Billie Marten gets busy with the campaign for her Flora Fauna album - playing for Pie & Vinyl, The Joiners and Victorious Festival

Cruising down London streets in the small hours, wearing camo gear and sunglasses, face streaked with paint, Billie Marten cuts a distinctive figure.

Saturday, 3rd July 2021, 6:00 am
Billie Marten is at Pie and Vinyl on July 20. Picture by Katie Silvester
Billie Marten is at Pie and Vinyl on July 20. Picture by Katie Silvester

The fact that she’s riding on top of a tank might also have something to do with it.

It’s the video for Billie’s single Human Replacement, taken from her new album Flora Fauna. The song is about ‘the absurdity of simply not being able to go out anywhere at night as a woman particularly, without that hideous stone-cold fear of what might happen to you.

‘My trusty safety tank gets me to the shop for a pint of milk. It’s a deliberately absurd illustration of a disturbingly real problem that needed to be addressed.’

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Without wanting to detract from that message, was it as much fun to make the video as it looks?

‘Honestly, it was the best day of my life. Riding at half three in the morning in my camo, on top of this ’60s Abbot with a big scary gun on it, and a police motorcade and an ambulance, down Oxford Street – it was like, what is happening? I make folk music, what's going on?!’

‘And having all of these grubby, shifty men all on their own in random places around central London the irony was off the charts, because there was tiny me in her shades and this huge tank. And I was so safe.’

The cover of Billie Marten's third album, Flora Fauna (2021)

It wasn't quite how Billie initially saw the video panning out.

‘I thought it was a joke because my director friend, Joe Wheatley, who we're doing the videos with, we were really struggling with the video for this because it does have such a weight to it.

‘I referenced this MIA video for her song Bad Girls, it's all in the desert, driving about in these cars on two wheels, and it's all very bad ass. I said could we do something like this? He said, how about we do it like that, but we do it in a tank? I said: “Okay”, thinking it's never going to happen, but then a week later I was rocking up to this tank in Shoreditch.’

Flora Fauna is Billie's third album, and while it hasn’t thrown the baby out with the bathwater, it is a distinct development from her earlier, folkier material.

Citing influences from krautrockers Can, to Broadcast, Arthur Russell, and Fiona Apple you can actually believe she has taken them on board, as they are reflected in Flora Fauna’s more adventurous soundscapes and lush instrumentation.

Since her second album, 2019’s Feeding Seahorses By Hand, there have been some major changes in Billie’s life.

Was the change in approach to her sound intentional?

‘Yes, we really ramped it up. Post-second album is a weird terrain to navigate, it's notoriously difficult, even thought it shouldn't be. I had a lot of musical change, and a lot of time off.

‘Things sort of dipped, I would say, without me knowing, and it took a shake-up and that had to be through the music as well in order for me to get back on top of things again.

‘The one person that has remained in my life is my producer Rich (Cooper) and I got back in touch with him to see if we could start demoing again. Human Replacement was actually the first one we did – which is the furthest I think I'll go,’ she laughs, ‘that's it for me.

‘It was so freeing. I didn't have to make music for anyone, with no time constraints. We'd sporadically go into the the studio and eventually we had 10 songs and it was so natural. I was also very aware of the change and it felt incredibly liberating and thrilling.’

She’s also mentioned this was a period where she freed herself from ‘toxic relationships.’

Speaking very deliberately, Billie says: ‘I was surrounding myself with people who didn't make me very happy in a work, life and relationship sense – just everyone.

‘I kind of detached myself from everyone and there was a point where I was very sad and I was keeping everyone at arm's length, because when you're in that place you don't want help, you don't want to be a bother.

‘You lose your sense of self, and I think a lot of this album was recognising that and trying to drag myself out of it again.

‘Through the boulders that the industry can throw at you, it can become very difficult to reconnect with that version of yourself again.’

As Billie speaks, she emphasises each ‘you’: ‘Your whole life is people representing you and talking for you, and making you, when in actual fact that needs to be a very personal and private thing.

‘I realised that after this time spent away from everyone, that I really needed people and I really needed good people that I could help feel good, and they would help me feel good.

‘People that you trust, and people that you can be honest with, and I feel now like I've navigated through it, and I feel like I'm my honest self.’

At 22 Billie has now spent nearly a decade in the public eye. Back in 2012, her cover of Lucy Rose’s Middle of The Bed went viral on YouTube, which set her on the path to signing with a division of Sony Music and releasing her debut album Writing of Blues and Yellows in 2016.

While she’s not attracted the kind of scrutiny of her namesake Billie Eilish, as the new album demonstrates, it’s clearly been tough at times.

‘I try not to regret anything,’ she says, ‘which I don't think I do. I'm so happy that it happened then.

‘I don't think it would happen now (being signed), as I think I'm part of the old-school group of music makers, little to no internet, no TikTok, no bedroom pop singles.

‘I like old music and I don't think that would float were I to get signed today.

‘That first video, I was 12 – not even a teen, which is so ridiculous.

‘But through the safety of my family and a family-friend lawyer who I've had since day one – which has been very handy – it's about creating those support networks around you all the time to make sure you feel safe.’

Billie’s approach to to really embracing the themes in her songs, extended to the album artwork – with her grass and mud-splattered face and teeth.

‘Oh yes, I ate it with a spoon and brushed my teeth with it – my lovely make-up lady Emma chucked loads of mud on me – really getting in there to the source of the metaphor!’

:: Pie & Vinyl, Southsea: Tuesday, July 20, 1pm, pandvrecords.co.uk

:: The Joiner, Southampton: Thursday, August 12, joiners.vticket.co.uk

:: Victorious Festival, Southsea Common, Sunday, August 29, victoriousfestival.co.uk