Billy Nomates: 'I felt very vulnerable creating Cacti'

Billy Nomates. Picture: Eddie WhelanBilly Nomates. Picture: Eddie Whelan
Billy Nomates. Picture: Eddie Whelan
Having explored pandemic-induced anxieties on her 2021 EP Emergency Telephone, singer-songwriter Tor Maries, otherwise known as Billy Nomates, was keen to switch things around with her second album.

Hence CACTI finds herself looking at the world anew from the vantage point of a woman just entering her thirties.

“It was written about a year ago,” Maries says on the phone from Spain, where she is on a short break. “We’d just come out of lockdown and the world was reopening up again, and I’d moved back to Bristol and had stationed myself at Invada Studios (owned by Geoff Barrow, formerly of Portishead) and it felt like we’d come out of the worst of it.

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“It felt like the world was slightly getting back on track, so I ended up writing CACTI quite consciously away from things that were pandemic-induced. I felt like I’d addressed that with my EP Emergency Telephone, that had different feelings encapsulated in that, so I kind of just wanted to not talk about it, really, and focus on other apocalyptic facets of modern life.”

Entering a new phase of life in a world significantly changed by Covid inevitably presented Maries with a number of existential questions, which she sought to address on the new record. “I think regardless of what time you’re living, going from your twenties to your thirties, and probably from your thirties to your forties, you do have a lot of questions about who you are, what you’re doing, and I wanted to lean into that with CACTI,” she says.

“The world is so doom and gloom now and it feels like we’re battling other things and you kind of forget about the everyday and navigating everything else, and actually it’s kind of annoying being in that pre-apocalyptic state all of the time.

“I do try to lean into the biggest feelings that I have at the time of creating stuff and I think I felt very vulnerable creating CACTI. A lot of artists probably felt the same, we were fighting for survival a little bit in a changed world. But it’s important to me to show a more obviously vulnerable side to Billy Nomates as well. If you call me a post-punk fierce artists with a rebellious nature I’ll show you that I’m not that as well.”

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Like many who glimpsed Britain becoming a more compassionate society during lockdown, Maries was keen to hang on to its best aspects. “Capitalism will always exist but there was a certain point in the pandemic where everything had to slow down, everything had to stop, and there’s just no point in modern life where that really happens, where there’s not lots of cars on the road or airplanes taking off. There was something nice about that stillness,” she says.

Billy Nomates. Picture: Immy DoneBilly Nomates. Picture: Immy Done
Billy Nomates. Picture: Immy Done

“I think as well the longer you stayed at home, the more frightening the world started to look. It was a real comfort to be sat at home creating. Music is such a safe space for me anyway, my favourite place is to be making music. But there was this moment of will we just press go again and never stop?

“That said, I was concerned for my job, like a lot of people, and desperately wanted things to happen and open up and be normal again. But there was also a small part of me thinking, ‘I wonder if we just keep going now and that’s it, and wasn’t it strange that we stopped, and wasn’t there some nice bits of that?’”

Maries’ growing confidence as a writer is much in evidence in hook-filled songs such as balance is gone and blue bones. She says: “My self-doubt is crippling at times and anyone that knows me knows that I’m a total catastrophiser over anything. But I’ve learnt that I have to, again, lean into that and make it part of what I do, and almost part of the music because if I don’t it can shut everything down quite quickly. It’s a motivator, in a way, is self-doubt. It motivates you to overcome it somehow when you push through it. Perhaps if I was really full of confidence it might not be as authentic.”

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Maries formed her first bands in Melton Mowbray, where she grew up. “I was in a couple of bands and used to play a little bit around Leicester. That’s where it first introduced itself to me anyway,” she remembers. At 16 she moved to Bristol to pursue her musical dreams, but became disenchanted and left music altogether for a period of about five years. “I’d done music to a certain point by then but everyone goes off and does their own thing or finds their own way in life. I think in my mid twenties it felt like an impossible thing to get into. I didn’t know how you pursued it at a professional level. You get older and you get worried about what you’re going to do with your life...and I’m very all or nothing so I didn’t really want to know about any music for a while, I completely shut it down.”

Billy Nomates. Picture: Eddie WhelanBilly Nomates. Picture: Eddie Whelan
Billy Nomates. Picture: Eddie Whelan

Such a feeling didn’t last, though, and in 2020 she released her debut album as Billy Nomates “and it did all right”. The turnaround was sparked by seeing Sleaford Mods, who became friends and invited Maries to appear on their song Mork and Mindy.

“I’ve always written and played but I’d just put it down for a few years,” she says. “I’d had a few changes in my life. I’d had different jobs and moved different places and different relationships had come to an end, and then you just find yourself one day thinking ‘what are the things that make me happy?’ It was always writing music. So I started to write and shortly after met Sleaford Mods, they were seeing what I was doing and we became friends from there.

“I think you have that catalyst moment of ‘am I going to create something again?’ I had that at the end of my twenties and I’m grateful that I actually did something with that feeling because I think I would probably have had it anyway.”

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Maries says she found Sleaford Mods frontman Jason Williamson and Geoff Barrow, who signed her to his label, Invada Records, kindred spirits. “They’re both real advocates for authentic music and poeple that are creating things,” she says. “I’m glad that I know them. They’re different people but they both create very real things, it’s not emotional in an Adele sense but it’s very emotionally driven music in different ways. I really identify with that, that’s where mine is driven from. They’re just great people to know, they heavyweights in their own right, to have their stamp of approval has been massive for me.”

Billy Nomates. Picture: Immy DoneBilly Nomates. Picture: Immy Done
Billy Nomates. Picture: Immy Done

The DIY approach that Maries adopted while making her first, self-titled album was, she says, as much through necessity as design. “I didn’t really know how else to approach making it,” she says. “I found myself in somebody’s kitchen or a space. I’m in a position now where I can do this for a living but I still find myself going back to that and starting things from that place. It’s interesting how much those early things you do become part of your professional practise. I’m grateful for learning it that way because it lends itself to the way I create music today.”

Maries sees music as a place for truthfulness. “For me there are so few places to be that honest and open and vulnerable about things,” she says. “This album I’ve tried to lean into that more and more. I think your role as an artist is to lean into your biggest feeling and emotion and your overriding sense of where you are and what you’re doing. That first album had that raw, angry, fierce edge to it because that’s exactly where I was. This one is slightly different. I always hope records that can mirror that because I think that’s all you’ve got as an artist.”

Several of her new songs will be aired in her set on her November tour. “It’s just a short run of dates before the big launch of everything next year, but there will definitely be some new things floating about,” she says. “I’ll keep the show interesting.”

Billy Nomates plays at The Leadmill, Sheffield on November 27 and Stylus, Leeds on April 21, 2023. CACTI is released on January 13.

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