In a bustling family home near Bath, Billie Marten sat with music producer, Ethan John, and they dug into some scrambled eggs.
It was here that they decided to make an album together. With their stomachs warm and hearts full, Billie sat on his sofa for hours that afternoon playing any song that flooded her body. Whilst he sat and listened and thought. The humble beginnings of the singer-songwriter’s forthcoming second album is fitting to its sound.
In relation to her acclaimed debut, this sister is “a lot smaller and intimate,” starts Billie, there’s “no room for flowing strings or spacey noises.” The cosiness “instantly gives you this comforting sense. It probably takes itself a little less seriously too, which is a good thing.”
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The first offering, ‘Mice’ is a gentle analysis of self-doubt that unknowingly reflects the parallel of strength. Her voice soothes alongside the contradictory slumbered drums in soft building enchantment. It appears that Billie has found her flow, and it’s a natural ride of honest human observation with all the small bumps to overcome, hurdles to leap over and imperfections to grow to love.
Last year, Billie found herself leaving her sleepy Yorkshire hometown behind and setting off for new adventures in London. Swapping miles of patchwork green for neon lights, it was working behind a bar and the people that she met that helped her settle in to a new life in the city.
“I don’t think I’ve learnt much more than I would have normally, we learn and adjust every day.” she says looking back, however the experiences have helped to craft “a much more observant album.”
Having just finished her A-Levels, Billie explains; “I wasn’t doing anything interesting with my life at the time, so I found it easier to write about strangers or characters relevant to the day.”
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On the new record, Billie writes new narratives for the people she sees at a glance. Her storybook pokes fun, draws caricatures and unpicks the irony of the world around us, viewing how we as humans adapt and settle in it.
“I’ve felt more independent musically and that I’ve grown more confidence to be a musician in my own right, something I always felt guilty of before. I’ve properly trusted in my body this time around so the instinctual force has been strong.”
Now, back to the original story of breakfast and sofa jams. It continues a few weeks later, where Ethan, Billie, and her “favourite engineer in the world,” Dom Monks spent ten days recording. Vocals and guitar were recorded on a 4-track, “the sounds that run alongside are mostly from this MOOG drum machine Ethan bought, it hardly sounds like a drum machine at all – just excellent noises.”
Kitchen bins, vibraphone, echo chambers, reversed tapes and even Ethan’s children’s Fisher Price plastic instruments all played their part in the final record. The end result is best described by Billie as a classic 70s style recording made up of the bare bones, “and then in comes some crazy Ultravox synth or jangly electric that shouldn’t work, but it did… we never tried, it just happened.”
She gushes about his family over the few weeks that she spent with them. “We all sat round the table for a home cooked meal.” By 8pm it was playdoh time with his kids, which was actually beneficial to the whole recording pace. “Recording doesn’t need to be damaging because you think it’s a role you should subscribe to. Sometimes it’s easier to slow down and really think about what you’re here for.”
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Throughout history, there has always been something that has attracted us to sad songs, and Billie’s are no exception for they are carefully brushed with melancholy and an innocence that intrigues. “Humans are selfish and sad, generally. And so whenever we have an excuse to heal or comfort ourselves, we do. I think a sad song is the ultimate remedy to rid you of isolation,” she expresses; “Chances are, somebody has sung about the exact thing you’re feeling, and that makes you wanted and involved and healed. You can take so much more from a sad song. And, they are the best.”
‘Blue Sea Red Sea’ is a song however, that turns a sad situation into a happier song. A jangly tune with choral harmonies and a lovely hook make this song a bittersweet one. Billie sings about wanting her mother, about not wanting any sympathy and listening to the people around her getting on with their every day. Or something of that kind. The song is simple and not fully articulated, which makes it an interpretive delight. After all, “There is nothing and no one in this world that can make me feel more than music can.”
An ongoing theme of primary colours is splashed across Billie’s work; from the first record, 'Writing of Blues and Yellows', to her latest single. “My brain lives in its own synesthetic world, and so colours are something I find easy to associate with feeling.” she says, “One of my favourite songs and musicians, Nick Drake, has this line ‘now I’m weaker than the palest blue’ that I have huge affinity to.”
Just like primary colours, this artist can use simple combinations to make almost anything out of her words. “Lyrics and similes that make you crack instantly, I love that. I guess sound and colour will always go hand in hand.”
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The still artwork for the record play to her taste for colour. Shot by her friend, Katie Silvester, the images depict Billie wearing a cherry red jumpsuit outside during golden hour; “at the time we were in the height of greasy, fresh orange and red summertime, so the pictures aligned perfectly with the record. I wanted a focus less on nature and surroundings, but needed the vibrancy of fruit and veg and positive indulgence,” she explains.
At the moment, her biggest headaches derive from constant advertisement pushing the toxicity of products and consequently, lifestyles, that are unhealthy and unneeded. Therefore for this artwork, she wanted to reflect the values of the album; “Nourishment and health, nothing dark and gloomy was the idea.”
Over the last couple of years, Billie has had a small shift in perspective; she now relishes an open space without a poster, and has become more awake to society, and has found a home living above a bohemian couple in their 70s. The songs capture the small strokes of magic that we search for, and a lot of them didn’t exist anywhere except her mind before being recorded.
“That’s quite nice for me because the songs don’t pretend to be something they’re not, they’re just sweet and small and important,” she smiles. Billie Marten is a songbird, and we should take the time to listen to not just the sweet words and tunes, but to the meaning and the story behind each ones.
These songs are not just songs to hear, but they’re ones to interpret and to cherish and to relate to. We could all learn a lot about ourselves by opening our eyes, ears and homes to Billie Marten.
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Words: Tanyel Gumushan
Photography: Katie Silvester / @KTSilvester
For tickets to the latest Billie Marten shows click HERE.
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