Billie Marten’s astonishingly alluringly voice and immensely absorbing lyricism saw her draw acclaim from a young age. Her debut album Writing Of Blues and Yellows interweaves wistfulness with beautifully beguiling lyricism that astounds and intrigues in equal measure. Three years on and Billie has released her highly anticipated sophomore album Feeding Seahorses By Hand which sees her explore a more reflective outward-facing approach lyrically.
We caught up with Billie in the week preceding her album release about her creative process, relationship with touring and her inspirations.
For me, “Blue Sea, Red Sea” is such a cathartic song to listen to. What was the inspiration behind the track?
Thank you. It’s a happy song for me too, but more so the structure and melody. At the time I was trying to write the lightest song I could, but I wasn’t in a good place then. It’s irony in forcing yourself better through music, rather than the usual pit of moping to Low and Radiohead in the bath. The general message in that song is about the importance of other people, something I didn’t appreciate for a long time because I have a tendency to be too autonomous with things. The brightness of colour, the transcendence of problems, feeling lighter and sentimental about things.
You gained recognition and acclaim really early into your career. Looking back at it, do you think you were ever able to fully process it at the time?
Not at all. My head was all over the place, mostly due to relentless travel and the switching of scene, culture, accent, style of people was all very confusing. Luckily we made it out and I finished up school and decided to start making a small home in London. Now I’m much more settled and clearer on how everything works, particularly in the industry, with the knowledge of what to look out for and when to speak up and how to hold yourself with more confidence I guess. It was an experience.
Where did the inspiration for the album’s title Feeding Seahorses By Hand come from?
It was my mum who came up with the title so all credit due to her. She rang me up once, even before the album, and said ‘I’ve got it! Feeding Seahorses By Hand.’ I thought it ridiculous but wrote it down anyway and when we were recording it popped back into my head with urgency, so everything fits nicely. It’s an image you can’t really picture, which gives the album its own connotations and its own space.
How was the creative process different for this album compared with your debut?
Recording sporadically last time was very difficult but looking back I thought it was the norm. This time we had 10 or so days cooped up in Ethan’s house to really get a sense of this album as a whole rather than individual songs. We tracked everything on a four-track tape machine which was a new experience, but completely natural. I loved it.
Is the anticipation towards releasing this album different compared to releasing your debut?
You feel the general nervousness of something looming, but I try to forget about things like that.
You’ve previously opened for the likes of Villagers and Lucy Rose and you’re about to head off to America to support Snow Patrol. How would you describe the experience of being a support act, compared to your own headline show? Does it ever feel daunting to play to such large rooms of people who may be unfamiliar with your music?
Supporting is quite great actually because all the pressure is off you. It’s not about you, there are no preconceived ideas, which is a relief for me. I like being a stranger and struggle still with the fact that people buy tickets and spend money on coming to see me. It’s a real honour of course.
“Cartoon People” references Trump, how did the song evolve and change during the process of making it? Was the idea to link to politics always part of the song?
I had no intention of getting political, it was just an afternoon of landing on a different subject than the usual, and I liked being direct and more conversational in songs. The album has much more of that, it’s less reflective and less self-indulgent, I feel a lot more freedom in writing now. Cartoon People is just a small note, nothing major, about calling out certain people in power and lowering them down societally, I guess.
Your debut album came out three years ago and your first EP was released five years ago. How has your relationship with performing some of those songs evolved over time?
That does seem like an incredibly long time already. I don’t play listen to anything that’s already been released, and will always treasure the first album, but I struggle to connect to those first songs as anyone would. Some of them were written when I was 13/14 which is madness to think I have the same sensibility and brain as I did then. This second time around it’s more band focused and there’s room to breathe, dance, relax, listen to the production. Of course, we still play the old stuff but I enjoy playing live a lot more now.
Finally, alongside your album release, you’re going on a headline tour soon. What excites you the most about the near future and the ways in which you can share your music with your audience?
It’s a pleasure, things are when you love them. I try to wake up each day and just focus on that while it’s happening, so no future plans or anxieties crop up. You’ve no idea what’s going to happen, and I’m comfortable with that. There’s comfort in not knowing.