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Billie Marten April 2023 Brennan Bucannan 05

How Billie Marten found peace in embracing her essence

06 April 2023, 11:30
Words by Kelsey Barnes
Original Photography by Brennan Bucannan

Additional Photography by Katie Silvester

Billie Marten had to learn to slow down to create her fourth album Drop Cherries, she tells Kelsey Barnes.

For Billie Marten, everything began with a dinner party game.

“It’s called The Essence Game,” she explains from her London flat. “One person leaves the room and then they come back and ask the others questions to find out who this person is. Questions like, ‘If they were a flower, what flower would they be?’ It goes on for hours because you can get really into it, describing the true essence of someone and not the surface level. Basically, I think I've made an album based on the essence game.”

The album she’s talking about is Drop Cherries, Marten’s fourth record which is a collection of songs and fragments of memories that explore the different parts of her relationship. Things have been said at length about Marten’s evolution as an artist and her growth from her debut in 2016 to 2019’s Feeding Seahorses By Hand to her most recent record, Flora Fauna, in 2021. She’s dealt with the same things her counterparts have struggled with: self-doubt, forced creativity, and the attention span of today’s listeners in the world of TikTok and streaming. What’s plagued her most, though, is contorting herself and her music to be what others want to hear.


“I used to spend a lot of time comparing my songwriting style and how often I would do it,” she states. “I would feel like a fraud if I wasn't writing all the time, but then I would feel fraudulent because what I was writing wasn't very good. There has been so much alleviation for me on Drop Cherries because it really just came as it wanted to arrive over two years.”

Katie Silvester Billie Marten LP4 ICGMHAY Press 2

“I used to spend a lot of time comparing my songwriting style and how often I would do it,” she states. “I would feel like a fraud if I wasn't writing all the time, but then I would feel fraudulent because what I was writing wasn't very good. There has been so much alleviation for me on Drop Cherries because it really just came as it wanted to arrive over two years.”

Taking the time to create work is something Marten doesn’t take for granted, given that her rise as an artist has been documented in its entirety online like a time capsule she’s always mirrored against. “Everything is permanent, everything is online, and you’re not even old enough to get a smear test,” she remarks. “When I look at my first album [Writing of Blues and Yellows], I really thought I was an adult and I wasn’t even a person yet,” she laughs. “If I was in any other life, I would just be beginning now. I feel comforted now that people trusted me [back] then. They clearly thought something was going to become good and allowed me to have this time to get to this point, which is very much a new beginning. I’ve been living at this weird turbo pace and now I’m learning to slow down.”


For Marten, slowing down means leaving London for Somerset and Wales to record alongside her co-producer Dom Monks throughout the late summer of last year. Drop Cherries isn’t a reinvention or a complete left turn from her previous albums. For a lot of artists, there seems to be a desire to mark every album with a new artistic statement; a desire to keep oneself shiny and fresh to stay relevant. But, like with the aforementioned pressure she once struggled with, Marten has let go of the inclination to reinvent herself to appeal and appease. Instead, she makes music the way she has from the start: writing as a way to make her feelings tangible.

The title Drop Cherries was first inspired by an old tale Marten heard from a friend prior to creating the album. In the tale, a gift of cherries is a declaration of love and affection. With that, Marten visualised “stamping blood-red cherries onto a clean, cream carpet,” a blank slate now stained with love. With that image, it’s easy to understand why Marten resonated with the story.

“It’s about looking at people in their simplest form. When I think of a friend, a colour or object comes to mind. This album was really my personal quest to find out the true essence of both myself and this person and our essence together, living as one, which I write about on ‘This Is How We Move’ and ‘I Can’t Get My Head Around Us.’ The album is categorised in four parts; the initial excitement and disbelief about finding something so beautiful, the mundanity of love, pushing away the negative thoughts and cyclical things, and finally arriving at the end. The first lyric on Drop Cherries is “Here as I am / like the toes on my feet,” which is basically me saying this is it, this is what you get, remarkably unremarkable. The final lyric [on the title track] is “I drop cherries at your door / when you ask for more / now I know what I’m here for.” I know what I was made to do, which is the ending of the album. The tone [of the title track] is me closing the chapter and finishing the book; it’s all I have to say on the matter.”

Katie Silvester Billie Marten LP4 TIHWM Press 1

“Willow,” one of the 13 songs on the album, is the sonic embodiment of Marten diving into her own psyche and analysing her feelings. Equal parts poetic and powerful, the song tells the story of two weeping willows “throwing an arm to one another,” imagery Marten touches on in another track, “I Bend To Him.” “Yep, you’ve got it,” laughs Marten when she realises the connection has been made. “This is the first human feedback I get outside of those who worked on it, and I’ve noticed the same imagery appears in my lyrics. I’m always mentioning body parts and nature, for some reason.” When prompted with the idea that Drop Cherries is a new beginning — a regenesis of sorts — she ponders. “I am having this sense of rebirth… I think nature is a great way to explain that.”

Willow trees are known for being symbolic representations of survival and rebirth due to their long lifespan and ability to create new trees just from the cuttings. If Drop Cherries was in “The Essence Game,” one may say it's a willow tree; using the last three albums as a way to influence and inform Marten’s new work while being reborn at the same time. Where exactly did the image of the willow tree come from, though? “Well, I used to live behind a pond [in London] and it had a little fountain and, in the corner, there was this willow tree. The rest of it was a horrendous shithole, but that tree was amazing. My partner who this album is about always describes himself as a willow tree.”

Thinking back to “The Essence Game,” a thread that ties the entirety of Drop Cherries together is the way it was created. There is a spirit that engulfs Drop Cherries, an album that could be placed in any decade and seamlessly slot into anyone’s vinyl collection. Across the 13-track record, there’s light snare drums adorned with soft acoustic guitars and poignant piano melodies buoying the album. Marten’s vocals are at their strongest as heard on tracks like “Devil Swim Melodies” and “Nothing But Mine” where she sounds more sure of herself than ever. What is most refreshing about Drop Cherries is there is no obvious single or cheesy hook that could be whittled down for a simple TikTok sound-bite. Instead, the album sounds timeless — likely due to the way it was recorded.

As a self-described “preacher of the past,” Marten and Monks opted to avoid the use of Logic and computer software to craft the record by leaning into the bare bones of making music and recording it all live on tape. “All of my favourite records are recorded in a very certain way and just because I'm born in this generation doesn't mean I have to change the way I make music. It's very much not coalescing with the modern day trajectory and leaning back into why records are good.”

Katie Silvester Billie Marten LP4 TIHWM Press 3

Noting the intimate relationship between an artist and listener, Marten feels it can be lost when it's obvious “some dude has been sitting at his MacBook for 20 minutes” just using samples. “There’s something about walking into a studio and you have to make something that has never been made before.” For Marten, the beauty of tape is in its flaws and happy accidents — a mirror that directly reflects the relationship that inspired the record.

Making peace with flaws, mistakes, and missteps is something Marten is still getting used to. At points she speaks of past frustrations she’s had with past albums, nitpicking it apart and seeing where she feels she could’ve done better. It’s a testament to her essence as an artist; someone who values the power of prose. “I have less of a friendship with the second and third record,” she reflects. “Lyrics are the most important thing, which is why I'm a bit ashamed of the previous album. I feel like I should have gone back and kind of rehashed the lyrics a bit more. I find communication quite hard and I understand myself so much that I'm so self aware that words don't come out the way that I want them to. As someone that is naturally introverted, but also extroverted, [songwriting] is the perfect tool for me to get those things down because I can be as vulnerable and as confident as I like at the same time.”

Showing her confidence and vulnerability in its purest form is heard in “Tongue,” a wistful piano-driven track with strings. It is the all-too-familiar tale of not getting someone out of your head. Marten sings about finding the person everywhere — from embedded themselves in her hair to the steps she takes in her shoes. “I found this blue Swedish piano from the 30s and it’s always out of tune, but I liked the melodies it made; it sounded infantile like a nursery rhyme. I was playing around on it and decided to pour my heart out in not a serious or decadent way.”

Katie Silvester Billie Marten LP4 NBM Press 2

As she looks to the future, Marten doesn’t have huge, groundbreaking goals or accomplishments she’s dying to make. After almost a decade to figure out the type of artist she wants to be, she’s just excited about the mundane things. “Life is so good at the moment, I’m going to focus on the little things. As a musician, I have always denied myself the joy of owning something that's living so I want to get a small ginger cat named Scampi,” she gleams as the sun dances across her face. Between a fourth record, going on tour and travelling across the U.K. and America, and talks of performances on late-night talk shows, a cat seems like an easy manifestation to make. A new beginning for them both.

Drop Cherries is released on 7 April via Fiction Records

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