Billie Marten is just like every other A-level student with a job on the side. But balancing coursework and earning a few quid in the local Italian is one thing; very few of us had to juggle school with touring an album. Marten, named on the BBC Music Sound Of 2016 list, released her subtly experimental, quietly stunning debut ‘Writing Of Blues And Yellows’ back in September. While she may not mention it to mates — “I never, ever talk about my music in school” — it’s a record worth shouting about, giving nods to Laura Marling, SOAK and ’70s singer-songwriter Nick Drake.
Right now the teenager is less worried about ticket sales, more hoping she can keep up with English, French and Art while on the road, with a UK tour under her belt and US shows plotted for later this year. Despite only being 17, she’s already something of a veteran. Things got going from an unlikely source: her mum uploaded videos of Marten singing covers to YouTube to show to her grandparents in France. A couple of years later, she recorded a session for a local TV station and has been writing ever since. She flippantly says the songs on her debut are either awful ones she wrote years ago or “crap” she penned at the last minute to “shove on there” and fill the gaps.
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“Don’t get me wrong, a lot of time and tears went into [the album],” she says. “But it isn’t perfection. If I was waiting for that, it would never have come out. I’m just aware of my weaknesses and want to carry on so I can make another one, and another one. I just know I need to stay true to what I want to do and not fit in with other people’s perceptions.”
Marten’s songwriting is sophisticated beyond her years — ‘…Blues And Yellows’ is filled with candid self-analysis and references to mental health. “I have a lot of fake characters I like to bring out in certain situations, as we all do. No one would describe me as the happiest person in the world, but I’m not a misery. I’m just… there. Sad songs are the ones I connect with best.”
If Marten sounds as if she doesn’t quite understand her appeal, plenty of others do – video views total close to two million. “I guess those numbers do mean something,” she says. “But not to me. It’s not like I check them every day. It’s mad that so many people I don’t know listen to my music.”