Following the release of Drop Cherries (April 7), her rawest album yet, Music Week meets the Fiction-signed Billie Marten to talk trusting her voice, taking credit where it’s due, and her fight against irony...
You’ve said that you’re finally trusting your own instincts on Drop Cherries. Why do you feel it’s taken until now to do that?
“I feel more comfortable releasing this album. In the past I put too much pressure on myself for my music to be something, whereas this one feels relatively relaxed and human. The general theme is comfort and a kind of settlement in yourself, which is hard to find. I’m still trying, with every album I say something like, ‘I’m okay now, I’ve got it.’ Later I’m like, ‘Okay, now I’m there.’ Trusting my voice has also been huge, I started young and I’m a woman so all of that could have been deadly. I’ve been relatively lucky and had musical control in the past, but stylistically things haven’t always gone the way I wanted them to. I’ve enjoyed nitpicking over every aspect of this album and making sure it’s all come together as one. There’s too much irony in the music world and we need to start getting back to what we actually feel.”
Why do you think there’s too much irony?
“I’m sick of it, I don’t know how it happened. Suddenly there was this ‘lol’ version of music, every press photo was ironic. I’ve been part of it, it happens, but I wasn’t ready for the abject loss of real sentiment. It’s kind of insulting to the craft of songwriting. I think if you want to say something, say it, because this kind of [ironic] music is very much going against the mindset of openness and clarity around mental health. It does the opposite of that by laughing about everything. With my album I wanted to tackle something sincere, in my own way.”
This is the first time that you’ve officially co-produced one of your albums. How does that feel?
“With this one, I asked Dom [Monks, co-producer], ‘How do you feel about me producing with you?’ He had this long answer that was looking like ‘No’, but in the end he told me to forget everything he had just said, it was a ‘Yes!’ I’ve always been in the studio making decisions and this felt like a good time to put my stamp on it. It’s a team effort, but it’s important to give yourself credit sometimes. I also think we all just need to take a breath. These days, you walk in the studio with nothing and within hours you have a fully produced song, which takes away the joy of starting with nothing and slowly cultivating it into a piece. We’re just slapping it down, ready to go, no hesitation. There’s no room for artistry and meandering careers anymore, or that one gig from someone you’ve never heard of before who doesn’t have the propelled version of success that happens now. You know, I would love it if we all just slowed the fuck down.”
And, speaking as a young woman, how have you found your wider experience of the industry so far?
“For me, it was a unique situation, the first managers I ever had were women, who put me in touch with the lovely Fiona Bevan. And I met her really early on, probably when I was 13, when they were developing me and trying to make me into a popstar (laughs). So, the thing that happens, actually, [as a woman] is the whole, ‘How do you look?’ and ‘How do you present yourself?’, and your face has to be on the album cover. I have lots of male friends in the industry and they have never been asked about their image really, unless it’s something that’s key to them. I mean, most of the people I work with are middle-aged men, but that’s just what happens when you move to Hackney and everyone’s been here for 25 years. There are odd stories we could all tell, but I’m conscious of not putting the spotlight back on men, it shouldn’t be ‘us versus them’.”
Finally, you’ve worked with both indie and major labels so far. How are you finding life at Fiction?
“Fiction have really surprised me. It was a decision made in lockdown, I thought post-Sony I should go independent, but things didn’t quite work out in terms of what I needed. I went with Fiction after a few conversations about my experiences and they really listened. I have a small team, communication is regular and they understand where I’m coming from. There’s the odd thing I have to say ‘no’ to but they know that. Fiction have been great.”