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3rd November 2015

Billie Marten

Ellie Gibbs profiles Billie Marten, a 16-year-old singer-songwriter with angelic tones and viscerally affecting music

“[Everybody’s] watching, drowning in words so sweet”

This is the effect that Billie Marten has on her audience, as my plus-one commented on looking around the room: “no one can take their eyes off her.” Her ethereal voice hypnotises the audience, so much so that it seems like we are looking beneath the surface of the harmonies. The absorbing effect of her raw, atmospheric voice masks the emotion that’s penned into her lyrics. The crowd are entranced.

As I approached Billie Marten at the end of her set, we got chatting about the go-to subject of her age; at 16, she’s just preparing for A-levels. Her choices of subject didn’t come as a surprise when analysing her lyrics—Art and English Literature, with poetry, of course, her favourite.

A fresh-faced, youthful choir angel, Billie’s voice comes from that tip of the throat that’s just about to break into a weep, which is what makes her style so emotive. What I found interesting, and almost confusing, was that snap-jump of emotions from singer-Billie to speaker-Billie. Her expression changed from a deep melancholy to a happy-bunny. “Is everyone having a good time? Oh god I’m such a hobo. I’ll just stop talking. Talk amongst yourselves.’’

In our conversation, Billie determined that the contrast of her vulnerable lyrical emotion, only guarded by her acoustic guitar, to the upbeat smile that switched on immediately after each song, was deliberate: “Nobody wants to be a Morrissey.” Billie’s got humour; we had a great laugh on the phone about how much I’d over-analysed the promo video for ‘Heavy Weather’.

It features a cobalt blue rope swing that dances, swaying slowly in the dank autumn forest, a perfect accompaniment to her voice, like clear running spring water. It’s mysterious: A spot to sit at and zone out. It represents that her music is to listen to, not to stimulate from all angles. Her body is not the subject of attention, but the music she is producing with it.

Clearly, I was over-thinking it: “Beautiful track heard on Radio 1 last week. 3 minutes staring at a stick on a rope well-spent.”
(Courtesy of ‘the matt curtis’ on YouTube)

The actual video features a man in a shower, so please watch that one. Man in shower worked hard for that role. Billie tells me he got really wet. In one of arguably her best videos, ‘Bird’, Billie worked with Franklyn Banks, who came to her with a treatment that projected everything the song had been intended to convey, without the two having met or spoken.

This anecdote reflects how the standard question of “so what does your music mean?” doesn’t need to be asked; it’s all right there in the lyrics. In the video for ‘Ribbon’, I love that she wears braces. I love that she doesn’t smile. I love that she’s perfected that ‘hmyeah’ expression that epitomises the mood of every teenage girl.

She has a deep, honest and natural understanding of beauty, which is a breath of fresh air in this era of overproduction. Billie won’t be the type to sell out and ‘shake it off’, or ‘out’, in some troupe-dancing, ooh-ohh-featuring pop video, like so many of her earthy-voiced contemporaries (Taylor, Florence) have sadly chosen to. A BBC 6 Music Friday night critic commented “she doesn’t know what she’s doing, and I love it.” It seems to me that, despite her youth, she knows exactly what she’s doing, and I love it.

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