INTERVIEW: Billy Nomates | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Eddie Whelan

Fierce. Fearless. Force of nature. All were terms frequently attributed to Tor Maries, as the Bristol-based artist shot into our collective conscience with a spirited, ostensibly bold eponymous debut. With little to go off besides the likes of No, it was a framing few called into question – yet for Tor herself, the language used to depict Billy Nomates proved a source of bafflement.

“I used to read that stuff and think ‘you couldn’t possibly find somebody who feels less like that,'” she reflects some three years on. “Billy Nomates was like a suit of armour which allowed me to put my music on a platform, but I always cringed at the idea I was this all-guns-blazing figure. I might feel like that on a Wednesday – but on Thursday I’ll not feel able to leave the house.”

Released in January, new album Cacti is Tor’s pushback; a pointedly introspective follow-up in which her focus shifts to an altogether more vulnerable mode of writing. “I like juxtaposition at all times – it makes sense to me to pour all of my energy into a song about apathy! I didn’t think some of these lyrics would be so resonant, but it’s been interesting to see how widespread these feelings are.”

music moves me in such an undelicate, unfetching way that I don’t care what anybody thinks

“I’d like people to come to their own conclusions as to what these songs are about,” she continues. “We live in an age where we’re forced to explain art for marketing purposes, and I find that so disappointing. If David Bowie told me what Low meant, I’d be crushed!” For all that can be deduced from songs like Blue Bones and Apathy is Wild, Tor hopes the threads underpinning Cacti can find meanings in listeners’ own lives: “People in the UK aren’t okay. We’ve been through COVID, we don’t have a mental health infrastructure, and we’re ruled by a Tory government that’s pretty much killing us. All of this is part of everyday life right now, and it’s tough.”

While fellow tags have been dispelled, “force of nature” remains an apposite descriptor for Billy Nomates’ live show. Breathless, propulsive and undistilled, performances to date have been a thrillingly DIY phenomenon, consisting merely of Tor, her laptop, and every last morsel of energy, sweat and emotion she can summon.

“Music has always been a physical thing for me,” she affirms. “I really struggle seeing super cool bands who can’t be arsed to be there. When I go to a gig I go to see a human. To understand it. To bleed it. I can’t dance – I’m two left feet, dyslexic, dyspraxic, all over the shop – but music moves me in such an undelicate, unfetching way that I don’t care what anybody thinks… it’s happening regardless. I liken it to free falling. When a gig starts, I jump out of the plane and I’m off.”

With this month’s UK dates sandwiched between a European jaunt and festival season, Tor’s openness extends to misgivings over her touring schedule. “Cacti is a new headspace for me, and it’s a dangerous card to play when you’re going to be living that every night. It’ll be an interesting ride, but I’m not shying away. I’ve failed at so much in my life – jobs, bands, relationships – that when Billy Nomates worked out I had all this pent-up energy, and a sense that I’ll never take this for granted.”

Billy Nomates plays Newcastle’s Boiler Shop on Monday 24th April. Cacti is out now.


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