs. Because they just feel like they exist in a kind of magical, childhood space. I just thought, ‘I bet that’s really fun’. Like, to have a scene, and just make a completely wild, musical song to be sung by all these characters.”
But touring is the priority right now. Here is Everything still feels “fresh”, they both reckon, and it deserves its moment in the sun before the group moves forward. “I’d love to play in Japan,” says Soph, thinking out loud. “I don’t know if that’s gonna happen.”
“Could happen soon,” responds Jules with a shrug. Sometimes it’s all about holding onto the magic.
The Big Moon are performing Here Is Everything live around the UK from May to June 2023.