Is it a pig? Is it a baby? No, it’s pigbaby, your new favourite lo-fi folk farmyard animal, human hybrid. The anonymous Irish artist – who also works across photography, DJing, painting and film – launched the project during lockdown in 2020 following the ending of a five year relationship. Depressed and isolated, they channelled these feelings into a six-track bedroom folk EP which was subsequently picked up by Frank Ocean collaborator Vegyn and released on his PLZ Make It Ruins label.
Born out of digital disorder, pigbaby’s music sits somewhere between intentional and accidental. The artist admits to not having any musical training, crediting Vegyn with teaching him how to export tracks from Ableton. It’s this naiveness, this like of gatekeeping, that builds the introspective world of pigbaby. Guitar strings twang and voices break, but all these little unmastered faults contribute to the flawed human experience.
Clash sat down with the mysterious multi-disciplined artist to chat about collaborating with Maria Somerville, the concept of anonymity and crybaby music.
So pigbaby, why a pig? Is that your favourite farmyard animal?
I have a very addictive personality. There was one point three years ago when I was really depressed and wouldn’t leave the house, so I would just sit in my room with the blinds drawn and play this iPhone game, I was proper addicted.
You speak to people from all over the world and my name was pigbaby, just because I thought it was a stupid name. So that’s where it came from, this weird videogame addiction… Which actually became the main theme of the first release; the blur between the cyber and real world.
Yeah, I saw in one of your videos characters dancing that look like they were taken from The Sims or Second Life?
I never played Second Life, but I found this woman on YouTube called Izzy who only makes romantic Second Life videos of characters dancing and stuff. People get married off that game, they fall in love, they’re on it nine to five. It really is your second life. Thankfully I didn’t get addicted to any PC games, I think that would have killed me. I’ve been videogame free for a while now!
I read that you dress as a pig as you feel the image that a lot of modern musicians put out is quite boring. Do you have any style icons or inspiration?
I always loved the whole aesthetic of Aphex Twin. The press shots were always a bit weird and different, and there was all this lore around him. It’s the same with people like Zomby and stuff. He falls into that weird era of DJs hiding their faces and stuff.
I was more inspired by people like Blowfly in the 80s, who adopted a whole character, or weird experimental Japanese musicians who all dress as frogs. Something with a little bit of a concept.
I read that you don’t like artists like James Blake and Thom Yorke as they sound like miserable old men. Your work isn’t just tongue in cheek, you talk about your deepest problems. Is there then any room for seriousness amongst the act or is it all meant to be a bit of a joke?
It’s very serious, but I try to balance out the seriousness with the tongue in cheek element and make the videos fun and experimental so it isn’t too whingey. I grew up in All City Records, the owner Eoin was like a day to me. He would show me all this stuff, look after me, lend me money. He always called James Blake and Thom Yorke crybaby music.
You’re from Dublin, and a lot of your time growing up was spent in All City Records. How important were those years in developing that taste you have for music? They have such a diverse selection of music, and from some amazing Irish folk artists like David Kitt.
The early years they weren’t really. I DJ’d from like 16 to 25, but I was playing lot’s of Omar S and that kind of house. What shaped it was probably moving to England when I was 21 and spending a lot of time in Manchester. I discovered a night there called Me & You in Soup Kitchen.
They played mostly techno in the club, but on their NTS show they played a lot of ambient. Through NTS I found a lot of noise stuff. That definitely helped shape my taste in music too.
I read that you never felt you could express yourself music in painting, photography or film. What is different about making music?
It’s something that people can connect to a lot easier. Film is a powerful medium, but it’s hard to make films, and expensive. With music I can be way more self-sufficient, I can put my whole personality and life into a single song, but with film it would be a lot harder to convey those messages and emotions. If you’re sad or happy, music soundtracks those emotions.
When the lockdown happened I was single for the first time in five years and super alone. I wanted to try something new and had a lot of time and space to do so.
You spent a month in a cottage in the countryside making music. You can really feel that traditional Celtic aesthetic throughout. Where was the cottage and how important was that environment to the output on the record?
Yeah that was amazing. I’ve always been very interested in Irish music, a lot more in the last ten years. I had these friends in London and we’d spoke for ages about getting a little cottage. When I went back to Dublin I found all these tapes of my Grandad playing mandolin and piano and stuff. When I was younger I’d sit on his knee while he played, it just blew my mind, it opened up a whole can of worms.
When I got to the countryside Maria Somerville was living five minutes from where I was. I hadn’t seen her in, like, eight years or something, so I got to make some songs with her. It worked out super nice. I want to work with those instruments and that folklore in my own way.
Your debut EP came out on Vegyn’s label, another artist making music that likes to play with people’s expectations. How did that link-up occur and what has that experience been like?
We have some mutual friends in London so I had met him a couple of times. He’d be one of the only people I know who runs a label, so when I was making my stuff I sent him three or four songs. He was like, just keep trying to make more stuff. He liked ‘palindromes’ and asked if he could release it on its own on Christmas Day. I was like, I’d rather try and make an EP and make some videos, so I moved to Mexico and worked on it a lot more.
Once I knew he was interested it was a massive motivation. It wasn’t collaborative, but we became super close friends in the process and he’s advised me and helped me. I didn’t know how to export a track on Ableton, I’d never had anything mixed before. I was making these songs on a tiny plastic keyboard and a microphone, so he tried to teach me about levels and stems and stuff (laughs).
It was unintentional rawness. I wasn’t trying to make a lo-fi record, I just had no idea what I was doing. I do love lo-fi stuff and outsider music. I don’t have the ability to make polished songs, so it just came out the way it did.
Do you feel like pigbaby has an expiry date, how far do you think the personality can go? What are the future plans for pigbaby?
I do think about that sometimes, but my songs aren’t about being a pig so I don’t think I’d run out of things to talk about. If it was a themed release I’d be screwed.
I love making songs, I want to have a label to help me release stuff. I’ve got an album ready that I’m very proud of – all the stuff from the cottage – and I’m trying to make another when I’m here in Indonesia.
I’ve never had so much fun or felt so much fulfilment doing anything, so I’m pretty hyped.
Words: Andrew Moore