Interview: Billie Ray Martin
Published on August 21st, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
When Rocksucker spoke to Billie Ray Martin last November she had just released Hollywood Under the Knife, an album of dark electronic pop accompanied by a selection of images courtesy of Turner Prize-winner Wolfgang Tillmans, a long-term fan of Billie’s.
Now she’s back with another intriguing multimedia project: Five Takes (A Song About Andy), a DVD featuring five takes – filmed by Jörn Hartmann at the Art’otel Berlin – of “On Borrowed Time”, a song she wrote with electronic musician Colin Waterson about one Andy Warhol. Needless to say we were intrigued, so we fired Billie over some questions and received back the following set of replies. First, though, check out this trailer…
When did you have the idea for Five Takes? Did it come to you in a flash of inspiration or have you been planning something like it for a while?
I guess the wish to finally write something about Andy has always been brewing. It took shape when Colin [Waterson] and I started writing together and this track took shape. The lyric started from a quote by Gerard Malanga, who said in one of the documentaries that Andy lived a life on borrowed time after the shooting, and my mind started ticking…as it does whenever I’m really inspired by a sentence someone says.
Did you write “On Borrowed Time” specifically for the project or did it already exist?
I write all lyrics spontaneously when I write the melodies. So the story around the quote that had initially inspired me developed automatically and contains basically my thoughts about how Andy really was and how he really felt about a lot of things. I find it always very inspiring when people write songs about someone who’s inspired them and their songs really almost channel that person. There are a lot of songs about Elvis like that, from “Walking in Memphis” to “Advertising Space” to my humble effort “Dead Again”, and this one I do hope has succeeded in creating an almost meditative treatment of the subject, which is Andy.
What about Andy Warhol do you find most inspiring?
The amount of depth and detail of his work is never ending and is continuously explored from new angles throughout the centuries with no end in sight. No other artist has done something seemingly so simple, but when you really look at it, it is the most complex art ever created in many ways. He is only now getting discovered again and again, with new and ever new levels of meaning appearing as his legacy unfolds.
How did you first come into contact with Waterson? What’s he like to work with?
A darling! I had come across his work quite some time ago and saw him perform live so we started talking. I was astonished when I heard him again a few years later and could almost not believe how good it was. Not that his earlier stuff wasn’t, but this was like a flower blooming. He has become such a great singer and producer, it’s quite astonishing. So immediately I asked him if he wanted to co-write and he said yes.
Five Takes comes very soon after last year’s Hollywood Under the Knife, which was also a multimedia project. Have you given much thought yet to your next project, and would you like it to be something a bit out of the ordinary as well?
My next project will be my solo album. I am starting to work on it now so it will be some time until it will be released. And I am happy to say that it will be a house album: old school-influenced, back-to-the-roots house, taken into the future. I’ve bought some new recording gear so I’ll be ready to start. I am talking to some fabulous people to collaborate, but mainly I will start developing my own tracks as a starting point. I want the songs to be classic vocal house but still moody. I am getting re-inspired by producers like Master C&J but i’m sure I won’t be able to refrain from the odd belter.
Can you share with us the silly alternative lyrics that you made up for “Chelsea Girls”?
This happened as I entered my room at the Art’otel Berlin, a room entirely made up of Warhol imagery, from the carpet to the ceiling, and me going nuts:
“Here’s room 142
Billie Ray has gone coocoo
She kissed the wall
I wonder just how far she’ll go”
“Here’s room 124
Billie kissed the Hotel Floor”
and so forth…
Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming acts that you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
Finally, if you were forced to spend the rest of your days in solitary confinement, but were allowed to bring the entire works of five different artists along to tide you over, whose would you choose?
Tennessee Williams plays
David Bowie albums
Roman Polanski’s films
Andy Warhol’s films (Paul Morrissey’s too of course) and the documentaries about him.
Too many more to mention, really.
Billie Ray Martin, thank you.
Five Takes (A Song About Andy) will be released on 10th September through Disco Activisto Records – click here to pre-order. For more information please visit www.billieraymartin.com or www.facebook.com/watersonmusic