RIPON singer-songwriter Billie Marten plays Leeds Brudenell Social Club with a full band tonight, her career in full bloom with the May release of her third album, Flora Fauna.
Setting out on the road for an 18-date headline tour on September 16, she is promoting new single Liquid Love, a song accompanied by her latest video collaboration with Joe Wheatley, director of her Creature Of Mine and Human Replacement videos.
“This is my favourite of Joe’s visual trio,” says Billie. “Initially, I wanted the video to match the swirling, translucent watery-ness of Liquid Love, something meandering and dreamlike. I’d pictured blues and pinks, ripples, skin, wet hair and a visceral picture of real life.
“In the end, I think we – me and Joe – managed just that, through the sheer power of simplicity and understatement. It paints a natural tranquillity, using the tokens of community, friendship, family, love and warmth. All those things I was craving and pining for at the time of writing. It feels incredibly real to me as the song does too, and we weren’t acting, we were living.”
Born Isabella Sophie Tweddle on May 27 1999, she released her first EP, Ribbon, under the name of Billie Marten at the age of 15 in 2014, subsequently recording two albums for Sony/Chess Club Records, 2016’s Writing Of Blues And Yellows and 2019’s Feeding Seahorses By Hand.
Building on those minimalist acoustic folk foundations, she recorded her third album, Flora Fauna, with producer Rich Cooper in only ten days after picking up a bass guitar on a whim, duly creating a more mature record constructed on a backbone of bass and rhythm.
Shedding the timidity of her past work in favour of more urgency, Billie’s latest songs mark a period of personal independence as she learned to nurture herself and break free from toxic relationships.
Returning to nature was important to her, in the wake of her move from North Yorkshire to London. “I wasn’t really treating myself very well; it was a bit of a disruptive time. All these songs are about getting myself out of that hole; they’re quite strong affirmations,” she says.
“The name Flora Fauna is like a green bath for my eyes. If the album was a painting, it would look like flora and fauna. It encompasses every organism, every corner of Earth, and a feeling of total abundance.”
Billie, 22, has lived in London for four years. “But Ripon still has a warm place in my heart; I miss it very much, and there’s family in Harrogate and Knaresborough, but the one thing it doesn’t have is a music scene, so it’s not very practical to be based there.
“Sadly too, Ripon Grammar School didn’t have a great music department, though it did have great science and engineering departments. I did study music at GCSE level; I got a B, I think, not that great! But I grew up in a musical family, so that was my start, listening to Bowie and Kate Bush, and my father played guitar.
“Bizarrely, my first gig was on a band stand when I was 12 or 13, when I borrowed my dad’s guitar that was far too large for me, and I just sang to my dad and the ice cream van.”
That debut EP ensued at 15, released the day before she took her Maths GCSE. “For the photo they took, I smashed a glass because I was so nervous!” she recalls.
Billie signed to Sony at 16 but her subsequent experiences on the major label left her feeling like a “very small fish in a very large pool”. “I was never going to make the music they would have wanted me to make,” she says. “You’re not pushed, but maybe nudged, musically into areas you wouldn’t want to be: somewhere where I wouldn’t be comfortable, when I was the only old-school singer-songwriter, not deep pop or R&B act.
“All those people are trained up to scout for talent, but they see artists more as vessels for gradual change, rather than seeing you as yourself. But my father always said ‘take everything with a big bucket of salt’.”
Billie took the decision to seek new pastures. “The move to Fiction Records all came about deep into the first lockdown. Essentially, we met and signed on Zoom. All a bit mad,” she recalls. “Post Sony, I didn’t think anything would happen, but after Fiction Records heard a couple of demos, they didn’t want to change anything about my songs. I just felt accepted as I am and I feel very comfortable and natural working with this label.”
Cue Flora Fauna, an album with a delightfully alliterative title. “I’m very attracted to putting words together, and within those words, that is everything in the world: flora and fauna,” says Billie. “There you must accept who you are and find a place of solace.”
Billie Marten plays Leeds Brudenell Social Club tonight (24/9/2021), supported by Conchur; doors open at 7.30pm. Box office: brudenellsocialclub.co.uk.