In Conversation With - Billie Marten
Billie Marten has just dropped her new album ‘Feeding Seahorses By Hand’, which was released via Sony/Chess Club Records. She took a moment to talk to us about moving to London, the stories behind the album and it’s recording process.
Your first album was released when you were 15. How do you feel the music industry has changed since then?
To answer curtly, I think we are more aware than before, more engaged and open to new ways of making and listening to music. Artists are slowly gaining this momentum of independence and individual voice which humanises us more than ever. Honesty and acceptance are becoming the main themes here and that is a good thing.
What’s been the biggest thing you’ve learnt in your move to London?
It's now acceptable to travel an hour for a pint, and you can really get fruit and veg in the middle of the night if you'd like. Also that you should move out 4/5 years after you move in.
What’s the story behind the album title?
That's down to my Mum. She rang me once a while ago and said it as she was watching a zoo programme on TV and I liked it. I ignored it at first, then chose it as we were recording, it fit perfectly.
You’ve said that your writing has changed by being less descriptive and less articulated. What trigged this and how do you think it has affected your songs?
I was sighing a lot, over-complicating things and was pretty bored of finding convoluted ways of writing what I was feeling. I think the songs are much more direct and present tense, no room for retrospect as I've realised there isn't much point in dwelling anymore. I love the poeticism of shorter speech now.
How long did it take to write all of the songs?
I'd say over the course of 2 years I maybe wrote one song a month, with big gaps in-between. It was a confusing time and I couldn't understand why I didn't feel like writing all the time, which scared me. I thought I could never do it again but by the time I met Ethan I'd made just enough for an album so it was lucky timing and a reaffirming period for me. I now write much more often, probably because I don't have to write something that is so often compared to the first work now.
What was the decision behind recording the album in two weeks?
We basically used 10/11 days to record the whole thing, bar a few extra days in Rockfield later on. It worked perfectly because we did the first week batch, then I went away, and we all came back completely fresh and by then we'd forgotten about it, so it was much easier to come back to with a new, unbiased perspective. They should all be made that way.
Do you take inspiration from other artists or is your creation always an insular process?
You're lying if you're a musician who is completely uninfluenced by music, it's why we picked up an instrument in the first place. Without hearing and loving and wanting to imitate someone's music we never would have created our own. For the guitar, I loved John Martyn and Loudon Wainwright and an old folk singer named Chris Wood, who was my first gig in York and I remember going home and writing a song for him, in the style of him.
Nowadays with all this music flooding through our lives every day it's quite difficult to ignore, and I don't like comparing myself to others because it's destructive behaviour but, there will always be a general push in a similar direction musically depending on the time we are in. For this record we were listening to a lot of American music, less folky, more Talk Talk and Car Seat Headrest and newer young bands. I wanted the tonality to be band-rooted, but still in-keeping with real loves of Elliott Smith, Simon and Garfunkel, Nick Drake, those sorts of recordings that make you hurt in a good way.
What kind of instruments were used recording this album and was it all recorded live?
Mostly based around electric and acoustics, with a Moog drum machine on every track making all the good noises and general rhythmic beds, then we added a live kit to make it louder and lots of synths, bass synths, mellotron, various fisher price toys, marimbas, tree gardens, bins, wood blocks, birds, etc.
We did every song with a basis of me recording a vocal and guitar take live, then we piled things up from there.
Boxes distinctly has more of a bolder production compared to the other songs. Can you explain why?
It was unintentional actually, as I didn't see the song getting bigger in my head. But the quietness and closeness and space for the coda at the end required a much bigger noise to come before. We pushed each other to add and add, and something didn't click until we brought the live kit in at Rockfield. The toms really make it, and that bass synth to thicken the bed out. It still feels comfortable to me, but there's a newness every time I hear it.
Were there any difficult moments in the recording process?
Mostly self-doubt, as always. But honestly it was a beautiful two weeks. The sun came out half-way through and it signalled a good turn, we finished in good time and spirits, and it was all pleasant and mellow for me.
What is your favourite song on the album?
Most probably Vanilla Baby, but you must listen in headphones with eyes shut.
Feature by Tyler Damara Kelly
Billie Marten UK Tour Dates:
Wed 5 June - The Hare & Hounds, Birmingham
Thur 6 June – Poetry Club, Glasgow
Sat 8 June – The Sound House, Dublin
Sun 9 June – The Deaf Institute, Manchester
Tue 11 June – The Wardrobe, Leeds
Wed 12 June – The Exchange, Bristol
Thur 13 June – Islington Assembly Hall, London