Name: Bailey Bigger
Occupations: Singer, songwriter
Current release: Bailey Bigger's Coyote Red is out via Madjack.
Recommendations: In memory of one of my favorite writers, Joan Didion, I’ll recommend a book that helped me through the grieving process and changed my outlook on life, The Year of Magical Thinking.
Second thing I’ll recommend is Willis Alan Ramsey’s only album out. It’s magical and has so many amazing pieces on it.
If you enjoyed this interview with Bailey Bigger and would like to know more about her work and music, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram, Facebook, and bandcamp.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I’ve been writing for as long as my brain lets me remember, whether it was poetry, or songs that I sang a capella style when I didn’t play guitar yet.Picked up the guitar at nine years old and just started writing even more from there.
My dad loved songwriters like John Denver, Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, etc, and he really inspired me to pay attention to their lyrics and the way they created poetry within their music.
For the most part, music-wise though, I was raised on the blues; all that beautiful sound that came out of the Mississippi Delta. We were surrounded by it growing up in Arkansas with Helena 2 hours south, Clarksdale right nearby and Memphis 10 minutes across the river. Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, BB King, Albert King, Howling Wolf. They were the soundtrack to my childhood.
I loved how music could transport me to other places and other times. Ones I hadn’t even lived through. That’s what drew me to it early. It feels like a portal to a past life.
Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?
I saw a quote recently (can’t remember where) that said, “sad songs save lives.” I think there’s no truer statement. I’ve always experienced emotions intensely with music, as many people do, but for the most part music has gotten me through a lot of life that I couldn’t have gotten through without it.
I think this influences my approach to writing music by inspiring me to be honest in every moment of my voice. Sometimes it hurts others, and myself, which sucks. I never want to do that. But I have to tell my truth, which any human truth, for the most part, becomes universal.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
As a lot of other writers do, I go through phases of absorbing and listening, and then spilling out my thoughts and writing from inspiration.
I think one of the biggest journeys in my writing career was actually choosing my college degree. I went into school to major in Music Business but about a year or so in realized I wasn’t being inspired in the way I was hoping for, or in the aspect of my creative possibilities I wanted. So, I chose to switch majors halfway through and I graduated with a degree in English and creative writing with an emphasis on poetry.
Until I was in that program, I’d never experienced pure excitement to go to school and learn. Absorbing literature from all eras of human life is incredible and we can learn so much from each other, positive and negative.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I think a lot of my identity is wrapped up in the environment I choose to immerse myself in.
I live in the countryside in the Arkansas delta. Therefore, I feel that I gravitate towards music that exists on countryside porches and at backyard gatherings. And naturally I tend to write that way too.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
My key ideas on approaching music / art is honestly, vulnerability, and the raw human experience.
I once read a piece from a poet out of Montana, Tyler Knott Gregson, and he said to take small moments and make them big and large moments and turn them into small moments. I try to capture that technique in my writing.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
This question reminds me of the movie La La Land.
My brother and I talked about this a lot after we saw that movie. The character played by Ryan Gosling is so in tune with music of the past to a point that he can’t move forward in the music of today. When he joins the “new age” jazz band, he finds this beautiful space of using his passion for jazz of the past to create jazz of the current days and for the future.
I think that’s how I see folk music in my world. I’m not really trying to be traditional nor am I trying to be original. I’m just being myself. And I’m taking a lot of influences from both incredible artists of yesterday and today.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
I started playing guitar when I was nine and just took lessons for three years. From there I taught myself and could definitely be better. That’s something I really strive to work on, just my skills as an instrumentalist and understanding the instrument in every aspect.
I went to the school of music at University of Memphis for two years and the jazz piano classes I had to take alongside theory really changed my songwriting. Not only did it expand my writing outside of just one instrument, but the piano makes theory and understanding music so much easier. Lays it all out right in front of you on a sheet. The piano has been my biggest tool since.
Open tunings are a big one as well. You really can’t do anything wrong in open tunings. Put it on the twelve-string guitar too and you’ve got magic in your living room.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
A day in my life really depends on the time of year and what’s going on. For the most part, I work two part time jobs alongside music. I work a plant nursery and spend my time there watering and pruning and spending time in the greenhouse. I also work at a local Memphis record store where I re-stock vinyl all day and see friends stopping into shop.
Outside of that, I have to take care of my chickens at home and collect eggs every day, as well as feeding the horses we have out there. I always have a garden in the summer so that takes up my extra free time. I love to be with my dog and cat, friends or family will come over and have a beer on the deck or grill outside. That’s a perfect evening for me.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
My creative process is kind of a blur to me. I wish I could describe it better. I go into this other zone and almost forget how I wrote the song or the time doing so, it just spills out. Lyrics and melody always come at the same time; I can’t do one before another.
On the basis of a piece, this album Coyote Red, was similar to that and really amazing to create with my team. The whole recording process at Zebra Ranch felt like another worldly trance that I woke up from three days later and felt complete. I think all of us were in that same trance together in way. It was difficult to be in that room and not feel it.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I used to be pretty resistant to the idea of co-writing. As a teenager I was a member of NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International) for a while and would attend conferences, one on one meetings and song critiques, etc. They used to make a lot of revision suggestions and encourage me to co-write more and try to get this perfect song with the help of another person to “polish” it, I guess. I pushed back on that a lot. I’m open to criticism, but I think the things they didn’t agree with were the things that set me apart from the crowd.
So, I used to not want to co-write, but now I do a lot more. I still mostly fly solo in my creative process, but if I meet a friend or a fellow musician whose energy really hits me, I love to write with them.
Mark Edgar Stuart is someone that I’ve not only written several songs with but also has become a really close friend in the process, which makes creating together easier and simpler when you let that vulnerability become present as creators.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
I think the role of music in our world is to connect. I’ve never met someone who can’t agree that music saved them in some way, and I want to play my part in any way I can in this imperfect human experience we’re all stuck in.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
I think the biggest way music has contributed to my understanding of all these huge questions of life is the fact that we’re not alone in the search for these answers.
Music preserves through lifetimes and generations and centuries. I think it’s really beautiful that anonymous songs still exist from so long ago about experiences of emotions that we still experience today.
Music is a time capsule of connection.
There seems to be increasing interest in a functional, “rational” and scientific approach to music. How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
One thing I love seeing on the Internet these days is the people who take plants or trees and translate the vibrations in the plant into music and rhythms.
It just proves that music is of the natural world, and not only in animals but in plants, rivers, soil, all of earth. It’s a good reminder to know it’s in me and chose me first.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I express a lot more emotion through music, even more so through music than my poetry or writing because I can vocalize it with melody and tone and emotion.
I was talking with a friend recently about our obsession with classical music because it can say things and express emotions that there are no words for in a dictionary. Music is its own language of emotion that can be impossible to translate sometimes.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
I don’t really know if I have anything profound to say about this one that’s not been said before. All I know is that music is really similar to intuition for me and I think a lot of people can relate to that. I feel it in the same way.