By Benjamin Smith, Second Year History
Billie Marten, at the age of just 23, is already a veteran within the music industry. With three acclaimed albums already under her belt and an upcoming album, Drop Cherries, that builds on the sounds of those earlier albums with an increased focus on live performance and explorations of new lyrical avenues.
I was able to chat to Marten about the upcoming album, the process of recording and writing it, her position within the industry as well as some of her sources of inspiration.
So many interviews and articles about her seem to focus on Marten’s age and how she’s been releasing music since she was in her early teens, and yet this is a source of frustration for Marten. “The thing I regret most about [entering the music industry so early] is that I’m still being asked about it now”. Marten also feels the often unwanted pressure and attention from the media that comes from the media with being a young woman in the music industry, as she talks about the most repetitive questions she gets asked, she tells me “if I was a man that had been in this industry for basically eleven years, yeah no way would I get those questions.”
Yet Marten’s music is not bound either by these expectations of a young female artist, writing about “how it was kind of going through school and, and going through puberty and all that stuff” which Marten thinks is “not really interesting”, or by a reaction against this. Instead Marten views her music very differently - “I happen to be a young person in an industry that’s as old as time, but that isn’t why I make music.” This quote typifies Marten’s approach to music and writing - eleven years in and she’s at peace with the process.
“If I was a man that had been in this industry for basically eleven years, yeah no way would I get those questions.”
Musically Drop Cherries is a development from Marten’s earlier work. “It’s an active shift. I was happy with the last album… but I certainly didn’t wanna make that sound again.” Marten describes her previous album as “very much overdub over overdub”, a feature she wanted to avoid on this project, instead focusing on an album that she “would never be scared of” playing live.
One way in which she implemented this philosophy was through recording with a live band for the first time, a decision which paid off as Marten describes that process “a coming together of like-minded souls”. This can be seen in one of the most notable additions to the songs on this album which are the prominent strings; a change that Marten admits she “didn’t imagine”, but credits to Harry Fausing and these strings add a new dimension.
For the first time in her career Marten also produced this album, alongside Dom Monks, although Marten told me that she has “always co-produced an album”, but previously hasn’t always got questions about the making of records, instead being asked about exclusively what it’s like “being really young” or “a woman”, and so this is partly an exercise in Marten “just want[ing] some credit”.
This care and dedication Marten has to the craft of producing and writing songs is evident in our interview, as she bemoans the way that songwriting has become so “Macbook-y”, or describes the joy she found in having “my producer hat on, and finding little sounds and doing my things I’ve always done, but just having a bit more time and space to do it”.
Marten claims she is “actually a bad songwriter”, although I beg to differ, and this leads her to rely on sudden bursts of inspiration and literally “sneaking up on [her] guitar” to spark ideas. As we speak about Drop Cherries and its lyrical focus on love and relationships, this approach to songwriting is evident. “I just had other things to talk about for so long and there came a point two years ago when I felt like I had an opinion to give on that subject,” and as Marten expands on how songwriting for her shouldn't be like “flogging a dead horse” and “should be a complete joy,” her discography begins to make more sense.
Her previous albums have jumped thematically around topics ranging from social commentary, self-doubt and self-reflection, toxic dependency and the natural world and now to love and romantic relationships; and this has led to all of her writing having a rare sense of true honesty and authenticity, a word that is often overused but feels appropriate here. Marten points to the song ‘Arrows’ as the one song that would sum up the album - a powerful song about being “80% sure of myself, but never being fully confident”, before the self affirming chorus line of “I am the arrow”. Marten explains the link to the rest of the album as “you know the classic thing, you can’t love someone before you love yourself”, and she also talks about changing that lyric, as it was originally “I am the arrow that shoots”, but that “implies… bitterness or some sort of angst and I really don’t have that anymore.”
This is the message at the heart of Drop Cherries and Marten’s latest directional shift. Marten told me about some authors who inspire her and mentioned how Maggie Nelson, in her book Bluets, takes the mundane but “put[s] them in a really beautiful light”, and then when discussing her love of Jonathan Franzen asks “why do I feel like the observer and not the character?”
Drop Cherries is full of gentle and beautiful descriptions of the small nuances of relationships, but this is tied together with the agency and self-assurance of songs like ‘Arrows’. At this point Marten is no longer the observer but has a level of confidence that positions her firmly as the protagonist.
Featured Image: Katie Silvester
Have you listened to Drop Cherries?