Connect with Adolescent
Close%20button 2

Music We really are just plants: an interview with musician Billie Marten

Mar. 24, 2021
Avatar dot 20net 20logo.png129cc85d db0d 45f5 9b5d eae8abd05786

Listening to Billie Marten’s new single “Garden of Eden” evokes a feeling you thought you’d forgotten. Temporarily erasing the leftover winter in your limbs, it pulls you into a sensation of summer. The song acts as a love letter to personal growth. Marking parallels within nature, she draws visuals of sun-soaked, juice-dripping moments throughout. The single is released in anticipation of Billie Marten’s third record Flora Fauna, an ode to disrupting toxic cycles and returning to the rituals of nurturing surroundings. Emerging onto the music scene from an early age, the artist has earned widespread acclaim for her rich songwriting and softly pulling vocals. For our interview, we discussed the experiences that informed her sound, releasing music in this generation, and moments of growth.

Adolescent Content: Do you feel that growing up in the Yorkshire countryside in England informed your music?

Billie Marten: Massively—it was the only thing I really had to go off of. Starting so young, there weren’t any relationships for me to observe, so what was left to me were my surroundings. There’s a certain sensitivity to the natural world. That’s what I was trying to say in “Garden of Eden”—we really are just plants. We need water and space in order to grow. It’s something that my body tells me; if something is wrong, I know that I’m lacking one of those things. 

Adolescent: You referred to the upcoming Flora Fauna album as a way of pulling yourself out of a toxic pattern and finding ways to take care of yourself. What was that experience like?

Billie: I think people forget the amount of time it takes to learn to respect yourself. It’s something that no one talks about and it’s incredibly important; it’s the key to survival. If you don’t like or respect yourself, you can’t function. I didn’t take enough time to observe if I was really happy. Musically, I wasn’t inspired by anything. I think in the last eighteen months I’ve begun to understand what I need and appreciate myself regardless of who I’m with, which is enormous. 

Adolescent: It’s a process a lot of us are still learning. It’s an interesting point that you made about being unhappy and how that negatively impacts your work. I think there’s a huge myth in saying that you have to be “tortured” to be a great artist—that it’s somehow conducive to being creative when that’s not the case.

Billie: I hate that! It’s not the goal to be mentally ill. I really wish we could get rid of the whole tortured-soul-artist thing. Also [the notion that] that if you’re a woman, you’re really troubled. That’s just a recurring storyline and it doesn’t make any sense. I’ve had a history of depression and anxiety, but it doesn’t define me. Sometimes when I write, that side of me comes out, and sometimes it doesn’t. It doesn’t mean that you’re forever a tortured soul. 

Adolescent: What did the creative process look like for creating Flora Fauna?

Billie: My producer, Rich Cooper, and I started by writing in a room together. I’d bought a bass, which I’d never played before in my life. We just started playing together over a few weeks and [soon enough] we had a small collection of songs. The first thing I thought was that I’m going to make a rule, and the rule is, if I can’t see myself enjoying playing it live, then I should stop writing the song. That was the template we kept repeating. 

Adolescent: Tell us a little bit about making the music video for “Garden of Eden.”

Billie: The video was done by artist Lydia Poole, my best friend from school. I asked her to make the video last March at the beginning of COVID. She was stuck in Brussels because she was studying there. I was luckily in a beautiful place and naturally documenting things. I sent her my entire camera roll, and she sent me hers. I wanted it to be bombastic and harass the viewer a little bit but with sweet, wholesome things. It had a slight nod to COVID but not really, because I didn’t want the viewer to realize they were watching it from their four walls. Because we couldn’t be together to film, it was an interesting solo experience while also being collaborative. I’m so proud of her. 

Adolescent: The production of your second record, Feeding Seahorses by Hand, was very experimental. What inspired that? Did you apply that process within your new release?

Billie: We recorded [Feeding Seahorses by Hand] in my producer Ethan John’s house. He has this annex in his house with a tape machine and a four track. Ethan has young kids, and they had toys around, so I would pick them up and incorporate them. We used a lot of percussive elements instead of a drum kit, like a bin and a stick, transforming it into a professional sound. [For “Garden of Eden”], we did things like playing guitar with pliers. 

Adolescent: You came onto the scene at an early age. What was it like to become well known while also being in school? 

Billie: I made sure at the start that I would finish school, because there was talk of taking me out. At that time, I loved music and I wanted to do it; I wasn’t aware of how anything worked. That meant that I had to lead a double life. If I had music in the week, I’d take my uniform with me, get on a train and record a session, come back and sit down in physics. I didn’t really talk about music at home and in music, I was actually quite ashamed that I was still so young. It was an incredibly exhilarating time, but maybe if I had gone back and observed what was happening, I would have done a few things differently. 

Adolescent: Do you feel conscious of the evolution of your work over time?

Billie: I got lost listening to some old demos lately. It was bad singing, just bad! I thought I knew so much about how the world worked and I really didn’t. But you’ll never make a first album again, so there’s no point trying to erase it. It came out when I was seventeen and that’s fine. It will always be on the internet. None of the decisions that you make in your past you want to do now—it’s a constantly evolving thing.

Adolescent: I think that’s an interesting thing about artists of this generation—the immediate access to media. Everything about you becomes so documented online, and there’s this huge pressure because there’s a demand for a constant presence of identity. 

Billie: I think it’s become so much more about identity than actual substance right now. You’re essentially coming across first as who you are, where you’re from, and what you look like—then it’s about what you’ve made. I just really miss hearing music and not knowing their entire life, because it becomes about competition. Nowadays, it’s like, how do we make a press pic of a female artist look different? I remember overhearing conversations comparing female artists. There were two artists who had similar hair, so one of them had to change it. How many guys’ heads look the same? It really pisses me off. Imagine if the world heard a playlist [with] no information about the artists. I wonder how different the climate would be. 

Flora Fauna comes out May 21st.

Follow Billie Marten on Instagram.