Billie Marten’s new album is her statement of purpose: Flora Fauna is an affirmation of undeniable talent and, this time, it sounds like Billie believes it too. When ‘Garden of Eden’, Flora Fauna’s lead […]
Billie Marten’s new album is her statement of purpose: Flora Fauna is an affirmation of undeniable talent and, this time, it sounds like Billie believes it too.
When ‘Garden of Eden’, Flora Fauna’s lead single, dropped in late January, it resounded like a gong signalling the return of better days. Far from the claustrophobia of lockdown, the track is an airy ode to coming into one’s own, drawing parallels between plants (flora) and humans (you guessed it, fauna). It came at a time when we were all gasping for air, impatiently waiting for sunlit days.
It also felt like Billie’s most confident work yet. Her discography up until that moment was marked by an ability to make her audience feel like a fly on the wall, weaving quiet reminders of ‘look but don’t touch’ between every other strum and vocal inflection. With Flora Fauna, Billie Marten is now inviting the listener to sit at her table and engage with the material like never before.
It’s not a usual rollout for Billie: although she’s doing press ahead of the album, most of it is done remotely, at home, in a calm and safe environment. The pre-release jitters are kicking in, but she’s keeping them in check. “I just think rumination is the deadliest killer,” she tells us, “you’re snowballing into this kind of thought puddle. It’s really hard to climb back out again because all you’ve got is your own brain. And that’s sometimes not your friend. So I’m trying more and more to just actively push those cycles away and just be more present.”
Thankfully, rumination doesn’t spill into the creative process: “I think I overthink every other aspect of life. Musically, you get a specific amount of time for recording–for instance, the last album was done in ten days over Summer. And they were very short days; I probably strolled in at 12, we left at 6. Don’t push it. If you have to push it, it’s probably not very good or natural,” Billie explains. “I hate doing loads of takes of everything and drilling it into the ground.”
She’s gotten used to releasing music months, if not years after having written and recorded it after 2016’s Writing of Blues and Yellows and 2019’s Feeding Seahorses by Hand. “It’s just like making Christmas telly in July,” she offers. It’s been a matter of getting reacquainted with her thought process at the time of writing. “I’m always writing something new, and generally an artist is far more excited about their newest thing, which will probably not come out for another two years,” and finding she’s still very much proud of the album she made: “I’m just really happy with it.”
The song she’s most proud of? ‘Liquid Love,’ set for release right before the album comes out. “I don’t know how to describe it. It was just a very subconsciously-made song. I wasn’t trying to write anything at the time. It sort of just fell out of me and Rich [Cooper], and it just sounds like nothing I’ve done before.”
The grandiose return with ‘Garden of Eden’ and the subsequent soft radiance of ‘Creature of Mine’ offer only glimpses of the album’s multi-faceted approach to exploring a mixed bag of feelings. One common thread runs throughout, whether Billie sings about past relationships, re-centering her needs, or even religion: “they’re all very strong sentiments. And I think I haven’t really had a chance or opportunity to do that before,” she says. How so? “Well, I mean, the first track I ever put out was [based on] my fascination with the train from up North to London. And now that is one of the smallest journeys I have made. I really didn’t have a lot to go on in terms of writing substance. And I was very afraid of my feelings. It was kind of unacceptable to talk about them. And now, obviously, it’s the way we survive. The way we communicate with people is through honesty, and the more I’m tapping into those honest sentiments, the better I feel.”
Getting her start so young brought an additional set of challenges, having to grow and soak up life-changing experiences all at the same time. Focusing only on what truly matters is something we all struggle with. Sixteen-year-old Billie Marten was certainly no exception: “I was so wrapped up in the logistics and the strings of everything in the industry, not really listening to people in interviews because I was just worried about what I sounded like or what they sounded like; not being into gigs that much because I was just so worried about what people thought. It takes a few years to shed all of that, and there was no way I was going to be able to do that at the beginning: at sixteen, that just wasn’t going to happen.”
In recent years, we’ve seen a societal reckoning with mental health struggles, further accelerated by the wave of additional challenges the past year has brought to the table. Art has long been a vehicle for self-expression and a form of therapy for its maker. In many ways, it feels like culture is slowly catching up to what artists have understood for a long time. “All of our corners and our different tribes are merging,” Billie ventures. “Maybe it’s time for another French Revolution. Maybe it’s time for another overturning scenario because everyone has the same anxieties, the same pockets of unhappiness, the same worries.”
The live performance industry, in particular, has been hard-hit last year. We asked Billie what, moving forward, should be done to curb the precarity of those jobs: “I think one of the first acts should be shining more of a spotlight on the individual that’s involved in the making of an artist because there are a hundred people around each one. And none of them ever get named, if not paid. Quite often, we get our friends to make videos or do photos or come up with creative projects with us. And because of that connection, they quite often never get paid, or they get paid a hideously small amount. It’s all about abolishing habits like that because that’s not done in–and it wouldn’t happen in– any other industry,” she tells us.
She’s baffled at the level of insecurity and unstableness that plagues the music industry and has been exacerbated by governmental policy last year. “I don’t know how people do it,” she sighs. “Now, I don’t know how you’d even begin being a musician, how you’d get enough resources to buy equipment and get on the stage.” She mentions a new petition backed by the Ivors Academy and signed by hundreds of top-bill artists aimed at redistributing streaming remuneration more fairly to compensate songwriters and performers for birthing the songs and keeping them alive. The infinitesimal returns from platforms like Spotify have recently come under fire, and artists like her are mobilizing to keep efforts going.
Making music is still a lifeline for many, and there’s hope that an industry charged with as much passion will find ways to thrive through hardships. “In all honesty, I can’t see myself doing anything else. It’s like scratching an itch. It’s like getting rid of that cough that you’ve had for months. It’s like diving into a cold pool. It’s just an ultimate–and the simplest–form of relief, having an avenue for output,” she says, “and I’m really lucky that I can do that.”
Billie is looking forward to playing ‘Garden of Eden’ and the rest of Flora Fauna to live audiences during her upcoming domestic tour in September. Having held her breath underwater for so long, the prospect of making new memories is the adrenaline rush that’ll sustain the excitement past the release date (21 May). It’s taken a while to get here, but now “I can experience joy on stage, which is something I haven’t done before,” she confesses. We’re confident the joy will be mutual.