Romantic. Deep. Cinematic. Pop: An interview with Billie Black

Music — 28.11.18

Interview by Madeleine Morlet

Image by Rueben Bastienne Lewis

It has been three years since Teeth Magazine interviewed singer-songwriter, Billie Black. After taking a break from the music industry, she returns now with a confident EP of devastatingly romantic, cinematic tracks. At just twenty-three, Billie has released four EP’s, and she has a publishing deal with Warner Chapel in addition to her own record label BBLK. Catching up with her over Skype, I am impressed by her quiet confidence. The warmth and openness in which she discusses her music feels like an invitation to all of us to listen.

Madeleine Morlet: This EP is breathtaking. Do you feel like it’s a big leap from your prior work and what has changed since you last put out music?

Billie Black: It’s definitely a big leap! I’ve always been honest in my writing so I feel connected to all of my work, but as you get a little bit older you get to know yourself better, you have more experiences. For me, at least, I’ve become better at putting those experiences into my writing. In terms of genre, my music was a little bit more electronic before, more contained and dancey; now I feel, melodically, it’s opened up to show a different side of my voice. I wanted this EP to be really cinematic.


It definitely is, I’m thinking about David Lynch as I listen to it.

Good! I wanted to create an atmosphere here that is different from my other stuff. I think there is a lot of pressure to do similar work to what you had done before because that worked and people liked it. I love having the freedom to try something different, and I’m really proud of these tracks because they honestly reflect where I am with myself at this time.


How long have you written your own music and how would you describe the tracks on this EP?

I started writing my own music at fourteen, around the same time I started at the BRIT school. Neither of my parents are musicians, but they have always been very supportive of me, and I grew up in a creative household. I wrote these songs myself, and the lyrics are very romantic because I’m a romantic person. They are about love and loss and negotiating life, figuring out who you are, what you want to do. Finding some strength in being vulnerable – this is probably the main theme, not just for the lyrics but for my life at this point.


Potentially a good theme to always live by…

Yes! And I do find it hard, so in that sense, it was important to throw myself in the deep end.


How has your process evolved over the past few years?

I take my time more in writing then I did before. I took a lot of time out from my last EP – in that time I actually went back to University, and I am now in my third year at SOAS studying Social Anthropology. In general, anthropology is the study of people, and the reason I do music is to make a connection with people, so if my course can open me to people, then I am able to be more honest in my writing also.

Talk me through your musical influences and what might be defining the direction of your music right now

My mum is from Sierra Leone and loves all things disco and a lot of old soul. I remember listening to Donny Hathaway’s live album when I was fifteen, and you believe every word he is saying. Maybe he is one of the reasons I feel the need to be so honest because I felt a connection with his music and he was so completely honest. Donny Hathaway, Anita Baker, Billie Holiday, and Chet Baker. The reason I got into the electronic field is because of the king James Blake, and I love Lana Del Ray, of course, she’s really atmospheric, and I love that about her.


Who did you work with on this EP?

Warner Chapel introduced me to Paul Statham, who produced for Dido. He’s a writer-producer and worked with me on all three of the EP tracks. His work is really amazing.


Can you talk to me a little bit about being a woman in the music industry?

Well, it’s incredibly male-dominated, which sort of goes without saying. When I’m working with producers, they’re all male, when I’m doing my jazz gigs there are the singers, and then all the musicians are male. Even when I was studying Jazz at Uni, it was like this, so I’ve always been surrounded by men. I’m so used to it; I’m not bothered by it anymore. It’s when I come into contact with other women in the industry that I realise how nice it would be if there were more of us.


Obviously, I want to know when there will be an album.

Definitely at some point! I’m finishing my degree in May, and then the goal is to focus on music and put out an album. I feel like I’m in the best position I’ve been in with where my music is at to release an album, I can’t put a time on it though!