Billie Marten: ‘I was a bit sick of whispering’

Billie Marten pauses as she considers how she has found the past year. “It’s been an odd one,” she says with no small understatement.

Billie Marten. Picture: Katie Silvester

From a songwriter’s perspective, being locked down enabled her to complete work on her third album. Now the 21-year-old, who was born and raised in Ripon, is ready to unveil Flora Fauna to the world.

“When the first lockdown hit I just felt this wave of relief,” she says. “I was so glad that everyone just had to stop immediately because it was all getting a bit too hectic for me and I wasn’t very happy with music.”

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Retreating to her parents’ home in North Yorkshire for a weekend in March 2020, she ended up staying nearly six months. “I just took it as a complete rehabilitation,” she says. “It really set me on the right track and made this album happen.”

Not only did she change record label, Marten also ditched the hushed acoustic stylings of previous releases in favour of more alt-rock leanings. “I think it was needing to happen before me even realising,” she says of her new musical direction. “It was kind of a subconscious move towards a different sort of sound. Things like me buying a bass and going back to my old producer Rich Cooper – there were many factors which made this bigger, more instant sound come out. I kind of was a bit sick of whispering, and I really didn’t like not being able to have a strong presence onstage, I was very aware of that towards the end.”

Marten set herself a new guiding principle for this record. “My rule was if you’re not having a good time writing it, imagining that you’re on stage and having a good time there as well, then you should probably stop writing,” she says. “That was my rule that made this album what it was.”

The greater sense of urgency about the songs on Flora Fauna could be attributed to the way she feels about life in her early twenties. “The way they were written, it was very urgent, very immediate, things really did just fall out of my mouth,” she says.

“Previous times it’s always been more of a labour of love or maybe it’s written over a couple of weeks. This time I was writing in front of my producer, which I’ve never done before. I really had to get things quite quickly so therefore I didn’t have time to go back on what I was saying. The album does touch on some darker things but the whole general aspect is positivity.”

Songs such as Garden of Eden allude to Marten’s newfound independence from troubled relationships. “I just felt I was very tied down with my old label, I stagnated in my writing and personally my relationships weren’t very good, they were not very helpful to me,” she says. “All of these things just needed a push in order for me to break through.”

She found sanctuary in the natural world in North Yorkshire. “It’s just my favourite thing,” she says. “It was like everyone’s medicine all the time. It’s like an elixir for me. Whenever I’m in a dire straits situation it’s always got my back. I loved that I was stuck up there for lockdown, I would have had a totally different experience down here (in London). I probably would’ve ended up making my way up there anyway.”

Musically, her palate has expanded from the “slightly antiquated 70s folk” of her youth. “I’ve done with that for a second, I’ve listened to it every day of my life almost from birth,” she says. Now she gravitates to “more immediate and visceral sounds”. “I was listening way more to the drum and bass parts of the songs, which is not something I really did before. It brought me into this area of mid-90s left-field, underground rock like Broadcast.” She also cites Can and Arthur Russell. “People who were just experimenting with sound, I think that was very important,” she says.

She says she also had “more of a sense of what I wanted to write about” in her songs this time. “Less introspective and just about me, it was more world observations and looking at specific ideas. But the whole thing is more of a mish-mash really, which is why I wanted to call it Flora Fauna because that kind of encompasses everything whilst tying me to that natural world.”

Getting a few things off her chest on this record has also made her happier, she feels. “It’s just so freeing,” she says. “It’s freeing to be able to make the sound you want and it’s freeing to not be so hard on yourself all the time. Just to make the music you want to make, and it allows you to have a louder voice, the way you interact with people and hold your own. I definitely feel more confident and secure.”

Flora Fauna is out on Friday May 21. Billie Marten plays at The Leadmill, Sheffield on September 19 and Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on September 24. www.billiemarten.com