Wonderland.

BILLIE MARTEN

The Yorkshire-born teen prodigy on her sunnier sophomore album.

Billie Marten in London
Billie Marten in London

Just 19 and on the cusp of releasing her second album, Feeding Seahorses By Hand, Yorkshire-born musician Billie Marten feels she’s come a long way since her debut in 2016 – something that’s immediately apparent on the record.

Now living in London and having spent a year working in a pub and travelling, Marten’s ready to embark on the next chapter of her already hugely impressive career. Music was never something she expected to make a living off though, she explains, along with her experiences of writing in a new environment and the story behind the song she’s most personally attached to.

We chat to her below…

Billie Marten in London sitting on staircase black and white
Billie Marten in London sitting on staircase
Billie Marten in London sitting on staircase black and white
Billie Marten in London sitting on staircase

When did you begin working on Feeding Seahorses By Hand?
It was recorded a year ago this month, so it’s been a long time coming! I guess before that it was just a collection of demos I had for maybe a year, just writing sporadically, and luckily I had enough to make an album.

How do you feel you’ve progressed personally since your first album, Writing Of Blues And Yellows?
I was saying to my family the other night actually, about recording, it’s nice to be able to walk into a room – usually full of males – and feel like you’re meant to be there. Whereas the first time around, I’d never seen these things before, I didn’t know what these buttons meant – everyone was using a language I’d never heard. It wasn’t my world at all. This time around, it felt a lot more natural.

You’re only 19, and released your first album at 17 – how did you feel coming into this all at such a young age?
Confused. It was never intentional! It was purely accidental. Music was always a family thing, it grew from dad teaching me guitar. My parents met because of music, our whole wider family plays, although I never sat down with a guitar and wanted to play it to other people. My mum put me on Youtube, aged about 8 or 9, only so my grandparents could see me, and then there was this one Youtube video, about age 12, that was noticed by a northern channel called Ont’ Sofa – then all of a sudden, people from London start talking to you. I had a lot of conversations with my parents, then in 2015 an opportunity came and music became a “thing.” It felt right.

You’re from Ripon, in Yorkshire – do you still live there?
No, I live in London now. I go back a lot – I need it, I need the oxygen.

Was the new album written there or in London?
I’d already moved by then, but it was during the first year of moving, which, for a lot of people I know, is very dark, very confusing.

Did moving have an impact on what you were writing?
I think so. It’s more observational, much less about retrospect, I think, more present. Living in a big city makes you aware of things on a much larger scale, you feel more obliged to make good changes, be it however small, and I think I was just more awake to everything. Picking up a paper and actually understanding its relevance to me, and also just meeting all sorts of different human beings I’d never, ever have met coming from the Dales. I just preferred writing about others, I think it was more interesting at the time.

Which of the songs on the record do you feel most connected to?
There’s a song called “Toulouse,” which I think I always kind of ignore when thinking about the album, I’m not sure why, but every time I play it or hear it, I warm to it the most. I think it’s because production-wise, it’s like a really simple acoustic guitar, basic chords, kind of naive melody, but then we have this amazing drum machine we’ve plastered on, and it has a sound that really goes through you, so I like that. It was written when I moved to London and started working at a pub. I worked there for nearly a year and it made me a shell of a human being but what I did get out of it was that one song, so I guess that’s why I feel attached to it. The whole experience was worth it because of that. I mean it’s also an observational thing, the character of Toulouse is painting this sort of cult environment, and I feel that’s sort of what this pub was, it was interesting to watch. It kind of broke me as human I think.

What was the approach you went for with the album as a whole?
I wanted it to be a bit less serious, a little bit less tainted with this whole idea of being an acoustic, folky singer-songwriter who is only ever seen in a dark, rainy setting, you know what I mean, I didn’t feel like that. It feels a lot more sunny.

Were there any artists or records that inspired you?
I think maybe I was more into American music than English musicians when I was writing, quite grungey, low-fi things like Carseat Headrest, then things like Talk Talk for the drum sounds and the general production of things, then like Elliot Smith and Simon and Garfunkel, but I think working with Ethan (Johns) my producer, meant we both brought a mix of things.

How do you feel your music has changed you personally?
Music absolutely changes you as a person, undoubtedly, for better and worse. But I’m slowly learning that it’s not about comparison, it’s just about being happy with who you are. I think music carries a lot of that – “sounds like”, “for fans of…” – I hate that, because I think that means you have to be a certain type of human to prescribe to a certain type of musician, and I don’t really believe that because I have such a wide love of music and I wouldn’t want to think that some of the artists wouldn’t want me there at their show, I don’t really feel like that.

How do you feel about the first album now, and what kind of music do you see yourself making in the future?
I feel very proud of the first one, immensely, as anyone would. Even though I’m playing the songs all the time, I’m playing them as I evolve as a human, which means they naturally sound different and have this progression that they wouldn’t have if I constantly listened back to the first way I recorded them. I still can’t get to grips with the fact that songs are played again and again, relentlessly, as protocol, whereas you’d never ask a painter to redo their best work, do you know what I mean? In the future, I imagine things may get very small, basic, production-wise, but who knows? Who knows?

Feeding Seahorses By Hand is out now.

Photography
Lauren McDermott
Words
Scott Bates
BILLIE MARTEN

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