The Big Moon is a quartet hailing from London. Last week I spoke with the Celia Archer, the Big Moon’s bassist, about Frank Ocean’s pure genius, how to go about finding new-favorite music, and the dreamy backstory behind the band’s pensive cover of Madonna’s “Beautiful Stranger,” which we’re premiering today.
We highly recommend listening to this song in your headphones while doing such things as glaring at your crush from across the hallway:
And now, without further ado, our chat with Celia…
NAOMI MORRIS: We’re premiering your cover of Madonna’s “Beautiful Stranger.” Does Madonna mean anything specific to you or the band?
CELIA ARCHER: Well, we all really love Madonna but the reason that we picked the song wasn’t necessarily that we wanted to do a Madonna cover. Jules came up with the arrangement—she’s the lead singer and writes all the songs—and she fell in love with a beautiful stranger. They met at a festival two years ago and they were just walking through a wooded bit, and they locked eyes, started walking towards each other, and kissed. They’ve been together ever since.
Oh my god! No way!
I know! What a dreamy story. I remember when she came back from that festival. I’d only just started playing with [the band], and she came back and she was like, “I met this boy and it was dreamy!” You’re kind of like, “Oh yeah, sure,” but no! They’re the best couple I’ve ever seen. So that’s why we do that cover.
I was going to ask about the falling in love with a stranger thing, because I do that all the time on the train.
Oh my god! All the time.
But it never works out like that did—just walking toward each other and kissing.
No, I think it’s definitely not a “try this at home, kids!” It was a very specific occasion of everything working out beautifully. But it’s nice that that actually happened, you know? It’s a true love story.
Madonna is one of my musical life heroes. Have any inspired you?
So many. When I was 16 and Laura Marling first started making music, that was huge. I thought she was amazing. I saw 10 Things I Hate About You when I was nine or 10, and [the lead character Kat] talked about Bikini Kill and The Raincoats. Listening to that kind of stuff when I was little was really influential. And Fiona Apple.
Oh god! Yes!
My uncle gave me a Fiona Apple CD when I was a teenager, and I listened to it and I was like, “This is amazing! She’s singing my soul!”
Fiona Apple is pretty underrated.
She’s so underrated.
Because I love her so much and so many people haven’t even heard of her.
I know! I bought this box-set where you could get [her albums] Tidal and When the Pawn… together. I would learn how to play them all on the piano, and [Fiona] nursed me through my first ever breakup. She’s such a babe. And have you seen the speech she gave? At the MTV Video Music Awards—that famous speech?
It’s so cool because you’re just like, a 17-year-old girl and you’ve got this opportunity to say something. You’re in this world where you’re like, “Fuck, I should say something. I’m up on this stage,” and it all just sort of comes out in this big mash. It’s still important.
You taught yourself the songs on the piano. Did you just listen to them and learn them yourself?
Yes, I did. I knew how to play the piano—piano is my first instrument. When I was younger I would sit with my CD Walkman and play along with the piano and sing and imagine that I was gonna be Fiona Apple.
I remember doing exactly the same thing. Did you teach yourself to play the bass?
Yeah, I had piano lessons when I was younger, but I taught myself how to play the bass and guitar.
Did you find it was a bit intimidating?
Well, I played in a band with my guy friends—that’s when I learnt how to play bass. I found that intimidating. I’ve really become a bassist in [The Big Moon,] where there is way more space to get better or try things out.
How did you find other like-minded gals to start a band with?
Jules was working as a waitress and was like, “I wanna be in a band!” So she started writing songs with the idea of starting one. Then she just asked around. We were all just friends of friends. It was sort of texting everyone you know, and putting a thing up on Facebook, and meeting people in pubs and being like, “You’re cool, let’s do it!” She found Fern first, and then Soph, and then I was the last to join. That was just two years ago.
That’s not a very long time is it?
Not a very long time. It’s gone so quickly, and also you look back and you’re like, “Wow, we’ve done so many things.”
Would you say you’re pretty close with them now?
Yeah, we’re all very very close, and that happened quite quickly I’d say. We all felt very comfortable with each other very quickly. And that’s probably why it all worked and why we ended up being the people in the band. It would be impossible not to, given the percentage of our lives that we spend breathing the same oxygen.
Do you think it’s better doing it together, rather than being a solo artist and having to do it all on your own?
We think it all the time! There are so many situations where we’re like, “Thank god I’m not a solo artist.” You know if you’re having a crap day someone else can set up your gear for you, and you can lie down for a bit longer. Or if you’re not in the mood to do interviews someone else can do it. Everything is so much easier when there are three other people propping you up.
How does it feel to be in such a massive and popular industry like music? And to be getting a lot of attention?
It’s quite weird. I wasn’t even thinking of doing this kind of thing with my life. When I started I was just like, “These people seem nice, I kinda know how to play the bass and this seems fun.” Then all of sudden it was like, “Record label!” It’s crazy how normal it all becomes, and very quickly. I think about when I was a teenager going to gigs and all these people that seemed so far out of reach. Now I’m playing similar venues to people that I would go and see. We’re gonna headline Scala in November, and that’s where I saw Laura Marling when I was 16.
You hear other bands, and then you meet them at a festival, and they’re just these guys and you’re like, “Cool! Let’s hang out!” It’s very weird. Sometimes I think, This should feel a bit more special. You want it to feel a bit more special but also I can’t get starstruck every time my mate texts me. I also thought there would maybe be more rivalry among bands, but we haven’t encountered anything like that and I don’t see it between other bands, either. Everyone posts about everyone else’s songs or plays with other people at gigs or takes another band on tour with them, and comes down to each other’s shows, and it’s just this really lovely community.
That’s really cool.
And we’ve got really amazing people we work with behind the scenes. Our managers are brilliant and such good friends and our label is lovely. You know all the stuff you’d think like, big scary producer! But they’re just all so nice.
I feel like there’s so much music out there. I worry about there being gaps in my knowledge about music and missing out.
Well, what kind of music do you like? Who are your bands? Apart from Madonna, obviously.
I kind of pick and choose big people, rather than little bands if that makes sense? But I feel like I’m probably missing out on the more obscure. I’m just thinking about Frank Ocean because of his new album.
Yeah, because it’s the best thing that anyone’s ever created.
And I feel like he obviously has so many different influences. I feel like I owe it to him to listen to them all.
Well, have you seen his playlist that he made? Someone’s made a Spotify playlist. There’s so much stuff, and I felt very comfortable because I was like, “I love all of those songs!” But there’s still stuff that I’ve never listened to, so check that out and you’ll listen to it and you’ll feel closer to Frank. Which I think is what we all want.
I worry about that as well because no matter how much you listen to, someone will mention a band and everyone else in the room will react immediately and you’re like, “How the hell?!” There aren’t enough hours in the day. It’s the same with reading and films. There’s stuff where I am like, “I don’t know how I’ve never seen that.”
Also, stuff that people say is really good. Like massive bands that people say are really good, you find yourself dedicating a lot of time to getting into them when really I find it so hard to have a personal connection to massive bands. Unless it’s ones that maybe my dad played to me when I was younger, or I find a certain point in my life that I can be like, “OK, I can have my own relationship with Jimi Hendrix, or Bob Dylan.” But with the Rolling Stones, [for example], I don’t have that and for me they’re these titans who are obviously important but I don’t feel the same way I feel as when I am listening to Guided by Voices or Galaxie 500 or The Wedding Present and other smaller bands.
You only have a certain amount of emotional space in your life to have those intense connections to a certain amount of those huge bands.
Yeah, and you can’t separate your experience of listening to them from someone else’s opinion. But then a lot of the stuff I love has been shown to me by specific people I love, and that I feel like we have similar tastes. So if they send me something, I know it’s going to be good.
The thing I’ve found recently is this guy called Jacques Brel, who was a Belgian singer. I listened to the song “Marieke” when I got home, and he’s hugely influential. David Bowie covered his songs. It’s this giant man singing this beautiful song, so listen to that—there’s a gap, we’ve filled a gap.
Yes, that’s definitely a gap, especially if he influenced David Bowie in any way. That’s a massive thing.
I mean Bowie is just fucking brilliant. With someone like Bowie you’re like, I know I love Bowie, and then you don’t listen to him for ages because you’re listening to all the other stuff and then you put it on and you’re like, “This is fucking brilliant.”
They’re kind of like those friends that you can have a gap of not talking to them for ages and then when you talk to them it’s just like you’ve never been away from each other.
Yeah, exactly. You’re just like, “Yes, you. You’re it.” ♦