“We’ve learnt we can be anything”: The Big Moon on avoiding the sophomore slump
Guitarists Jules Jackson and Soph Nathan on finding space, changing their headspace and scaling new heights for their second full-length album, Walking Like We Do.
If life were fair, then things would be easier the second time around. But music history is littered with bands who have clattered headfirst into the hurdle marked ‘sophomore slump’. Not The Big Moon, though. You’ll find them soaring clear in the outside lane.
The London quartet’s debut LP, Love In The 4th Dimension, rode a quirky wave of guitar-pop to a Mercury Prize nomination back in 2017, and its follow up Walking Like We Do is a worthy successor that melds controlled experimentation with a road-tested understanding of what makes the band tick. Its fresh palette – soaring synths, ringing piano intros, stacked vocal harmonies – is a perfect fit that took a little getting used to.
“It was a new experience writing for an audience that already exists and expects something,” vocalist and guitarist Jules Jackson admits. “For a few months, I put too much pressure on myself. After a while, we realised we could make any kind of music, and we didn’t have to copy the first album. We could do anything. I felt a lot more freedom after that.”
After wrapping up touring on Love In The 4th Dimension, The Big Moon pressed pause. Guitarist Soph Nathan released an excellent record with Our Girl – an experience she equates to swapping brains – while Jackson eventually settled back into writing mode. The initial roadblocks she describes came from a place of over-familiarity. Specifically, they came from her guitar.
“It was quite a long process of trying to find new ways to write songs,” she says. “Every time I sat down and tried to write in the way that I always have done, I would write the same kind of song. Your hands go to the same shapes on the guitar, and you have the little things that you instinctively do. I started playing the piano a lot more.”
At the same time, Jackson was adjusting to writing from a fresh perspective. Like the rest of us, her world isn’t the same as it was three or four years ago, and Walking Like We Do acknowledges the weird, frightening landscape outside its window. “I don’t think I wanted to write an album that was all about distraction and forgetting,” she says. “There is definitely a time and a place for the right song to come into your life and give you a bit of a break from thinking or trying to articulate things, but you always crash down to earth in the end.
“When I was writing the first album I was falling head over heels in love, and that was all I cared about. Those songs were the sound of me trying to process that. The last couple of years, it feels like I’ve grown up and the world has changed. Things got a lot stranger, and I think this album is us trying to process that and translate it into something that makes sense. It doesn’t.”
Make some space
Aided and abetted by Nathan and the rhythm section of Celia Archer and Fern Ford, who have parlayed their roles as bassist and drummer into multifaceted synth and sample work, Jackson eventually assembled an ambitious, melodically florid set of songs. With so much going on, room had to be made for the guitars that provided such a giddy rush on album one.
In a canny move, they sought to isolate them in empty pockets of space, dropping droning distortion over the outro of the opener It’s Easy Then, or twisting corkscrew riffs into the pop confection Why. On the loping, addictive single Your Light, the guitars are a clean, rhythmic counterpoint to the song’s driving pace. “Each guitar line has a reason behind it,” Nathan says. “With the first album, the instinct was to keep layering them.”
Jackson adds: “We really wanted to try new things, which does lead to picking and choosing where you put the guitar. On It’s Easy Then, there are none for the whole thing until the very last chorus. When Soph starts start playing – it’s like two notes – there’s so much emotion and joy because you haven’t had it yet. When you get a taste of it, it’s the best. It’s better than if you had played it for the whole song.”
Walking Like We Do was recorded in Atlanta with producer Ben H Allen III, who has worked alongside everyone from Deerhunter to Belle & Sebastian in the past. “We got on the phone and he was so excited about all of our demos,” Jackson says. “He had listened to them really deeply and sincerely loved them. He became like a fifth member of the band.” Nathan adds: “He was asking Jules about the lyrics, what they meant, what the intentions were for each song. He got into it before we even fully decided to go.”
Jackson and Nathan took their beloved guitars – a Gibson Les Paul Special Double Cut and a G&L ASAT Classic respectively – along for the ride and, when in the studio, also mingled with a handful of Telecasters, including one kitted out with a Bigsby tailpiece.
“They had the head of a Twin and a Vox AC30 in the control room,” Nathan says. “They’d link it up with different cabs. It was nice to be in the room and have the control with the head but also be able to just switch it out with lots of cabs and make different sounds. We normally use our own amps, but it just felt like there were so many options. You’d just keep going until you got the sound that felt right.”
Walking Like We Do is the sort of record that vindicates the choices made along the way. It doubles down on certain elements of The Big Moon’s style while boldly changing things up elsewhere. It feels right. “We’ve learnt we can be anything,” Jackson says. “As long as it’s us singing and us writing the lyrics and us writing the songs, we can play anything and do anything. It’ll sound like The Big Moon.”
Walking Like We Do by The Big Moon is out on 10 January on Fiction Records.