'Quarantunes' with Billie Marten
"My time in lockdown was, in summary, peaceful and changeable," singer-songwriter Billie Marten tells me with slight trace of trepidation. It is of course an awkward time to talk about lockdown as a thing of the past, as we exist in this blurred no man's land between a recent but still very real threat and an attempted return to reality.
Still, as for many of us fortunate enough to do so, Billie has been counting the blessings that the time has offered her, going for walks around her home in North Yorkshire, playing backgammon with her dad and working on material for the follow-up record to last year's Feeding Seahorses By Hand. Having become somewhat disillusioned with the trajectory and pressures of the long-term major label contract offered to her as a teenager, the time cooped up at home coincided with finally being released from Sony and allowed her to reset earnestly and mould the next chapter of her life in her own terms. There's an exciting announcement regarding that to come soon, she assures me, but for now it's still hush hush.
Lockdown wasn't exactly shutting up shop for spring, though either, performing a livestreamed set for Women In Music back in May. 'La Lune', from her debut Writing of Blues and Yellows, featured on the BBC's lockdown hit Normal People over a moving 'Will they? Won't they?' montage of Marianne and Connel.
With most of her third album already written, Billie seems to have come out of lockdown galvanised. "It feels like I'm ready to do life and people again, in a much better form. People are important, I'll tell you that". Here are some of the tracks that helped her get there.
Fiona Apple – 'Under The Table'
I'm completely obsessed with this album. As soon as it came out I took myself out on the usual walk (I’ve been residing up north in the Dales, so plenty of walking space) and it’s been repeated every day since. I’ve forced everyone in my life, new and old, to listen to it. Even if you’re not an Apple fan i’d dive in to this one. The most mighty, unadulterated and honest album I’ve heard in a long while. No bullshit, no nuance, the rawest and most visceral look at gender discord and the role of the female voice. Each song is like a painted vignette, with the added benefit of a superbly recorded live set up. Love her.
Neil Young – 'Separate Ways'
Great to hear some new (old) Neil Young, the best. I heard this album was supposed to come out mid 70s, but he decided to go with On The Beach instead, because of all the sadness. Personally I think On The Beach is much more melancholic, but nevertheless the writing of this album is lovely, some classic softness from him, and this song is great for morning wake ups and again with the sundown snooze. Myself much more of a John Martyn/Nick Drake/CSNY longterm fan, Neil has slowly crept his way up into my daily listening now and of course a wealth of music to re-enter into.
Heatmiser – 'Half Right'
Accidentally discovered them during quarantine; the algorithms did me good. Had no idea that Elliott Smith had a side hustle, and this album got me through hours of painting my room emerald green. And then painting it again. And again. Works a treat for productivity.
The Roches – 'Hammond Song'
Now this is a special one. With the total lack of outside entertainment up there me and my dear Dad would sit down, cider or two, and play backgammon with a pass-the-baton style of DJ-ing. We’d choose a song each that the other hadn’t heard before and obviously, I gained a lot of good music. This one hits me with the line "We’ll always love you but that’s not the point’, I think the harmonies and vocal style are so unusual, so strong and grating without the over-bearing harshness. Also the side note of Fripp’s solo in there. Great for board game time.
Ween – 'Tried and True'
Have you heard of Ween? No me neither, they’re absolutely ridiculous but totally great. I admit some are hard to soak in, but the album Chocolate and Cheese is a ride. This song has such a good guitar line it’s infectious, and then the pitched vocals are something else. Totally mad. They’ve split up now but that’s perhaps a blessing, they’re totally insane, and you can hear it here. Sort of like the first 90s version of the Connan Mockasin/Soft Hair stuff before it was cool to pitch shift and overlap; if you’re into that then you’d like this song and them I guess. Good for a lift on those days you force yourself to get outside, the oddball on playlist for sure. Then again think 10cc / Genesis / Flight of the Concords. There’s no describing it really, just listen.
Salmon – 'Like Milk and Honey'
The best lockdown discovery, this girl is undeniably mad but I love her. The songs are a treat and really help with introspection, whether it’s needed or not. She sort of sounds like the Woodstock version of Joanna Newsom, another favourite, or even a small performing mouse. She’s great, top marks.
Listen to more of Billie Marten here.