Billie Marten

Billie Marten: ‘I’m learning to feel that fear and then throw it away’

As she releases her fourth album Drop Cherries, we speak to Billie Marten about cyclical thought patterns, finding a new perspective, and coming up with a symbol of love that hadn't been done before.

Liam Konemann
  • By Liam Konemann
  • 6 Apr 2023
  • min read

Picture a punnet of cherries dropped on a white rug. Think of them squashed, stepped on, smeared across the carpet. This is the image that forms the basis of Billie Marten’s fourth album, Drop Cherries, an exploration of the extremes and mundane moments of a romantic relationship. By turns gentle and visceral, the tracks on Drop Cherries range from explorations of daily love to existential musings, filtering the love song through a surprising lens. ‘I needed an image of love that hadn’t been done before,’ she says. ‘And I think I found it.’

The power of the over-arching image is hard to shake, the love all-consuming and almost violent in its passion. Billie likens it to the ‘cute aggression’ phenomenon, which seeks to explain why humans so often seem to want to bite babies or small animals. ‘You know when you see a puppy and then you want to grab it?’ she says, pretending to squeeze a small creature in front of her. ‘It’s that form of love.’

While the cherries are the image that unifies the whole record, they were the final element to fall into place. Stemming from a story Billie’s friend told her in a pub, in the midst of what had until that point been ‘a very light conversation’, the thread solidified the idea of the album in a single moment. ‘I wasn’t going to call it anything but that,’ she says.  

Like many albums just beginning to come out in the world, the process for the record began in the midst of the pandemic. ‘I thought I wasn’t writing in lockdown,’ Billie says. ‘But it turned out I had a lot of half-songs that then became something, which was a nice feeling because I felt incredibly uninspired for a long time.’

'This is the first realisation of me understanding who I am as a writer, and how I really can’t force that in any way.'

Drop Cherries, then, heralded a period of artistic reinvention. While her previous album Flora Fauna had been critically acclaimed, the process had left Billie artistically unsatisfied. ‘I felt like I hadn’t shared my truest self, and I wanted to redraw that line,’ she says on reflection. Writing Drop Cherries created a natural reset. The songs ‘kept coming at a spontaneous and sporadic pace,’ allowing her to let the album evolve in its own time. ‘I think this is the first realisation of me understanding who I am as a writer, and how I really can’t force that in any way,’ Billie says. ‘When it comes, it comes. And I allowed myself to have this time. I knew that two or three times a week I’d be in the studio, but if I didn’t make anything that day it would be okay.’

Because Billie allowed the record to evolve in an organic way, the tracks have had varying degrees of production and development. Some, she says, are basically in demo form, while others needed ‘much more realisation and much more of a deeper sense of care’ around them, because they felt more personally significant. A lot of Drop Cherries, Billie says, is her discovering herself as a new writer. 

In general, Billie uses music as means to understand. She has said in the past that she feels different to other people, and that music can be a means of reckoning with that. It’s less a writing tool than human instinct. 'I always got told, if you’re making a decision, then ten thousand other people are making that decision at the exact same moment. That made me feel really kind of worthless and pointless,’ she says. ‘Why am I even trying to put words or thoughts or ideas into the world when so many other people are doing the same thing?’

For Drop Cherries to work the way she wanted, Billie knew it had to take a completely new angle on her perspective. The album had to be completely unimpeded by anybody’s perception of what a Billie Marten record should be – including her own. 

 ‘As an artist, you always have this comfort of hiding behind the tapes and redoing things, and copying things and smashing them together.'

Some of the most affecting songs on the album are the ones that lean more existential. In Acid Tooth and Arrows, Billie gets to the heart of what it is she has spent years trying to say – and what she imagines she will continue trying to express for the rest of her life. Arrows, she says, encapsulates the feeling that she always gets eighty percent of the way somewhere without ‘going the whole hog’. Meanwhile, on Acid Tooth, she digs into the cyclical thought processes that she can’t seem to break herself out of or ever fully understand. ‘It’s very much talking about how my brain perhaps has more trouble processing things than other people witness or experience, and trying to turn that into positivity,’ she says. The track explores these difficult moments with stunning openness, as she ultimately comes to a realisation. ‘I’m the only one that can help me here,’ Billie explains. ‘No one else can do that. I spent a lot of my life asking other people for help. When I should have just been looking inwards.’

This rawness and rebirth was elevated by the recording process. For the first time, she leant into live performance in the studio, bringing the album to life with a daily-changing band. ‘As an artist, you always have this comfort of hiding behind the tapes and redoing things, and copying things and smashing them together,’ Billie says. 'And I feel like a fraud when I then present something lie that, so this was leaning into proper live performance.’

It was a daunting task, but one that ultimately came with a powerful reward. Drop Cherries is a moving album that doesn’t compromise on its creators vision, cutting to the heart of exactly what Billie wanted to say. It has also elevated her work in a new way. ‘I’m learning to feel that fear and then throw it away,’ she says.