Big Joanie Are A Collective, To The Core, In Every Sense Of The Word

"We’ve got a lot of talent, a lot of ability, and we’re not going to go anywhere..."

Big Joanie are collective, to the core, in every sense of the word. Whether it’s lifting up other people in the scene (from artists to back-of-house), shouting out other bands. In conversation about ‘Back Home’, their sensitive, striking and brilliant second album which just came out, Stephanie Phillips (vocals/guitar) and Estella Adeyeri (bass) constantly defer to one another, as well as drummer Chardine Taylor-Stone, even though she’s not here. It’s utterly clear that Big Joanie are a creative force to be reckoned with because of how aware they are of how they function as moving parts within the band and the scene at large. 

“Musically, we learn so much from the subsequent tours we’ve been on,” says Adeyeri, “watching bigger artists and how they command the stage, use additional instrumentalists, just to fill up that live setting. That’s really impacted us and given us food for thought – now we have our friend Vanessa, who plays synth and guitar live with us and sometimes bass. It’s about having that confidence to introduce things into our setup.” 

Big Joanie may have honed a gorgeously distinctive tinge of punk music, but it’s borne of that love and admiration for other artists: “definitely Rachel Aggs,” Phillips adds. “We played on the same scene in London, her band Sacred Paws and Trash Kit, her solo album as well, it’s amazing. Confidence Man, Estella plays guitar on and it feels very Aggs-y! Then there’s a lot of Sleater-Kinney, Stevie Nicks, Throwing Muses, all those references.” (A fitting collection, as ‘Back Home’ is Big Joanie’s first release through US legacy label Kill Rock Stars, where plenty of Riot Grrrl bands once resided). 

“It’s not even harking back to particular genres, but more wanting to paint a picture with it or evoke a feeling,” Adeyeri adds. “I think back to what I was listening too, and it’s just that Waxahatchee album… I don’t think sonically that’s made it’s way onto the album, but it’s funny how things can seep in like that and you don’t notice them.” 

As it happens, ‘Back Home’ is informed by a wealth of not-necessarily-expected influences, which feed into the deft, enchanting storytelling that characterises it as an album. “The opener, ‘Cactus Tree’, was inspired equally but lots of folk songs, that kind of Americana Country, experimental music. That’s what I was looking to, just noisy things and folk music,” Phillips says. 

Big Joanie Are A Collective, To The Core, In Every Sense Of The Word

“I think that’s probably an overall inspiration in terms of songwriting. Not related to folk music at all necessarily, but I was listening to a lot of Mitski too. She’s not a folk musician, but some of her lyrics become folky, because it’s describing a moment or aspect of life that’s so embarrassing you wouldn’t wanna say it out loud. That’s what I really like about folk or country – it sometimes documents things you wouldn’t usually tell people, but you’ve written down a song that sounds beautiful. Wanting to say something that would otherwise be unsayable.” 

What ‘Back Home’ says that’s unsayable is perhaps not something that Big Joanie have struggled to vocalise, but something that they feel others have. “I want this release to properly establish that we’re a band that can play and tour on the same level as other bands around today in the UK,” Phillips asserts. “There’s definitely been ways that the industry have ignored us or played us down…” – “underestimated us!”, Adeyeri cuts in – “yes, that’s it! Our power and our impact. The major thing that ‘Back Home’ should be able to do is say that we’re a viable option. We’ve got a lot of talent, a lot of ability, and we’re not going to go anywhere.” 

Having worked up and worked in the DIY scene, and alongside numerous artists and people in the music industry as well as bands, Big Joanie are passionate about making sure that no one is played down. “It’s very expensive to be in a band. And it’s daunting to see bands like Animal Collective not being able to tour – you’re there like, well we’re not even Animal Collective! It’s intimidating.”

Big Joanie Are A Collective, To The Core, In Every Sense Of The Word

But they’re optimists, albeit realistic ones, with DIY experience providing unique insights into how things run that the majority of artists may well find helpful. “In the US, there’s UMAW which is the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers, with members like Downtown Boys and Speedy Ortiz, doing a lot of organising and pointing out these unfair structures which exist in the industry to the detriment of the artists that keep the industry going!” Adeyeri tells us. “Especially hammering home how Spotify is making a living from something that is untenable for the majority of artists.” 

“A lot of things are still kept quite opaque in the music industry. It’s helpful to be a member of the musicians’ union and have those resources. Even just what sorts of rates you should be charging – no one really tells you! There’s so much you don’t get told when you’re not coming into it from an industry perspective.” 

“We know a bit more, through DIY, like how to book shows, book tours, self-release,” Phillips adds. “But there’s so much that is so complicated, like legal, contracts, that gets really tricky if you don’t have someone you can trust on your side.

“We came from the punk scene, so in a way we never expected to make money… But we do have to be aware – we need to tour, we need to be focussed if we are gonna put all this time into it. We have to work hard to remind people we exist.” 

‘Back Home’ is out now.

Words: Ims Taylor
Photography: Rachel Lipsitz

Follow Clash

Buy Clash Magazine