What happens when you get a good mix of folk, blues, psychedelia and a spunk of attitude? You get one of KL’s best Alt-rock outfits Billie Blue & The Nowhere Men; who bring you a vintage sound within a rock-n-roll-less era!
In brief words, BB&TNM’s delivers driving rhythms, colorful melodic lines and firm yet sensitive vocals with a distinctive vibrato! With dynamic guitar riffs, steadily nuanced bass and drums, this band’s musical approach is decidedly introspective, bohemian and hard to ignore!
We had the pleasure of interviewing Billie Blue, the frontwoman of this eclectic band to talk to us about songwriting, origin stories, the highlight of experimentation and what it means to be a girl in a male-dominated industry.
Of humble origins and two dreams as one
Hi! Please introduce yourself, and tell us how all of this started!
Billie: When Soheil and I were in our late teens, we played our first ever gig at Merdekarya. We loved music but we had never really performed before. That first gig was a tiny but huge step for us because it confirmed our love for music and our desire to play!
Our repertoire was more folk-based at the time, but we knew we wanted to experiment with a fuller, electric sound. We’ve been influenced by tons of music, but our souls were steeped in rock-n-roll. So after trying things out with a few different people, we met Reuben, from the band Cats in Love and David from Kaya!
We’ve been going after similar vibes and all of us love a lot of the same music- and so we’ve been working together ever since!
BB&TNM’s journey from the past to the present day
When did the band fully come into play, and what has changed so far?
Billie: We initially just started off with just Soheil and me, and weren’t really active back then! We just played a few gigs every few months, but we eventually decided to branch out to other musicians to form a full band! We began actively performing in 2015, and we’ve gone through several member changes, but as of late we have David on the bass and Reuben on the drums!
I think over time we’ve become braver. We allow ourselves to explore more musically and lyrically. I think that we were perhaps more apprehensive at the beginning, just because expressing ourselves in that manner was so new, it’s also pretty daunting to share your music with people. Inevitably, I think this fear of how it’ll be received, as well as the fear of exposing yourself in that way, can impact songwriting.
That being said, we’re still proud of what we created during the early stages of songwriting! I think if you listen to the album you can hear the progression and evolution of our music; our song Emperor and Sailing Forth were the first two songs we wrote, while Old Friend and Seven Cities of Love are the most recent tracks!
What is BB&TNM’s sound?
Could you define the kind of musical influences and decisions that go into creating your music?
Billie: We’re heavily influenced by Rock n’ Roll, folk, blues & psychedelia! (With a sneaky dose of progressive rock too!) Some bands that all of us share in common are Jefferson Airplane and Led Zepplin! Melodies wise, we’d have to say that Neil Young and my personal heroes are Laura Marling and Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac!
But regardless of our other influences, our music is undeniably folk driven.
We believe that experimentation is key, and we are constantly pushing the boundaries in terms of how much we can play around with our sound and authenticity. Sure, it takes a much longer time to write songs when the process is as painstaking as is, but we like to challenge ourselves when we write our music- because that’s the fun in it!
Behind the scenes; the songwriting process!
Could you give us a little insight into the creative process that goes into writing the songs?
Billie: It starts with Soheil tinkering around with his guitar, setting the groundwork with riffs or progressions that sound good and from there, I’d come in with the melodies and lyrics! They usually come from a lyric book, of which I’ve had many since high school! It’s really nice to have the kind of company which is just words of your own because these books act as a kind of safe space for me. Anyways!
From there, both of us would work together to find the right feel for the base of the song and once we’ve found the best version of the song, we’d call in David and Reuben to work up a band arrangement for it!
A letter from a frontwoman surviving within a male-dominated industry
A personal account of Billie’s experiences as a female musician within the local English indie industry.
Billie: I think there are a few factors that come into play with my experience as a frontwoman, but the 2 key things I’d like to touch on, are: the pressure of conforming to certain standards set as a woman in the music industry and the comments I’ve received throughout my career so far.
A lot of the pressure and certainty comes to mind when there’s the expectation of being the ideal frontwoman- especially in the folk-rock genre. Most of it comes from having body image issues, and this perception that music only sounds good based on how attractive/sexually appealing you are. It can be really overwhelming, and it makes me doubtful when I think about how my showmanship and talent would be received.
I’ve had my fair share of facing sexist and condescending moments too, and these usually come from the older generation. I’ve even had older men telling me “You should shake your ass on stage more”, and a few instances where veteran musicians would refer BBTNM as “Soheil’s band”, because of this assumption that I can’t hold my own- or that we happened to land a gig at a festival because our band happens to be fronted by a woman.
I think it’s disgusting, and I wish that they would respect me as a musician, and not for my gender.
Sometimes, it’s rather disappointing to see how surprised people are when they find out about my musical contributions to our music, and that I’m not just a pretty face with a voice- I have substance, and that throws them off. But, I am certainly grateful for all of the support that’s come our way, and I have a lot of hope for the newer generations! I can see that there’s a more progressive dialogue happening around and that we are being noticed for the right reasons.
We should be able to own what we have, and still be able to be respected for our credibility and integrity as musicians, rather that what’s on the surface.
Highlights of BBTNM’s career so far
Any memorable gigs or performances that you’d like to share?
Billie: I’d say that our album launch was the highlight of our career!
It was honestly such a tiring experience, because of the entire journey up to the day of the launch. What happened was that after The Bee had announced that they were putting off gigs a week before the event, we went into a sort of panic and I had managed to contact Blackbox for a slot seeing that our launch was way too close to put off and so much work had gone into the preparation.
Luckily, we managed to secure a spot but even then, our worries didn’t stop there! The soundcheck had taken quite a lot of time, and we were really nervous because it seemed as though things were going even more south.
But when the launch began, it went so smoothly! It was amazing, and the reception we received from our crowd was fantastic. We really had a great night with our friends, fans, and family- so all of our efforts really measured up to the final execution. It was a night to remember!
Do you have any thoughts or wishes you’d like to share with the music scene?
Billie: I think it would be really lovely if the sects of the scene were more united! You often times realize that even though the indie music scene is so small, we’re rather divided depending on the genre and space.
We hope that the scene becomes more integrated with each other, and different audiences can enjoy all that our local scene has to offer! I think bands like Volatile, Fazz and Setsuna are amazing, yet their crowds are undeniably niche. Hopefully this would change, because music shouldn’t separate people, but it should connect us together.
Bits about BB&TNM’s debut album!
Billie lets us in on the stories that make up the songs on their debut album, “Find Gold”!
Billie: There are a few songs here that are pretty old, but we’ve got some fresh material on the album too! Some songs bear a lot of meaning, and others are just fun to play!
For example, “Red Corduroy” is about hooking up with someone and the excitement of the moment that comes from it! It’s pretty groovy, and the highlight of the song is that the bassline is badass! “Facing Forth” is essentially about finding closure, and moving forth from a bad time to reconciliation.
Some songs like “Sea Salt Slide” have a bit more behind the writing process; at the time I was writing this song, two detrimental things happened to me that led to the inspiration behind this song. I had a falling out of a friendship that didn’t impact me as much, but it still meant something to me, and at the time, I was pretty fascinated with Japanese Mythology and chanced open the folk talk Okurinu. In short, it’s about a demon dog that was so terrifying, that if you walked home alone, none of the other spirits would dare come near you because of the fear they had of encountering the dog. If you trip or miss a step, you’d be devoured by the demon without mercy- but if you made your way home without faltering, you’d be completely safe from spirits and the demon would never bother you again.
What was once welcoming, but is no longer.
What I got from that story, was that the Okurinu was a double-edged sword, much like the falling out I had. If you listen to the song closely, you’d find that the lyrical imagery is heavily influenced by Japanese folk stories and that the riffs we used on that track are those of Japanese scales!
My favorite song on the album though has to be “Old Friend“.
Its a rather personal song to me, and the lyrics are derived from the conflict I feel about my negative emotions. By right, I’d like to think that I am a melancholic person, and there’s a certain kind of comfort that I feel from sadness. But, if you stay long enough, you’d either crumble from how overwhelming it is or make peace with it, which is what I did. I’d always find myself coming back to the feeling that it’s almost familiar and tangible, and being able to recognize it as an old friend, rather than an enemy.
It’s also the one acoustic folk song on the album, which pays homage to my roots! I really enjoy singing and writing it.
Although BBTNM considers themselves as a folk-rock band, their album Find Gold has plenty of moments that hearken back to the atmospheric storytelling nature of old-school rock. The riff changes, the vocals, the solos – all of them weave together an enticing narrative that probably isn’t as groundbreaking as it can be, but which pulls you into a comfortable familiarity.
To find out more about the band and to buy their album “Find Gold”;
Image Source: Billie Blue & The Nowhere Men Facebook Page