Having already gained widespread acclaim for an emotive lyricism that belies her tender years, aged just 16 Billie Marten has been performing since the age of 12. Hailing from Ripon in North Yorkshire, she has music in her blood. Billie sang at family gatherings as far back as she can remember and grew up listening to John Martyn, Laura Marling, David Bowie, Portishead, Damien Rice and Loudon Wainwright, whom she saw in concert as a kid. At the age of eight, given a small, pink guitar and taught four chords by her dad, she wrote her first ‘proper’ song.
“I rearranged the four chords and realised I could make a song that wasn’t just a copy of Blower’s Daughter,” says Billie. “It was called I’m Gonna Run and it was about, er, a train. Obviously, it was awful.”
By nine, she had her own YouTube channel, on which she posted covers performed on the pink guitar in her garden. She recalls her version of OutKast’s Hey Ya and a song she composed using words from an old poetry book. None of those videos now exist online, much to Billie’s relief. Typically, she insists they were terrible.
“Those videos were made for my grandparents, who live in France,” she explains. “No one else was supposed to see them. Mostly I made them to make my mum happy.”
Her parents – both musical, though neither musicians – could tell she had talent. Her mum contacted Ont Sofa Sessions, who invited Billie in to perform a song. She covered Lucy Rose’s Middle Of The Bed, playing her dad’s blue acoustic guitar, which was far too big for her.
“It was surreal,” she says. “I had no idea what I was doing and you’re only allowed one take. But it was such fun that when they asked me back, I said yes straight away.”
So enamoured with Billie’s innate ability, Lucy Rose has since invited Billie on her UK tour this October.
By the time Billie returned to record covers of songs few pre-teens encounter – The Magnetic Fields’ Book Of Love, for instance, or Ron Sexmith’s Secret Heart - views of her version of Middle Of The Bed were racking up at a rate that shocked even the channel’s owners, Ben Davis and Jason Odle.
2014 was a breakout year for the young artist, who caught the attention of many including BBC Introducing and Burberry with her debut single and EP, ‘Ribbon’. Billie went onto play at Reading & Leeds Festivals and, following a Burberry Acoustic session at Kenwood House last Spring, ended the year sound-tracking BAFTA’s Breakthrough Brits in association with Burberry. News of her signing to Chess Club Records came early this year, with her extraordinary single, ‘Heavy Weather’ and bewitching B-side cover of Royal Blood’s, ‘Out of The Black’.
Billie’s songwriting has evolved at an astonishing pace, she sings with more assurance and, on her second EP (the debut via. Chess Club Records) As Long As, she is accompanied by other musicians, including Alex Eichenberger on cello, Sam Faulkner on additional guitar, Matthew Racher on drums and Fred Cox on piano/guitar. Her voice, however, was as bewitching back then as it is now.
The four songs on As Long As are as remarkable for their beguiling beauty as for the age of their singer. All are at once intimate and airy, like secrets blown in on a breeze. All have enchanting lyrics that linger long after they have left Billie’s lips. All showcase a voice so perfectly pure it sounds almost otherworldly.
Two of the songs – Cursive, As Long As – were written by Billie. The lead track Bird was written with Olivia Broadfield and opener, Roots a co-write with Simon Aldred. Likewise, the production is shared between Rich Cooper (Lucy Rose, Josef Salvat), Cam Blackwood (London Grammar, George Ezra) and Jason Odle (Ont Sofa).
All tracks that appear on the EP were written over the past year, whilst Billie studied for her GCSE’s, alongside travelling to London from her home in Ripon, North Yorkshire for meetings and live shows.
Roots, the EP’s most upbeat track, is about an idea of having a ‘place to be’, much like Nick Drake so often sings about and the difficulty of not knowing where that place is just yet. “I guess I’m still looking for mine and I thought it was something a lot of people think about,” says Marten. It’s a beautifully momentous track, with its percussive instrumentation perfectly complementing Marten’s fragile vocals.
Cursive is disarmingly honest, written at an incredibly busy and quite daunting time for the teenager - having just been signed and expected to start making decisions on future education - “It was all getting a little cloudy, so I wrote it to clear my head. I’d had that kind of waltzy rhythm for a while and the first words I sang fitted so well I kept them.”
In Billie’s own words lead track Bird is, “a song about how words can truly affect people, not always for the right reasons”. The exploration of vulnerability, and how you can feel trapped in your own space all the time, even when no-one is actually with you.” (“Hope is a distance unreached, ink on her skin incomplete, And the faint sound of friends, As she neared to the end she had peace”). The track was written as a ‘last resort’ attempt and came as the pair switched from guitar to piano.
As Long As is just Billie and her acoustic guitar, as in the ‘old’ days accompanied by long time musical partner, Jason Odel on piano. “It’s a continuation of Cursive in a way. Echoing those same sentiments of belonging and what I sang about in Roots; it's sort of like a summary of all the songs on the EP, how it's ok to not cope with things so well and to not be fine all the time. I've done a lot of people watching this year and it's amazing how many things you can notice about a whole bunch of people you've never met and how unrelated everyone seems. However, there are a huge amount of similarities between us all and in the end, this EP was hugely relevant to me and I'd never noticed until now.”
“I just can't wait for this EP to come out, along with the vinyl which is my favourite part. But at the same time I’m starting my A-Levels and doing a few gigs a bit more further from home which is new for me.”