Interview: Billie Marten

Arnojya Shree chats with Billie Marten about the creative process behind her upcoming third studio album, Flora Fauna.

Arnojya Shree
3rd May 2021
Billie Marten has gone from strength to strength in her music career so far; from gaining attention on YouTube to her debut album Writing Of Blue and Yellows, and again with her sophomore LP Feeding Seahorse by Hand, Billie has grown a large following around her indie-folk anthems. Arnojya Shree chats with her in the the run up to her third full-length release, Flora Fauna.

Hi Billie! How are you doing? Congratulations on the release of 'Creature of Mine', I'm sure the response has been great.
I'm all good, doing really well, and thank you! It's been wonderful.

I've noticed that your songs have a very earthy and ethereal quality to them, almost as if nature in itself is a personified muse. Do you usually create pieces with this concept in your mind?
Yeah, I think so. From the very beginning, nature has been my main source of writing because I have always been in it. That way I have a lot to write about, and I share a close connection. So, I'll always use it, and I'm always connected to it.

I was reading your previous interviews, and it seems that 'Creature of Mine' addresses the climate crisis, and especially how we have like 12 years left to go. Is the song an eco-political take on the climate crisis issue?
I am never trying to be nature's spokesperson. I also know nothing about many subjects, but I always feel that aspect and the hideousness of ecological demise, and I feel that quite personally. I was saying to my friend yesterday, "I get a weird thrill out of showering at different times in a day. You know, at abnormal times because I know that not many people are doing it at the same time as me." For some reason, that calms some of my water anxiety. You know, just silly things like that but I'm always thinking about that and how much of a problem it is, and how huge it is on the scale. So, it just kind of has infected my writing a bit. I'm almost documenting all the aspects of nature because I don't want them to be lost. So I think that's really important to me.

'Garden of Eden' is one of the best tracks to serve as a preview for an upcoming album. From the visual concept to the lyrical tone, there is very significant imagery and symbolism - what did you have in mind when you created this?
Thank you! You know, I just really wanted to make something that sounded joyous and positive for a change. I was really not friends with my melancholy at the time, so I didn't wanna give that any more airtime. Then this big euphoric sound came out of nowhere, and it was such a joy. Then I made this, what seemed at the time, a very silly handmade video with my friend Lydia who was actually stuck in Brussels at the time. So, we were just communicating over the phone, and I started documenting at the time regardless of the video. Then I figured out that I had all of this footage explaining my experience at the time, and it was all nature - looking at the positive and those aspects of growth. It just turned into a visual treat, and I'm so proud of it! I think it's my favourite video. It cost no pounds, it cost zero pounds.

Could you tell me more about your upcoming album in general?
I can. Erm…I made it, haha! It was an incredibly liberating thing that I made, or for me to do it. It made me feel like I had to get something out; it was a relief, sort of, record. I guess the message people can take from it is to keep those aspects of positivity in mind; just make sure that you're in yourself more than you do. It's not all positive; it's definitely not always there. But overall, I'm trying to focus on the good rather than the bad. Our brains, logically speaking, processes sadness on a much deeper level than we do happiness. Happiness is so fleeting that we're not even registering that it's happening whilst it's happening. When we feel sadness or anger, we immediately physically lash out, start crying or go to bed…or something like that. We don't normally have symptoms of happiness that are that immediate. It's just a feeling that you feel. So, I'm just trying to focus on that a bit more, give that a bit more spotlight.

How would you say that the lockdown has changed you as an artist? Have you evolved in any way?
I'm a lot more grounded, I think. I have really enjoyed having that space from everyone, physically and mentally. I feel like I have shed a lot of the weight that we carry without realizing it. Yeah, I just feel a lot lighter, and my brain is a lot more clearer. Someone asked me about my headspace this morning in an interview, and it's just very calm.

Lockdown is easing again, so how do you feel about returning to gigs?
I can't wait! Apparently, when the album comes out, which would be the end of May, we might be able to do some record store gigs. On the outside, obviously! But we'll see. Other than that, my life is quite the same. You know, before lockdown and after. Now, I've made sure that I'm focusing on things that are really important to me, and to play a gig on top of that would just complete the circle.

Bille Marten has a September tour scheduled (@billiemarten)

Any sort of art form seems to have healing power. Specifically, the process of creating it could be really therapeutic. Do you tend to use music as a healing instrument or just a medium to connect with yourself?
I definitely get a bit antsy if it's been a month or two, and I haven't made anything. But I'm a sporadic writer, and I'm not so good at pushing myself every day from 9 to 5 to make something. So, I need to do a lot of living in order to get something down. At that point, it's like scratching an edge, like it just needs to happen. So, it's a very immediate thing for me.

So what is the music-creating process like for you? Do you compose first, or do you write the lyrics?
I'm usually just playing about whatever instrument I have - so, a guitar or piano or bass. Then you start humming and get some words out onto the page. Then you figure out which trail you want to go down and lyrically what are you trying to say. I'll put a very basic demo down just in my studio and just go in with someone like Rich, who would help me produce it. I'm actually writing sort of old-school funky songs right now to balance out this very modern record that I have made. I think I wanna go down the route of self-production and experiment a bit more. Like I did with the bass, not have any experience on it but try and do it anyway. But we'll see, these are all just dreams.

As a young female musician and given the recent political climate, have you ever felt the pressure to create a certain kind of music or uphold a certain image?
Oh definitely! I was always a tortured soul from the very beginning, and I have never managed to escape these two words. For some reason, that's tied to a certain genre of music, which is always folk-inspired acoustic-led music, and I don't think that's true. I think there's a lot of emotions available to us, but we only are allowed to use the sad avenues. Also, being a small girl, I just kind of had to adopt that persona, and I was vulnerable enough to do that because when you are that young, you're a chameleon, and you turn into other people. So I definitely know who I am a lot more now, which is why all of this is easier. Each time you do an album, it gets easier.

You have been creating music from a really young age; how has your perception changed over time? Do you aim to put out certain messages or focus on certain topics?
I'm definitely more interested in being explicit, not being so mystical and vague with my songwriting. I like to say just what I want to say now, which is good. But whilst I'm explaining how much growth I have done and how much I'm able to do now, I'm also aware that I'm so-so young. I'll have this conversation with you in another five years, and I'll look back with disdain on what I was now. So, I'm just aware of that all the time. It's important to document your life as you go along; otherwise, you'd forget.

So, what is your vision going forward after this album? What do you think you want to create?
I think I wanna travel. Maybe spend some time in America, and engrain myself into a different musical society because London can get very small, very quickly. We think we know everything because it's a tiny city, but we don't. You kind of circle around the same musical groups all the time, and it would be just amazing to branch out a bit and see what it would do to my music.

Who are some of your favourite musicians?
Well, I was kind of brought up on the backbone of everything in the 70s. My parents have a really good music taste, and that gave me a musical education. So, that's everyone from Nick Drake, John Martin, Kate Bush, all of those people. I'm interested in all walks of music, and I don't get to talk about that a lot. I'm really into 90s Hip-Hop. I love the Fugees, Rap...a big fan of Eminem, Kanye and people like that. I think music is an absolute blessing, so why not try and enjoy it all?

I think music is an absolute blessing, so why not try and enjoy it all?

Billie Marten

You're open to all the genres, so do you want to experiment with them?
Maybe, I think I have done a lot of writing for other people, and that's really interesting to do. Recently, I have been getting a lot of offers for toplining, so I'm serious in the pop world, which I'm sure I'd then give to someone who is an actual pop singer and can sing much better than I can. But they are all experiments, and I wouldn't say no to anything, I don't think.

Flora Fauna is due 21st May 2021 and is now available for pre-order.

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