We’re still some months away from its conclusion but 2019 has already proved an interesting, and progressive, year for alt pop artist Martha Hill. Starting off as a one-to-watch-out-for, Hill’s 2019 has seen her move from slightly nervous opening act, through to support-act-that-steals-the-show, to its final destination as curator and headliner of her own headline grabbing festival. A trajectory which most artists would post all over social media is also a one which Hill herself doesn’t quite agree with; “Women Are Mint Festival (Hill’s summer festival in Newcastle which showcased some of the finest emerging musical female talent) was incredible, though I wouldn’t say it was my festival, in fact I feel like I hardly did anything. I just asked loads of people to do stuff, and then they all came and aced it.”
Typically modest, those who have followed Hill across 2019 will have noticed that such an answer is common of an artist who shy’s away from public attention; and whilst her songs and live show may be ferocious and full of rebelliousness, away from the stage her personality remains somewhat deflecting. Finding the true heart of any performer can be difficult but is perhaps more so with Hill, take for example her answer to the question of whether she enjoys playing live (“I love playing live, I feel like my guitar playing is getter better and I’m not getting as nervous; I can get really ill with nerves sometimes”) an interesting insight into an artist who’s dominating stage presence and lyrical content would appear anything but nervous. As we’ve seen in pop music though often, and certainly with great performers, it’s the contradictions that are often the most interesting element to observe.
Released in late September, Hill’s debut EP (‘Be still’) is a deeply personal expose, and a one which allows the author to truly own her contradictions. Enveloped in themes of being young and trying to find meaningful relationships in a new, and at times, fast changing culture, Be still is an open reflection on life in 2019. Partly optimistic, partly heart broken, and partly paranoid, the beauty of Be Still is the bravery of its author to expose her deepest feelings, insecurities and frustrations, something which has proved as enjoyable to Hill as it was challenging; “It’s been a great year for creativity” confirms Hill “I’ve toured considerably in the past but this year I felt like it was time to focus on some other aspects of my work. I’ve loved having time to write”.
Those familiar with Hill’s solo live material may be surprised in the more electronic nature of ‘Be still’; an environment rarely, if ever, explored in her traditionally acoustic set up. A conscious decision, Hill confirms that the new sound was a deliberate attempt to push her, and her writing, into new directions; “I love the sounds you can make and the limitless of electronics and I like mixing that with the acoustic sound”. Pushed into her vision for the future Hill admits that the door hasn’t been fully shut on her acoustic sound, though her first principle is truly grounded in experimentation; “I’ll possibly record some acoustic versions of the songs at a later date but I would get bored if it was just me and a guitar. I like to play big and angry sometimes”.
Whichever version of Hill emerges in the future, it’s likely, as Be Still proves, that the heart of her songs, often steeped in anger and frustration, will always be the most important aspect; “We’re living in such a volatile time, it’s hard not to talk about it when I’m writing. My generation has absolutely no idea what the world is going to look like in 15 years; politically, socially, even in terms of the climate. How can I live in a world as mental as ours is right now and not talk about it?”.
Yet for all of the anger, and frustration, perhaps Be Still’s standout track ‘Pick me up’, with gentle layered vocals and jazz-styled melody lines, may well be the most impactful track on the record; again it’s often the contradictions with Hill which make the most interesting moments. Built around personal frustration, Hill is quick to admit that it’s the small things that often have the biggest impact; “Pick Me up is all about being in a relationship with someone who is acting like a dafty, and you just want them to stop acting like a dafty so that you can have a nice time.” Built around a gentle acoustic sound, Pick Me Up works not just for its lyrical content but also for it’s willingness to experiment with new sounds, reinforcing Hill’s decision to take her well worked live material and re-imagine them.
Finishing the year as strongly as she started, the plan now for Hill is to take Be Still on tour; getting out on the road to recreate the EP, and balancing her on stage loud persona with the off stage quiet one. It’s something which isn’t keeping Hill up at night though; “I don’t feel too concerned about replicating the EP live. My band are intensely talents and I think it’s nice when things sound different live to the recordings”.
Hard hitting, ambitious, and fiercely protective of her art, Hill remains a shining beacon in North East music about how behaviour, rather than attitude, can make the right difference. It’s all in the contradictions. Bring on 2020.