Music interview: Billie Marten

Billie Marten. Picture: Josh Shinner

Billie Marten. Picture: Josh Shinner

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Seventeen is a young age at which to release your first album on a major record label. But Billie Marten from Ripon already has nearly a decade’s worth of song writing experience behind her.

“I guess it was probably around eight or nine,” she says, remembering when she wrote her first song. “My dad taught me a few chords on the guitar and then I thought ‘Let’s just see what happens if I open my mouth’ and then I wrote some really terrible songs and just carried on doing it.”

By the age of 12 Marten’s mum began posting videos of her musical endeavours on YouTube for her grandparents’ benefit. Things began to take off two years later when she recorded a video for the Harrogate-based YouTube channel On’t Sofa.

“You basically just sit on a sofa and play a few songs then it goes out online,” she says. “Somehow people from London found it – that happened to be my [eventual] manager’s son, totally by accident.”

Her debut EP, Ribbon, came out in 2014; a year later she signed to RCA imprint Chess Club. Her soon-tobe-released first album, Writing of Blues and Yellows, was written and recorded while she was in her Year 12 at school.

“I signed on January 5 and I remember because it was the day before my mock exams and in the photo of me signing you can actually see the maths [revision] on the floor,” she says. “I had to bring it with me.”

I get a lot of inspiration from home and also from growing up having to go to London from an early age and coming back home a lot. Having that juxtaposition I found really odd.

Over the past couple of years Marten has had strong support from BBC Introducing. “She says: I put two of my songs on the BBC Introducing uploader not for any intention, really, just because we could, and then they invited me to do radio sessions and they put me on the stage at Leeds and Reading two years ago and that was probably my first proper gig.”

At the start of this year the corportation included her in its BBC Sound of 2016 short list. “They’ve been incredible for about four years now, I’m hugely grateful,” she says.

If her singles Milk and Honey and Bird bear some of the accomplished hallmarks of a young Kate Bush, Marten says her main musical inspirations stem from her parents’ record collection. “My dad’s obsessed with John Martyn – hence Billie Marten the name – he’s probably the main influence, he’s why I started playing guitar,” she says.

“A lot of male singer-songwriters I could relate to, probably more than female singer-songwriters. I absolutely love Joni [Mitchell], of course, but I think at the very beginning it was what my parents were listening to, and that was Nick Drake, John Martyn, all of that, and Brian Eno.

“I don’t think necessarily it sounds like them, obviously I do get a lot of things from them because they’re brilliant people, but I try not to shadow it too closely because what’s the point, you’re not doing your own thing.”

Marten points out that she isn’t immune to modern music. Her older brother, who’s now 26, was “the one who brought a lot of new music into the house then my parents would reinforce old music”, she says.

“I kind of had both sides of music, which has been really helpful. [My brother] would play people like James Blake, so I do listen to everything, but maybe not the charts.”

Her new single Lionhearted is out now while Writing of Blues and Yellows is released tomorrow (September 23).

Marten says her concerns as a songwriter come from everyday life. “I get a lot of inspiration from home and also from growing up having to go to London from an early age and coming back home a lot. Having that juxtaposition I found really odd. Usually that creeps into every song I write – that difference in where you’re meant to be and where you feel you should be. It’s a lot of surroundings and the scenery that I’m in.”

Having performed at 11 festivals over the summer, Marten is raring to embark on her first headline tour, which includes a show at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, but she admits there will probably be some pre-gig butterflies.

“I get nervous before every gig, I don’t know how people don’t. I just think it’s not one of those things that people should do,” she chuckles. “But I get used to it after a few songs have happened.”

For the remainder of this academic year Marten intends to combine exam studies with performing. “Everybody has different things in their lives, everybody seems to be juggling one thing or another, so I don’t feel that different to other people,” she says level-headedly. “It is really hard, don’t get me wrong, but we’ve all got to get on with it, haven’t we? I’m very lucky to be doing both.”

Billie Marten plays at Brudenell Social Club’s games room on Tuesday October 25. For details visit http://www.billiemarten.com/